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Title: Sheer Off: A Tale
Author: A. L. O. E.
Language: English
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SHEER OFF



A. L. O. E. BOOKS,

35 Volumes, Uniform--90 cents each.


    Claremont Tales.
    Adopted Son.
    Young Pilgrim.
    Giant-Killer, and Sequel.
    Flora; or, Self-Deception.
    The Needle and the Rat.
    Eddie Ellerslie, etc.
    Precepts in Practice.
    Christian Mirror.
    Idols of the Heart.
    Pride and his Prisoners.
    Shepherd of Bethlehem.
    The Poacher.
    The Chief's Daughter.
    Lost Jewel.
    Stories on the Parables.
    Ned Manton.
    War and Peace.
    Robber's Cave.
    Crown of Success.
    The Rebel Reclaimed.
    The Silver Casket.
    Christian Conquests.
    Try Again.
    Cortley Hall.
    Good for Evil.
    Christian's Panoply.
    Exiles in Babylon.
    Giles Oldham.
    Nutshell of Knowledge.
    Sunday Chaplet.
    Holiday Chaplet.
    Children's Treasury.
    The Lake of the Woods.
    Sheer Off.



[Illustration: "Franks had but an instant to try to save him by
catching at the rein, as the maddened hunter rushed like a whirlwind
by." FRONTISPIECE.]



SHEER OFF.

A Tale.

BY

A. L. O. E.

AUTHOR OF "CLAREMONT TALES," "GIANT-KILLER, AND
SEQUEL," ETC.


NEW YORK:

ROBERT CARTER & BROTHERS,

530 BROADWAY.

1870.



CONTENTS.

I. THE FIRST-BORN, 7

II. THE FALLING ALMSHOUSES, 16

III. THE CURATE'S VISIT, 28

IV. JOYOUS AND FREE, 36

V. AN APPEAL, 45

VI. THE RETURN, 56

VII. BRIGHTNESS AND GLOOM, 64

VIII. PLEADING, 73

IX. THE INVITATION, 83

X. A HAPPY HOME, 99

XI. TEMPTATION, 105

XII. ICE BELOW, 114

XIII. THE RETURN HOME, 126

XIV. NORAH'S STORY, 134

XV. NORAH'S STORY CONTINUED, 147

XVI. PASSING EVENTS, 159

XVII. PERILOUS PEACE, 167

XVIII. SELF-REPROACH, 178

XIX. THE TEST, 182

XX. THE MOMENTOUS QUESTION, 190

XXI. AN OLD LETTER, 203

XXII. PEACE FROM ABOVE, 215

XXIII. THE WIFE'S RESOLVE, 222

XXIV. THE BLIND MAIDEN, 233

XXV. HONORABLE SCARS, 243

XXVI. A SCRAP OF NEWS, 255

XXVII. NANCY'S RETURN, 263

XXVIII. A SEARCH, 275

XXIX. PLEASURE OR PRINCIPLE? 283

XXX. FOUND AT LAST, 289

XXXI. THE BARONET'S RETURN, 299

XXXII. THE BONFIRE, 308

XXXIII. WATCHING FOR SOULS, 318

XXXIV. PUT TO THE QUESTION, 324

XXXV. VILLAGE TALK, 335

XXXVI. A STRUGGLE, 343

XXXVII. THE SUDDEN SUMMONS, 350

XXXVIII. CONCLUSION, 362



SHEER OFF.



I.

The First-Born.


"Why, there are the church-bells a-ringing! as if it wasn't enough
to have all the school-boys going in procession with their garlands,
and nosegays, and nonsense!" exclaimed Nancy Sands, the wife of the
Clerk of Colme, as she stood in the shop of Ben Stone the carpenter,
with her arms a-kimbo, and an expression anything but amiable upon her
flushed face. "One might fancy that our new young baronet was a-coming
home, or bringing a bride, or that the queen and all the royal family
were a-visiting Colme, instead of this fuss being for nothing but the
christening of a school-master's brat!"

"Ned Franks is a prime favorite with all the village," observed the
stout, good-humored carpenter, as he went on with his occupation of
planing a bit of mahogany, which his visitor wanted for a shelf in her
cottage.

"A broken-down sailor, with only one arm!" exclaimed Nancy, with a
snort of disdain.

"But with a good head and a better heart," observed the carpenter. "Ned
Franks manages so well to keep his lads in order without thrashing
them, that one arm is one too many for all that they need in that way.
Not but that the wooden affair which I knocked up for him myself, with
an iron hook for fingers and thumb, might serve well enough on a pinch
to knock a little wit into a blockhead, if that were Ned Franks's
fashion of teaching," added Ben Stone with a little chuckle.

"Teaching! he has no more learning in him than my mangle," muttered the
scornful Nancy.

"But, like your mangle, he has a wonderful knack of getting things
smooth and straight. I don't know what we'd have done in Colme without
him, now our poor vicar has been tied up so long; it's Ned as has kept
everything going like clockwork. Of course the young curate isn't just
at once up to the ways of the place, letting alone that he looks as
young as a boy, and as shy as a girl; he does his best, no doubt, but
he couldn't get on without Ned Franks showing him the ins and outs of
everything."

Nancy gave another contemptuous snort, but without specifying for
whom it was intended. Ben Stone went on with his planing of the shelf
and his praise of the school-master, his hand having a very different
effect from his tongue; for the more he planed, the smoother grew the
wood; while the more he praised, the rougher grew the temper of Nancy.
Ben Stone saw this, and took a little malicious pleasure in stirring
up the envy and jealousy of his customer; for, though he was not one
to break the peace himself, and had never been known to be either out
of spirits or out of temper, Ben Stone was certainly not a man to be
reckoned amongst the peacemakers. He rather enjoyed "poking the fire
in a neighbor's grate," as he once jestingly observed to his wife, and
there was always plenty of dry fuel in Nancy's.

But why should praise of Ned Franks be as gall and wormwood to the
clerk's wife, seeing that the one-armed sailor, now school-master at
Colme, had never willingly wronged a person in his life, but was, on
the contrary, ready to do a good turn for any one? Nancy had never
forgiven Ned for having been given the place of school-master, to which
she thought her own husband better entitled.

Ned's appointment was, in her eyes, a standing grievance, a shameful
injustice, a cause for quarrelling, not only with him, but with all the
world. "As if a fellow who has been accustomed to nothing but tarring
old ropes, and running like a cat up the rigging, could be compared
for one moment with a man like John Sands, who has been clerk for ten
years in the parish, next to a parson, one might say, and who can draw
out a certificate of baptism or marriage in the neatest and clearest
of hands." Not that Nancy had herself much veneration for her husband,
or, if report spoke truly, treated him with any kind of respect; but
she did not choose that any one should be put over his head, least of
all "that canting tar with a wooden arm," as she scornfully termed
Ned Franks. Whenever Nancy met the school-master, she scowled at him
under her black brows, as if he had done her a wrong. And she was never
tired of speaking against him whenever she could get a listener. Now
she spoke of the arts with which he had wheedled himself into the
favor of Mr. Curtis, the vicar, though every one knew that Ned was
simple and straightforward as a child; then she spoke of his violent
temper, pitied his wife, "poor unlucky soul!" from the bottom of her
heart, though all in the village were aware that Persis Franks was one
of the happiest wives in the world, and that if ever a young couple
deserved the famous Dunmow flitch, she and Ned might have claimed it.
The happiness of Persis was now as complete as earthly happiness can
be; for after nearly three years of wedded life, the desire and prayer
of her heart had been granted,--she had presented her first-born babe
to his father. But this seemed a new grievance to Nancy Sands. Had
not she, too, once had a son? and was he not lying under the shadow
of the church-yard wall? Why should these Franks be so happy when she
was childless? Why should all be sunshine with them when her sky was
clouded with gloom? Nancy did not attempt to answer the question, but
it soured her spirit; and the sound of the merry church-bells, chiming
for the baptism of Franks's little son made her feel as gloomy and
wretched as when she had heard the knell tolled at the funeral of her
own.

But we will not linger with Nancy Sands, but rather turn towards
him who is at once the object of her outward scorn and her secret
envy,--the one-armed school-master of Colme. A very gay scene meets
our eyes on the green in front of the school-house, which is full of
groups of village children seated on the grass, enjoying a simple feast
of oranges, nuts, and home-made cakes; for, on the occasion of the
christening of the first-born, Ned Franks entertains, in his homely
fashion, all his scholars and their little sisters; he feels in his joy
as if he should like to feast all the world. Every guest has a bunch
of wild flowers,--the violets, cowslips, and primroses of spring; and
merry is the sound of the prattle of nearly a hundred young voices,
the ringing laugh, the snatches of song. Persis Franks, quiet and
serene in her happiness, moves from group to group with her child in
her arms, receiving the congratulations of all, and, with a mother's
fond pride, drinking in the praises of her little treasure. Of course
there was never such a beauty, at least in her eyes, as her little
pink-faced babe, with his downy head and dimpled fingers. Ned is less
calm than his wife; being of a temperament naturally impetuous and
warm, with rather more of the sailor than of the school-master in his
manner, he shows the keen enjoyment of a boy. To the great amusement
of his scholars, Ned displays his skill, maimed as he is, in dandling
a baby three weeks old; and Persis, who, despite her confidence in her
husband, feels a little nervous on account of her fragile treasure,
is not sorry when the infant is once more resting upon her own gentle
breast.

But the buoyant mirth of the young father is calmed down, and his
sunburnt face, though still bright with happiness, wears a graver and
more earnest expression when he stands up to address a few words to his
guests. As he raises his right hand a little, all the murmur of merry
voices is hushed at once, and for some seconds there is no sound heard
but the soft breeze stirring the young leaves budding on the elms. Then
Franks speaks a few earnest words; for, whether in sorrow or in joy,
the teacher at Colme never forgets the office to which he has been
appointed by his heavenly Master,--that of feeding, as far as he has
power to do so, the lambs committed to his charge.

"My children," thus the sailor began, "this is a very joyful, a very
thankful, and also a very solemn day to me and my wife. We have seen,
as it were, a little boat freighted with an immortal soul, launched on
the wide sea, bound for the port of Heaven. If I did not trust that
He who gave it will guide it, I should have many fears when I think
of all the storms that it may meet on its course, the rocks and the
shoals on which many a poor bark has been wrecked. But I have given my
boy to God, and whether the voyage be a long or a short one, a rough
or a smooth one, I trust that the little boat will drop anchor in the
harbor of glory at last!" Ned paused a little, and Persis, as she bent
down and pressed a long, fond kiss on her sleeping infant, left a tear
on his soft cheek, but not a tear of sorrow; no feeling of misgiving
dimmed the bright hope of the mother's heart.

"And now," continued Franks to his pupils, "let me just add a few words
to yourselves. You also have all been launched on the great voyage,
and I trust that you all have Faith for your compass, the Bible for
your chart, and heaven for your port; but I must remind you that you
have need to keep a good lookout for breakers ahead, that you must
steer warily, and mind your soundings. There's danger of running on the
sandbank of the love of money, or of being drawn into the whirlpool of
intemperance; there's the iceberg of falsehood on the one hand, the
sunken rock of self-righteousness on the other. When temptation would,
like a strong current, draw you near any dangerous place, don't trust
your own seamanship, boys, to sail close under a rock and yet not
strike it; give it as wide a berth as you can; sheer off, I would say,
sheer off! And, above all, look straight up to Him whose wind alone can
fill your sails, and bear you onwards in your course; look to him in
storm and in calm, in gloom and in sunshine, praying that he may guide
you here by his grace, and afterwards receive you to glory!"

The address of Ned Franks was simple and homely, characteristic of
the speaker, and suited to the hearers, who were well accustomed to
his sea-phrases. Franks had once compared himself to a buoy anchored
down to warn vessels where navigation is dangerous; and not only his
pupils, but many a tempted one who came in his wandering course nigh
to the school-master of Colme, had cause to thank God for the buoy. If
the account of such a life of lowly usefulness as that of Ned Franks
have any attraction for the reader; if, in his own voyage over life's
perilous sea, while he blesses the beacon, he despises not the buoy;
while honoring God's gifted ministers, if he feels that there is
spiritual work also for those who have little eloquence but that of a
consistent Christian life,--he may find in these pages something to
interest him, and possibly, if God bless my humble labors, to help him
to "sheer off" from some of the dangerous points where hopes have too
often been wrecked, and promising barks have gone down.



II.

The Falling Almshouses.


"I'm afraid, Ned, that there were but poor collections in church
to-day," observed Persis to her husband, as they sat together by the
fire on the evening of the following Sunday.

"I'm not afraid, but I'm certain of it," replied Ned Franks. "Sands
told me this afternoon that the whole collections after the two sermons
only came up to four pound three, and when our poor vicar's bank-note
was added, there were not ten pounds altogether. What are ten pounds
to repair seven almshouses that have scarcely been touched for the
last hundred years, and to build up another that has fallen down
through sheer old age! The state of those cottages is a disgrace to
the village. I wish that Queen Anne's old counsellor, when he built
these eight almshouses for our poor, had left something for keeping
the places in repair. Those still standing are hardly safe, and as for
comfort--one would almost as lief live in an open boat as in one of
them; they let in the wind from all the four quarters of the compass,
and the rain too, for the matter of that."

"Poor old Mrs. Mills tells me that she is in fear every windy night
of her chimney coming down through the roof, or of her casement being
blown right in," observed Persis; "and Sarah Mason's wall leans over so
to one side, that if it is not propped up soon, the whole cottage will
be coming down with a crash, and burying the old dame under its ruins!"

"I must see to that propping myself to-morrow after lessons are over,"
said the school-master, rather to himself than to his wife; "Ben Stone
will give us a beam or two, like a good-natured fellow as he is; the
worthy old woman shall not be buried alive if we can hinder it."

Propping Mrs. Mason's tumble-down wall would not be the first piece
of work done by the one-armed school-master of Colme for the old
almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow. Many a time had Ned clambered up to
the top of one or other of the wretched dwellings, as actively as he
would have made his way up into the shrouds of a vessel, to replace
thatch blown away, or in winter to clear off the heavy masses of snow
that threatened to crush in the roofs by their weight. Scarcely a day
passed without some aged inmate of one of the almshouses hobbling to
the school to ask Ned Franks if nothing could be done to mend a chimney
that would smoke, or a window that would rattle, or whether there were
no way of keeping the rain from making little ponds in the floor. Ned,
with his one hand, was more clever at "stopping a leak" or "splicing
a brace" than most men with two hands, for he worked with a will; but
when he had done all that he could for the counsellor's tumble-down
almshouses, he was wont to say that no caulking of his could make such
crazy old hulks seaworthy. "They need to be hauled into a dry dock, and
rigged out new:" such was the one-armed sailor's oft expressed opinion,
and it was one which no one could contradict.

"Everything seemed against our having a good collection to-day,"
remarked Persis; "our old baronet dead, and his lady away, dear Mrs.
Lane absent in France, and, worst of all, our vicar still so ill, and
unable to preach the sermon himself. His nephew the curate is very
nice, but--but of course it is not the same thing."

"I'm afraid that half the people did not hear Mr. Leyton, and half of
those who did would not understand him," observed Ned Franks; "yet he
gave us true gospel sermons; there was nothing to find fault within the
matter, and one shouldn't be too nice about the manner."

"Mr. Leyton is so young and shy," said Persis, "he cannot speak with
authority like his uncle, and then he scarcely knows any of us yet; but
I dare say that when he gets courage--"

"I'll be bound you're talking of our young parson," exclaimed a
jovial voice, as the door of the school-master's little room was
thrown open, and Ben Stone, the stout carpenter, entered. Ben Stone
always considered himself a privileged person, and usually omitted
tapping for admittance. "I never care to knock," quoth the jovial
carpenter, "unless I've a hammer in my hand, and a nail to drive in,
and then there's a knocking and no mistake." Stone came in, nodded a
good-evening to Persis, and taking possession of a chair by the fire,
as if he felt perfectly at home, he stretched out his broad hands to
the cheerful blaze, for the weather was rather cold.

"You were talking of the young parson," he continued; "he's not one to
conjure money out of folks' pockets. Did you ever hear such a sermon?
What had all the silver and gold, and shittim wood, and precious
onyx-stones, that he talked of, to do with repairing a set of old
almshouses? Our people might open their eyes wide at his grand words,
but they kept their purses close shut, I take it."

"The sermon had plenty of meaning; there had been much study spent upon
it," observed Franks, who disliked criticism on preachers, and who had
besides a kindly feeling towards the young Curate of Colme.

"Meaning! Oh, I dare say, if one could get at it," laughed the
carpenter; "but when one wants to give a loaf of bread to a hungry
man, one does not generally stick it at the top of a pole; there's not
every one as can climb as you do, Ned Franks, or bring down onyx-stones
and shittim wood to patch up rotten deal timbers. Why, there was but
one little bit of gold to-day in the plate, and a scanty sprinkling
of silver, though one might have thought the state of those wretched
cottages would have preached loud enough of itself."

Persis and Ned could have told where that one little bit of gold had
come from, and why it was that a certain hearth-rug with a pattern of
lilies and roses which had taken the fancy of the school-master's wife,
and was to have been a present from her husband on the anniversary
of their wedding, still hung up in Grant's shop, while their old
one, faded and patched, still kept its place in front of their fire.
But these family matters were things which the Franks never cared to
talk of to others; they had given the gold with cheerful hearts, as
a joint-offering to the Lord; and though it was more from them than
a thousand pounds would have been from Sir Lacy Barton, they never
thought that there was any merit in the little sacrifice which they had
made.

"I dare say," continued Ben Stone, "that Mr. Claudius Leyton is a fine
scholar, but he's no more fitted for parish work than a gimlet is to
saw through a plank." While the carpenter was picking holes in the
curate's preaching, he was at the same time, unconsciously of course,
picking another with the end of his stick in Persis's unfortunate rug.
"Why, he's afraid of the sound of his own voice, and can't so much as
touch his hat to you, without blushing up to his eyes. It was rare fun
to see him yesterday. He came to my workshop in the morning, to ask me
where he could find Mrs. Sands, the wife of our clerk. 'Now,' thinks
I, 'I know well enough why you want to visit Nancy. She showed in the
face of half the village yesterday, that she had had a drop too much,
and you think that it's a parson's business to reprove as well as to
teach. But if you ever screw up your courage to rebuke Nancy Sands,
I'll give my new hatchet for a two-penny nail!' I told the young parson
where Sands's cottage lay, just in sight of my own, and I watched him
as he slowly walked towards it. I'd half a mind to go after him, and
see how such a lamb of a shepherd would manage such a vixen of a sheep.
I marked him shaking his head slightly as he walked, as if he were
conning over what he should say; and though I could only see his back,
I could just fancy the anxious, uneasy look on his smooth young face."

"Poor young clergyman!" said Persis. "He was about the most painful
of all a minister's duties. I should be very sorry myself to have to
rebuke Nancy Sands."

"Something like having to pull out a tigress's teeth!" laughed Ben
Stone, who had succeeded in making a large hole out of a very little
one in the old rug. "But Mr. Leyton never got so far as the pulling! I
watched him, would you believe it, walk three times up and down before
the gate of Nancy's little garden; it was clear he couldn't screw
up his courage to go in. Then she chanced to come out of her door.
Maybe she was wondering why the parson took that bit of road for his
quarter-deck walk, or she guessed what he was after, and thought she
would brave out the business."

"Do you know what passed between the two?" inquired Franks.

"I saw Mr. Leyton raise his hat a bit, in his very polite way, and
Nancy drop a little saucy bob of a courtesy, as who should say, 'What
have you come here for?' and almost immediately afterwards the parson
walked away a good deal quicker than he had walked to the place. I was
curious to know what had passed, so I put down my saw, and went up the
road to Nancy, who was still in her garden, pulling up groundsel; she
has a rare crop of it there, and little besides. 'What said the young
parson to you, Nancy?' says I. 'Oh!' says she, 'he hummed and hawed
a bit, and then told me--as if I didn't know it afore--that as his
uncle is ill he has come to this here place to do duty for him, and
that I must remember;' and at that he stuck and stammered and blushed,
so I took him up sharp, and I says,--says I (Ben Stone mimicked the
insolent toss of Nancy's head as he repeated her words), 'Yes, I
remember this aint the first time as you've been at Colme; your mother
brought you to the vicarage afore you was out of petticoats; that aint
so very long ago.'"

"How could she?" exclaimed Persis Franks; but Ben went on with his
story.

"'And so,' continued Nancy, 'he was put down in a moment and took
himself off. I guessed what he'd come after, and I wasn't going to be
lectured and preached to by a smooth-faced boy like that!'" Ben burst
into a hoarse laugh, as if he thought the discomfiture of the youthful
minister a very good jest; neither of his hearers joined in his mirth.

"Why, you don't seem to see the fun of it," cried Ben Stone; "but if
you'd heard Nancy Sands, you'd have laughed as I do. The old tigress is
more than a match for the shy young blushing boy of a parson."

Ben stopped suddenly short, for there was a knock at the outer door,
and he was aware that whoever gave it must have overheard his last
sentence, for Ben habitually spoke very loudly. Moreover, there was
something peculiar in the knock: it was unlike what would have been
given by the knuckles of any rustic. The three in the school-master's
parlor intuitively rose from their seats, even before the door was
opened, and Mr. Claudius Leyton appeared.

The curate did indeed look extremely youthful. A small frame, delicate
features, and a complexion like a maiden's, with smooth, fine, flaxen
hair parted down the middle, gave the impression that the curate might
be five or six years younger than he really was, and that a student's
cap and gown would have suited him better than the dress which he wore.
Notwithstanding his shy, nervous manner, however, Claudius Leyton was
thoroughly the gentleman, and Ben Stone felt more awkward than he would
have cared to own at his slighting observations having been overheard.
The burly carpenter first made matters worse by a muttered "Beg pardon,
didn't know who was there;" and suddenly becoming aware that an apology
was a blunder, he said something about his old woman wanting him at
home, and, in his hurry to make his escape, first dropped his stick,
then, in recovering it, stumbled over the cradle which was at the side
of Mrs. Franks, and awoke the baby.

The cry of the infant effected a seasonable diversion; it covered
the retreat of the carpenter, and gave Persis an opportunity of soon
quitting the room and carrying the child upstairs, that the curate
might have an undisturbed conversation with her husband. Franks placed
a chair for Mr. Leyton with more of courteous respect than he would
have shown to his cousin, Sir Lacy, the lord of the manor, while Ben
Stone went home and made his wife merry with the account of what had
occurred, wondering, between his explosive bursts of laughter, how the
curate had liked to hear himself called "a blushing boy of a parson."

No one knows how often Claudius Leyton had repeated to himself, as if
the words haunted him, the exhortation to Timothy, _Let no man despise
thy youth_; nor what a burden the want of self-confidence, added to
natural shyness, was to the Curate of Colme. Mr. Leyton lacked neither
talent nor zeal, but he was painfully aware that as yet he had not the
weight and influence with his flock which every faithful pastor should
have; and the young clergyman sometimes seriously contemplated wearing
spectacles, although his sight was perfect, in order to take away that
boyishness of appearance which marred his usefulness so much.



III.

The Curate's Visit


"I have many apologies to make, Mr. Franks, for calling so late, and on
a Sunday evening," said Mr. Leyton, after nervously motioning to the
school-master to take a seat opposite to him; "and I'm afraid that I've
disturbed Mrs. Franks."

"You are welcome, sir, at any hour, and on any day," replied Ned, "for
I am sure that you come on your Master's business. My noisy little man
will be better upstairs."

"I'm anxious to consult you, Mr. Franks," said the curate, sitting
forward in his chair, and speaking faintly, for his voice was weak, and
two full services had almost exhausted his powers. "The proceeds of the
collections to-day are, as you are probably aware, insufficient--sadly
insufficient for the purpose for which they are required. It is most
unfortunate that the illness of my uncle prevented his preaching
himself."

Franks could not speak a flattering untruth even to soothe the evident
mortification of the poor young clergyman, who had spared no pains in
preparing his unsuccessful appeals. There was a little pause, which was
broken by Mr. Leyton.

"My aunt, Mrs. Curtis, wrote last week about the state of the
almshouses to Mrs. Lane, and I sent a letter to Sir Lacy," (Mr. Leyton
was related on the mother's side to the lord of the manor, as he was on
the father's to the wife of the Vicar of Colme); "these are the only
large proprietors in the parish. Neither my aunt nor I have as yet
received any reply."

"You are never likely to get any from our new baronet," thought Franks,
who knew well that the money of Sir Lacy was far more likely to go on
the race-course, than in relieving the wants of the poor. He, however,
only remarked aloud, "The silver and the gold is the Lord's, sir;
and, as the need is great, I trust and believe that he will send the
supplies."

"The illness of Mr. Curtis prevents our being able to trouble him with
anything like business," continued Mr. Leyton, "and my aunt scarcely
quits his bedside. She and I have, however, been anxiously revolving
what can be done; for if the almshouses be not soon put under thorough
repair, not one of them will be standing next year, and their poor old
inmates will have no home but the Union."

"That would fall especially hard on one like Sarah Mason," remarked
Franks; "she has lived in her little cottage as wife and widow for
twenty years, and her one earthly wish is to die in it. 'Twould
well-nigh break her heart to be forced to turn out of the place."

"My aunt was suggesting to me that Bat Bell, the miller, is one to whom
an appeal might be made. He has given nothing as yet to the cause."

"Nor is likely to give, I fear," said the sailor.

"He is rich, as I hear," observed Mr. Leyton.

"He has a thriving business at the mill, sir, and some hundred acres of
land besides, which he lets to advantage. Bat Bell has but one child,
for whom it is supposed that he is saving; for, if reports be true, Bat
never spends one-half of what he gets, and must have put by enough of
money to rebuild all the almshouses, if he choose to do so. But it is
not always those who make most who are found most ready to part with
their cash. If the heavily freighted vessel runs on the sandbank, the
more she has in her the deeper she sinks; and if a man has passed half
his life in getting, without giving, it needs a strong cable indeed,
and a mighty power, to draw him off that sandbank,--the love of money."

"I have heard from my aunt something of the character of the
close-fisted miller," said the curate; "yet, in our necessity, she
thinks that a strong personal appeal ought to be made. The almshouses
of Wild Rose Hollow can be seen from the mill; the object for which we
plead is directly before the eyes of this Bell."

Franks smiled and shook his head: "Had mere pity been enough to draw
him out, the money would have been forthcoming long ere this, sir,"
said he. "Bat Bell has seen those cottages gradually falling to pieces
year after year, and has talked with the old folks in them; yet I've
good reason to know that not so much as a wisp of straw for thatching
has ever come from the mill. Pity isn't a cable strong enough to move a
nature like that of Bat Bell."

The young minister looked perplexed, and passed his hand across his
forehead.

"But, sir," continued Franks, "we know that the shortest road to every
man's heart is through Heaven, and it's not for us to give up any work
for God as hopeless. No doubt the lady is right; there had better be a
personal appeal."

A light flush suffused the countenance of the clergyman. He avoided
looking at Franks, and played uneasily with the light cane which he
held as he said, speaking with evident effort, "I came to consult you
about it. I am a comparative stranger here; the parishioners scarcely
yet know me, and--and it's a new thing to me to ask for money. I
thought that if you were to speak instead of me, Mr. Franks, the appeal
would have better chance of being successful."

Full before the mind of Claudius Leyton was his late encounter with
Nancy Sands, and perhaps it was also remembered by the sailor, as he
simply replied, "I can but try, sir."

An expression of relief passed over the face of the youthful clergyman.
His thanks were brief; but when he almost instantly rose to take leave,
he held out his hand to the school-master, and his fair small fingers
closed on Ned's strong sunburnt hand with a kindly pressure, which told
more than his words. When the door had closed behind Mr. Leyton, Ned
Franks thought, with a smile, "That poor, shy young minister will sleep
more soundly to-night from knowing that he is not to be the one to
board Bat Bell. A gentleman like that feels it so awkward to play the
beggar, even for the holiest cause."

On hearing the outer door close, Persis returned to her husband, and
the babe, who had again fallen asleep, was gently replaced in his
cradle.

"Persis," said the school-master, gayly, "I'm to go and try to draw
money from the miller. I believe I might as well try to draw money from
the millstone. I doubt whether Bell would put down half-a-crown to-day,
to save all the seven remaining almshouses from being pulled down
to-morrow. But I could not refuse speaking to him, Mr. Leyton was so
anxious about it."

"I wish you success," said Persis.

"Your wishes are stronger than your hopes, I take it. Bell is a
thoroughly selfish man, except as regards love for his child,--sunk in
the love of gold. It seems to me, wife, that we might almost divide
the world into two classes,--those whose motto is 'Get, get,' and the
other whose motto is 'Give, give;' those of the closed fist, and those
of the open palm. The one set make money their idol; the other make
money their servant. Now, we know that _the love of money is the root
of all evil_; that is written in the Word of Truth; and if one sees the
root in a man, what can one look for but evil fruits? Remember what our
Lord himself said, _How hardly shall they who trust in riches enter the
kingdom of God_!"

"But let us likewise remember what our Lord also said on the subject,
dear Ned: _With man it is impossible, but not with God, for with God
all things are possible._ Think of Zaccheus; he who had been covetous
and an extortioner,--the publican, who had clearly made money by false
accusation, or he would never have spoken of restoring it fourfold."

"Ay, ay," replied Ned Franks, thoughtfully; "there was a vessel sunk
over hulk--over bulwarks--deep in the sand, only the masts seen above
it; and yet it could be drawn out, and cleansed, and righted, and
floated, and sent on with a favoring breeze, as goodly and fair as if
it had never grounded upon that dangerous bank. But it was the power of
the Master that did this, and the love of Christ was the mighty chain
that drew the publican from his old habits and evil ways, and made the
covetous man give half of his goods to the poor."

"That power still can work--that love still can constrain," said Persis.

"So let us ask for a blessing on my visit," cried Franks. "I'll be up
to-morrow before sunrise, to see to the propping of old Sarah's wall,
and after the morning's lessons, I'll be off to the mill. Don't you
wait dinner for me, Persis; maybe I'll not manage to get back till the
boys meet for lessons again."



IV.

Joyous and Free.


Ned Franks took down his cap from its peg, as soon as his merry young
scholars, like a swarm of bees from the hive, had poured out from the
low-browed porch of the school-house. But before he had time to start
for the mill, Persis, baby in arms, was at his side, with a sandwich
neatly put up in paper for her husband to eat on his way.

"No fear of my being put on half rations while wifie has charge of the
stores," said Ned Franks.

He only lingered to kiss the soft little face of his babe, fragrant and
sweet as a rosebud, and then set off for his visit to Bat Bell, though
not very hopeful as to its result. The sun was shining brightly, the
trees bursting into leaf; the lark in the blue sky, the thrush from its
bough, were pouring forth songs of joy. Every sight, scent, and sound
was a source of pleasure to Ned Franks.

"Those merry little fellows are piping aloft," thought he, "to cheer
their mates in their nests. Well may my heart sing, too, for who has
such a home, and such a mate, and such a nestling as mine? The birds
carol merrily, for they cannot look forward, the pleasure of the day is
enough for them; but far more cause have I to sing, for I _can_ look
forward and think,--the spring-time is bright, but the harvest will
be brighter; there is joy now, but the _fulness of joy_ is to come!
Ay, I can look forward and upward, too, and see what the birds cannot
see,--the hand that scatters the blessings over my path, the Father's
hand that filleth all things with plenteousness! And even like his free
bounty should be that of his children; _freely ye have received, freely
give_!"

A thin, weary wayfarer was sitting on the side of the path; his
patched coat, his half-worn-out shoes, and sunken cheek told of need,
although the man was no beggar. Following simply the impulse of his
heart, Franks pulled out his sandwich and courteously offered it to the
stranger. The smile and hearty blessing with which it was received sent
the one-armed school-master on his way with a heart even more joyous
than it had been a few minutes before. To give is a godlike pleasure,
and he who does not know what it is to do so _with delight_ has missed
one of the richest luxuries which man can enjoy below.

As Ned Franks passed along the high road, he could see in a neighboring
field a man engaged in sowing.

"To bury seed is not to lose seed," thought Ned, "though it seem for a
while to disappear, like money which is given to the Lord, or to the
poor for his sake. A man who spends all that he has on himself or his
family alone seems to me like one who grinds and bakes and eats all
his seed-corn. He gains some present advantage, no doubt, but he will
find want and dearth in the end, for he has not sown for the future.
And the man who lays by and hoards what ought to be given in charity is
like one who locks up his seed-corn in a chest until it grows mouldy
and worthless. It neither feeds him nor grows for him; it is worse than
good for nothing. While _he that gives to the poor lends to the Lord_,
and the Lord will give him rich increase, not because of the man's
deserts, but because of our heavenly Father's own free bounty towards
those who seek to please him."

Ned, walking on with quick, active step, overtook Ben Stone, who,
carrying his basket of carpenter's tools, was proceeding at a more
leisurely pace in the same direction.

"Whither bound, messmate?" cried Franks, as he came up with the burly
carpenter.

"I've a job at the Hall," replied Stone; "the new baronet will be
coming down to the old house one of these days, and will want to find
everything right there. Where are you going, Ned Franks?"

"I'm going to see if Bat Bell won't add something to the collection
for the tumble-down cottages in Wild Rose Hollow. He was not at church
yesterday."

Ben Stone burst out laughing, as he had a habit of doing upon the
slightest occasion. "Going to ask Bat Bell for money! Going to try how
much meal you can scrape off an old knife-board! ha! ha! ha! I put
my shilling in the plate yesterday;"--the carpenter said this with
a self-satisfied air, as one who felt conscious of having done the
handsome thing;--"but I don't mind promising to double whatever you
manage to squeeze out of Bat Bell; only, of course he mustn't know that
I've said so."

"Don't make a rash engagement, messmate," said Ned Franks, with a
smile; "I may come down upon you for some ready rhino."

"Well, and if you do," answered the good-humored carpenter, "I'll not
flinch from my word. I've enough and to spare, and what one gives away,
as we all know, goes to our good account in the end."

"That depends on the spirit in which we give," said Franks, more
gravely, for he had good reason for suspecting that his companion
held very mistaken views on the subject. "One can't keep a debtor and
creditor account in heaven. We know from the Bible that a man might
give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet that it might profit him
nothing to do so."

"That's one of the texts as I never can make out the meaning of," said
the carpenter. "To give is to give, and money is money; and why, when
two men do exactly the same thing, one should have a blessing, and
another none, quite passes my poor understanding."

"If one could suppose that all money given in charity could be put to
a test, that only what is really offered for the Lord's sake should
remain money, and all the rest be turned into withered leaves, don't
you think we should have heaps of dry leaves, as in autumn, to be
scattered about by the wind? Consider all that's given for mere show,
all that's given from natural pity, all that's given because it would
be thought strange and mean to do less than others; _none_ of that
money is given to God, so we must not expect that God will accept it."

"Well, I grant ye this," said the carpenter, "if every man's almsgiving
could be known only to himself and to God, there's many a one as gives
now would keep his money snug in his pocket. But I'm not one of those,
my good friend. I know, as we can carry nothing out of the world, that
it's best to have something laid up in the bank above. But here your
way divides from my way,--you go down the dell, I keep to the road.
Good-day to you, Ned Franks, let me know what you get from Bat Bell;
I'll be bound 'twill be nothing to ruin me. I've not much to do at the
Hall to-day, but measuring and fitting, so maybe I'll be back before
you return; just drop in at my shop and tell me what's your success;"
and with a friendly nod and complacent smile, the carpenter went along
the high road, while the school-master turned down the little wooded
lane which led to the mill.

"I should have liked to have had a little longer talk with Ben Stone,"
thought Franks. "I'm afraid that he thinks that he is actually _buying_
God's favor, and _earning_ heaven, by the little kind acts that he
does! That's a kind of error which so many people run foul of. The
sunken rock of self-righteousness is, maybe, just as dangerous as
the sandbank of love of money. I must have a care that I don't take
to judging others, and so split on it myself. I spoke very hardly
yester-evening of Bat Bell the miller, yet, when I consider what a
poor wretched sinner I am, receiving so much from God, and showing
my gratitude in such a poor way, I'm scarce likely to run on that
rock. When one measures one's little drop of charity, and even that
not pure, with the great unfathomable ocean of love of Him who gave
his life-blood for us, one is far more inclined to ask forgiveness
for doing so little, than to expect reward for doing so much. There's
nothing that _can_ give the best of us any claim to the least of God's
mercies, but the merits of Christ. That is a truth that I see the
more plainly the longer I live. To attempt to hold by one's own merits
would be like trying to go to sea in a bark made of gossamer threads.
The gossamer web looks goodly enough when the sunbeams are glinting
upon it, and the dew-drops are nestling in it, but no man in his senses
would trust his life to its power to bear up his weight. It would be
a madder thing still for him to trust his soul's salvation to his own
merits. If any mortal had anything in himself to boast of or to trust
to, that mortal was St. Paul, who was ready to spend and to be spent;
who had _suffered the loss of all things_ for God,--a very different
kind of self-denial from what we dare to call by that name,--and yet
what was the feeling of St. Paul? Did he think thus he had earned
heaven? Did he not say, _God forbid that I should glory save in the
cross of our Lord Jesus Christ_? If we were to strip ourselves of all
that we have, if we were to give away health and time and life itself
for God's service, we should never get beyond that verse, we should
have nothing whereof to boast, nothing (out of Christ) whereon to rest."

Ned had now descended to the bottom of a beautiful little dell,
through which gushed a rapid stream of water, turning the large wheel
of Bell's mill. The wheel was, however, at this time still, and its
monotonous clack did not mingle with the gurgle of the brook and the
song of the birds. Franks had many delightful associations connected
with that wooded dell; for there stood the cottage in which Persis, as
a maiden, had dwelt with her aged grandfather; it was there that he
had wooed and won her; from that little ivy-mantled nest he had, three
years before, taken his bride to church. The cottage had now other
inhabitants, but Franks could not pass the spot without stooping to
pluck a violet to carry back to his wife.

"I'll give this to Persis," he said to himself; "she'll like a flower
from the old home, though, thank God, I believe that she has never
regretted leaving it for the new one. This much I can answer for,
leastways, that every day since that happy one on which God gave her to
me has made me prize his gift more dearly."



V.

An Appeal.


Bat Bell was a particular man, regular and precise in all his ways, who
had, as it were, stiffened into his own mould, especially since the
death of his wife, and who did not choose, as he often said, "to be put
out for nobody." Bell hated a visitor at work-time, and he was so keen
after making money that his work-time began early and ended late. He
hated a visitor at meal-time, probably because he did not wish any one
to share his meal. Franks was aware of this, and tried so to time his
visit to the mill that he should catch Bell in that half-hour of rest
which usually followed his early dinner.

"He'll be playing with his Bessy," thought Franks, "and there's
nothing on earth that softens and opens a man's heart like hearing the
voice of his own little child, or dancing it on his knee." Such was
the conclusion to which the school-master came after his four weeks'
experience of the feelings of a father.

Franks, however, found little Bessy, not with her parent, but amusing
herself in the lane close by the mill. She ran up to him with open
arms, and held up her little face for a kiss, for Ned was a prime
favorite with every child who knew him, and, during her mother's last
illness, Bessy had spent a week at a time under the care of the Franks.
She was a plump, rosy-cheeked, merry little girl, of about five years
of age.

"Is father at home, my little lass?" asked Ned.

"Yes; father's in there," replied Bessy, nodding in the direction of
the door of the cottage attached to the mill; "but he lets me be here
to look for the flowers."

"Mind you don't go near the water, little one," said Franks; "keep to
the primroses under the hedge;" and, smiling a good-by to the child, he
proceeded to the dwelling of her father.

Bat Bell was alone in his parlor, seated on his high-backed wooden
chair before the solid deal table, on which appeared the remains of
some bread and cheese, and the empty pewter pot which had held his
beer. Bell was a tall, bony man, naturally of rather a dark complexion,
but skin, hair, and dress were all powdered with the flour which
showed what was his daily occupation, his shaggy black brows especially
having formed a resting-place for the white dust, as the thatched eaves
of a dwelling for snow.

"Good-day to you, Ned Franks, glad to see you; what brings you this
way?" asked the miller, holding out his bony, whitened hand to his
visitor, with as much of a smile on his face as the stiffness of the
leathery skin would allow.

Franks was not one to approach any subject in a round about way; if
there was any difficulty before him, he usually took what he called "a
header" into the very middle of it. He did not say he had just looked
in to see an old friend, or to ask if little Bessy would come and look
at his baby, or utter any remark about the weather, or express any hope
that business was brisk; he said what he had come to say the moment
after he had taken a seat.

"I've called, neighbor, to talk to you about the almshouses yonder in
Wild Rose Hollow;" through the window towards which Ned glanced as he
spoke, the chimney of the nearest one could be seen. "I was up at
Sarah Mason's early this morning, to try what I could do for her wall;
but no patching of mine can make the place fit for a human being to
live in, let alone a rheumatic old woman. You know well the state of
the cottages; something must be done for them without much delay, or
the old hulks will soon fall to pieces."

Every symptom of a smile had disappeared from the hard face of Bat
Bell as soon as his visitor had mentioned Wild Rose Hollow; and when
Ned paused, the miller's only reply was a "humph," uttered in a very
discouraging tone.

"Don't you think that it would be a shame and disgrace to Colme, if
dwellings that have afforded shelter for two hundred and fifty years
to the aged respectable poor of our village were all suffered to go to
utter decay from neglect, as one of them already has done?"

"Why don't young Sir Lacy mend 'em? He has money enough," said the
miller, "and flings it away right and left, they say, in ways that are
little to his credit."

"If he does not come forward, is his backwardness an example to be
followed?" asked Franks.

"Let the clergy see to it; it's their business," said Bell, with a
little disagreeable twitch of the nostril, which with him was always a
sign that something was "putting him out."

"Mr. Leyton preached twice yesterday in aid of the work, but the
collections made were wretched,--not one tenth of what is absolutely
required."

"The parish overseers must do something."

"They refuse to stir a finger," said Franks; "they say it's no business
of theirs."

"Then I'm sure that it's no business of mine," interrupted the miller.

"Is it no business of ours," said the school-master, earnestly, "that
they whom we have known for years, they who have lived amongst us, and
hoped to die amongst us, should be deprived of the comfort, the quiet,
the independence which they so dearly prize?"

"I'm sorry for them," said the miller, carelessly; "the founder should
have left something to keep the wheel going."

"What is wanted is the full stream of Christian love," observed Franks.
"There are scores of charities in London kept constantly working by
nothing but that stream."

The miller did not look as if he had a drop of such love within him.
"It is clear," thought Franks, "that I'm not in the right tack yet. Let
me try him on that of conscience. Why," he continued, aloud, "there's
no plainer command in the Bible than _To do good and to distribute,
forget not; let us do good unto all men, and specially unto them that
are of the household of faith_."

"I know something of the Bible, too," replied Bat Bell, coldly, and
the twitch was more unpleasant than before. "I'm a father, and I don't
forget that it's written that _He who provideth not for his own is
worse than an infidel_."

"Never let that text be repeated to justify hoarding!" exclaimed
Franks, with some warmth, for it flashed across his mind how the devil
himself can quote Scripture. "If we are to be content with food and
raiment for ourselves, shall we not be content with them also for our
children, without gathering up for them gold and silver, which may only
prove a snare, as has happened in thousands of cases? I am a father,
too," Ned added more mildly, for he saw on the countenance of Bell
that he had spoken too warmly; "I am a father, and love my little one
as much as a father can love; but if thoughts of saving for him made
me close my hand and heart against the claims of God's poor, I should
feel, that whatever else I might leave him, I dared not expect to leave
him that blessing which alone giveth true riches. I should feel that my
babe was coming between my soul and my God, and that I must look for
God to punish me in him. Of whatever we make our idol, the Lord is wont
to make his rod."

"I've no such superstitious fears!" cried Bat Bell, rising from his
seat with a gesture of impatience. Had his visitor been any one but Ned
Franks, from whom he had received kindness in time of sorrow, he would
have given his guest a broader hint to depart.

"Let us not talk of fear, then, neighbor," said Franks, also rising,
but with no intention of yet giving up his attempt to move that cold,
hard heart. "Have patience with me a few moments more, while I speak
of a nobler motive,--the love of God. Look around you, Bat Bell, look
at this comfortable home, where want is unknown; you were ill last
winter; look at the health and strength restored you now; listen
to the merry voice of your child,"--a joyous carol was heard from
without,--"and then ask yourself from whom came all these blessings,
the loss of any one of which would throw you into sore distress. The
goods that you have you owe"--

"To hard work, the labor of my hands in the sweat of my brow,"
interrupted the miller.

"Who gave the hand strength and the mind reason? whose power made the
stream which turns your mill? whose sunshine ripens the corn on your
fields? But why speak only of earthly blessings,--we have more, far
more to thank God for! We have not only bodies but souls to care for;
we have not only time but eternity to live for. Can we be content to
sit still and do nothing for others, when we know what God's Son hath
done for us; when we think at what a price he bought our salvation;
how, though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor? He calls us
to make no sacrifice for him that he has not first made a thousand-fold
for us; and when he would teach us what charity should be, the Lord
sums up all in the words, _Love one another as I have loved you_."

Ned Franks's appeal was interrupted by the door being thrown suddenly
open, and little Bessy's running into the room. The white pinafore of
the child, held up by one chubby hand, formed a receptacle for a number
of wild flowers which she had been gathering in the lane. With her blue
eyes sparkling with pleasure, the child ran up to her father.

"See, I've plucked 'em for you, every one!" she cried, emptying her
pinafore on the chair from which Bat Bell had lately risen; "no,--all
but this dead primrose,--it's withered and bad, it's not fit to give
father!" Bessy threw the faded flower away. "I've brought you the
_first_ I could find; now, I'll run and get more for myself."

Bell caught up his girl, lifted her up high, and then kissed her again
and again before he set her again on the floor. Bessy nodded merrily at
Ned.

"You shall have some, too," she said; "but the _first_ are always for
father;" and away ran the happy child, leaving her spring flowers
behind her.

And Bessy left something besides. The visit of the little one had
seemed to bring sunshine with it. The hard lines on the parent's face
were softened, every feature relaxed, the cold, money-making man was a
parent, and a fond parent still. Franks felt that the unconscious Bessy
had acted the part of a little ally; that she was helping to stir the
deeply-imbedded vessel which he had been trying to move.

"Will that dear little girl enjoy her flowers less because the _first_
are always for her father?" said Franks, as soon as the sound of the
pattering feet was heard no longer. "Would that God's children were
more like her, bringing their gifts with readiness, with joy, and not
like too many of us, offering only the withered thing, the dead thing,
that which we will not miss, to him whose goodness towards us has been
greater than that of any father on earth!"

Bat Bell's hand approached his pocket, though he did not actually put
it in. "Ned Franks," said the miller, "I tell you honestly, that I
wouldn't stand this kind of talk from any man but yourself; but I know
that your practice is better than your preaching; so, as you've set
your heart on getting something for these cottages, just as a matter
of favor to you"--Bell stopped short; he could not make up his mind
either to finish his sentence, or to draw out his purse.

"I do not want you to give as a matter of favor to me," cried Franks,
"nor is the state of the cottages what is uppermost now in my mind.
I came here, indeed, anxious to get something for _them_, but I am a
hundred-fold more anxious to get something for you!" The miller raised
his dusty eyebrows with surprise, but Franks went on, without giving
him time to interrupt the earnest flow of his speech. "If we knew that
our Lord and Master had come down again to this earth, that he was in
our land, our country, our village, nay, that he was deigning to dwell
in one of these cottages, which, wretched as they are, are better than
the Bethlehem stable, would we not deem it the first of honors to be
allowed to bring gifts to him? Would not you and I be ready to pull
down our own dwellings to get beams and rafters for his, and think the
best that we have, yea, _all_ that we have, too little to offer to our
King? And it is all the same, Bat Bell: what we give to the poor for
his sake, Christ receives as given to himself. _Inasmuch as ye did
it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto me._ Yes, my
friend, I want help for the cottages, but I much more want something
for _you_,--the joy of hearing at the last day the Saviour's welcome,
_Come, ye blessed of my Father_."



VI.

The Return.


The fervent appeal, coming as it did from the very heart of the
pleader, had stirred the stubborn hearer a little, though but a little
way from his first position. Bat Bell could not help remembering that
there was a reverse to the blessing, a "_Depart ye cursed_," for those
of whom Christ would witness, "_Ye did it not unto me_." Bell feared
that he might have lived all his life under the shadow of that curse;
so, anxious to justify himself to his own conscience even more than to
Franks, he took refuge in the remembrance of what he deemed a good deed.

"I can give,--I _have_ given, and largely, too," said the miller,
leaning his head against the wall. "There's my nephew, Rob Gates; did I
not pay fifty pounds to 'prentice him out,--_fifty pounds_," repeated
the miller emphatically, "of which I have not had one penny back,
though the ungrateful dog has been in business these three years?"

Upon this one act of generosity Bell always fell back when any call on
his charity was made, as if he considered that the lent fifty pounds
covered every claim which could be made on his purse by religion or
by humanity. It always gave him an opportunity of declaiming against
the ingratitude of mankind; because his nephew had not repaid his
loan, all who needed aid from the miller became in his eyes covetous
and thankless, if not dishonest. Bat Bell tried to believe that in
hazarding fifty pounds he had already given enough to God; it would
have startled him to have been told that not one farthing of the
money could be reckoned as real charity. Bell had helped his nephew
from _natural affection_, and from _family pride_. The miller had
acted exactly as he would have acted if he had been a Turk or an
Infidel,--exactly as he would have acted had he never heard the name of
the Lord. Tried by this test, of how small a part of our alms, alas!
will the Master be able to say, _Ye did it unto me_!

"That miserable fifty pounds," thought Ned, who had heard of it often
before, and who knew too well that the miller used its loss as a
perpetual argument to silence conscience, and excuse his neglect of the
poor.

"You see, Ned Franks," continued the miller, "a man who has once made
sacrifices for others, and has only met with ingratitude; who has spent
upon a good-for-nothing scapegrace of a nephew--"

The miller suddenly stopped and started. Ned, whose back was towards
the open door, only knew by the change on the face of Bell, the look of
surprise that flashed across it, that a third party had unexpectedly
joined them. Turning round he saw a stout young man, in a shaggy coat,
with a knapsack on his shoulders, and a broad grin on his good-humored
face, who advanced with both hands extended to the miller, exclaiming
in a loud, hearty tone, "Here's the good-for-nothing scapegrace to
answer for himself."

[Illustration: "Here's the good-for-nothing scapegrace to answer for
himself." p. 58.]

Bell gave his nephew a cordial welcome both with hand and voice, and
Franks was so glad to see the hearty greeting, that he did not ask
himself whether it were possible that the uncle's pleasure at seeing
the young man might partly be owing to the hope of his now having the
old debt cleared off.

"So you were giving me a pretty character, uncle," cried Rob Gates,
after he had thrown himself on a chair; "well, I can't grumble at that,
as you've neither seen nor heard from me for many a long year; but I
never was much of a scribe, and don't trouble the postman from January
to December. I don't care to write till I've something to say, so I
waited till I could play the postman myself, and bring a kind of notes
that are easily read, and will tell more of gratitude, duty, and that
sort of thing, than reams of foolscap scribbled all over."

With a look of honest satisfaction, the young man pulled a large
leathern pocket-book from his breast-pocket. His movements were watched
with keen interest by the miller, as Rob opened the clasp, and then
slowly drew out, one after another, unfolding and smoothing out each as
he did so, ten five-pound notes of the Bank of England. He spread them
with his broad, rough hands over the table, as if he took a boyish
pleasure in making the greatest possible show of his wealth.

"Uncle, here's the fifty pounds which I owe you," said Rob; "you're not
sorry now, I hope, that you lent a helping hand to your scapegrace of
a nephew? I can't believe that a fellow ever has cause to be sorry for
doing a kindness; it always in one way or other comes back."

Franks glanced at the miller, and fancied that he saw his thin lip
quiver a little, and that something like moisture rose in the usually
dark, cold eye. Ned could not tell what was passing in the mind of that
man, as he laid his hand on one of the notes. Slowly, half reluctantly,
the miller raised it, and then, as if moved by an impulse, which even
his selfish nature could not withstand, Bell handed that note to the
sailor, saying, "You came at a lucky time; take that,--it's for Wild
Rose Hollow."

Ned stood amazed at success so far beyond all his hopes. He had indeed
been led to that dwelling in a happy moment, when Bell's hard heart
had been softened and touched, or, to use his own simile, "when a
spring-tide had set in so strongly as to help the stranded craft off
the shoal." His words of thanks were hearty, and while the miller set
about preparing a meal for his hungry guest, the one-armed sailor
joyously started on his homeward way.

Merrily Franks sped up the glen, his blithe whistle mingling with the
chord of the lark that hung quivering over his head. Ben Stone, the
carpenter, who had just returned from the hall, was standing at the
door of his shop, on the lookout for Ned Franks.

"Why, he looks as gladsome as if he'd just come in for a fortune
himself," muttered the carpenter, "and he's whistling away like a bird!
But all that jollity must be put on to cover disappointment, for if he
got more than a crooked four-penny bit from that miserly miller, I'm
a Dutchman, that's all! Well, Ned Franks," cried the jovial carpenter
aloud, "how many brass farthings has Bat Bell pulled out of his hoard
to prop up the houses in Wild Rose Hollow?"

Franks waved the crisp, fluttering bank-note in reply.

"You don't mean--what--no--not a _bank-note_--a five-pound note!"
exclaimed the astonished Stone, scarcely able to credit his eyes. His
exclamation was echoed by his wife and two neighbors who joined him at
the moment.

"It must be a toy-note," suggested Mrs. Stone.

"No," laughed Ned, "it is a good honest note of the Bank of England,
worth five sovereigns of any man's money. Bat Bell was unexpectedly
repaid a large loan at the very time when I was with him to ask help
for Wild Rose Hollow; the first note which he touched he gave to God,
and I trust that God will bless him for it," added Franks, with fervor;
"it was more from him than a much larger sum would have been from
another man."

"The sum's pretty large from anybody," said the carpenter, with rather
a rueful face, for Bat Bell's generosity had taken him by surprise
in an inconvenient way. "I hope that I'm not expected to hold to my
unlucky offer; where Bell gives once, I give a hundred times; he may
plump out a five-pound note and not miss it, but I've not the knack of
turning deal shavings into gold."

"No, no, neighbor," cried Franks, "no one would think of holding you to
such a bargain. You have not suddenly come into money like Bell, or,
I've not a doubt, you'd give to the full as large as he."

"But I'm not the man to flinch from my word," said Stone; "if I can't
give the money, I'll give the money's worth in work when I've time to
spare; so you may count that five pounds as fairly doubled, my friend."

"That will be a lucky bank-note to you, Mr. Franks," observed the
carpenter's wife; "for now that you've brought in such a sum to help
the collection, I'm sure and certain that you'll be the man fixed upon
to be clerk at our church, instead of John Sands."

"Instead of Sands! why, he's not going to resign the place, surely?"
cried Franks.

"He'll have to give it up; he could not for shame stand up just below
the reading-desk, give out the psalms, and lead the singing, as if
nothing had happened," observed Ben Stone, with a shake of his head.

"Why, Sands is the most quiet, steady, sober--"

"But his wife, she's the mischief, she's the ruin of him; a man
is what a woman makes him," quoth the jovial carpenter, giving a
self-complacent nod towards his own partner. "Parsons, we're told, must
have their own houses in subjection, and I guess the same rule holds
with their clerks. All Colme is talking about it. We'll have you, our
one-armed sailor, clerk as well as school-master; there's no one so fit
for the place!"



VII.

Brightness and Gloom.


"So there's a chance of my being made clerk as well as school-master
of Colme," said Ned Franks to himself, as he walked towards his home.
"Such a breeze of good fortune is more than I ever could have hoped
for. Why, there would be twenty-six pounds a year, besides what I have
now, and no trifle in the way of fees! Now that I am a family man,
I shall find plenty to do with the money. I shall be able to fulfil
my heart's desire, to give my boy, when he's old enough to learn, a
first-rate education. Little Ned shall have every advantage, bless him!
There's no saying what he may turn out in time,--may be a parson,
maybe a bishop, one of these days!" Franks laughed to himself, and
walked on with brisker step at the thought. "Then I'll be able to
insure my life, so that if anything should happen to me, my Persis
shouldn't be cast adrift on the waves, or have to pull the oar herself
in a heavy sea! And we'll have something to give to others. I think
that I'll devote the fees for the first year, at least, to the repair
of the old almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow. Persis will approve of that,
I am sure. Grand news I have to carry home to wifie to-day! When I
was nothing but a poor Jack-tar, and then lost my arm by an awkward
accident, and thought that the storm of misfortune was throwing me back
on my native shore like a battered wreck that never would float again,
how little I dreamed what a prosperous gale that storm was for me! Here
am I, as far from being a wreck as ever I was in my life (barring that
instead of my left arm I've timber and a hook, which serve my purpose
quite well), scudding along, buoyant as a cork, with the best of wives
and the sweetest of babes and the happiest of homes, with teaching
work, which is just to my liking, and now with the prospect in
addition of being appointed Clerk of Colme, in the place of John Sands!"

But the last words, like a touch to a sleeper, broke the charm of Ned
Franks's pleasant day-dream.

"Shame on me!" he muttered, half aloud; "here am I rejoicing, like a
shameless wrecker, in the ruin of a poor fellow who never did harm to
me or mine! The proverb says, 'It's ill standing in dead men's shoes,'
but this is something worse. If poor Sands has to resign the snug berth
he's held with credit for the last ten years, it will be because he
has the misery of having a wife who has taken to drink; her disgrace
falls upon him, and because his home is wretched, he may have the very
bread taken out of his mouth! Instead of feeling for him, as any man,
let alone a Christian, should feel, I, who have had my cup of blessings
already filled to overflowing, I am counting on his loss as my gain;
because his happiness is shipwrecked, I'm looking to get my share of
the spoils! Out upon me for a selfish, covetous fellow!" exclaimed the
indignant tar. "That same prosperous gale that I thought so much of
seems to be blowing me right on that sandbank of love of money, from
which I've been warning others. I must take care to sheer off myself!"

The road along which the school-master of Colme was passing, led him
by the cottage of Sands the clerk, and he glanced, as he went by, at
the untidy, weed-grown garden, the window with the broken pane stuffed
with rags, which told a sad tale of sorrow and neglect. The cottage
was rather a large and good one, and a few years back had worn an
appearance of comfort and prosperity, such as befitted the home of the
respectable Clerk of Colme. Franks remembered the lines stretched out
along the garden, whitened with linen hung out to dry; for Nancy Sands,
a strong and active woman, had added many a pound to her husband's
gains by her skill in laundry-work. Now one of the poles lay rotting
on the ground; a broken, dirty cord, hanging loose from the wall, was
all that remained of the lines. Families no longer cared to trust Nancy
Sands with their washing, and, if report spoke truth, the poor clerk
had sometimes to iron his own shirts himself, to keep up the decent
appearance indispensable to one in his station.

Ned Franks had not gone many yards past the dwelling of Sands, when
he saw before him the poor man himself, advancing slowly, as if there
were little to attract him towards his home. The figure of the Clerk of
Colme, by its peculiar stiffness and formality, was easily recognized
at a distance. He always dressed in black, and so appropriate did
the cloth appear to the wearer, that no one could imagine John Sands
appearing in any less grave attire. Even in his best days the Clerk of
Colme had seemed as if he could never look happy. The closely cropped
hair, black and almost as thick as the fur of a beaver, was seen above
a thin, sallow face, always so solemn and serious that it was supposed
to be incapable of smiling. There had been some thought, years before
the beginning of this story, of appointing John Sands as school-master
at Colme; but there was not one of the scholars who would not have
regarded such an appointment with exceeding dislike and disgust. The
boys were certain that the old raven, as they called the clerk, must
have been brought up in an undertaker's shop, and been cradled in a
coffin; they believed that he had never laughed when a baby, nor played
at cricket or football when a boy; indeed, a doubt was expressed as
to whether the clerk had ever been a boy at all, but had not rather
grown out of a Liliputian man, clad in a tiny black coat, and miniature
white neck-cloth. No one was very intimate with John Sands; no one
ever addressed him by his Christian name, or thought of clapping him
on the shoulder, or telling him a bit of good news, or asking him to
"come and share pot-luck." Yet nothing could be said against the clerk,
except that he did not rule his own house well, and was thought to be
henpecked by Nancy.

When the sailor (for such Franks still considered himself, and was
considered by other to be, though he had not been afloat for years) saw
John Sands coming towards him, he had something of a feeling of shame;
it seemed to his kindly, honest nature as if he had done his neighbor
wrong by even thinking of taking his place. Franks lifted his cap with
a courteous "Good-day," as he was about to pass John Sands, but the
clerk stood stock-still on the path, and clearly did not wish to be
passed.

"Mr. Franks," he said, to the sailor, "if you could spare me a few
minutes, I should like to have a quiet talk with you. The church is
hard by; will you come with me into the vestry?"

Now Franks was in great haste to get home; he was impatient to tell
his wife of his wondrous success with Bat Bell; besides, having given
away his breakfast, he was exceedingly hungry; for, having risen at
four o'clock that morning, and having eaten nothing since an early
breakfast, his sharp appetite reminded him that it was long past his
usual dinner-time. Franks had calculated on having just a quarter of
an hour in which to satisfy hunger, and tell all his news, before his
pupils would gather again for afternoon lessons. Had John Sands not
been in trouble, Franks might have asked him to put off his proposed
quiet talk; but the sailor was sorry for Nancy's husband, and only
reminded the clerk that lessons would begin again at two, and that the
school-master must be at his post.

Franks doubted whether Sands had even noticed this hint. The clerk
turned back, and, at a slower pace than was pleasant to his hungry
companion, proceeded towards the village church, not uttering a single
word as he went. The two passed along the little walk which led to
the back door which opened into the vestry. The clerk very slowly, at
least so it seemed to Franks, drew the large key out of his pocket,
and fitted it into the lock. The creaking door was opened, and the two
men entered the little room which looked so neat, solemn, and silent,
with the light from the diamond-paned window falling on its green
cloth-covered table, with the heavy desk, and the big registry book
upon it. It is probable that the clerk felt more at home in this place
than in his own cheerless dwelling; here at least there was peace.

There were in the mind of Ned Franks very pleasant recollections
connected with that vestry-room. The very chair which he now took had
been occupied by his bride, when, for the last time, she had signed
herself "Persis Meade;" in that place he had first called her "wife,"
and there, but two days ago, their first-born babe had been registered
as received by baptism into the church. The clerk also seemed to have
the latter event in his mind; for, as he seated himself under the
window, with his back to the light, he observed, in the slow, measured
tone which he always used, "Your child was christened in this church on
last Saturday, Mr. Franks."

"If that is all he has to say to me," thought the half-famished sailor,
"I need scarcely have lost my dinner for it;" but he waited, with what
patience he could command, for the next slow sentence which might drop
from the lips of John Sands.

These two men, who had once been rival aspirants for the post
of school-master at Colme, formed a singular contrast to each
other,--Sands, with that primly-cut hair, which lay like a judge's
black cap on his head, and his face as grave as if he were that judge
pronouncing sentence; Franks, with light brown locks, which seemed
to curl themselves round with very good-humor, and bright blue eyes,
always ready to sparkle with fun, as well as to beam with kindness. No
one could wonder at the preference felt by the boys for the one-armed
sailor, though he had not half the learning of Sands. We know that
_he that hath a merry heart hath a continual feast_; and where such
a heart is possessed by a school-master, his boys enjoy, as it were,
the crumbs of that feast. Ned Franks's inspiriting "Now, my hearties,
let's to work," would set his scholars to their tasks with a cheerful
energy almost as great as that with which they rushed out to play. The
sailor felt that these young beings were entrusted to his care, not
merely that he might teach them to be wise, but help them to be happy;
and the influence which he thus gained over their affections greatly
aided Franks in reaching the very highest mark of education,--that of
training young immortals to be wise unto salvation, and happy because
serving the Lord.



VIII.

Pleading.


"Mr. Franks, you have a happy home," said the clerk, after a little
pause; and then he added, with a sigh, "so had I once."

Ned knew not what to reply; he thought that all England held no two
women more unlike each other than Nancy Sands and his own sweet Persis.

"You see, Mr. Franks," continued the clerk, drooping his head, and
looking on the carpet, "it was all sorrow that did it. There was not a
better manager in Colme than Mrs. Sands, till--till we buried our only
boy;" the poor man's voice faltered as he spoke; "and then she fancied
that there was comfort in a drop. I don't mean to say she was right,
but it's too common a mistake; I--I think the world's hard upon her,
Mr. Franks,--she has been tempted, grievously tempted; but there's very
good metal in her yet."

There was something touching to the sailor in the effort of the poor
injured husband to throw a veil of indulgence over the glaring fault
of his wife. Though her intemperance was ruining his comfort, and
disgracing his name, and might seriously injure his worldly position,
Sands's anxiety was to find some excuse for his wretched partner. For
the affections of the quiet, stiff, formal man still clung to the
choice of his youth.

John Sands had loved Nancy almost from his boyhood; often had he been
jested about his fancy for the boisterous black-eyed girl, who cared so
little for him. When Nancy had grown into a bold, self-willed woman,
ready enough to receive his attentions, but trifling with his feelings,
and not returning his love, Sands had seen, time after time, some
rival preferred to himself, and had heard, with silent anguish, that
the only girl that he had ever cared for was to be married to some one
else. Yet, somehow or other, every engagement of Nancy's was broken
off; perhaps few men, when it came to the point of decision, would
have wished to be linked for life to Bangham's termagant daughter. So,
after many long years of patient, sorrowful waiting, John at length
had the wish of his heart granted, and found, as too many find, that
he had chosen ill for his own peace of mind. Nancy might have made a
good, hard-working wife to a man who would have ruled as well as loved
her,--one who would have taught her to obey; but where she should have
had a master, she found a servant; she despised Sands for his very
anxiety to please her, and readiness to yield to her wishes. There was
no open rupture between them; the wife ruled and the husband obeyed
and never complained, till at length Nancy's indulgence in the vice
of intemperance made John's misery a thing which no longer could be
concealed from the world.

The clerk seemed to expect some reply. The sailor was puzzled what
to say; he feared to hurt Sands by expressing any pity, and he was
too sincere to express any hope. But as the dead silence became very
painful, Ned broke it by saying, "I wish with all my heart I could help
you."

"That's it, that's just it," said John Sands, raising his drooping
head a little; "you're the only man I could have asked. You see," he
continued, uneasily, "Mrs. Sands is always right, as she should be,
when I'm by; she has the best of hearts; the metal is good, very good;
but I can't be always beside her, and I'm called up to London to-morrow
on business, which I cannot put off. I thought that perhaps, somehow,
you'd look in a little, or--or take a sort of kind of care,"--the poor
man looked wistfully into the face of Ned Franks; he knew not how to
finish his sentence.

"Really, Mr. Sands," said the embarrassed sailor, "I do not see
what I could possibly do. I'm not in high favor with your wife; any
interference on my part she would certainly take amiss."

All the village knew that Nancy had done all in her power, by trying to
blacken Ned's character, to prevent his being appointed school-master
at Colme, and that she cordially disliked him.

"It was your wife's influence I was thinking of," said the clerk. "I
know that Mrs. Sands has a high opinion of Mrs. Franks. I have myself
heard her say"--He stopped short, for he could hardly have repeated the
compliment to the wife in the presence of the husband, as it was that
"Persis Meade was fifty times too good for that canting fellow with the
wooden arm."

"I am afraid that even my wife would be unable to do anything," replied
Ned.

"Oh! don't say that, Mr. Franks," cried the clerk piteously, as if his
last hope were being cut away. "It's wonderful what the influence of
a woman can do. Do we not all know that Mrs. Franks, and you helping
her, were able to convert even a hard-hearted, unbelieving Jew! Is not
the baptism of Benjamin Isaacs, and of Benoni his son, down in the
register there, and was it not all from the speaking of you and your
wife? If she could do so much for a Jew, don't say she can do nothing
for a Christian."

Franks was touched by the earnest appeal, but could not help thinking
in his heart that Benjamin Isaacs, with all his Jewish prejudices, had
been a more hopeful subject than Nancy Sands. He did not, however,
speak; he only shook his head to express a doubt.

"Mrs. Franks could make her way with Mrs. Sands, I feel certain of
it," said the clerk, after another painful silence. "Women know how to
speak to women. Could she not take the babe with her? Nancy is fond of
babies." Sands's voice dropped almost to a whisper, as he added, "She'd
have gone through fire and water for our boy; there was never a better
mother; it was sorrow that set her wrong."

Ned could hold out no longer. "I'll ask my wife to call upon Mrs. Sands
to-morrow, and to take the baby, and maybe she'll get her to return the
visit," said the sailor, cheerily. "Keep up a good heart, neighbor;
there may be better days in store for you yet."

There was a little sound in the clerk's throat, something between
a cough and sob, and he pulled his handkerchief hastily out of his
pocket, for his eyes were brimming over with tears. Franks, who hated
to see a man cry, made his departure rather abruptly. "It is getting
very late," he observed; "I must wish Mr. Sands good-day."

"I could not help it; I could not help striking my flag when he boarded
me like that," muttered the sailor to himself, as with long strides
he hurried towards his school-house. "But to think of my engaging my
poor Persis to tackle a tigress, who's too much for the parson himself!
But how could I say him nay? He's nigh broken-hearted, poor fellow!
Certainly, if any one in the world is likely to say a word to Nancy
that will help her to sheer off from the whirlpool that's drawing her
in, that one is my sweet cherub of a wife."

Franks found that he was even later than he had supposed himself to be;
the pupils were already thronging to school; and heated, hungry, and
tired as he was, the master had almost directly to set to work. He had
not even time to snatch a hasty meal. The benches were half filled
with their noisy young occupants before Ned Franks took his usual place
behind his high desk. He fancied that he heard a little tittering
amongst the boys, for at their very last meeting he had given them a
lecture upon punctuality.

"So, my lads, you think that you have caught me napping for once,"
cried Ned Franks, in his cheerful tone; "but I'll not be hard on any
one who is a minute and three-quarters beyond time," Franks glanced at
the large clock on the wall, "if he brings as good an excuse for delay
as I do now. Here," he cried, waving his bank-note triumphantly, "here
are five pounds given to the collection for Wild Rose Hollow, by our
friend, Bat Bell, the miller."

A deafening shout arose from the boys. The miller had so long been
regarded as a money-making, money-saving screw, that they cheered him
at the top of their voices in his new character of a money-giving man.

"I can match your piece of good news with another," said Persis Franks,
who had come into the school-room on purpose to tell her tidings to her
husband. "Mr. Leyton called while you were out, to let us know that
his aunt had this morning received a letter from Mrs. Lane, enclosing
for the same purpose a check for ten pounds."

There was a cheer for Mrs. Lane, but not quite so uproarious, because
the announcement excited less surprise.

"I'll top your story," said the smiling sailor, speaking so that all
the boys might hear. "Ben Stone, the carpenter, has kindly promised
to give five pounds' worth of his labor to repair the tumble-down
almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow."

A very loud hurrah followed this announcement, mingled with clapping of
hands. The young curate, who chanced to be passing the school at that
time, paused in some surprise on hearing such a shout, and thought that
the naval school-master must have a novel and curious way of educating
his pupils. But Ned Franks was teaching his boys a lesson quite as
important as even the multiplication-table.

"Now you see, my lads," said the sailor, raising his hands to enforce
attention, "that he who cannot give much money to a charity, may give
his own honest hard work. Now, I've lately read in a capital book[A]
of school-boys, who, when shown how to go about it, actually built
a house for themselves, that the purses of generous friends might be
spared as much as possible. Now, I think that there's no one here
present, but myself, that has not two hands, and on those hands ten
fingers and thumbs. If any one here present wants to help to set the
almshouses to rights, and is willing to give an odd hour of labor every
week-day till the job is done, let him now hold up his right hand."

Instantly, above the dark cluster of boys, a number of hands--white,
red, clean, and soiled--were held up.

"Or," continued Franks, "as the days are now long, if there be any
one who could and would give two hours daily to serving God, by thus
helping his poor, let that one now hold up both hands."

Up went all the left hands, to the sound of a cheer louder and more
joyous than the first; and then all the hands were employed in
clapping, as if, instead of an invitation to labor, the boys had
received an invitation to a feast.[B]

"Blessings on the noble-hearted little fellows!" thought the
school-master, as he looked down on that mass of bright young faces.
And Persis, as she fixed her proud eyes on her husband, thought, "Ned
can lead these boys wherever he will; for he never asks them to do a
brave, or kind, or generous thing, without first showing them how to do
it by his example!"

[A] Liefde's "Six Months amongst the Charities of Europe."

[B] I wish that the united energies of the children of every school
in Britain, whether for the rich or the poor, could thus be enlisted
in some good work. Masters and mistresses would find the beneficial
effect in the minds of their pupils. Even Ragged Schools might have
a collecting box for farthings; or children's sympathies might be
enlisted in behalf of some charity near them. Working _together_ for
God promotes union, and it is a blessed thing for the young to learn to
delight in such work.



IX.

The Invitation.


"Was it a shame in me, my darling, to bring you into this engagement
about Nancy Sands?" asked Ned at a later hour of the day, when, seated
at a comfortable meal, he made up for lost time by attacking the food
with a vigor which amused his wife, who did not know of his having
given away his sandwich to the wayfaring man.

"Nay, I think that it would have been a shame had we refused to do what
we could for poor Mr. Sands in his trouble. Besides there is nothing
very formidable in paying a morning visit to Nancy," added Persis, with
a smile; "she has always been rather civil to me. I remember that when
I lived in the dell, before my marriage, when my poor old grandfather
was ill, Nancy once brought me some broth of her own making, to keep up
his strength, as she said."

"Perhaps what her husband told me is true; there may be good metal in
her after all, though I own that I don't like the ring of it. He ought
to know her best; but I'm not very hopeful about Nancy Sands," said
Franks, pushing back his empty plate; "you see, wifie, when once a
_woman_ takes to the glass, they say that there's not a chance of her
ever getting rid of the habit."

"I never like to hear that said," observed Persis. "Why should a woman,
any more than a man, be beyond reach of God's mercy and grace? A
woman has often strong, deep affections, and especially shrinks from
dragging down her family to misery and ruin."

"But when she is once right in the middle of the whirlpool, can she
help being sucked in?" said the sailor, gravely. "Intemperance is like
a whirlpool, wifie. Round about it, at some distance from the centre,
it looks not much more than a ripple of the sea; the careless pilot
might venture upon it, and, unless he keep a sharp lookout at his
bearings, scarcely guesses what a strong current is drawing him in,
closer and closer, to the down-whirl of waters. Let him sheer off at
once, and he is safe; if he slacken sail, and let the vessel drift,
why, he's lost,--he comes to a point where he _can't_ get her off, let
him strain every muscle as he may. And it's just so with the drinking.
A man feels sick, or a woman feels sad; a drop of something will warm
and cheer them, they think; and I don't say but that it may often do
so, and that spirits may be used as medicine, and be found a good
gift of God. But when the 'drop' comes to be taken pretty often; when
there is less of water and more of spirits mixed together; when the
man (or woman) begins to relish the glass, and think that he can't
do without it,--then's the time to sheer off! Don't let him wait till
the habit begins to draw him in as with the grasp of a giant, till he
finds that the ship won't answer the helm, that he's getting into the
wild whirl and will soon be carried whither he would not; let him fix
his quantity, measure it, and not go one oar's breadth beyond it; or,
if he has not the firmness for that, let him, at any cost, give up
the drink altogether, neither taste, nor touch, nor look at it, lest
he be engulfed in the treacherous Maelstrom, and soul and body perish
together!"

"O Ned," exclaimed Persis, "how fearful it is to think what multitudes
are lost in that whirlpool! God grant that poor Nancy be rescued in
time!"

"We'll not forget her in our prayers," said Ned Franks.

On the following day John Sands started for London, with a heavy,
anxious heart, only lightened by the thought that the sailor was
certain to keep his word. Sands lingered at the door of his home, with
his carpet-bag in his hand, turning half round in a hesitating manner,
as if he fancied that something might have been forgotten.

"I suppose that you've left your papers behind, or maybe your purse,"
said Nancy, who stood on the threshold to see her husband start on his
journey.

"No, it's not that, my dear," half stammered the clerk; "it's that I'm
not just easy in mind leaving you here all alone."

"I don't care three farthings for being alone," cried the ungracious
wife; "I can find occupation enough, and amusement enough, if I choose."

"That's it, that's just it; I wanted you to promise, dear,--while I'm
away, just while I'm away, you understand,--that you--you won't step
over to the 'Chequers.'"

"I'll not promise that to you, nor to nobody," said Nancy, with a
toss of her head and a snort of disdain; "a pretty pass it's come to,
indeed, if I mayn't go and have a gossip with a friend. Mrs. Fuddles of
the 'Chequers,' was my school-fellow; you know that as well as I do."

John Sands drew a heavy sigh, and wished from the bottom of his heart
that Mrs. Fuddles and the "Chequers" were somewhere at the other side
of the world, instead of down in the dell, just beyond the mill. He
felt, however, that there was no use in his saying anything more; so
Sands set off on his walk to the nearest station, and Nancy stood at
the door watching him, as long as the prim figure dressed in black
remained within sight. Then she went back into her parlor and sat
down, resting her hands on her knees, and gazing with a fixed, dull,
joyless stare on the opposite wall. Nancy felt very desolate at that
moment, for she had parted with the only being in all the world who
really loved her. Mrs. Sands knew that she was already "the talk of
the village;" that her neighbors, who had once looked on her as "a
thriving, well-to-do woman," now regarded her with contempt; she knew
that she was lowered in the eyes of all; and, though she would not have
owned that she was so, Nancy was lowered in her own. She scorned, she
despised herself for the very vice to which she clung so strongly. She
could not bear to be alone with her thoughts; she must drown them in
the fiery poison which was already consuming her credit, her happiness,
and her peace. Nancy rose, walked up to the cupboard, and took out of
it a bottle and a glass. Just as she had pulled out the cork from the
former, she heard a soft tap at the door.

"Why, Mrs. Franks, who would have thought of seeing you! and you've
brought the baby!" exclaimed Nancy, her face relaxing into an
expression of something like pleasure; for she was gratified by the
unexpected visit of one whose character stood so high in the village,
at a time when her own had so grievously sunk.

Persis took the seat which was offered to her, and listened
complacently to the praise of her beautiful boy, and when she marked
the shade of sadness in Nancy's tone as she said, "Oh! I know what a
mother feels with her first-born babe in her arms," she was glad that
she had come on her errand of kindness to the lonely and tempted woman.

"I did not think as you'd have walked as far as this, Mrs. Franks,
leastways carrying the child, for you're not over strong," said Mrs.
Sands. "You've not been here for a long time; we met oftener when you
were Persis Meade."

"Yes, you came to see me in the dell. I remember well your kindness in
bringing broth to my poor old grandfather; excellent broth it was;
I've no doubt that it did him good."

This little acknowledgment of a single act of past kindness had more
effect in thawing the heart of Nancy Sands than Persis could have
expected. Nancy's pride would have rebelled at the idea of Franks's
wife conferring any favor upon her, but her owning herself to be the
obliged party set Mrs. Sands at once at her ease. She liked to talk
over past days, happy days as she now thought them, when her own poor
boy was living. No one who had only seen Nancy Sands on that morning,
sitting chatting with Persis Franks, would have thought of her as the
"tigress" whose temper, especially when she was under the influence of
drink, made her the terror of her neighbors.

"I'm glad of your visit," she observed after a while; "I was feeling a
bit dull all alone."

"I hope that you will return my visit," said Persis; "could you not
come over this evening at seven to tea?"

"I suppose your man's out?" said Nancy, shortly. "I warrant you he'd
not care to see me."

"Oh, no, my clear husband will be at home; he knew that I was going to
invite you. I never do anything without his consent."

"Humph!" grunted Nancy; "that's what I call slavery. I take it a wife's
not like a red Indian, tied to a stake."

"No," replied Persis, smiling; "rather like a vine fastened to a
supporting, sheltering wall."

"I'm none of your creepers!" cried Nancy, with a saucy toss of the
head. "I'm a standard for the matter of that, and don't want to lean
upon nobody;" and certainly she did not look like anything that needs
a prop, with those stout, strong arms, bared to the elbows, and a red
face which might once have been handsome, but which now looked only
coarse. "I suppose," continued Mrs. Sands, "that you're one of them
meek ones as have old-fashioned notions about wedlock and its duties."

"Very old ones," replied Persis, gently swaying herself to and fro, to
rock to slumber the soft little burden so tenderly folded in her arms;
"as old, or more so, as the days of Abraham and Sarah."

"I'm one as sticks up for woman's rights," said Nancy, and she drew
herself up proudly.

"So am I," observed Persis, looking down on her babe; "but I see them
in a different light, perhaps, from what you do. I fancy that it is the
husband's right to support, the wife's to lean; the husband's to guide,
the wife's to obey; _both_ to honor, to cherish, and to love; at least,
it's so with my Ned and me."

Nancy glanced at the happy wife and mother before her, and though she
might not choose to imitate, she could neither pity nor despise. She
only said, however, "There's no doubt but that wedlock's a yoke to
most. If I'd been fastened to one who chose to pull hard one way, why
I'd just have dragged the harder the t'other way, and--"

"And I am afraid that then no great progress would have been made
either way," said Persis, timidly yet playfully.

Mrs. Sands gave a short, harsh laugh. "I for one could never abide to
be dragged down by such clogs as what folks call duty and obedience.
Why do you smile, Mrs. Franks?"

"I smiled because your words reminded me of a little fable of a clock."

"What's that? I never heard the fable," said Nancy.

Persis bent down and kissed her baby two or three times, perhaps to
give herself time to collect her thoughts, and then began,--

"Once upon a time, all the upper parts of a great kitchen-clock
rebelled against the weights. 'Of what use in the world they can be
passes my understanding!' cried the wheel. 'Great, heavy, leaden clogs
as they are, always dragging down towards earth!'

"'I'm sure that I've nothing to thank them for,' exclaimed the
minute-hand, briskly; 'every one looks at me as I go travelling round
and round, but who would ever care to stoop to look at the weights
below?'

"'They're not fit to be seen!' added the hour-hand; 'if they could be
twitched off at once, I dare be bound that I'd go as fast as you do!'

"'I'm tired to death of them!' clicked the pendulum. 'I'm certain that
I don't need 'em to keep me swinging steadily backwards and forwards.
I'd get on much better without 'em!'

"'They're dumb as fish!' observed the little bell inside. 'I wonder
that any clock-maker in his senses ever burdened a clock with weights!'

"One day an idle boy in a fit of mischief pulled both the weights off
the clock. It was not long, as you may believe, ere the different parts
of the machine found out the effect of the loss.

"The wheel could not turn itself round; the pendulum grew feeble and
would not swing.

"'I've come to a dead lock!' cried the minute-hand.

"'I can't get on!' groaned the hour-hand.

"And though both were pointing to twelve, the little hammer could not
strike on the bell.

"'Ah,' said the key, that was hanging close by, 'I guess that the
clock-maker knew what he was about when he hung on those weights.'"

When Persis Franks stopped, Mrs. Sands laughed.

"I suppose," she said, "that the moral of your fable is that wives
get on better with the clogs of duty and obedience than they would do
without them! But I find that _my_ hands will move fast enough, and my
clapper strike readily enough without my bothering myself to please
my man, much less to obey him! But you're not going away yet, Mrs.
Franks?" Persis had risen as if to depart.

"I hope to see you so soon again; you are coming,--at least will you
not come and take tea with us this evening? You will not wish to stay
all alone."

"Oh! I'll not be alone anyhow," said Nancy, also rising from her seat;
"I thought I'd look in on Mrs. Fuddles."

This made Persis press her invitation. "You've never passed an evening
with me since my marriage," she said; "I'd take it so kind if you'd
come."

"Humph!" said Nancy, doubtfully. An evening at the public-house was
more suited to her degraded taste than one at the school-house; but she
felt the advantage of being able to say to her neighbors that she had
taken tea at Mrs. Franks's.

"I want you to see more of my husband," pleaded Persis.

A suspicion flashed across Nancy that there might be some design to
convert her. Suddenly and almost fiercely she asked, "Franks won't be
after preaching goodness and that sort of thing?"

"No, he'll not preach," answered Persis, quietly, "but he will
_practise_," she added to herself. "My husband has many amusing
sea-stories," said Persis aloud. "Did you ever hear of his crocodile
adventure in Madagascar?"

"Well, I'll come; seven is your hour, I think, that you told me."

"Yes, we take our meal later now, as Ned goes after lessons, with his
boys, to work in Wild Rose Hollow."

The invitation being accepted, Persis was about to leave the place,
when her eye fell on the bottle which Nancy had taken out of the
cupboard. The scent which pervaded the room told that its contents must
be gin.

"What avails it to keep her from the public-house," thought Persis, "if
she has the poison with her at home?" Mrs. Franks's foot was on the
threshold, but she suddenly turned and came back; her heart fluttered
and her cheek flushed, but her resolution was taken.

"Mrs. Sands," she said rather nervously, "I see that you have a bottle
of spirits in the house. Poor Walter Baynes, who is almost sinking,
has been ordered strong stimulant by the doctor; it is almost necessary
to keep him alive. As you happen to have gin at hand, will you, to do
me a favor, let me carry that bottle to him?"

Persis was astonished at the boldness of her own request, and Nancy was
scarcely less so.

"He can get it elsewhere," she said sharply.

"I should like so much, so very much, to take it to him now from you. I
pass his cottage on my way."

Mrs. Sands put her stout arms a-kimbo, and Persis was alarmed at the
savage expression which came over her features as she said, "Don't you
think I don't guess what you're after. Some one has been slandering me
to you. You think that that bottle is safer in your hands than mine."

Franks's wife, trembling, pressed her baby closer to her heart, but she
did not utter any denial of the truth.

"You'd be a-wanting to get me to give up the drink, not just for
to-day, but always."

"And if I could do so," said Persis, speaking with agitation, for she
was nervous and frightened, "if I could persuade you to give it up for
your own sake, your husband's, the father of your poor boy, should I be
acting the part of an enemy or of a friend?"

Nancy Sands was silent for some moments, painful moments to Persis. She
could not read that woman's heart; she did not venture to glance into
her face, or she might have seen in the heart the pang of remorse, in
the face the sullenness of shame. Mrs. Sands knew, felt, that she was
being drawn into misery and degradation, and that Persis, the gentle,
pure-minded wife, was only acting as a guardian angel might act,
seeking to save a perishing soul. Anything like stern rebuke Nancy's
proud spirit would not have borne; but Persis, trembling while she
pleaded, with moisture glistening on her downcast lashes, did not stir
up all the fierce wrath and resentment that would in a moment have
silenced conscience. Suddenly, half fiercely, Nancy cried, "Take the
bottle; I don't care; I can get more; the poor fellow is welcome to the
gin."

Persis did not let the opportunity slip. In a minute she had possessed
herself of the dangerous bottle, and after stammering thanks, to which
Nancy would not listen, Mrs. Franks hurried away from the place.

"Oh, I'm so thankful that visit is over!" she exclaimed half aloud as
she passed through the garden gate; "and I shall be thankful when the
evening also is over. I hope, oh, I do hope, that she'll come to us
sober!"



X.

A Happy Home.


Nancy did come perfectly sober, and Ned Franks kept his engagement made
for him by his wife. Not a word was uttered which even the irritable
Mrs. Sands, conscious of her own evil habit, could possibly twist into
a reproach. On the contrary, Persis took care to thank her guest for
her kindness in sending what had been valuable medicine to Baynes, and
let her know how the poor sinking sufferer had seemed to revive under
its effect.

Everything was done by the Frankses to make the evening pass pleasantly
to their guest. Their parlor with its jars of fresh flowers,
the snow-white cloth spread on the table covered with the pretty
tea-service, which had been a wedding-gift to Persis, tempting bread
and butter and the home-made cake for which the school-master's wife
was famous,--all formed a picture of neatness and comfort. Mrs. Sands
could not help contrasting Franks's cottage with her own. How different
the home where holiness and love went hand in hand, from the untidy,
comfortless dwelling of the drunkard!

Ned made himself exceedingly amusing; he told some of his very best
stories, and Nancy, under the genial influence of pleasant society,
brought out some of her own, which she related with a good deal of
spirit. Persis was surprised to find that her guest could be really
agreeable, and Franks, for the first time, was able to guess what could
possibly have made poor John Sands take a fancy to Nancy. There was
nothing to ruffle Mrs. Sands's temper, much to amuse and please her,
and the buoyant cheerfulness of the one-armed sailor was infectious to
every one near him.

So passed the evening till a quarter before nine, when Persis glanced
at her husband. It was the time when they always had prayer and
Bible-reading together.

"Mrs. Sands," said the sailor, "I don't think you'll mind our going on
in our own old way; we have a little reading and prayer at this hour,
and perhaps you'll like to join us."

The clerk's wife expressed no objection, though Persis fancied that her
face clouded over a little. "He'll be reading at me, or praying at me,"
was the unspoken thought of the conscious guest.

But Nancy Sands was mistaken. The short portion of Scripture,
impressively read by Franks, was about the joys of the blessed, the
exquisite description of the white-robed ones rejoicing before the
throne. And when the Frankses and their guest knelt down to pray, there
was nothing in the words of the sailor that might not have been uttered
had Nancy Sands been as lowly and pure-hearted and meek a Christian as
Persis herself.

The proud sinner felt humbled and subdued. She felt as if she had been
nearer to heaven on that evening than she had ever been before in
her life, and yet that there was some terrible, impassable barrier
shutting her out from closer approach.

"Now I must go home," she remarked in a tone of regret.

"But you will come again and take tea with us to-morrow," said Persis,
after asking Ned's consent with a glance, and receiving it in a smile.
"Mr. Sands will not be back till Thursday."

"Yes, I'll come; you're very kind," replied Nancy, wondering what could
make her company desired by one like Franks, to whom she had shown
so much rudeness, or by his wife, who was herself such a pattern of
sobriety and quiet behavior.

"I'll convoy you home," said Ned Franks, taking down his cap from its
peg.

"Oh, dear, no. I could find my way blindfold, and there's clear
moonlight to-night."

"I'll see you safe in port," said the sailor, with quiet firmness. He
remembered that the "Blue Boar" must be passed on the road.

It was a night of exquisite beauty. The softness of the breeze, the
silvery light of the moon, seemed in perfect harmony with the holier
feelings which had been wakened in Nancy's breast by the sight of a
Christian home.

"You are very happy," she abruptly observed, as she walked by the
sailor's side.

"We _are_ happy," was the brief but fervent reply.

"Perhaps clocks do go better with weights after all," muttered Nancy;
a remark which to Ned sounded so odd, and so utterly foreign to their
subject, that, had he not known that Nancy had had nothing stronger
than his wife's good tea, he would have suspected that she had taken "a
drop too much."

As Franks and his companion passed the church, the soft moonlight lay
like a silvery robe on the graveyard, throwing deep shadows from the
tombstones over the mossy mounds. Nancy heaved a low sigh;--in that
quiet spot lay the remains of her only son.

"Life is a bitter thing," she murmured.

"It would be if this life were our all," said Franks.

The sentence was short but suggestive; Nancy knew that the world had
been _her_ all; that she had thought little of, and cared less for,
anything beyond the cares and pleasures of this life. She knew that
what shed radiance on the home of Persis was not merely the domestic
love and peace within it, but the hope of a better home beyond earth,
and that such hope, like the moon, could beautify and brighten, not
only the cheerful cottage, but even the silent grave.

Franks was more pleased with the quiet, subdued manner in which Nancy
bade him good-night at the door of her dwelling, than he had been with
her lively conversation in his own. Never had Mrs. Sands felt more
disgusted with the untidy aspect of her parlor than when she entered it
on that night. How unlike it was to that which she had quitted! What
a different wife she had been from Persis! Nancy thought of what she
heard at church about a broad way and a narrow way. She had a terrible
consciousness that the broad was that which she herself was pursuing;
she knew that it must--not only according to Scripture, but the natural
course of events--end in destruction, and she felt more keenly than
ever that _the way of transgressors is hard_.

Nancy Sands was very low in spirits,--a reaction after excitement,--and
she also, no doubt, missed the stimulant to which she had been
accustomed. But for Persis having carried away the gin, which had not
been replaced, the clerk's unhappy wife would certainly have all at
once drowned uneasy thoughts by indulging in her fatal habit. Happily,
however, on this night no supply of spirits was at hand, and perfectly
sober, but deeply sad, Nancy Sands retired to rest.

But the enemy, who _goeth about as a lion seeking whom he may devour_,
will not lightly leave hold of a victim on whom his deadly gripe has
once been laid. While the Frankses were thankful for success of their
first attempt to win Nancy from her course of misery and sin, they
felt how utterly unable they were in themselves to work any effectual
change. Fervent were their prayers to Him who willeth not that any
should perish, that he, by the might of his Spirit, would rescue the
tempted one from Satan and from herself.



XI.

Temptation.


"Well, Franks, you're an odd chap," exclaimed Ben Stone, the jovial
carpenter, as Ned, on the following afternoon, was passing his shop,
going with a party of young volunteers to work in Wild Rose Hollow.

"Why, what's in the wind?" asked Ned.

"To think of your having the tigress to tea with your wife! I wonder
she hasn't left marks of her teeth and claws!" The carpenter gave his
merry chuckle. "But, joking apart, I don't think that Nancy is fit
company for Mrs. Franks. I can't think why you should ask her; it's
really encouraging vice."

Ned Franks attempted no explanation. The easy-going, self-satisfied
Ben would not have understood the motives of one who, like his Master,
could show kindness to sinners whilst abhorring their sin.

"If you've any idea of _converting_ Nancy," the carpenter continued,
laughing at the idea as utterly absurd, "you might as well try to turn
my old lathe into a lady's piano-forte! Why the woman's just passed
this on her way to the 'Chequers,'"--he pointed with his thumb towards
the dell,--"and if she come back sober, why, I'm a Dutchman, that's
all!"

Franks was more vexed than surprised at the news. He quickened his
steps, and overtook Nancy when she had almost reached the door of the
"Chequers." "On with you, my lads," cried Ned to his boys, "I'll be
after you in a twinkling; see if you can be sharp enough as to finish
that bit of clearing before I join you." He then walked up to Nancy,
and laid his hand on her arm.

"Mrs. Sands, just you come on with us, and see me and my crew at work."
There was nothing in the words, but much in the manner, that conveyed
an earnest warning.

"I will, presently; I must just step in here first," said Nancy,
looking restless and annoyed.

"Mrs. Sands, you joined us last night in the prayer, _lead us not into
temptation_; are you not steering right into the middle of it now?"

Nancy's face flushed very red; there was anger, but also some
irresolution. She stood for a moment as if she could not make up
her mind, when a shrill voice was heard from the open window of the
tap-room, "I say, Nancy Sands, I've been wondering what has become of
you. I thought as how you must have jogged up to Lunnon on a spree!"

That call from Mrs. Fuddles decided the hesitating woman. Nancy roughly
pulled away her arm from Franks, and hurried up the path to the
"Chequers."

"Can't save her against her will," said the sailor, sadly, as he went
on his way. "I've no more power to keep her back from the whirlpool,
than I have to stop that great mill-wheel with a touch of my wooden
arm." Even the scene of cheerful activity into which the sailor soon
entered did not entirely remove the painful impression left by the
conduct of Nancy. Ned was, however, too busy to attend much to anything
but what lay directly before him. The almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow
were, one by one, to be put into perfect repair, gardens, buildings,
and all. The funds subscribed had not been nearly sufficient to cover
the expense; so but few skilled workmen could be employed; but under
them, with energy and great zeal, labored the village boys, whom
their one-armed teacher had enlisted to help in the work. To these
young volunteers fell the simpler part of the business,--fetching and
carrying, levelling ground, clearing off rubbish, and digging drains.
But they needed an overseer, or, with all their good will, the merry
crew might rather have marred than helped on the work. Ned's energies
were therefore fully employed, and it was not till working time was
over, and the little laborers had begun to scatter on their way to
their various homes, that he had much time to think about Nancy.

[Illustration: "To these young volunteers fell the simpler part of the
business--fetching and carrying, leveling ground, clearing off rubbish,
and digging drains." p. 105.]

Ned was sauntering slowly and wearily along the road, and had nearly
reached the water-mill, where the clack, clack of the revolving wheel
showed that the miller's day of labor did not close at sunset, when he
was startled by a loud and piercing cry. It was succeeded by another
and another! The first idea of the sailor was, that one of his boys, in
careless play, had fallen into the mill-stream. He darted forwards, and
in half a minute was in the centre of a group of lads, who, with alarm
and horror, were gazing into the water, and shouting out frantically,
"Stop the wheel! stop the wheel! She'll be under it; she'll be torn
into pieces!"

Franks saw a form struggling under the water, and one red hand raised
above it. He had no time to distinguish more, not even an instant to
pull off his coat, before plunging into the stream, lest the poor
wretch, dragged on by the force of the current, should be crushed by
the ponderous wheel. Ned was a bold and skilful swimmer, but he was a
maimed man, and encumbered with his clothes; and, though he had not
paused to reckon chances before dashing in to the aid of a drowning
woman, he felt, when he was once in the water, that he was quite as
likely to share an awful fate as to succeed in saving her from it. The
rush of the stream was terrible. Never had the struggling swimmer found
himself in greater danger. The cries and shouts of the boys on the
bank, who were far more anxious for the safety of their beloved teacher
than for that of the intoxicated Nancy, the terrible clack of that
merciless wheel, for weeks afterwards haunted the memory of Ned Franks.

He reached the woman, he entangled his iron hook in her clothes,--for
his right hand, his only hand, could not be spared from swimming,--and
wrenched her back by main force from her awful position close under
the wheel. By desperate efforts Franks succeeded in struggling back
near enough to the bank to be caught by a dozen eager young hands, and,
gasping, choking, almost exhausted, he and his still shrieking burden
were drawn up to a place of safety. Ned could scarcely distinguish,
through the dull, booming sound in his ears, the exclamations of horror
around him, "Her arm! oh, it's smashed, smashed to bits!"

A fearful appearance was indeed presented by Nancy; her dripping,
clotted, tangled black hair hung over a face now pale as that of a
corpse, and the sight of her arm, mangled and crushed, shocked and
sickened the bystanders. "What shall we do,--where shall we take her?"
was the question passed around, for her hurts were evidently too
fearful for village treatment. Nancy herself answered the question,
for, though she had fallen intoxicated into the stream, the sudden
plunge, the terrible shock, had effectually sobered the miserable woman.

"The hospital,--the hospital!" she gasped.

Every one knew that there was one in the town but a few miles distant.
There was a cry of "Bring a shutter from the 'Chequers,'" when the
sound of wheels was heard, and Mr. Leyton, the curate, in a small
open carriage, drove rapidly down the dell. The clergyman knew from
the cries and shouts of the crowd, that something terrible must have
occurred.

"Lift her in here, gently,--gently. I'll take her to the hospital
at once," exclaimed the kind-hearted curate. A blanket brought from
the "Chequers" was hastily wrapped round the dripping woman, and the
carriage was driven off at speed, that its fainting occupant might be
placed as quickly as possible under a surgeon's skilful hands.

It was not till the chaise had disappeared from his view, that Ned
Franks had leisure to think of himself. He felt sick and faint, and
thankfully took the glass of hot brandy and water that was brought to
him by one of his boys, but he declined the offer of the miller to
come in and warm and dry himself at his fire, and change his dripping
clothes.

"Thanks to you all the same, Bat Bell, but a quick walk home will heat
my blood, and Persis will soon set all to rights with me," said the
sailor, as he shook the drops from his curly brown hair. "I've got no
real hurt, thank God! I wish we could say as much for poor Nancy. Sands
will have a sad coming home to-morrow when he hears of this dreadful
accident."

"No man can say but that it serves her right," was the observation
of Ben Stone, when he heard of what had happened to Nancy. "She was
walking into something worse than a mill-stream with her eyes wide
open; Providence stopped her, when man could not stop her. There are
worse evils than a plunge into a mill-stream, or even a broken arm."

Franks rose the next morning before sunrise, that he might have time to
go to the town for news of Nancy before his scholars met. All during
the night the frightful scene of the preceding evening had disturbed
him in his sleep, and he had repeatedly awoke with a start, fancying
that he was dragging the shrieking Nancy from under the wheel.

Persis anxiously awaited her husband's return from the hospital. "Have
you seen Nancy?" she eagerly asked, as, tired and heated with his long
walk, Ned re-entered the school-house.

Franks shook his head sadly. "The poor arm has been taken off," he
replied; "they could not save it. She has passed a very bad night, but
there are good hopes that she may recover. Poor Sands,--poor fellow!
'twill be a terrible blow to him!"

"And yet, dear Ned, who knows but that a blessing may come even out of
this grievous trial? In the hospital poor Nancy may be broken of her
sad habit; she will have time for thought, for prayer. Oh, how can we
be thankful enough that she was not suddenly summoned, when in a state
of intoxication, to appear in the presence of her God!"



XII.

Ice Below.


Sincere and strong as was the pity felt by the Frankses for the
sufferings of Nancy, a letter, which came by the post a few minutes
after Ned's return from his visit to the hospital, diverted their
attention to a subject of still closer interest to themselves.

"Why, Ned, here's a letter to you from our Norah!" cried Persis to her
husband, who, wearied with his long, early walk, was snatching a hasty
breakfast.

"That will be something pleasant; Norah's letters are always pleasant,"
said Ned Franks, as he broke open the envelope with the help of his
hook. "It's come to cheer us a bit, for I don't feel up to much this
morning."

"You're not looking well, Ned," said the wife, glancing anxiously at
his pale and haggard face. "That plunge into the mill-stream yesterday
to save poor drowning Nancy has, I fear, given you a chill, and all
your extra work to repair the almshouses after school-hours are over is
too much for your strength."

"Yes, if one is to be kept awake half the night with a squalling baby,"
added Franks. "Our little man seemed determined that we should have
enough of his music. I suppose that one will get used to it some time,
just as one gets used at sea to the noise of the winds and the waves.
Why, there he's at it again!"

The baby, which Persis held in her arms, began crying loudly, as he had
been doing at intervals all the night through.

"I'm afraid that the darling has something the matter with him," said
Persis, rocking the child gently to and fro to hush his cries.

"Nothing the matter with his lungs, anyhow," observed the sailor, who,
though fondly loving his boy, had become somewhat weary of his roaring,
and who had awoke with a headache,--a bad preparation for playing
school-master to a swarm of noisy young rustics. "But let's see what
Norah has to say for herself; dear girl, her letters are always like
sunshine!" and the sailor began reading to himself the note from his
young orphan niece.

"I fear there is not much sunshine in that letter," thought Persis, as
she saw a cloud gathering on her husband's brow, usually so open and
clear.

"I don't know what to make of this!" exclaimed Ned, in a tone of
irritation, starting up from the table on which lay his unfinished
breakfast. "Just listen to this, Persis. Oh, can't you stop the child's
crying for a minute? It's enough to drive a fellow distracted!" and
the sailor read aloud the letter from Norah, with the accompaniment of
little Ned's squalling.

 "DEAR UNCLE,--I am so grieved, but mistress has given me
 warning, and I'm to go to-morrow. I hope you won't be very angry,
 after all you've taught me, and all my resolutions. I can't stop
 in London just now, as I would not know where to go to; so I'm
 coming down to you by the train that arrives at half-past three.
 I hope that you won't mind; that it won't put auntie out much. My
 love to her and the baby. Your sorrowful niece,

    "NORAH PEELE."

"When we thought her so comfortably settled in a good situation, doing
so well," muttered Franks. "What can Mrs. Lowndes mean by cutting the
poor lass adrift at a day's notice!"

"Norah must have got into some scrape," observed Persis.

"Ay, that's plain as a flag-staff. She might have given us a notion
of what the scrape is, instead of writing about my teaching and her
own resolutions, which we knew all about before. But poor Bessy's
motherless girl must always find a home under our roof."

"Oh, yes," said Persis, cheerfully. "While you are busy with the boys,
I'll see to clearing out the little room, and having all right and
tight for our Norah. I think that she is as dear to me as to you, and
that is saying a good deal."

"I loved the lass from the first day I saw her, and I thought there was
the making of a very good girl in her, too, only she and her brother
had been brought up so badly, scarce knowing a lie from the truth. But
poor Bessy,--she's gone, and it's not for her brother to be diving down
to bring up her failings to the light. She loved her children, anyhow,
and couldn't teach them what she didn't know clearly herself. But who's
to meet Norah at the station?" added Ned Franks, abruptly. "You can't
go because of baby, and I can't go because of the boys."

"I am afraid that Norah must find her way home by herself," observed
Persis, "unless the miller is going to the town. I'll walk over to the
dell and ask him. But Norah knows the road so well that her coming
alone matters less."

"It matters a great deal," cried Franks, with impatience. "Here the
lass is returning with a wet sail and a heavy heart, I warrant ye, and
she finds no one to take her by the hand and welcome her to port, or to
carry her bundle for her. I'd not have minded it if she'd been coming
with colors flying to pay us a visit. Why on earth should she choose an
hour when she knows I'm always in the school-room?"

Persis did not know how to answer the question, and had no time to do
so had she known, for the sound of young voices, and the trampling of
heavy boots in the adjoining room, told that the boys were beginning to
assemble. Never had Franks been less inclined to begin his daily labor;
never had he met his scholars with less of kindly good-humor.

For Ned was no model of perfection. He was naturally of a hot and
hasty spirit; and though, from Christian principle, he usually held
his temper under such command that he had the reputation of possessing
a good one, it had cost him many a struggle to make it obey the rein.
On this particular morning, with an aching head, weary frame, and
worried mind, he felt irritable and impatient. He was angry with
the dull lad who could not remember that _seven times eight_ is not
_seventy-eight_; and when Bill Doyle, repeating his natural-history
lesson, said that horses ran wild on the _staircase_ in Russia,
instead of the _steppes_, Ned, who at another time might have smiled
at the blunder, which was probably made half in fun, muttered something
about "blockhead," and sent the boy to the bottom of the class.

Bill, the son of Sir Lacy Barton's groom, being a sharp, pert little
fellow, was not disposed to take his punishment quietly, or to be
called blockhead on any subject connected with horses. He whispered to
the boy who sat next him, "He don't know nothing about horses hisself."

"What's that?" exclaimed Ned Franks, whose sharp ear had caught the
whisper.

"Father says sailors have never no notion of riding," said the saucy
little urchin, "and when they mounts a horse, are as likely to get up
with their face to the tail as the head." At which observation a little
titter ran round the school.

It has been remarked that few things nettle a man so much as to doubt
his skill in riding; and Ned, who was always jealous for the honor of
his old profession, was in no humor to take as a jest the slight thus
cast on the whole of the navy.

"Then you may tell your father, when you go home," he said, angrily,
"that there are no better horsemen than some of our blue-jackets; and
as for riding,--when we were lying off Alexandria, every day that we
could get leave ashore, I and my messmates mounted and galloped at a
pace that would have made your jockeys stare."

As the word of the one-armed school-master was always implicitly
believed, Ned could see that he had raised himself not a little
in the eyes of his pupils, especially those of Bill Doyle, by the
accomplishment of horsemanship to which he had thus laid claim. But Ned
had hardly spoken the hasty sentence, when he was angry with himself
for having been betrayed by foolish pride into uttering it. He felt
that for once he had been guilty both of exaggeration, and of (without
actually speaking untruth) misleading the boys as to his meaning.

Any one of a soul less transparently candid than that of Ned Franks
might have thought it weak scrupulosity to let the mind dwell for
a moment on such a seeming trifle as this. There is a marvellous
difference between the consciences of men. Some have become hard as
the horny hoof of an ass; little short of a bullet (by which figure I
would represent some open act of wickedness) can make them feel pain
at all. Other consciences are tender and sensitive as the apple of the
human eye, and what to many would seem an almost invisible speck of
sin greatly disturbs and troubles them. This is one of the reasons why
holiness and humility are so often found together; while the hardened
offender, whose conscience is seared, seems almost past feeling
remorse. Franks knew that he had spoken very idle words, and though
he was inclined, as most people are, to make excuses for himself, his
honest soul could not rest at ease until he had openly repaired his
error as well as he could.

When lessons were over, and the boys were about to disperse, Ned
stopped their going out of the school-room by a gesture of his hand. He
stood up with his honest face a good deal more flushed than usual, for
the acknowledgment which he was forcing himself to make was humiliating
and painful.

"Boys," said he, in that clear voice which always commanded attention,
"there's something which I want to say to you before you go home.
There's nothing that I have more warned you against than the iceberg
of falsehood. A man who habitually lies will, we know from the Word of
God, be shut out from heaven. Now, an iceberg is a thing clear enough
to be seen, and, unless he come across it at night, one might say that
a pilot had no excuse for running a vessel upon one; but there's a part
of the mass which one can't see,--that's the part hidden beneath the
green waves, and as that may stretch out much wider than the white peak
glistening above, it is clear that a ship might strike on the sunken
ice while seeming to give a wide berth to the berg. Now, it's just the
same with falsehood. There's an upper part, easily seen, and I hope
that we all try to steer clear of it; that no boy here is so mean and
base as to tell a downright lie. Every boy here knows that _lying lips
are an abomination to the Lord_. But not all are on their guard against
the _sunken ice_ stretching below. We strike on it when we exaggerate,
or when in any way we deceive, though not a word may be spoken, or what
is spoken may be literal truth. My own keel grated against the sunken
ice to-day." Ned felt a good deal embarrassed as he went on, all the
more so from the profound silence of the listening boys. "I said that
there were no better riders than some of our own blue-jackets. Now,
that may be true, or it may not, but I certainly did not speak from
my knowledge, and I'm afraid that I ran foul of exaggeration. And I
said that when our ship was lying off Alexandria, we tars rode about
on shore as often as we'd a chance,--and that was true enough, though
the chance came but seldom; but I suppose that you fancied, from what I
said, that we galloped about upon horses?" There was a general murmur
of assent. "Now, I never mounted a horse in my life; the beasts which
we rode were _donkeys_." There was a laugh from some of the boys,
almost instantly suppressed, however, for Ned Franks looked unusually
grave. "Now, my lads, I've thought it best to say all this to you
openly, both for my own sake and for yours. I want you to feel how
hard it is to keep off altogether from that same smooth, slippery ice
of deceit,--to know how treacherously it lies under the surface; and
I want you to resolve, if ever you find yourselves touching it, be it
ever so slightly, to sheer off at once, like honest Christians, and let
no temptation draw you from the straight course of perfect truth."

The school-master's effort was over; painful as it had been, Ned
Franks was glad that he had made it. His frank confession of so small
a deviation from that straight course, had made a deeper impression
on the minds of his boys than hours of lecturing on the perils of
falsehood would have done.

"If our master said one thing, and half the village said another, I'd
take Ned Franks's word against all the rest," was the observation of
one of the lads as he left the school-house.

"I never knew any one so partic'lar about truth," said Bill Doyle.
"Franks has such a sharp eye for the least bit of deceit, that I guess
he'd catch sight of that there slippery ice that he talked of, if it
be'd fifty feet down under the waves!"



XIII.

The Return Home.


A sweet, pleasing-looking girl, of between seventeen and eighteen years
of age, occupied a place that day in a third-class carriage of the down
train from London. Norah Peele--for it was she--was on her way to her
native village of Colme; but she had none of the joyousness which she
would have felt, under other circumstances, in making a journey home.
All the brightness was gone from that young face, the drooping eyelids
were red with the traces of tears, and she looked rather embarrassed
than glad at finding that the Clerk of Colme chanced to be one of her
travelling companions.

Certainly, John Sands was not one to enliven any society, though he
served as a very good protector to the young maiden whom he had known
from her childhood. He made a few attempts at conversation, and gave
Norah the latest news of the village, casting--as was natural with
him--a melancholy hue over all. Mr. Curtis continued ill; the clerk
was sure that he would not recover, and that his wife would break down
with the nursing; the almshouses were rotting to pieces where they
stood, and the collection made for them at church had been smaller
than he had ever known one to be before. After these not very cheerful
communications, John Sands relapsed into silence, keeping his eyes
gravely fixed on the knob of his gingham umbrella, while a melancholy
train of thought was evidently flowing through his mind.

"Here we are," he said at last, slowly raising his head, as the shrill
whistle announced their approach to B----; "if you're going to the
village on foot, Norah Peele, we may as well walk there together."

John Sands, with stiff politeness, helped Norah out of the train. She
had hardly stepped on the platform, when they were met by Bat Bell, the
miller, whose hard, dry features wore a graver expression than usual.

"Mr. Sands," he said, addressing himself to the clerk, with merely a
nod of recognition to Norah, "as Ned Franks could not come here to-day,
and I had business in town, Persis asked me to wait here and tell
you"--the miller dropped his voice as he added the words--"about your
wife."

Painful anxiety agitated the sallow face of John Sands; no news of her
was likely to be good news. The clerk nervously clutched his umbrella;
his pale lips moved, but they framed no question.

"She'd an accident last evening; fell into my pond,--no, no, not
drowned; Ned Franks got her out; but her arm is badly hurt, and she's
in the hospital here."

The clerk waited to hear no more; turning round, without uttering a
word, he went off with long strides in the direction of the place where
his wretched wife lay on her bed of pain.

"Her arm is smashed, has been taken off," said the miller to Norah;
"but for your brave uncle, the poor, intoxicated wretch would have been
torn limb from limb by my wheel."

"And he--oh, is he hurt?" cried the shuddering girl.

"He'd a narrow shave for his life," said the miller, "but he got off
without even a scratch. He's a gallant fellow, is your uncle; but I
say it was folly in him, a husband and father, to risk his life for
a ranting vixen, who'll drink herself to death one of these days. But
you'll come with me now, Norah Peele; my cart's waiting near here, and
will carry you and your bundle; like a sensible girl, you don't sport
much luggage, I see."

As the miller's cart rattled on its way, Bell went on with his talking,
at every second sentence giving a cut with his whip to his horse; for
the miller liked rapid motion, to "get on" being a ceaseless impulse
with him.

"You'll find changes in Colme, Norah Peele. Misfortunes never come
single; there was Nancy Sands struggling in the mill-pond yesterday,
and to-day, Ben Stone the carpenter, as strong and hale a man as one
could find in the county, is struck down, just as he had finished
breakfast, with a kind of a fit. They say that something has given way
within him, and that though he may live weeks or months, he'll not last
to the end of the year. Now, there's a man who looked likely to see
ninety; only a little too full-blooded perhaps," added the miller, who
had not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his bones.

Tears came into the eyes of Norah. The carpenter was a popular man
in Colme; every one knew so well the portly form, the good-humored,
self-complacent smile, the loud voice, the jovial chuckle of Ben, it
was difficult to associate with him any idea of sickness or of death.
But Bell saw that his news had saddened his young companion, and as his
light cart rapidly wheeled round a corner of the road, he as rapidly
turned the current of conversation.

"You've chosen a pleasant time of the year for your visit to the
country, Norah. How long are you likely to stay with your uncle?"

"I don't know; I can't say,--I suppose till I get another place,"
answered the girl.

"Ah, you've tired of London, after a village life; I always thought
that you would. Noise, bustle, and bother! Talk of the clack of my
mill-wheel,--why, in London there are thousands of wheels perpetually
going, and streams of people perpetually flowing; there's something
always on the grind. I like you the better for getting away as fast as
you possibly can from London."

"I'd have stopped there if I could," said the young servant in a
scarcely audible voice.

"Then why did you give warning?" asked the miller.

"I did not give warning," replied poor Norah, blushing and hanging down
her head; "my mistress gave warning to me."

"There's simple truth, anyways," said the miller, a grim smile rising
to his lips. "You are just like your sailor uncle: Franks is his name,
and frank's his nature. I don't believe he ever told an untruth in his
life."

Norah turned her head, and gazed sadly on the meadows and groves, clad
in spring's fresh green, by which she was rapidly passing; but her
thoughts did not follow her eyes. The miller's remark had awakened a
train of painful reflections.

"Oh, that it had indeed been so with me!" thought poor Norah; "that
I had always kept my lips pure from falsehood; I would not then be
returning to be a burden upon my kind and generous uncle. I, whose
character stood so high, sent away in disgrace! I, whose word was at
once believed! I feel as if I could not bear to tell uncle all,--to
let him know of the direct falsehood, and the deceit carried on for
months, my mistress's trust so abused by his niece! Uncle will think
that all his care and kindness have been thrown away upon Norah; that
I am still the foolish, deceitful, bad girl that I was when he first
came to Colme, and tried to teach me to be honest and truthful, and
straightforward, as a Christian should be. It seems as if I could
endure anything rather than the loss of his good opinion, and that of
dear Aunt Persis! And yet,"--thus Norah pursued her reflections, to
which the miller now left her, his mind being occupied in reckoning up
the amount of his savings deposited in the county bank of B----,--"and
yet, the safest, the best course for me now, must be to be perfectly
frank and open. Alas! I cannot recall the past, but I can draw from
bitter experience a lesson for the future. I will confess everything
to my uncle, conceal nothing, make no excuses; and oh, may the God of
truth help me from this time forward indeed to _take heed to my ways,
that I offend not with my tongue_!"

I will not dwell on the kindly welcome given to Norah Peele by Persis
and Ned Franks. She was received as a daughter, no questions asked,
no painful inquiries made as to the cause of her leaving her place.
"Leave the lass to tell her own story when and how she likes,"
the one-armed sailor had said to his wife. So the baby now happily
sleeping, was shown and admired; topics of general interest were alone
spoken of at the evening meal which followed Franks's day of toil;
the state of the almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow, the progress made in
their repair, the accident to the clerk's wife, the sudden and serious
illness of Stone the carpenter, the good report of improvement in the
health of the vicar,--all these were made subjects of conversation,
everything being avoided which might possibly embarrass the guest.
All was done to make her feel at her ease. Norah, it was said, would
be so useful in helping to nurse the baby; Norah would look after the
flowers, now that her uncle was too busy all day to have time to work
in his garden. How delighted old Sarah Mason would be to have Norah to
read the Bible to her again!

The poor girl felt grateful for the kindness and consideration thus
shown her, and thankful that such a home was left to her still; but a
burden was weighing on her mind, and even while conversation was going
on, in which she appeared to join, a smothered sigh, or a sudden
moistening of her eyes, showed that her thoughts were wandering to
something painful. When the tea-things had been cleared away by the
active Persis, assisted by Norah, when cups and saucers had been washed
and replaced on the shelf, and the outer door closed for the night (it
never was bolted or barred), Norah sat down on a little wooden stool at
the feet of her aunt, and recounted, with simple truthfulness, all the
circumstances that had led to her hasty dismissal from the service of
Mrs. Lowndes. I shall give you the story, not in Norah's words, but my
own, beginning it by a short account of her early days in Colme.



XIV.

Norah's Story.


Norah and her brother were the only children of the half-sister of
Ned Franks, Bessy Peele, a woman who, in every important respect, had
been an utter contrast to her brother. While Ned's maxim was to do
everything in clear daylight, Bessy was one who, if possible, always
took an underground way. He considered the straight road always the
shortest; she wound and doubled like a fox. He was convinced that
honesty is the best policy; she looked upon cunning as wisdom. One of
the earliest lessons learned by Mrs. Peele's unfortunate children was
that the great thing in life is to pick up money by any _safe_ means;
by "safe" being meant whatever would not lead to the prison or the
gallows. There was no harm, she said, in telling a lie,--at least a
_white_ lie, that hurt no one, and helped one's self on in the world.
What need was there to be so very particular about a little slip of
the tongue? She was sure, for her part, that God would not notice such
trifles as these.

It is said that some Chinese parents are actually so inhuman as to
blind their children, that the poor, wretched creatures may earn more
money by begging. Mrs. Peele, a fond though a foolish parent, would
have been horrified at the idea of inflicting such an injury upon
her children, while actually doing them a wrong yet more cruel. For
was it not such to _blind their consciences_, to make them unable to
distinguish the wrong from the right, at the risk of their walking,
through the darkness of their souls, into everlasting destruction? And
this all for the sake of paltry gain, miserable profits of sin, more
dearly bought than the alms given to the poor blinded Chinese beggars!

The mischief done to the characters of Bessy Peele's children was very
serious as regarded her son, and had Norah long remained under the roof
of her mother, the principles of the young girl might, like his, have
been utterly ruined. Happily Norah went early into service, and became
the attendant of an aged Christian lady, who gave her every opportunity
of hearing the gospel faithfully preached, and made her read to her
the Bible and other religious books. Under her roof Norah received
religious impressions; her young and tender heart turned towards
Him of whose love and compassion she heard so much. But, alas! the
poison-seeds sown in childhood had left their evil roots in the soil.
Norah would one hour be listening in church with tearful eyes to the
account of Peter's sin and repentance, and the next hour be falling,
_without repentance_, into a similar sin of untruth! She was fearfully
inconsistent,--not because she was insincere, but because she had
actually no clear line drawn in her mind as to where innocence ended
and guilt began. Norah had been led to fancy that little sins were no
sins,--"white lies" no falsehood,--picking _not_ to be classed with
stealing. She wished to please a merciful God and go to heaven, but she
felt not that the God of Love is the God of Holiness also; that _all_
sin, if unforgiven, must end in death; that the _least_ can be washed
out in nothing less precious than the blood of the Saviour, and that
for every idle, untruthful _word_ the sinner must give account at the
judgment.

The return to England of her maimed uncle, the sailor, at this time
proved a great blessing to Norah. She met with one whose standard of
right was the Bible standard,--one who spake the truth as a man who
serves the God of Truth should speak, and who trampled on deceit as he
would have set his heel on a venomous serpent. Norah's eyes were opened
to see that religious profession is but a mask if it do not influence
the conduct; that to have prayer on the lips at one moment and untruth
at another is fearful mockery before God! Norah Peele asked the help of
the Holy Spirit to enable her to walk in the path of holiness, which
she now found to be so much more narrow than she had before believed
it to be. She became watchful over herself,--she set a guard over her
tongue; the little bark, with heaven's wind swelling its sails, did
"sheer off" from the treacherous iceberg of falsehood.

Mrs. Peele died rather suddenly after a few days' illness, and closed
her worse than useless life with little consciousness of sin, and
no sincere repentance. She had been a good mother, she said; God
was merciful; she was going to a better world. The habit of a life
continued to the end; and, having constantly tried to deceive others,
poor Bessy deceived herself at the last. She had built her house on the
sand; there was no solid foundation for her hope; she had heard the
word, and done it not; what could she plead, where would she stand, in
the last awful day?

Very different was it with Norah's aged mistress, when, about a year
afterwards, she gently sank to rest, in humble trust that He whom she
had loved and served would receive her unto himself. By that holy,
happy death-bed Norah learned a lesson which she never could forget.
She nursed her lady night and day, and, when her gentle spirit was
released from earthly suffering, the young servant mourned for her loss
with grief most sincere.

Norah would then have gone home to her uncle, Ned Franks, had not Mr.
Lowndes, the younger brother of her late mistress, at once offered to
take her into the service of his wife. He knew well, he said, the value
of such a servant as Norah, a really high-principled girl, who would be
found honest in word as well as in deed.

In entering the service of Mrs. Lowndes, Norah had made a great rise
in life. Instead of being the general servant of a clergyman's widow,
whose narrow life-income barely supplied her need, Norah became the
trusted attendant of the only child of wealthy parents, and earned
wages which nearly doubled what she had received before. The place
was one which offered many other advantages. Mrs. Lowndes was strict,
indeed, almost to severity, but never intentionally unjust. She was
extremely anxious that her Selina should be kept from all knowledge of
evil. The little girl was seldom allowed to mix with other children,
lest she should learn any harm from example. Mrs. Lowndes often
boasted to her friends, that her Selina was brought up in such a
habit of speaking the truth, that to her to utter a lie would be an
_impossible_ thing. The lady would not suffer any one to be near her
darling in whose scrupulous truthfulness she could not place perfect
trust. Truth, she would say, is the very foundation on which a
character must rest. She would never overlook or forgive in a servant
the smallest attempt to deceive.

Norah had passed several pleasant months in London, in the service of
Mrs. Lowndes, with the consciousness that she was faithfully performing
her duty and giving satisfaction to her mistress, when an incident
occurred, which showed her more clearly than ever the importance of
having a character for truthfulness and honesty.

"Why, there's your bell and my bell a-ringing together, and rung so
loud, too! What can missus want us both for at once?" exclaimed Martha,
the housemaid, to Norah, who was helping her, as usual, to make the bed
in the little girl's room. Martha's manner was flurried and frightened.

"We'd better go and answer the bells directly," said Norah. "I hope
and trust that nothing's the matter with dear little missy!"

The two maids entered the dining-room together. Mr. Lowndes was seated
in his large red arm-chair, with his feet on the fender, and his
spectacles on his nose, apparently engaged in studying the _Times_.
Mrs. Lowndes, a large, tall, and rather formidable-looking lady,
dressed in a very stiff silk, sat, even more erect than usual, at
the breakfast-table, on which she was resting her folded hands. She
had a peculiarly deep-toned voice, and the voice sounded deeper, her
manners seemed sterner than Norah had ever thought them before, as she
addressed the young maid with the question, "Did you enter my room this
morning?"

"Yes, ma'am, to put by your comb and brush."

"And when?"

"Just the minute after you had left it."

"Did you see a sovereign on the dressing-table?" asked the lady, with
the air of a magistrate questioning a witness.

"No, indeed, ma'am, I did not," said Norah.

"Did _you_ see one when you tidied my room?" Mrs. Lowndes turned her
keen gray eyes upon Martha, to whom this last question was addressed.

"No, I never saw a sovereign, nor nothing like it, ma'am; I could take
my oath that I did not. I did not so much as enter the room till Norah
had been there, and gone out again."

Mrs. Lowndes looked very grave, and somewhat perplexed. "I certainly
left a sovereign on that table when I came down to breakfast, and
an hour afterwards it as certainly was gone. There are only two
individuals who could have entered, and did enter, that room during my
absence, and both deny having seen the money. I cannot doubt that one
of them is uttering a falsehood, and that she who utters it is also the
thief."

The idea of being suspected of such a crime as theft covered the face
of Norah with crimson; she attempted to speak, but could not bring out
a word.

"O ma'am!" exclaimed Martha, in alarm; "Norah went in first; you heard
her own that she went in the first."

"I never saw the sovereign," gasped Norah.

[ILLUSTRATION: "I'll be bound that Norah never touched the gold," said
the gentleman. p. 143.]

Mr. Lowndes, who had every now and then been glancing up over the
_Times_, which he held in his hand, now laid it down on his knee, and
wheeled round on his arm-chair a little, so as to face the two maids.

"I'll be bound that Norah never touched the gold," said the gentleman,
who had once been a magistrate. "When I was at B----, about three years
ago, my poor sister placed in my hands a bag of money, which had been
picked up by Norah, her maid, in the street, and given over into her
charge. _A bag of sovereigns_," repeated Mr. Lowndes, emphatically.
"Now, no one in his senses would believe that a girl, who would not
take eight sovereigns dropped in the street by a stranger, would rob
her mistress, betray her trust, and forfeit her own good character, by
stealing _one_, which was certain to be missed and sought after." And,
having thus given his decided opinion, Mr. Lowndes again took up his
_Times_, and wheeled his chair round to the fire.

"And O mamma!" exclaimed little Selina, running forward from a corner
of the room in which she had been standing, a deeply interested
spectator of all that had passed, "Norah _could not_ have taken the
money, because she says that she never saw it. Norah always tells the
truth," pleaded the eager little witness, whose presence in the room
had been until now forgotten by her mother. "When I broke the tumbler,
Martha said, 'Never mind, miss, you need say nothing about it;' but
Norah told me never to hide anything from you, for it was always best
to speak out the truth boldly: and I did what Norah said, and you were
not very angry, mamma."

"I am never very angry except where there is deceit and dishonesty,"
said the lady, fondly stroking back the light ringlets from the brow of
her darling.

"And you are sure that Norah did not take the money, mamma, for she
_said_ that she did not even see it."

"I am sure," answered the lady decidedly, "as sure of her innocence
as I am of your own." Bending her keen eyes on Martha, she continued,
sternly, "You had better do what you can to repair your fault by a
frank confession."

"Indeed, indeed, ma'am, but I never saw, or touched, or thought of
the sovereign; it's very hard that it should be put upon me," cried
Martha, bursting into passionate tears. "I was not the first to enter
into that room; I don't see why _I_ am suspected."

"And yet I cannot but feel suspicions so strong," said the lady, "that
I cannot retain in my household one in whom my confidence is lost."

"I hope, I hope, ma'am, you are not going to send me away without a
character!" sobbed Martha, while Selina's heart was so much touched by
her sorrow, that the child could scarcely forbear from crying herself.

"I shall tell the exact truth to any lady who may inquire for your
character. I shall mention why I send you away, but I shall add that
you were not the first to enter the room, and that I have no proof that
you touched the money."

"But, mamma, mamma, if she's sorry, if she will promise never to do it
again, won't you try her a little longer?" cried the tender-hearted
Selina.

"No, my child," replied Mrs. Lowndes; "had I no other cause for
displeasure against her, I would never have any one near you on whose
word I could not depend. A girl who would teach my daughter to hide
anything from her parent is not likely to be very open when the fault
committed is her own."

The maids were then dismissed from the dining-room. How different were
the feelings of the two as they quitted it! Norah hurried upstairs to
her own little chamber, and, falling on her knees, fervently thanked
her heavenly Father for having preserved that character which was to
her more precious than life. She remembered the struggle in her own
mind about that very same bag of sovereigns to which Mr. Lowndes had
referred. She had found it just at the time when her uncle's influence
was beginning to tell powerfully upon her, when she was seeking with
earnest prayer to give herself wholly to the Lord, and live as a child
of God and heir of heaven should live. That had been a turning-point
in the life of Norah. She had then by faith resisted the devil, and he
had fled. Had she yielded to that temptation, and a very strong one
it had been, the whole course of her life would have been altered.
Now, against suspicious appearances, her word was trusted at once; her
character was spotless in the eyes of her master and mistress, a great
danger had safely been passed, and the heart of the young servant-maid
overflowed with thanksgiving to God.



XV.

Norah's Story Continued.


_Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall._ Norah was
soon to experience how much needed is this warning from the Scriptures.

A few days before the dishonest Martha left Mrs. Lowndes's service, as
Norah was returning home after making some little purchases for her
mistress, on turning a corner she came suddenly upon an old friend,
and gave an exclamation of pleasure at a meeting so unexpected and so
pleasant.

"Milly--Oh, I'm so delighted to see you!" cried Norah, shaking her
friend by both hands. Had they not been in a street, she would have
warmly embraced her. For had not Milly, when housemaid to Mrs. Lane,
shown her kindness in many ways; had she not helped her to nurse
Norah's dying mother, and sat up all night with Mrs. Peele when the
girl's strength had given way? There were very few indeed whom Norah
regarded with so much affection as she did the kind-hearted Milly.

"Who would have thought of seeing you here in London!" continued Norah,
whose face was beaming with pleasure. "I have not met you since your
marriage. What has brought you and your husband up to town?"

"My husband,--don't talk of him!" cried Milly, in a tone of anguish
which startled Norah. Then looking closer into the face of her friend,
Norah could see a sad change there. The features of Milly Bligh had
grown sharper and thinner; there were furrows on her brow which Norah
had never seen there before. She observed now, also, what in the
excitement of first meeting her friend she had not noticed, that the
dress of Milly looked shabby: though it was winter-time, she wore a
thin shawl, which was quite insufficient to protect her from the cold.

"Why--what--has he"--a feeling of delicacy prevented Norah from
finishing the sentence.

"_Deserted me!_" moaned Milly, as if to utter these two words was to
wring blood from her heart. "O Norah, if you knew what I've had to
bear! But it's all over now,--I don't know where he is,--I'm never like
to see him again!"

The street chanced to be very quiet; Milly turned, and, as she walked
by the side of her friend, in low earnest tones they went on with their
conversation.

"Then what will you do, my poor dear Milly?" asked Norah, with
heartfelt sympathy and pity.

"I must go into service again. I've come up to London to look out for
a situation. My difficulty is that Mrs. Lane, with whom I lived all my
years of service, is somewhere abroad, I don't know where, and, as I
left her to be married, I did not so much as secure a written character
from her."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" exclaimed Norah, suddenly.

"What,--glad that I've not a corner to turn to?" asked Milly.

"Oh, no, not glad of that, but glad that I may be able to help you.
Mrs. Lowndes--she's my mistress--asked me only this morning if I knew
of any nice housemaid who could take Martha's place. My lady had nearly
fixed on one yesterday, but the character did not suit, so she's in a
hurry to find another."

"Mrs. Lowndes is not likely to take a servant on your recommendation, I
should fear."

"You don't know what confidence she has in me, what trust she puts in
my word," said Norah, with a little natural pride. "If I tell her that
you have been five years in one place, and that I have known you all
the time, and that I'm certain that if your mistress were not abroad,
she would give you a first-rate character, I'm sure--at least I'm
almost sure that she'll take you."

"O Norah, you're like a comforting angel!" cried poor Milly; "if you
only knew what a service you're going to do me! I've been almost in
despair; half of my clothes are in pawn; I thought that I'd never
succeed in getting a respectable place!"

"And this is such a good one!" cried Norah, quite excited with
pleasure; "and how delightful it will be for us both to be always
together! A companion whom I could love as a friend was the only thing
wanting to make me perfectly happy, and there is no one on earth whom
I should so gladly have as my Milly." Norah could hardly refrain from
skipping for joy as she walked.

A thought, however, occurred to her mind, which somewhat damped her
pleasure. "The only thing that makes me afraid that you may not get the
place," she said, "is that I know that Mrs. Lowndes objects to married
servants. I have heard her say myself that she will never engage one,
the husbands give so much trouble."

"I do not even know where mine is," sighed Milly; "but I don't see why
anything at all need be said about my being married."

Norah became very grave. "Would it be right to hide such a fact?" she
said; "would it not be like deceiving my mistress?"

"Well, if you're going to let out a poor friend's secrets, and deprive
her of her best chance of earning her bread in an honest way, you're
not the girl that I took you for," said Milly, with bitterness.

There is no need to relate all the conversation that passed, nor
to tell how Milly tried to persuade Norah, and how Norah tried to
persuade herself, that to suppress the truth was no falsehood; that it
was not in the least necessary that Mrs. Lowndes should ever know that
her housemaid was married. Norah promised to do all that she could to
procure the situation for Milly, and on reaching home at once went to
her lady, and pleaded the cause of her friend.

"Five years in one place,--that looks well," observed Mrs. Lowndes;
"there would at any rate be no harm in my seeing the girl. You have
known her, you say, all your life. You may tell her to call this
evening, and I will judge for myself. It's hard for good servants when
they lose their places by a mistress going abroad."

Norah knew that Milly had not lost her place on account of Mrs. Lane's
going abroad, but she was only too glad that her lady should think so.
We may always suspect that we are in danger of striking against the
iceberg of deceit, when we allow ourselves to _wish_ something to be
believed which we _know_ to be quite untrue.

"Stay," said Mrs. Lowndes, as the eager Norah was about to retire from
the room; "of course your friend is not married?"

Norah was taken by surprise; in an unguarded moment the false "no"
slipped from her tongue, and she passed through the doorway biting her
lip, and wishing--fervently wishing that she had not been betrayed,
even by friendship, into uttering a lie. "But I cannot go back now. Oh,
no!" thought the conscience-stricken girl.

Mrs. Lowndes saw Milly that evening, liked her appearance and manner,
and engaged her as housemaid at once. Norah could not feel as happy as
she would have done had her mind been at rest, but dared not confess
her fault, as she deemed that to do so would be cruelly wronging Milly.
She resolved to be more careful in future; she hoped that this would be
the very last time on which she would be guilty of speaking untruth.
Alas! lies link themselves on one to another like the rings of a chain;
and who that harbors one unconfessed, unforgiven sin dare hope that it
will be _the last_?

Months passed quietly over. Norah now seldom thought of her falsehood.
If she was colder in prayer, if she was less able to lift up her heart
to God, if she took less pleasure in recalling the counsels of her
uncle, she hardly traced these effects to their real cause,--_peace of
conscience forfeited by sin_.

One morning Norah found Milly in her room weeping violently, and
trembling with agitation. An open letter lay on her knee.

"What has happened?" cried Norah, anxiously.

"He's found,--my poor, poor lost one is found!" sobbed Milly; "but he's
in the hospital dying; he wants to see me at once. O Norah, I must go
to him this day! Ask mistress to give me leave for an hour; she's kind,
she'll not have the heart to refuse it!"

"Do you wish me to ask her to let you go to the hospital to see your
_husband_, when she does not know that you have one?" asked Norah,
feeling extremely uneasy at the idea of her falsehood being found out
at last.

"No, no; that would never do, that would get us both into trouble, and,
oh, I've trouble enough already! Go and ask her to let me go to the
hospital to visit a dying _mother_."

    Oh! what a tangled web we weave,
    When once we practise to deceive!

Norah found herself now in a position of greater temptation than ever.
Milly was in such a state of misery and excitement that Norah dreaded
that any opposition might throw her into a nervous fever. The poor,
anxious wife would listen to no objection, had patience for no scruple,
and was almost wild when Norah showed hesitation about doing her
bidding. Miserable, and hating herself for the deceit into which she
was drawn, Norah went to her mistress and told the falsehood put into
her mouth by Milly.

Mrs. Lowndes was all kindness. Day after day the housemaid was
permitted to go and see her sick mother, carrying sometimes little
delicacies sent from her mistress's table. When Milly, from the effect
of distress and excitement, herself fell ill, Mrs. Lowndes sent Norah
instead of her to the hospital two or three times to see "the poor old
lady," and questioned her on her return as to the sufferer's state.
Thus Norah was led deeper and deeper into deceit. She had to speak
of _her_ illness, _her_ danger, _her_ thanks, when coming from the
death-bed of a young man, and she felt that her whole character was
becoming gradually lowered and degraded. Never since she had first
sought the Lord had Norah been in so low a spiritual state; even to
speak of religion to little Selina appeared to her to be an act of
hypocrisy now. Norah had sometimes a terrible doubt as to whether she
had ever been a Christian at all!

Happily for Norah she was suddenly to be stopped in this downward path.
It was a mercy to be arrested even by a blow.

One afternoon in April the bell summoned Norah to the presence of her
mistress. She went down the stairs with a sinking at the heart, a
feeling of misgiving from which she now very frequently suffered. What
was her alarm, on opening the drawing-room door, to see, seated near
her mistress, the chaplain of the hospital, whom she had met before on
one of her visits to Doyle! Norah dared not even glance at her lady,
but the sound of that terrible, deep-toned voice, so expressive of
subdued indignation, made the wretched Norah guess but too well what
was coming.

"Mr. Chancie has called to ask me to break to my housemaid the news of
the death of her _husband_." There was a marked emphasis on the last
word. "Am I to understand that this is the person whom she, and whom
you have visited again and again, and spoken of repeatedly to me under
the name of her _mother_?"

Norah pressed the nails of her right hand so tightly into the flesh of
the left that traces were left for days!

"Am I to understand," continued the lady, speaking in the same low,
terrible tone, "that you and Milly have deliberately conspired together
for months to deceive the mistress who trusted you?"

Norah wished that she could sink down anywhere out of sight, into the
cellar, or into the grave.

"You leave this house to-morrow," said the lady, who could not but
read confession in the silence of her maid, and her aspect of misery
and shame. "If your family were in London, you should not stay here
for another hour. To think that I should have entrusted my child
to the care of such a"--Norah could not catch the concluding word,
perhaps none was uttered, but her own conscience supplied the blank
with "viper." "Of course you can expect no character from me; your
vile deceit has done much to shake my faith in all my kind; I shall
never trust a servant again as you were trusted by me. I could no more
answer for your honesty now, wretched girl, than I could for your
truth. She who could deliberately carry on such a course of deceit
would be capable of taking my money."

Norah was utterly unable to speak a word in her own defence; she was
miserable, crushed, almost in despair. Milly was, of course, involved
in the same disgrace as herself, though not so hastily sent out of the
house. Mrs. Lowndes found it more easy to show some indulgence to her,
because she had never placed in her the same absolute trust; she had
never given to Milly the charge of an only, a much-loved child.

Norah wrote off a hasty note to her uncle at Colme, and made her
preparations for leaving her place with an almost bursting heart. One
of her keenest pangs was that caused by the distress of little Selina,
who could not at first be persuaded to believe her dear Norah to be
capable of speaking an untruth.

"You never did tell a story. Oh, I'm sure that you _could not_! Say,
only say that it's all a dreadful mistake!" cried the child, bursting
into tears.

Norah was too wretched to weep; she did not close her eyes all that
night; the house in which she had once been so happy had become to
her now like a stifling prison. Yet she dreaded returning to her
native village; she shrank from meeting the clear blue eye of her
uncle; she felt herself unworthy of any kindness,--she who had sinned
against light, she who had stained her soul with falsehood! Norah's
only comfort was in the thought that at least her course of deception
was over; she need play the hypocrite no longer; prayer was not now a
mockery as it had seemed lately to be. Sin is in itself a thing more
dreadful than the sharpest punishment for sin.



XVI.

Passing Events.


Norah had finished her sad story in tears. Neither Ned Franks nor his
wife had interrupted the thread of it by a single question; they had
sat grave and silent listeners. When all had been confessed, the sailor
gently laid his hand on the shoulder of his sobbing niece. His manner
was subdued and kind.

"Norah, my girl," he said, "let's be thankful that all was brought to
daylight at last. I'd rather have you coming here, even in trouble
and disgrace, than seeming to prosper in a course so dangerous to
your soul. I only wish that your lady had known all through your own
confession, instead of--but let that pass; I trust and believe that
henceforth you will always be true as steel, and avoid the slightest
approach to deceit all the more carefully because of your sufferings
now. I need not say that we will never mention the subject to you
again; you are heartily welcome to stay here as long as you will;
you'll live, please God, to be a comfort and credit to us yet."

Of course there was much gossip in the village as to the cause of
Norah's sudden return. There was a succession of visitors to the
school-house on the following day. Many questions were put to Ned
Franks and Persis, by those who were more curious than kind, as to the
cause of Norah's so unexpectedly leaving her place. Both husband and
wife maintained a resolute silence; they made no evasions, threw out no
hints to mislead.

"People need not trouble themselves about my niece's concerns," was
Ned's rather impatient remark when hard pressed for an answer to some
impertinent question. "She has come to us for quiet and peace, and no
one shall annoy her whilst she is under my roof."

Of course curiosity was not satisfied nor gossip silenced in Colme.
Some of the neighbors guessed that Norah had done something very
foolish or wrong; some that she had had a disappointment in love; but
as no one had the means of proving the truth of his guesses, it might
be hoped that curiosity would at last die out like a fire unsupplied
with fuel. To be exposed to painful remarks, to be viewed with some
suspicion, was the heavy but just penalty which Norah must make up her
mind to pay for her sin.

There were other subjects of interest at that time to divide the
attention of the gossips of Colme,--the illness of the carpenter
Stone, and the accident to Sands's wife, being constant topics of
conversation. Day after day the cottagers saw the poor clerk plodding
on his weary way to the town to visit his suffering Nancy. He looked
neither to the right nor the left, nor even stopped to speak to a
neighbor, and there was always the same unvarying expression of dull
care on his sallow face. On Sundays alone his duties as clerk made it
impossible for the anxious husband to go to the hospital at B----; and
then, as the miller observed, Sands always looked at church like a
condemned man, hearing the sermon preached before his own execution.

John Sands was not the only person to visit poor Nancy in the hospital
at B----. Several times, at considerable inconvenience, Persis, with
her babe in her arms, found her way to the ward, cheering it by her
presence, like one of the rays of sunshine which streamed through the
window to brighten the couch of pain. And more often yet, Mr. Leyton
came to visit the poor afflicted member of his flock, who no longer
scorned to listen to his words. The shyness of the young curate wore
off in the presence of suffering and sin; he forgot himself in his
work. Nancy, at first a silent, gloomy listener, began at last to look
forward to the minister's visits. Mr. Leyton was wont to bring fruit to
the sufferer during her tedious illness, and flowers from the vicar's
gardens; but it was not this alone that made his visits welcome.
Nancy, during the long, sleepless days and wearisome nights, had much
time for thinking; her mind also was clear, for she had no longer the
power to procure the fatal stimulants which had so nearly been her
ruin. There was no sudden change in the violent, high-tempered woman;
but influences were at work upon her, which, like the morning shower
and the evening dew, were gradually softening the hardened soil so that
it might receive the word of truth.

And so passed the month of April, that month of mingled sunshine and
shower, when the fruit-trees burst into blossom, and the groves into
music. To Persis and Ned it was a very happy and very busy time. They
watched their own little blossom opening under the sunshine of their
love, and felt that for them life had a new interest and delight. Poor
Norah, who was in very low spirits, tried to hide her sadness, that she
might throw no shadow over the cheerful home of the Frankses.

And in the meantime work proceeded briskly in Wild Rose Hollow.
Never did nobleman, building a proud mansion for himself, watch the
progress of its erection with more pleasure than did Ned Franks the
repairing--with some almost rebuilding--of the old thatched dwellings.
He threw his heart and soul into the work, and infected even the
money-making miller with some of his own enthusiasm. We usually take
an interest in that which has cost us a sacrifice, and the more men do
for any cause the more they are apt to be ready to do. Pleasant to the
ears of Bat Bell were the sounds of labor from the direction of the
almshouses which his money was helping to restore. He sometimes would
take his little Bessy to the spot to see the one-armed sailor and his
boys hard at work,--and a goodly quantity of straw for thatching found
its way from the mill. Bat Bell had begun to taste the luxury of doing
good; he was realizing the truth of that divine declaration, _It is
more blessed to give than to receive_.

Ned Franks, on his way to Wild Rose Hollow, had daily to pass the
cottage of Sands and the workshop of Stone the carpenter. The door of
the first was always closed, and the place wore an air of desolation
and neglect, which often drew a sigh from the kind-hearted sailor. It
was equally sad to him to pass the empty shop, to hear no more from
it the sound of the hammer or saw, or the whizzing hum of the lathe,
mingled perhaps with snatches of jovial song. Ben Stone was so well
known in the village where he had spent all his days that his illness
could not but cause a blank there. The portly form, so familiar to all,
was missed from the accustomed place in church; the voice, rather loud
than tuneful, from the music of the hymns in which it had so constantly
joined. The responses of Ben Stone had been almost as clearly heard
as those of the clerk. Even the children of Colme missed the sight of
the carpenter in his Sunday clothes, with his wife, rather showily
dressed, resting on his strong arm, as with his big prayer-book in hand
he used to walk through the porch into the church-yard with a smile
or a nod, or a cheerful greeting to every one whom he met, all being
his neighbors, and many his friends. Ben Stone was a man who had known
very little of trouble, and even when trouble had come, it had no more
rested on his soul than rain on a sloping roof. He had hitherto been
prosperous, healthy, and strong; and though a kind husband to a wife
who often was sickly, Stone never let his easy serenity of soul be
disturbed by the pains and aches of his partner. Now, illness, serious
and sudden, had come upon himself, and the question was, how would he
bear it? The trial would not be sharpened by poverty, for Stone had,
as he was wont to say, laid by for a rainy day, and his wife had money
of her own. He was in no distress for the necessaries, nor even for
the comforts of life; but how would the carpenter bear to have his
working-days brought to so unexpected a close? Above all, how would
he look forward to the great change which was slowly and painlessly,
but not the less surely, approaching? Would not the current of a
life, lately so smooth and shallow, become both rougher and more deep
when near the point where the great final leap must be made, and the
small concerns, the petty interests of this life, be swept away into
eternity's ocean?



XVII.

Perilous Peace.


In a quiet and peaceful nook stands the vicarage of Colme, almost in
the village, yet entirely screened from it by extensive shrubberies.
High, green walls of luxuriant laurel, and rhododendra, with their
thick buds swelling into blossoms, border the winding drive, and girdle
the lawn, on whose smooth slope lies the shadow of a lofty cedar, the
pride of the place. The vicarage itself is not large, but exceedingly
pretty, with its rural porch and picturesque gables, and mullioned
windows overhung with honeysuckle and clematis. If we were to pass over
that velvet lawn, and glance in through the window at the right of the
porch, we should see the vicar himself resting in his arm-chair, very
pale and very thin from recent dangerous illness, but looking calm and
serene. Though this is Saturday, there is no sign of preparation for
the morrow's service; there is no desk open, no book on the table save
the well-worn Bible. The vicar has been called into the "wilderness"
of sickness to "rest for a while," and he may not yet venture to enter
the church even as a worshipper, far less as a preacher. It is only
to-day that his wife has been able to leave his side for a long round
of visits amongst his parishioners. Mr. Curtis is anxious to hear of
each and all of those amongst whom the good pastor has lived for twenty
years as a father among his children; so his wife has set out this
afternoon with a large basket on her arm, to visit half the cottages in
Colme.

Mr. Curtis is not sitting alone; his wife's nephew, the young curate,
Mr. Leyton, is beside him, giving him an account of his own work
on that day. Claudius Leyton is, as has been before mentioned, of
extremely youthful appearance; the smooth cheek, small features, and
slight, delicate frame of the curate might induce a stranger to guess
his age as scarcely beyond eighteen years. Summoned immediately after
his ordination to take entire charge of the parish of Mr. Curtis,
then alarmingly ill, the curate, whose life had been spent in London,
Eton, and Cambridge, and who had scarcely ever so much as entered a
cottage, had found himself at first almost overwhelmed by the sense
of responsibility. Mr. Leyton had felt somewhat as a landsman might
feel should he be called to take the command of a vessel on the very
first occasion on which he ever entered one. The curate lacked neither
talent nor devotion, but he had no experience in the peculiar work of
a village pastor, and with a tender sensitive disposition and natural
shyness, it seemed as if he had undertaken a task beyond his strength.
The change was great from the easy luxury of home and college life to
the position of a hard-working curate, with long church-services to
tax a weak voice, and the various needs of a parish, in which almost
every one was to him a stranger, to try his energies and test his
discretion. Mr. Leyton had prayerfully resolved to do his very best
to be a faithful minister to his flock, and overcome the difficulties
before him. He had, some time before his ordination, left off some of
his favorite pursuits, that he might devote himself to his duties;
he had given away his cigar-case, had parted with his books of light
literature, locked up his flute, and left his paint-box untouched for
months. Claudius Leyton had resolutely turned his thoughts to sermons
and schools, and other matters connected with parish business. But it
had been a great trial to the young clergyman to have, as it were, to
find his way almost alone in, to him, a new country. He was unable for
weeks to avail himself of the experience of the vicar, and but for the
information and help always cheerfully given him by Ned Franks, the
curate would often have felt utterly discouraged by the difficulties
attending his charge. It was no small relief to the young man to be
at last able to consult the vicar, receive his sympathy, and ask his
advice; for Claudius had none of the proud self-confidence which too
often accompanies inexperience and youth; he was not one of those who
need to be taught modesty by a number of failures.

"And where have you been this day, Claudius?" asked the vicar, as the
curate, tired with a long, hot walk, seated himself beside him, and
wiped his own heated brow, where the pressure of the hat had left a
reddened line on the smooth, fair skin.

"I have been to the hospital to see Mrs. Sands."

[Illustration: "And where have you been this day, Claudius?" asked
the vicar, as the curate, tired with a long, hot walk, seated himself
beside him. p. 170.]

"Ah! the poor creature who nearly lost her life by falling into the
mill-stream."

"When in a state of intoxication," gravely added the curate.

"And who has had to endure the loss of her right arm,--a terrible loss
to any one, especially to a working woman," said the vicar, in a tone
of compassion.

"It is a mercy that she did not lose her life," observed Claudius; "but
for the gallant conduct of Ned Franks, who risked his own to save it,
the unhappy creature must have perished, a victim to that horrible vice
of intemperance. Bad as it is in a man, it is doubly disgusting in a
woman."

"It seems almost like a possession by a devil," said the vicar; "but
we have the encouragement of knowing that our Master has power even to
cast out devils. Does poor Nancy seem conscious of her sin before God?
Does she show any sign of repentance?"

"I do not know what to think," replied the curate, undecidedly. "The
woman listens in silence to what I have to say; she does not fire up as
she would have done a short time since at anything like reproof; her
black eyes have lost their fierceness, but I fear that rather sullen
gloom than humble contrition has taken its place. I cannot tell what to
make of her manner; it is so difficult to read the human heart."

"Difficult, indeed," said the vicar; and he added, but not aloud,
"especially for those who have but lately mastered even its alphabet."

"I have suggested to her total abstinence," continued Claudius Leyton.
"I have read and heard that where there is a passion for strong drink,
the only chance of overcoming that passion is by never tasting a drop."

"You are right; there are cases where temperance is impracticable
without total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors. The enemy is
so determined to gain admission, that the door must be, as it were,
bolted and barred against him, for, if the smallest opening were left,
he would rush in with irresistible force. But how did Nancy take your
suggestions?"

"In sullen silence, as usual," replied Mr. Leyton. "She stares fixedly
at the wall before her, and I scarcely know whether she is listening or
not to what I say. I fear that it shows a want of charity in myself,"
continued the young clergyman, "but I own that that woman inspires me
with a feeling of repulsion."

"Hers is a case which needs much prayer and patience," observed the
vicar.

"I certainly should never go to see her but from a sense of duty," said
the young man, who had scarcely yet acquired the grace of patience,
and to whom a violent-tempered woman, addicted to intoxication, was
rather an object of disgust than of pity. "How different was my next
visit to a sick-bed! How refreshing to the spirit it was to sit by that
excellent man, Ben Stone, and see how calmly and cheerfully a Christian
can bear sickness, and look forward to death!"

"Ah! so you have been with our poor friend, the carpenter? How did you
find him?" asked the vicar, with interest.

"Perfectly peaceful, perfectly happy; not a cloud over his soul!"
replied Mr. Leyton.

The curate's fair young face brightened as he spoke, but its brightness
was not reflected in the countenance of the vicar. It was in a grave,
rather anxious tone, that he inquired, "Is he resting on the Rock? Has
he found true peace through Christ?"

"Surely, I should have no hesitation in saying so," answered Claudius
Leyton. "His manner, however, was not quite so decided as his words;
it seemed rather to convey an idea that an unpleasant doubt had been
unexpectedly suggested to his mind. Stone is evidently glad to receive
spiritual comfort; he listens, he agrees to everything."

"Agrees! yes, he always listens, always assents. How glad I should
often have been to have heard a question from him,--I had almost said
a contradiction; that would have served to show, at least, that some
interest in spiritual things had been aroused."

"You surprise me, my uncle," said the curate. "I thought that Stone was
a very good man; everybody speaks well of him; everybody seems to like
him."

"_I_ like him," replied the vicar, emphatically; "but it is because
I like him so much that I am the more anxious about him. If my only
desire for my flock was to have them moral, respectable, regular in
church-going, quiet citizens, kind neighbors, honest men, I should be
well pleased if all in the village were like the carpenter Stone. And
yet, during my twenty years of labor at Colme, there is not one of my
parishioners on whom those labors have, I fear, made less impression
than on him. Stone has not only heard thousands of sermons in church,
but I have repeatedly conversed with him in private on the concerns of
his soul, and I have always left him with the discouraging conviction
that he is not so much as grounded in the first principles of our
religion; that he has always the same assurance of going to heaven,
because such an honest, respectable, sober man as he is must by a kind
of necessity go there. Satisfied with this false assurance, he has
never been induced to make the slightest effort to examine whether it
have any safe ground to rest on. I have felt myself, when conversing
with Stone, like one firing cannon at a thick earthwork. There is no
strong resistance, such as is made by a stone wall, but the balls
sink into the soft mud and are lost, and the fortification, seemingly
so easy to be assailed, remains as firm and unmoved as if no efforts
at all had been made to shake it. I have found, in the course of my
long ministry," continued the vicar, "that it is easier to impress a
profligate or to convince an infidel, than to lead to true faith and
repentance a self-satisfied, self-sufficient soul like that of poor
Stone."

Claudius Leyton gave a sigh of disappointment. "I fear that I have been
doing harm, then, where I meant to do good," he observed, "saying,
_peace, peace, where there is no peace_. I took it for granted that
such a kind-hearted, respectable man as Stone must be a Christian
indeed."

"My dear boy," said the silver-haired vicar, kindly, "yours was a
most natural mistake, especially for one so young in the ministry. It
is extremely difficult to distinguish mere outward good conduct and
amiability from that which results from the hidden life of faith in the
heart. The sad thing is," continued the pastor, "that the individual
who misleads us is usually himself misled; while in danger he believes
himself to be perfectly safe, and may approach even the hour of death
without the slightest fear or misgiving. With him there is no cry for
mercy to the Saviour of sinners, no looking unto him who was lifted
up, as the brazen serpent in the wilderness, as the one only means of
salvation offered to the perishing sons of men."

The invalid had spoken with animation, and a sensation of exhaustion
immediately followed. He leaned wearily back on his pillow, and closed
his eyes. Claudius Leyton, aware that the interview had lasted too long
for his uncle's strength, quietly arose and quitted the study. The
young minister sought his own room, feeling more strongly than ever how
difficult it is to be a good physician to souls, and not give an opiate
to a conscience already too much inclined to sink into dangerous sleep.
Mr. Leyton unclosed his Bible with a sigh, but the promise on which his
eye rested came with comfort to his soul: _If any of you lack wisdom,
let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth
not. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering._



XVIII.

Self-Reproach.


"Are you going to see poor Stone to-morrow?" said Persis Franks to her
husband on the evening of that same Saturday.

"Ay, Sunday is the only day when I can find time now to visit a sick
friend."

"I am sure that in this case it is 'the better day the better deed,'"
observed Persis, as her fingers briskly plied the needle, while the
pile of unmended stockings on her right hand was gradually growing
small, as pair after pair, neatly darned and folded, were transferred
to the left. "Mrs. Stone was saying to me to-day how much her husband
enjoys your calls. You will never regret these visits, Ned."

"Now it's odd enough, wife, that at the moment when you spoke to me I
was thinking of these same visits of mine to poor Stone, and thinking
of them _with_ regret. I might use a stronger word," continued Franks,
as his wife glanced up with mild surprise; "I've been taking myself to
task for these same Sunday visits."

"Surely, dearest, _it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day_; that is
what our Lord himself has told us."

"Ay, _to do good_," repeated Franks; "but I'm not clear that I've not
rather done Ben Stone harm. You and I are alone, wifie, and I don't
mind saying to you what I wouldn't say to any one else." Franks lowered
his voice as he went on. "Stone's voyage through life has been a very
easy one; it seems almost as if his vessel had been one that could
guide itself without any pilot at all; he has never met a storm that
I've heard of,--all has been smooth sailing with him. And yet, wifie,
I fear that Stone has not had his eye fixed on the Pole-Star, nor his
finger tracing the right course on the Bible-chart. Self-righteousness
is a sunken rock, none the less dangerous for being sunken, and if a
poor bark go to pieces upon it, we know that it's just as surely lost
as if it had gone down in the whirlpool of drunkenness, or of any other
open vice."

"But I do not exactly see what _you_ have to reproach yourself with
if poor Stone think himself a better Christian than he actually is,"
observed Persis.

"Don't you see I've a kind of credit in the village for hanging out
my colors boldly, and trying at least to sail by the chart? When I go
Sunday after Sunday and sit with a sick, I fear a dying man, and join
with him in cheerful talk, as if I'd never an object but to make the
time pass pleasantly, I only cause him to think, 'There's Ned Franks,
a dreadfully strict and precise old tar; he must be sure that I'm
steering all right, for if he saw danger he'd be certain to bid me
_sheer off_.'"

"But I have no doubt that your conversation often takes a religious
turn," observed Persis.

"A religious turn!" repeated Franks, in a rather sarcastic tone; "ay,
a kind of sop to my conscience, and, perhaps, poor fellow, to his. We
talk, maybe, of the sermon, and the way in which busy hands are getting
on with repairing the almshouses, and what a good minister the vicar
is, and how glad we shall be if the Lord lets him fill the pulpit
again. There's a text put in here and there, and Stone says something
about being thankful for having no pain, and having been given a good
wife and a comfortable home, and such peace in his mind. But I know
that such conversations as these held with one who, in a few months,
will probably suffer that great change for which I cannot in charity
think him prepared, is but a kind of idle beating and tacking about;
it is not going to the heart of the matter; it never makes him ask
himself when I leave him, 'Am I in the right course? Is this peace of
which I talk the peace of a converted or of a dead soul? What shall
I plead when I stand, as I soon must, in the immediate presence of a
heart-searching God?'" Franks rose from his seat, and paced up and
down his little room, as he was wont to do when anything disturbed or
perplexed him.

"Do you intend then," asked Persis, laying down her work, "to speak
faithfully to our poor friend when you visit him to-morrow?"

Ned passed his hand through his curly hair; he looked perplexed and
undecided. "I wish I were fit for such speaking," said he. "If Mr.
Curtis were able to get about, he'd go right to the point with Stone
at once; but I don't think there's anything in life so hard as to
convince a self-righteous man that he's a sinner in need of a Saviour."

"Surely," said Persis, very softly, "it is the Holy Spirit alone that
can convince of sin; it is only God himself who can open the eyes of
the blind."

"Then to God we must turn for the blessing, wife, but we must not
neglect the means. I'll try to drop in a word of warning to-morrow,
though it's just such an office as I'd gladly make over to any one else
if I could; but I really care for poor Ben, and I can't help thinking
of the lines,--

    "'Who speaks not needed truth lest he offend,
    Hath spared himself--but sacrificed his friend.'

I hope that my visit to Stone to-morrow may not be as utterly
profitless as I fear that the three last have been."



XIX.

The Test.


While Persis and Ned Franks are conversing together in their little
parlor, we will turn for a short time to Norah, whom we shall find in
their little garden, with a full glow of the setting sun around her, as
she is stooping over a flower-bed busily engaged in weeding.

Even in the bright season of spring, even in the cheerful home of the
Frankses, since her return from London, the time had passed wearily
and anxiously to Norah. She shrank from notice, she dreaded questions,
and, though nothing was said to make her feel that it was so, she knew
that her maintenance must be a burden on the slender income of her
uncle. The accommodation in the school-house was small. Persis, at
some inconvenience, had given up her only store-closet to serve as a
sleeping-room for Norah; and if the good housewife cheerily laughed
over her own little difficulties in finding a place where she might
stow away jams and bacon, and Franks declared that the closer people
were packed together, the less danger there was of their chafing
one another, Norah felt that the little domestic circle had been
complete without her, and that her pale, sad face could not add to the
cheerfulness of a married pair. Even the food of which the orphan guest
was so kindly pressed to partake freely must make a sensible difference
in the household expenses of those who had so little to spare. Norah
longed for the means of earning her own bread; but employment in
needle-work, even had she been clever at sewing, could scarcely be
procured in the retired neighborhood of Colme. The young girl would
gladly have gone again into service; but to whom could she apply for a
character? How often, with bitter regret for the past, did Norah ask
herself that question? Her only resource was prayer. She entreated him
whose mercy, as she trusted and believed, had forgiven her sin, to open
for her some door of usefulness, to give her some means of honestly
earning a livelihood. Norah was ready to take the lowest place, the
hardest work, the smallest wages, if she might but struggle back to a
position in which she could again maintain herself by her labor.

As Norah rose from her stooping posture, she saw Mrs. Curtis, the
vicar's wife, approaching towards her. The lady, who was the general
counsellor and friend of the villagers of Colme, had always shown
kindness to Norah, and to be spoken to by her would, in former times,
have called up a beaming smile in the face of the girl; but Norah now
met the vicar's wife with a feeling of shame and fear.

"Good-evening to you, Norah Peele; I am glad to find you alone, for I
wish a little quiet talk with you," said Mrs. Curtis. "Let us go to yon
arbor at the end of the garden, where we shall be undisturbed."

Norah followed the lady along the narrow gravel path which Franks had
bordered with box. The poor girl dreaded the interview before her, but
silently prayed, as she walked along, that she might be enabled to
answer truthfully whatever painful questions might be asked her.

When the arbor was reached, Mrs. Curtis seated herself on the rustic
bench, which was the handiwork of the one-armed sailor. No one could
approach the spot unseen; the lady had chosen it in order that the
conversation between herself and Norah might not be interrupted or
overheard.

"Norah," said Mrs. Curtis, "my housemaid is about to leave me to be
married to Rob Gates, the nephew of the miller. I am therefore looking
out for a trustworthy girl to take her place. Knowing both you and your
family for so long as I have done, it is natural that my thoughts
should turn towards you."

The girl's heart throbbed fast with a newly awakened hope which she yet
scarcely dared to indulge.

"But," continued the lady, (what a terrible word was that _but_!) "I
cannot offer you a situation without a clear knowledge of the cause of
your leaving your last one. The information which has reached me may or
may not be correct. Many innocent persons are hardly judged; some are
the victims of a slander. A mistress may be injudicious, or she may be
unjust to her servants."

"Oh, no, Mrs. Lowndes was not unjust, at least not in sending me away,"
said Norah, the large tears gathering in her downcast eyes. "She was
kind and generous, and good to me, till--till"--a smothered sob closed
the sentence.

"Norah, you must feel that no idle curiosity leads me to question
you thus. I would give no needless pain. But will you tell me, as a
friend who has your best interests much at heart, the simple truth
regarding the circumstances which led to your leaving London? I cannot
know how to serve you, I cannot know how to advise, without that full
information which can only really satisfy me when given by yourself."

"Have I not suffered enough yet?" was the silent thought of poor Norah.
"Must I tell to her, whose good opinion I prize so much, that which
will make me lose that good opinion forever, and prevent her from
thinking of taking such a deceitful girl into her service?" And then
came the strong temptation to soften and gloss over her own fault,
to lay the chief blame upon Milly, or to avoid telling of any direct
falsehood, or long-carried-on scheme of deceit. Again the bark was in
danger of striking against the iceberg. Again rose the silent prayer,
followed by the brave resolve to be honest and truthful now, at however
painful a cost.

The happy bees were humming amongst the blossoming limes, but Norah did
not hear them; she did not notice how richly perfumed came the breeze
from the hawthorn full in flower; there was that on her mind which shut
out surrounding objects. Briefly, but as clearly and truthfully as she
had told her tale to Ned Franks, she now confessed all to Mrs. Curtis,
without attempting to make the slightest excuse for her fault. Norah
closed her account with a deep sigh, and stood as if awaiting with
humble submission the rebuke which she knew must follow.

But Mrs. Curtis uttered no word of reproach; her voice when she spoke
was more kindly and cheering than it had been when she had first
addressed Norah Peele on that bright evening in May.

"I am very thankful, my child, that you have made a statement so frank
and truthful, one which so perfectly accords with what your last
mistress has written." Mrs. Curtis drew a note from her pocket, and
Norah at once recognized the familiar handwriting of Mrs. Lowndes.
"Before speaking to you of the situation in my household, I thought it
well to write to London, to ascertain facts from the lady whom you had
served. Her reply, I own, startled me a little; I thought at first that
I must give up all idea of engaging you in my service. But I consulted
the vicar, and he took a different view of the question. 'The young
girl,' he said, 'has no doubt committed a serious fault, but she may
at this moment be sincerely repenting it; if so, let us give her an
opportunity of retrieving her character here.'"

"Kind, merciful!" murmured Norah.

"'But how,' I asked, 'can we know whether she sincerely regrets her
fault?' 'The surest sign of true repentance,' replied my husband, 'is
_amendment_. Go and question Norah Peele; see if she now makes any
fresh attempt to deceive. If she be candid and open with you, we may
take it as a proof that no habits of falsehood are formed, and that,
warned by the past, she is likely to become as truthful and trustworthy
as her sailor uncle himself.' I have done as the vicar advised; I have
tried you, Norah Peele, and you have well stood the trial. I am quite
willing, if you wish to come to me, to engage you from this day week."

Then, indeed, Norah could hear how merrily the bees were humming, and
feel how delicious was the scented breath of May on her cheek, and
admire the glorious glow of the sinking sun! All nature seemed to
brighten around her, and she thought that life might be to her again
a peaceful and happy thing. Eagerly she closed with the offer of Mrs.
Curtis. With a heart and a step how much lighter than what they had
been an hour before, Norah retraced that gravel walk along which she
had passed so sadly, and, after showing her new mistress to the gate,
ran into the house to carry to her uncle and aunt her good tidings,
sure of their ready sympathy in her joy as well as in her sorrow!



XX.

The Momentous Question.


"Ah! glad to see ye, Ned Franks, always glad to see ye!" cried Ben
Stone, holding out both his hands to the school-master of Colme. "I
sent my Bell off to afternoon church, for I said, says I, there will be
Ned Franks sure to drop in and give me a bit of the news. There, take a
chair, my good fellow, you're always heartily welcome."

Stone himself was reclining on a bed, and well propped up with soft
cushions; a flannel dressing-gown wrapped round his large form, and a
scarlet shawl over that, with a red nightcap on his head. There was
an air of comfort and of neatness visible in the partly darkened room.
Stone liked, as he said, "to have things look respectable-like" about
him. The appearance of the sick man would have conveyed to none but a
practised eye the idea of serious illness. There was no wasted cheek,
no hollow eye, to tell the insidious fatal disease within. Even the
voice of Ben Stone, though not perhaps as strong, sounded as jovial as
ever. Franks could hardly realize, as he drew his chair near to the
bed, that he who rested upon it was actually dying by inches. Ned made
inquiries how the patient was feeling that afternoon.

"Not just up to felling an oak-tree, or splitting it up into planks,"
said the carpenter, gayly; "the doctor says I can't last till winter;
but who knows? 'the greatest clerks are not always the wisest men,' as
good Queen Bess once said."

"No one can indeed know whether you or I will be taken first," observed
Ned; "but it's well to be prepared for the end, whether it comes sooner
or later than we have been led to expect."

"Yes, yes, I'm not one of those as is afraid of hearing the worst,"
said Stone, still in the same easy manner. "Death must come one day or
another to all, and it's no such great odds when we go."

"The question is certainly not _when_, but _whither_ we go," remarked
Franks.

"There's the comfort of religion," said the carpenter, complacently
folding his hands. "Don't we all hope to go to heaven when we die?"

"Yes, heaven's the port we all hope to land in," replied Ned Franks;
"but I should just like, neighbor, for us to talk the matter over a
little together; to see if you and I have embarked in the same boat,
since we wish our cruise to end in the same harbor. Would you mind now
telling an old friend what reason you have for thinking that you're
bound for heaven?"

Ben Stone looked half perplexed, half amused, at the question. "It's
not for a man to speak up for himself," he said good-humoredly; "but
you and all the village know that I've not wandered far astray. I don't
pretend to be such an out-and-out saint as you are," he added with a
smile; "but I'm not worse than my neighbors, and I don't doubt but
that we'll both land in heaven at last."

"And do you suppose that _I_ dare start in the voyage to eternity
in such a cockle-shell as my own merits, all leaky and worthless!"
exclaimed Ned Franks. "No, no, neighbor; I know too well that if I
did so, I must go to the bottom. As when the flood was coming upon
the world, there was but _one_ safe vessel, and that was the ark,
so there is now but _one_ means of salvation, which God himself has
provided,--_faith in the Lord Jesus Christ_. Can we fancy that in those
old days of the flood there were no boats and no sailors,--that none
could row, and none could swim? It's likely that there were men who
had vessels, and trusted in them, and were proud of them, too,--who
believed that these vessels could ride through the fiercest storm that
ever blew; and that may have been the very reason why, despite of
warning, these men would not fly to the ark; and so, when the flood
came, they perished. _My_ only hope of heaven is in the merits and
death of my Lord. I don't fear death, because I know that I've already
taken refuge in the ark of salvation, which is faith in Christ, the
Saviour of sinners."

"These things are too deep for me," said the carpenter. "I'm a simple,
plain man, and don't puzzle my head with matters of doctrine. I never
can make out what you thorough-going people consider yourselves to be.
There are saints and sinners in the world, that's clear. Nancy Sands
is a sinner, and you are a saint,--nay, don't stop me, I must have out
my say. Now, I don't count myself much either of a saint or a sinner;
I'm a plain, honest man, who don't like extremes, and I dare say that
I shall do just as well as others in the end. But what puzzles me,"
continued the carpenter, "is that the saints will insist upon it that
they are the sinners; they flare up, as you did now, at the very notion
of being taken to heaven because they are good, and seem to think
that they can't be safe unless they declare that they are sinful!"
The invalid would have laughed aloud, had there not been a grave
earnestness in the face of Franks, which checked any such unseemly
mirth.

"And is not the prayer in the Litany, Have mercy upon us miserable
sinners, put into every mouth?" observed Franks, who had a clear
recollection of the very audible tone in which Ben had joined in that
prayer when attending church-service.

"Yes, to be sure. I could say half the Litany by heart."

"What a wide difference there is," thought Ned Franks, "between saying
it _by_ heart, or _from_ the heart! Do you think," he asked aloud,
"that that prayer is suited for _every one_ who repeats it?"

Ben Stone hummed a little before he replied. "Well, I should say,
suited better for some than for others; but there's no harm in any one
saying it."

"There would be harm in any one calling himself a sinner before God if
he did not _believe_ himself to be one," observed Franks. "But I've
no doubt, neighbor, that if St. Paul and St. Peter had lived in these
days, they'd have been able to cry from the bottom of the heart, 'Have
mercy upon us, miserable sinners.'"

Ben Stone gave a look which seemed to say that he neither understood
nor cared to understand how that could be. Ned Franks's feelings
were much like what Mr. Curtis had described as his own. It seemed
a hopeless matter to try to make any real impression upon that mass
of quiet, self-complacent, good-humored insensibility. Ned had to
repeat to himself, "He's a dying man, and dying without looking to the
Saviour," in order to overcome his own strong inclination to give up in
despair all attempt to convince or to move.

"I suppose that you'll agree," said the school-master aloud, "that Job
was a saint if there ever lived one in this world; God himself declared
that there was none upon earth like him; and yet, what were the words
of Job? _I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes._"

"I never can make out why Job should feel that," observed Stone; "there
was nothing in what the Almighty had said to him to bring him to such a
confession."

"I believe that it was not so much what God had _said_, as what he had
found God to _be_, that so humbled Job as to make him confess himself
to be a miserable sinner. The truth is, neighbor, we think so little
of our own sinfulness, because we think so little of God's holiness.
The clear light of his purity does not stream into our souls, and
therefore we don't mark the spots and the stains in those souls. We
think sins small and trifling which in the Lord's eyes are hateful and
deadly. Eve plucks a forbidden fruit, Moses loses his temper, a man of
God lets himself be drawn into what we might deem a small excusable
act of disobedience: it is clear enough from the punishments which
followed, that a holy God did not regard these things as _trifles_,
though man in his blindness might do so."

"Ah! all these examples are from the Old Testament," said Ben Stone;
"as for me, I hold by the New. There's none of that terrible strictness
now."

"The God of the New Testament is the God of the Old," observed Franks;
"the same just and holy Being who hath declared, _The soul that
sinneth, it shall die_."

"You talk like a Jew," said Stone; "yet you know as well, and better
than I do, that we've the gospel to look to now, and that's all mercy
and love."

"The New Testament rests on the Old; it has grown out of it; it forms
with it a complete whole. We cannot really accept the one without the
other," replied Franks, with an animation of manner which strongly
contrasted with the carpenter's stolid composure.

Ben Stone shook his tasselled cap, and half smiling observed, "The New
is enough for me."

Ned Franks glanced around for something that might serve to illustrate
the important truth which his companion could not, or would not,
understand. He took up a cut flower which had been placed in a glass of
water on the table.

"The Old Testament is the bud of the New; or rather as the green sheath
enclosed the bud, so in the Old-Testament Scriptures is the precious
gospel held and enclosed," he said, looking down on the flower.

"Granted, if you wish it," said the carpenter; "but now we've done with
the sheath, and only the flower is left."

"Not so," cried the school-master eagerly; "look here, this is the
green sheath of the bud, the green cup or calyx, as they call it, still
holding and supporting the flower; less noticed, certainly, under the
bright petals, but keeping them all together. What would happen, Ben
Stone, were we to tear that green part away?"

"Why, the flower would of course fall to pieces."

"And if it were possible to separate New-Testament truth entirely
from that contained in the Old Testament,--but it is _not_ possible,"
exclaimed Franks, interrupting himself in the midst of his sentence.
"_The word of the Lord endureth forever!_ The Old Testament is the
very support and foundation of the gospel. If we would know _who_
the Lord Jesus is, we learn, from the Old Testament, that he is _the
mighty God_,[C] _whose goings forth have been from everlasting_;[D]
_the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord God of Hosts_.[E] If we
should know _why_ he died, again we find the gospel enclosed in the
ancient Scriptures, like the bud in the sheath: _He was wounded for our
transgressions; the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all_."[F]

"Still, there's ever so much in the Old Testament that does not concern
us Christians at all," said the carpenter; "and though I don't pretend
to have the Bible at my finger-ends, as you have, I can show you
that in a moment. We have no concern whatever with all those endless
sacrifices of bullocks and lambs, which the Jews were perpetually
making; you might cut out of the Bible every chapter about them, and we
should never miss them at all."

Franks's expressive face showed surprise at the utter ignorance
betrayed by such a remark. "Why, the very _keystone_ of Gospel truth
rests on the doctrine taught by those very sacrifices!" he exclaimed,
bending forward in his eager earnestness. "There were two mighty
lessons taught by those sacrifices, which were ordained by God
himself; these lessons were, that _without shedding of blood there is
no remission_,[G] and that justice would accept of one life as given
_instead_ of another. No Israelite, no, not even the holy Moses, could
be forgiven and accepted without a _sacrifice_ for sin, the sprinkled
blood of atonement; no Christian, not even a St. Paul, can be forgiven
and accepted, without a sacrifice for sin; and ours, in One of which
all the burnt-offerings made by the Jews was but a type, the sacrifice,
once and forever, made on the cross by Him who is _the Lamb of God
that taketh away the sins of the world_! O Ben Stone, my friend,"
continued the sailor, with emotion, "I believe, from my soul I believe,
that _there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we
must be saved_,[H] but the name of Him who died for sinners; that there
is nothing that can make the soul pure, but _the blood of Christ which
cleanseth from all sin_.[I] Faith in that name is the ark in which
alone I dare hope for salvation, and through that blood shed for me,
I have the blessed assurance of being received after death into that
heaven which the Lord hath prepared for them that love him!"

Ned Franks rose hastily from his seat as he concluded the last
sentence; for, after what had been uttered on a subject so solemn,
he could enter on no common theme. He pressed the hand of the sick
man, and, with no other form of taking leave, quitted the carpenter's
cottage. The sailor sighed heavily as he passed from the darkened
sick-room into the glowing sunshine without.

"How weakly I have spoken, how little have I said of what I wished
to say!" he murmured to himself. "The words of my Persis are true
indeed: it is only the Holy Spirit that can convince of sin. Then I
know that my manner is too impetuous. I am always running the chance
of offending, rather than persuading; and I don't know how to put into
words the thoughts that are swelling within me like a stream that is
bursting its bounds. I cannot restrain myself, when any one would
put aside (as if they could be worn out by time) those Old-Testament
Scriptures which our Lord himself bade us search, as testifying of
him; when any look upon the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as
quite a distinct thing from that required of us; when, like poor Stone,
they seem to conclude that justice and holiness are confined to the
Old Testament, mercy and love to the New! Ah! the truth is"--Franks
quickened his steps, as if to keep pace with the current of his
thoughts--"the truth is, that Satan knows that he has a terrible
advantage over us, if he can but persuade us to try any way but God's
way to reach the kingdom of heaven. Satan is willing that we should
look on the Lord as a great example, or a great teacher, or even as a
great king, if he can only keep us from acknowledging Christ as also
a great sacrifice for sins, for _our_ sins; and so prevent us from
throwing ourselves entirely upon his mercy and merits. To draw us back
from the ark, that is Satan's chief aim; to make us believe that we
do not require a Saviour. As if the Son of God would have died, had
there been any less costly means of purchasing heaven for his people;
as if we did not see most clearly, in his sufferings on the cross, the
_holiness_ of God that abhors sin, the _justice_ of God in punishing
it, joined with the boundless _mercy_ and _love_, which made God not
spare even his Son, but give him freely for our salvation!"

[C] Isaiah ix. 6.

[D] Micah v. 2.

[E] Zechariah xiii. 7.

[F] Isaiah liii. 5, 6.

[G] Hebrews ix. 22.

[H] Acts iv. 12.

[I] 1 John ii. 7.



XXI.

An Old Letter.


"Well, Bell, my dear," said the carpenter, as his wife returned from
afternoon service, "tell me what you've heard to-day, and I'll tell you
what I've heard."

"Mr. Leyton preached as usual," replied Mrs. Stone, as she unloosed
the red strings of her bonnet. "I think he's getting less shy, and
more earnest. His text was, '_If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us._'"

"Why, that would ha' done for the text of the sermon I've had all to
myself," said Ben Stone.

"Sermon,--what do you mean?" asked his wife, pausing in the act of
taking off her shawl.

"There's Ned Franks been here, and--talk of earnestness--he's earnest
with a vengeance! There was nothing would content him but that I should
own myself to be a downright, miserable sinner; and he threw out
something more than a hint, that I'm like to come to the same end as
those who wouldn't go into the ark, and so were drowned in the flood."

"I wish that Ned Franks would mind his own business," exclaimed Mrs.
Stone, indignantly. "I'm sure that he, and every one knows that there's
not a better man in the parish than you are; it would be well if, with
all his fine talking, Mr. Franks were but half so good!"

"Softly, softly, my dear," said Ben Stone, amused and pleased at her
warm defence. "Ned Franks is a capital fellow; a brave, noble-hearted
man."

"Let him be what he likes," exclaimed Mrs. Stone, angrily pulling off
her boots. "If he comes here a worritting and lecturing you, I shall
shut the door upon him!"

"His visit was certainly very unlike that which the young curate paid
me. Mr. Leyton, with his gentle way and soft voice, spoke of my trials
and my hope; and said that a true Christian is not afraid even of
death. Then says I, 'Sir, I'm never afraid of death;' so, of course,
he takes it for granted that I'm a true Christian, and all right, and
goes away quite pleased and happy. But as for Ned Franks,"--Ben Stone
gave his little chuckling laugh, though it sounded less merry than
usual,--"he'll take nothing for granted, except that I _must_ be a
sinner. He leans forward and looks right into your eyes, as if he meant
to read you through and through, and let you see right into his soul
also. I can just fancy," continued the sick carpenter, laughing again,
"what sort of a sailor he was when he served the queen,--how he'd stick
by his colors, and go slap-bang at an enemy!"

"But you're no enemy," cried Mrs. Stone, "neither his nor any one
else's, and I'll not let him go slap-bang at you! Let him preach away
as much as he likes to that wretched Nancy Sands whom he pulled out of
the mill-stream!"

"There's not much chance of _her_ deceiving herself, and saying that
she has no sin," observed Stone.

"It was small kindness to her husband to save her," continued the
carpenter's wife; "Sands has little cause to thank Ned. The poor clerk
is growing thinner every day, and looked at church this afternoon as
if he was going to be hanged. He knows that when Nancy comes out of
hospital she'll be at her old tricks again, drinking him out of house
and home; far better for _him_ if all had been over at once! I couldn't
help giving her a bit o' my mind about that, when I went to see her
yesterday!"

"You did!" exclaimed Stone, in amused surprise; "how did she take it?
If Nancy returned you a bit o' _her_ mind," he continued, with a laugh,
"I guess you'd the worst of the exchange. You never were a match for
Nancy, my dear."

"She said nothing, but looked as if she could have eaten me," replied
Mrs. Stone.

"Her accident must have pulled her down a bit, if she'd not something
sharper than a look to fling at you," observed Ben. "You and she used
to go at it like poker and tongs, but Nancy could hit hardest and
longest; she'd a tongue like a mill-wheel if once you set it a-going.
But put the kettle on the fire, my dear, and lets have a drop of good
tea. In the evening I'll do what I've been intending to do for these
many years past,--look over that box of old things belonging to my poor
mother, whom I lost when I was a little chap but nine years of age. I
want to sort 'em,--put by what I mean to keep, and burn what's of use
to no one. Ned Franks himself would say it was right for a sick man to
put his house in order."

The task of looking over the contents of that old box, which had been
stowed away in a cupboard for a great length of time, was one which
the carpenter had put off from day to day, and year to year, perhaps
because--till illness came--he had led a busy, active life, or more
probably because his cheerful, easy nature disliked any occupation that
might awaken melancholy thoughts. And who but is saddened by turning
over memorials of one loved and lost, even though, as in the case of
Stone, forty or fifty years may have elapsed since the friend departed.
This Sunday evening, as twilight came on, Ben Stone fulfilled the
long-deferred task. His wife brought the old box,--a deal one covered
with faded paper,--and placed it on a chair close to his bed, that he
might examine its contents with ease. She lighted a candle and put it
on the table beside her husband, and then sat down with some little
curiosity to see her mother-in-law's hoarded treasures, but a secret
conviction that the box would hold nothing but "old-fashioned rubbish."

The late Mrs. Stone had not been an orderly woman, or perhaps death
had taken her by surprise, so that she had left her things in
confusion,--such was the silent reflection of her son's wife, as Ben
went slowly over the contents of the box. They were a strange medley.
There were two gilt lockets, a nutmeg-grater, an old tooth-brush and
silver thimble, a collar, an unfinished bit of embroidery, a sampler,
several skeins of silk and cotton of various colors in a tangled mass
together, fragments of gimp and tape, a red leather pocket-book much
the worse for wear, a prayer-book without a cover, and a padlock
without a key. There were also heaps of papers, recipes for cures, and
recipes for dishes, old patterns, old letters, old bills, a jumble of
all sorts of things which it was scarcely matter of wonder that no one
had cared to reduce into order.

"You may use all these receipted bills to light the fire with, my
dear," said Ben Stone; "they at least can be useful to nobody. But I'll
keep this old bit of an Almanac,--1815! Well, well; how time passes! It
seems strange to look back to the days when this Almanac was a new one!"

"I think that this may go into the fire too," said Mrs. Stone, who had
been vainly trying to unravel a silken tangle.

"Ah! here's something curious," observed Ben, as he drew out an old
letter, written on very coarse paper, in a very round, childish hand, a
letter which had been fastened with a big red wafer pressed down with a
button, and which was soiled with many a blot.

"Here is, I suppose, the very first letter as ever I wrote. I didn't
remember that I had ever written to my mother. She died--poor, dear
soul!--the week after I first went to school."

Mrs. Stone was of course interested, as any good wife would have been,
in the first specimen of her husband's handwriting. She pushed the
candle nearer to him, and read over his shoulder, as she might have
done at the distance of half the length of the room, the school-boy's
big, blotted scrawl.

"Dear Mother, I hope your well. I am ill my head is so bad pleas get me
home _quick_ QUICK your dutiful son B. S."

Mrs. Stone smiled, but her husband looked grave. Strange old
recollections, and those by no means of a pleasing nature, were brought
back to his mind by the sight of that--till now--forgotten letter to
his mother. Ben put up his hand to his forehead, and pushed up the
nightcap from his temples.

"Yes, yes," he muttered to himself, "I remember writing that letter
as if it were but yesterday; I remember the very button which I
used to press down the wafer. I was very wretched on first going to
school,--the boys bullied me, and I could not bear regular work; so to
get my poor mother to take me home, I wrote that letter with a big
falsehood in it. It was the first,--the only note as ever I sent her,
and it was full of lies! Strange that that should turn up now!"

"There's nothing to take to heart in such an old matter as that,"
observed Mrs. Stone, struck by the unusual gravity of her husband, who
generally turned everything into a jest. "Nobody thinks of raking up
what they've done wrong forty or fifty years back."

"Tut, I should not care a toss of a straw about it," replied Stone,
"had I told the falsehood to any one but my mother, and that just a few
days before I lost her. I'd never an opportunity of telling her that
I'd deceived her, or of asking her to forgive me, for I did not go home
till she lay in her coffin. To think of that vile bit of paper turning
up against me now!" Ben doubled the note, and, tearing it into pieces,
threw the fragments on the floor.

It may be a matter of surprise that a sin of childhood should have in
the slightest degree ruffled the easy conscience of such a man as Ben
Stone. He had thought very little indeed of sinning against God, but
his natural affections made him feel pain at having sinned against
a sick mother. Perhaps the words of Franks had not been so utterly
unheeded as they had seemed at first to be, and had served to rouse a
suspicion, confirmed by the school-boy's letter, that there might be
many a forgotten fault of the highly respectable man that would "turn
up against him" some day; faults for which forgiveness had never been
granted or asked. Be that as it may, Stone suddenly found out that
he was tired and sleepy, and bade his wife shut up the box and take
it away. The evening was getting on; it was time for him to take his
night-draught, and go quietly to rest.

Though the night-draught was taken and the pillows carefully beaten
up and sleep soon closed the invalid's eyes, it was not quiet rest. A
confused medley of thoughts shaped themselves into dreams, which took
their color from what had occurred during the day. Ben Stone in his
sleep was still looking over and examining things of the past; his
whole room appeared to be filled up with boxes, one piled on another,
and there seemed to be a necessity for him to open and put them all
into order. This was in itself an oppressive feeling to the dreamer;
but the oppression became much greater when he found that each box
was filled to overflowing with bills,--old, forgotten bills,--and that
not one of them was receipted; not one had ever been paid. Stone had a
dim idea that all these debts were connected with unforgiven sin, from
that falsehood contained in his first letter to the last "idle word"
which had fallen from his lips. As box after box was emptied, and every
unpaid bill thrown down in despair, the white paper seemed to turn into
foam, a sea was rising around him, and it appeared to Stone as if his
numberless debts would drown him at last. Ned Franks was by the side
of the dreamer, helping him to look over his boxes, and saying, every
now and then, in an earnest, anxious tone, "Ben Stone, if you don't
pay, you are a ruined man!--if you don't pay, you are ruined forever!"
So strong was the impression left on the dreamer's mind, that he awoke
with the words on his lips, "If you don't pay, you are ruined forever!"

Very still was the room when Stone opened his eyes with a start,
relieved to find that he had, after all, been but dreaming. One feeble
night-light was making "darkness visible" in the chamber, where no
other object could distinctly be seen. Even so faint a light had
Stone's conscience hitherto thrown upon spiritual things, as different
from the clear radiance of Truth as the night-light from the sun. The
sinner had not known his sinfulness because his light had been too dim
to enable him to see it.

As Ben Stone lay silent and still on his pillow, the breeze bore to
him, more distinctly than he ever before had heard it in his cottage,
the sound of the church clock striking ONE. For once Stone felt
something solemn in the sound; he felt that time was being meted out
to him, that his remaining hours might be few, and that he _was not
prepared_ for eternity.

Then Stone thought of Ned Franks. The sailor was not afraid of death,
but his reason for not fearing it was something utterly different from
the easy reliance on his own goodness which the carpenter knew to
have been his own. Ned Franks had shrunk from the idea of his safety
depending on his merits. On what then _did_ it depend? The invalid,
with a dawning perception that he himself might not be quite as secure
as he had lately thought himself to be, felt desirous to know more
clearly what was Franks's hope of salvation; and when, in the morning,
Mrs. Stone was preparing her husband's breakfast, he asked her to stop
the sailor when next he should pass their door, and ask him to step in
and see him.



XXII.

Peace from Above.


"You went off in such haste yesterday that we'd not time to have out
half our say," said Ben Stone to Ned Franks, as, called in by the
carpenter's wife, he walked up to the patient's bedside.

Franks smiled, agreeably surprised to find that Stone wished to renew
such a conversation.

"Take a chair, my good friend, and sit down. Bell, you needn't stop in
for me. I know Franks won't grudge me a half-hour for once, even on a
week day."

Mrs. Stone soon quitted the cottage, but not till she had warned her
visitor with raised finger and shake of the head, "Don't you bother my
husband about anything to make his mind uneasy."

When she had closed the door behind her, Ben Stone turned to Franks,
and said, "I was looking over old papers, yesterday, which reminded me
of my boyhood, and I suppose it's that which has brought back to me a
bit of rhyme which I learned from my mother, and which has been running
in my brain all this day, though it had gone clean out of my memory for
years,--

    "'There's not a sin that I commit,
      Or wicked word I say,
    But in Thy dreadful book 'tis writ
      Against the judgment-day.'

"Now, do you suppose," said Stone, with an effort to speak in his usual
careless tone, "that God keeps an account like that, as a creditor with
his debtors, and that when folks die there are all the old bills, as it
were, brought up, even debts that they'd clean forgotten?"

"Yes, assuredly, _unless all those debts have been paid_."

"That's the very nail that I want you to hit," cried the carpenter.
"How are we to make sure that the debts _are_ all paid,--I mean, that
God has forgiven us outright? Are you sure that _your_ debts are all
paid?"

"Yes, thank God!" cried the sailor; "my debts were paid, every one
of them, when my Saviour died on Calvary. Does not St. Paul say that
Christ blotted out _the handwriting of ordinances that was against us,
which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his
cross_?"

"Were every one's sins blotted out then?" asked Stone.

"The sins of all who have living _faith_ in the Lord."

"Ah! _faith_; that's what you're always talking about, and I can never
quite make out what it means."

"It simply means that we believe from the heart that the Son of God
_died for us_," said Ned Franks.

"Is that all?" exclaimed Stone, in surprise. "Why, a poor wretch like
Nancy Sands might believe that as well as yourself!"

"And if poor Nancy does believe that _from the heart_, her sins, be
they few or many, _are_ forgiven her for the sake of Him who bore the
punishment for them all."

"That's a dangerous doctrine, a very dangerous doctrine," said the
carpenter, shaking his head; "you wouldn't put Nancy, I hope, on the
same footing as yourself or as me?"

"The ark of Salvation is as open to Nancy as to us," replied Franks;
"and if any of us reach God's heaven, it can only be in that ark."

"I don't understand what you mean," said Ben Stone. "Would you put bad
and good all together?"

"Perhaps I can explain myself best by referring to Noah's ark," replied
Franks. "God made known that a deluge was coming on the earth, and
that the only way of escaping it was by going into an ark which Noah
was commanded to prepare. It is clear that those who were _saved_ were
those who _believed_. It was _faith_ in God's word that made Noah and
his family enter the ark; they were saved because they were _in it_,
and not, as I tried to explain yesterday, because of their merits as
sailors or swimmers. It is clear, also, that they could not be _half_
saved by the ark, and _half_ by their own boats or rafts. So, if we
trust our souls to Christ, we must do so _entirely_; we must give up
all notion of saving ourselves, and own that our hopes of forgiveness
and heaven rest on _nothing but his mercy and merits_. We own
ourselves, indeed, to be miserable sinners, but we are able to take our
firm stand on the Gospel doctrine that _Christ died for sinners_,--for
that is our ark."

"I'm afraid that people who make sure of being saved by faith will lead
very careless lives," said the carpenter, who could not get over his
repugnance to being classed with Nancy Sands.

"They can only be saved by living, true faith," replied Franks. "Merely
to say that we believe is nothing; nay, a cold conviction that the
Bible is true, is nothing,--_the devils also believe and tremble_."

"How are you to know true faith from false faith?" asked Ben, with
rather a sarcastic smile, as if he thought he had driven Ned Franks
into a corner.

"How do you know a real fire from a painted one?" asked Ned.

"Well, it does not need much wit to tell the one from the other, if the
painting were ever so clear," replied Stone; "the real fire warms us,
of course; it aint a thing only to be looked at."

"And so real faith warms the heart, fills it with a glow of grateful
love towards Him who gave himself for us. And that love makes us loathe
and detest sin, because it is displeasing to our Lord,--the one thing
which he hates. True faith and sin are just as much opposed to each
other as fire and water. You said just now that you were afraid that
people would live very careless lives if they hoped to be saved by
faith. Do you find it to be so in your experience of men, Ben Stone?
Those who are the most active in good works, the most steady in
conduct, the best husbands, parents, neighbors, are they not the very
people who have no hope of heaven but in the great Sacrifice for sin?"

"I can't deny that," answered Ben Stone, who knew that Ned Franks
himself had a standard of duty that made his own appear but a low one.
"But I can't see how that should be."

"Because every man _that hath that hope_ in Christ, _purifieth himself
even as he is pure_;[J] because true faith is a gift of God's Holy
Spirit, and it must be followed by two others,--the love of Christ and
that _holiness without which no man shall see the Lord_.[K] As a good
man once said, 'We come to Christ just as we are, but not to remain
as we have been.' When we are once in the ark, Stone, it will lift us
above the waters of wilful sin, as well as the waves of destruction;
none serve God like those who have received the assurance,--'Go in
peace; thy sins are forgiven thee.'"

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Leyton.
Franks respectfully rose, and gave up his chair to the young clergyman,
and, at his request, brought the large Bible, which always occupied
a conspicuous place in Ben's home. Very few words were exchanged,
but Franks felt that the portion of Scripture selected by the curate
was peculiarly well suited to deepen any impression which the late
conversation might have left. It was the fifty-first psalm which Mr.
Leyton read, almost without comment, by the sick-bed of one just
beginning to have his eyes opened to the truth that he, too, had need
to cry, _Have mercy upon me, O Lord! Create in me a clean heart, and
renew a right spirit within me!_

The eyes of Ben Stone were never again to be utterly closed to that
truth; as life's day waned, a better light dawned on the invalid's soul.

[J] 1 John iii. 3.

[K] Hebrews xii. 10.



XXIII.

The Wife's Resolve.


On, on flowed the stream, round and round went the mill-wheel; and
even so flows the current of time, and the circle of daily occupation
goes round and round. Little Bessy, the miller's child, used every
afternoon to watch Ned and his little band of workers going cheerfully
to their toil; for the short cut to Wild Rose Hollow was through the
wooded glen. Whistling and singing, laughing and shouting, the boys
came along, and often a nosegay from a cottage garden, or a garland of
flowers from the hedge, was left on the way for Bessy. The almshouses
she always called _her_ cottages, and the boys who labored to repair
them _her_ workmen; and the child's day-dream, as she sported by the
stream, was to build a whole village of cottages, the prettiest that
ever were seen, so that every poor old woman in England might have one
with a garden all brilliant with flowers.

Before Ned and his "jovial crew," as he called the school-boys, had
left off working in Wild Rose Hollow, just at the hour of six they
always saw John Sands return from visiting the hospital of B----.
The Hollow, though a little apart from the high road, yet commanded
a view of it, and, punctual as the clock, with his black coat, white
neck-cloth, and a narrow-brimmed hat surmounting his close-cropped
black hair, the lean, stiff figure of the clerk was seen passing a
certain thorn-tree which grew by the dusty highway. The boys were so
much accustomed to this sight of the poor husband pursuing his silent,
joyless way back to his solitary home, that he would certainly have
been missed by them, had he on any day failed to appear. It was as
natural to catch that glimpse of him passing the thorn-tree, as it was
on Sundays to see him in his place under the reading-desk in church;
whatever John Sands did, there seemed to be a kind of necessity that
he should go on doing it forever.

It caused no small surprise, then, amongst the boys, when, on one
evening in the latter part of May, as the clerk appeared at his usual
hour, instead of passing the thorn-tree as usual, he turned off to the
left from the high road, and, at the same pace, descended the narrow
path which led down into Wild Rose Hollow. Any deviation from John
Sands's daily course appeared as strange as if the mill-stream had
suddenly taken to flowing in some new channel. The attention of the
boys was even distracted from old Matthews, the cake and biscuit-man,
who, with his well-known basket, had come that evening down into the
Hollow to tempt the "jovial crew" to spend some of their half-pence
and farthings in buying its sweet contents. Persis, who had brought
her baby on that bright, warm afternoon to the Hollow, partly that
she might visit old Sarah Mason, and partly that she might watch her
husband and his crew at their work, looked up with an inquiring glance
from the low wall on which she was seated, as John Sands came, with his
long strides, towards the party.

"Why, here comes the old raven himself! What can be a-bringing him
here?" cried one of the boys; "sure he's not a-going to work!" The idea
of John Sands shouldering a pick-axe seemed so funny, that it set the
auditors laughing.

"He's a bit red in the face,--I never seed him look like that
afore,--as if he was going to smile; I fear he's been drinking like his
wife!" exclaimed another boy; for anything resembling either a color
or a smile on the sallow face of John Sands had never been seen in the
memory of the oldest of Franks's "jovial crew."

"He's a-walking right up to old Matthews. Oh, if he ben't a-going to
buy lollypops!" almost screamed a little urchin, in the excitement of
surprise.

Every young eye was watching with curiosity the movements of the clerk,
who went up straight to the cake and biscuit seller.

"Will you take half-a-crown for all these?" asked John Sands, pointing
to the contents of the basket.

The wondering boys gathered around, while old Matthews, after a short
mental calculation of the value of his sweeties and cakes, signified
assent by a nod of the head.

John Sands pulled out an old black leather purse, opened it with
fingers that seemed to tremble as he did so, and drew forth a half
crown. He gave it into the old man's hand, and then, turning with a
kind of nervous little giggle to the boys, he said,--

"There, you may have a scatter if you like it!"

So much amazement was excited by such an unaccountable act of
generosity on the part of the stiff and usually melancholy man, that
the boys stood staring and gaping at him for one or two seconds before
they gave the donor of the sweets the loud, joyous cheer, which was
instantly succeeded by a scatter and a scramble.

Meantime, John Sands strode up to Franks, who was standing by the wall
with a measuring-line; the clerk took hold of Ned's one hand with both
his own, and wrung it hard without uttering a word; then, to complete
the astonishment of the beholders, went up to Persis, stooped down, and
actually kissed the baby,--a thing which he had never been known before
to do to any neighbor's child, and which he could only have done, all
were persuaded, under the pressure of most unusual excitement. John
Sands then turned on his heel and departed as he had come, anxious to
escape from the noisy gratitude of the boys, whom he had treated for
the first and last time in his life.

Had one of the jackdaws that haunted the old church-tower taken to
soaring and singing like a lark, or had the ancient yew-tree been found
on some morning bursting out into rose-colored blossom, it would hardly
have excited more amazement than this strange conduct of John Sands,
the clerk. Franks looked anxiously at his wife, and unconsciously
touched his own forehead with his finger. The same thought was passing
through the mind of each: "Grief has turned the poor fellow crazy." But
grief had nothing to do with the matter; Sands was as sane and as sober
as he had ever been in the course of his life. If his conduct appeared
odd to those who had never known him but gloomy, solemn, and stiff, it
was because such a (to him) strange guest had come to the poor man's
heart in the shape of _joy_, that it had overturned everything before
it; and Sands, in the excitement of receiving such a guest, scarcely
knew what he was doing.

To explain the cause of this strange new sensation of joy to one dried
up, as it were, by care and sorrow, we must relate what had occurred
not an hour before, when John Sands had stood in the hospital-ward by
the bedside of his suffering wife.

Interviews between them had taken place regularly on every week-day.
It had seemed as if poor Sands could find little comfort in his visits
to Nancy. After his long walk from Colme he would sit, silent and sad,
listening to his wife's complainings and moans, or enduring her gloomy
silence, which was almost harder to bear. Sands was not a man of many
words, at least, words of his own,--well as his voice was known in the
responses in church. He never attempted to comfort, but he felt for his
suffering Nancy; and--little as he guessed that such was the case--very
dear was his sympathy to her who was proving, week after week, the
strength of his patient, much-enduring affection. On this particular
afternoon Nancy had been more silent than usual, and Sands was thinking
of rising and taking his leave at his accustomed time of departure,
when his wife broke out suddenly with the exclamation,--

"I'll do it! I've made up my mind she shan't never throw that at me
again!"

"Throw what, my dear?" mildly inquired the clerk.

"Bell Stone was here last Saturday," said Nancy, speaking with strong
but restrained emotion. "She threw out a hint,--she did,--that it is
no great thing for you that I'm getting over my accident, for that a
_dead_ wife is a deal better for a man to have than a _drunken_ one!"

"My dear!" exclaimed Sands, much shocked.

"She did say it!" repeated Nancy, vehemently, "and she thought it,
and all the world thinks it, and _I_ think it, too, for it's the
fact, though I could have torn out her eyes when she said it!" The
woman of fiery passions, weakened by illness and pain, lost all her
self-command, and burst into a torrent of tears.

John Sands knew not how to soothe her passion of grief, and could only
repeat, "My dear, my dear!" in a deprecating tone of distress.

"I'm not angry with her now!" cried Nancy, suddenly stopping in her
weeping and drying her eyes. "The young curate came just after Stone's
wife had left. I did not think much of the lad at first, but he, too,
spoke what was truth, though in a different way from Bell. What he was
a-saying I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Twill be hard
work, but I'll do it. Then I've been thinking, oh, many and many's
the time, of that evening I spent with the Frankses just afore I fell
into the stream! I've been saying to myself, 'What a different home
Persis gives her husband from what I've given to mine!' She has a good
husband,--I'll not deny it,--but he don't deserve better of her than
you do of me, John Sands, let any one deny that as can!"

"My dear!" repeated the poor clerk, in a softened tone. It was a new
thing to him to have a kind word from his wife.

"Now," continued Nancy, who did not care to be interrupted, "I've lost
an arm, and my right one, and it's not much as I can do now. But I'd
do what I can, John Sands, and I'll _not do_ what I've done," she went
on, more vehemently. "I'll _not_ go a-disgracing you, spending your
money, and breaking your heart. I'll take the pledge to-morrow, and,
God helping me, I'll keep it; never a drop of the poison shall pass my
lips again!"

And this was the piece of good news which had sent the poor clerk on
his homeward way almost dizzy with joy, so glad that he could not rest
until he had got others to share it, though only by the very simple
means of a scatter of sugar-plums and cakes!

But Nancy's conversation with her husband had not closed with her
promise to take the pledge. There was something else on the woman's
mind.

"We've done nothing yet, John Sands, to show that we're not ungrateful
to that sailor whom I've been a worritting and abusing ever since he
came to the village; and who yet jumped into the water and saved me,
just as I was drawn under that fearful wheel. I'll never forget the
horror;--I thought all was over with me then!"

"I'd do anything," began the clerk, but Nancy, as usual, cut him short.

"You go home, and get my pretty cuckoo-clock, the clock as was given
me on my marriage, and send it over to the Frankses with a letter,
a handsome letter; you're a scholar, and can write one as good as
a parson. And, mind you,"--a grim, strange smile came over Nancy's
features as she added,--"and mind you, don't forget to send the
weights, John Sands. Persis told the truth, and I'll never forget
it,--a clock can't get on without the weights."

John Sands did not forget to take down the clock that evening, and
to send it to the school-house, with a letter written so neatly that
it looked like copperplate. It was a fine specimen of composition
also, for the clerk could write well, though he could not speak well;
and if ever there was a man inspired by grateful joy, that man was
the husband of Nancy. He did not, however, in his letter make the
slightest allusion to his wife's late bad habits, nor to her intention
of taking the pledge; there was a feeling of delicacy on the part of
the husband that made him shrink from unnecessarily touching on so
tender a subject. But often and often did the clerk mutter to himself
on that evening, before he went to his rest, "Didn't I always say it;
she was tempted, poor dear, and went wrong, but the metal was always
good,--very good!"



XXIV.

The Blind Maiden.


We are now going to change the scene of our story, and, leaving for
a while the quiet village of Colme, with its rushing stream and
blossoming hedges, turn towards busy, bustling London.

My reader may chance to remember a slight mention made by Sands, in an
earlier chapter, of a Jew and his son, of whose conversion Persis and
Franks had been the happy instruments more than three years previously.
It is to the humble abode of the converted Jew that I will now direct
my reader's attention.

In a gloomy kitchen in a lodging-house situated in a low street of
London, a poor girl sat, not on a chair, but on a box, for scanty
indeed was the furniture in that dark, close room. The carpetless floor
was uneven, the paper on the walls half peeled away, the plaster in the
ceiling smoke-stained, cracked, and broken in several places. But it
was not the aspect of the place that distressed Sophy Claymore; had
it been adorned by rich tapestry, and pictures in gilded frames, it
would have been all the same to her as far as regarded its appearance,
for she was totally blind. Though years had passed since the heavy
affliction had come upon her, the poor young woman had never yet become
reconciled to the loss of her sight. She longed, she pined to look on
the sunbeams once more, to see the flowers, and behold again the faces
of men.

And then to Sophy Claymore poverty was a terrible trial. She had not
been accustomed to it in her childhood. Sophy, the daughter of a
worthless sharper, who had spent lavishly what he had gained wickedly,
had known more of pleasure and folly during the first fifteen years of
her life than usually falls to the lot of girls in her station. Now she
was an orphan, poor, penniless, having hardly the necessaries of life,
and owing even those necessaries to the generous kindness of a friend.
Isaacs, the converted Jew, though no relative of Sophy, had adopted her
as his own child at a time when he was better able to support her, and
would not now throw her off, though he had scarcely a crust to share
with the poor blind girl.

Then Sophy had sharp pain added to poverty and blindness. Ever since
the terrible illness which had deprived her of sight, she had been
subject to attacks of rheumatism, sometimes in her limbs, sometimes
in her head. As she sat on the box in that low-ceiled room, dreadful
shootings of pain from eye and ear and cheek made her ever and anon
start and draw in her breath, and then utter a low plaintive moan.

But it was not only these trials, sore as they were, that made poor
Sophy's blind eyes overflow with tears, and drew from her that
impatient wish that she might lie down and die. Sophy had a wounded
spirit as well as a suffering body. She had not the calm rest of
that loving faith which has so often made God's children _joyful in
tribulation_. She felt very impatient under her troubles, even though
well aware that she had partly brought them on herself. Sophy had the
fear of God in her heart; but she had as yet but little love, and
therefore could hardly keep from murmuring, though she tried hard not
to rebel.

"Oh, here comes Benoni, at last!" exclaimed Sophy Claymore, hastily
drying her eyes, as a light footstep was heard on the dark wooden stair
leading down to the kitchen. Sophy had never seen the face of her
little brother, as she called the son of Isaacs; she had never met the
smile of the child; but she would sometimes say that she could _hear_
the smile in his voice; and she loved to fancy him like the picture of
a fair white-winged cherub, with a ray streaming down on his bright,
uplifted face, which she had admired when she was a child. If Sophy
could have seen Benoni as he entered the kitchen, she would have beheld
something very unlike the image in her mind; he would have appeared as
a pale, sickly boy, of about nine or ten years of age, with a Jewish
cast of feature, and very shabbily dressed. But perhaps Sophy was after
all not so much mistaken as many might have thought her, and Benoni,
seen with the eyes of the soul, might have looked much like a cherub
still. There _was_ a ray streaming down upon him, though not such as
can be seen by mortal eyes.

"Oh! have you sold them, Benoni?" cried Sophy anxiously, as she heard
her adopted brother softly enter the room.

There was not "a smile in the voice," but there was hope in it as the
boy made reply, "Not to-day, dear Sophy. People seemed all so busy
and bustling, they would not attend to me. But I hope to-morrow to
sell some of your beautiful knitted things;" and Benoni put down a
card-board box containing small cuffs and kettle-holders,--a box, alas!
just as full as when he had taken it out that morning to try to sell
something in the streets.

"I wish that the money thrown away on the wool had gone for bread!"
said Sophy, desperately. She was dreadfully disappointed at the
failure, and ready to burst into tears.

Benoni went and sat upon the box beside her, took her hand in his own,
stroked and fondled it, and looked up lovingly into her face. "Poor
sister," he said very softly, "I'm afraid you are still in sore pain; I
wish I could take it away!"

"You feel for me, Benoni, you pity me," replied Sophy, almost with a
sob; "why does not God pity too?"

"God does!" exclaimed Benoni, looking shocked at what sounded so much
like the expression of a doubt of the love of his merciful Creator.

"It does not seem like it," muttered Sophy, half aloud, "or why does
God leave us in misery like this?"

"God knows why, and we must trust him," said Benoni, simply. "Why, you
trust even _me_, dear Sophy, a poor, foolish, little boy like me, when
I lead you about in the street; you are sure that I won't bring you
into danger, or take you where you would get any harm. You just hold me
tight by the hand and walk on, and are never afraid. I think that's how
we should feel about greater things. We should let the good Lord take
us by the hand, and then not start back and feel frightened. He sees,
you know, though we cannot see, what is the best road to take us along."

"I wish that I could feel as you do," sighed Sophy. "How do you get
such comfort in religion? I scarcely ever have any."

"My comfort comes by thinking all about the Lord Jesus," said Benoni.
"I'm often getting anxious and sad, and then when I think about him,
all seems to grow sunny again."

"I also think of the Lord in his glory," observed Sophy; "but it seems
as if in the midst of all the happiness of heaven he would not care to
think about me."

"But I like best to think about the Lord when he was on earth," said
Benoni; "most of all when he was a little boy living at Nazareth with
his mother. Then I know he can understand all that I feel, and the
little things that trouble me so. Joseph was not a rich or a great
man you know; he was only a simple carpenter, and had to work for his
bread. Don't you think that Joseph may sometimes have been ill, or out
of work like my father, and that Mary may scarcely have known how to
get food to give to her husband and son?"

"Perhaps so," replied Sophy, thoughtfully, "but one can hardly fancy
it. All the pictures of the Virgin Mary that I used to see made her
look dressed like a queen, and sitting on clouds, and one can't imagine
that either she or the Holy Child could ever really want a meal."

"Ah! but one can't trust _pictures_," said Benoni; "it is very likely,
as I once heard dear Persis say, that the Lord Jesus had a hard,
struggling kind of life when he was a boy. And then he lived in a
very wicked place; we know that from the Bible. I dare say that he
often heard bad words and saw things that would grieve him; and I dare
say that bad boys would tempt him, and jeer at him, and torment him,
because he never would join them in doing anything wrong. You can't
think what a comfort it is to me to think that the Lord had such common
troubles as these."

"_In all points tempted like as we are_," repeated Sophy, the apostle's
words recurring to her mind.

"I do love," continued Benoni, "to remember that it was when he was a
boy, not many years older than I am, that the Lord said, _Wist ye not
that I must be about my Father's business_? It showed that _doing_
God's will was in his mind then, that he was preparing when he was a
child for the great, great work,--the business of saving the world.
And perhaps the Lord had something to suffer, too, when he was a boy,
preparing him for the terrible trials that came upon him at last;
perhaps he had little crosses--like ours--before he had to take up the
great one, and many a thorn to pain him, even in his quiet home, long
before the cruel soldiers put the platted crown round his head. Now,
being hungry and having very little to eat may have just been one of
these thorns."

"But I dare say that the Lord could have covered the table with
abundance even when he was a boy, if he had chosen to do so," said
Sophy.

"But I don't suppose that he ever did choose to do that," replied
Benoni, in a very thoughtful tone, for he was a child who reflected
much. "The Lord wouldn't make bread for himself when he was a man; it
is not at all likely that he would do so when he was a boy. No, I dare
say that the Holy One tried to help Joseph, and to cheer his mother,
and told them that he was sure that their heavenly Father would never
forget them. I dare say that the Lord looked _then_ at the sparrows and
the lilies, and thought how God clothed and fed them, and then up to
the blue, blue sky, where his heavenly Father dwells, and never doubted
that Father's love, however hungry and poor he himself might be."

Benoni Isaacs expressed himself like a child, but Sophy felt that the
love and joy and peace that breathed in his simple words were not of
earth, but from above. The little one beside her was, like Samuel,
early called to listen to the word of God, and to answer in trustful
obedience, _Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth_. Sophy envied Benoni
his power of looking upwards by faith, and seeing God's love in all
things, more than she envied him the sight of his bodily eyes. The
girl and her adopted brother might be compared to travellers on a wide
ocean. With Benoni there were heavings and tossings, a gale of trouble
lifting the waves on high; but love to God was like bright sunshine on
that stormy sea, turning the foam into crests of pearls, the billows
to waves of gold. But Sophy was like one who journeys towards a frozen
north, at a time when the sun for long days is absent. All around
her was becoming dreary and chill; the ice of mistrust was gradually
gathering and thickening around her, till it seemed as if it would
hold her fast as in a prison, so that she should make no more progress
towards heaven;--never get forward, never get through to open water
and a brighter sea! There is something more terrible in this gradual
freezing round the soul than in the sudden shock of temptation. It
seems more impossible to "sheer off" from a danger like this. If we can
thus find _mistrust_ beginning to spread around us its deadly chill, if
the slightest doubt of God's love arise like a film on the water, let
us instantly turn our thoughts towards the Sun of Righteousness though
his rays may be hidden from our eyes; let us not be content to rest for
an hour where shoals of unbelief are forming around; let the very north
wind of trouble only drive us more rapidly towards the clear south,
till we feel at last the warmth of that Sun which has healing and life
in each beam.



XXV.

Honorable Scars.


"Here's father!" suddenly exclaimed Benoni, as he heard a familiar step
on the stair, and rose to meet his parent.

"Oh, may he bring us good news!" sighed Sophy. Instinctively she turned
her head in the direction of the door, longing to be able to read in
the face of her adopted parent whether he had met with success in his
quest for employment or assistance. All was darkness with Sophy; but
Benoni saw in a moment, from the heavy cloud on his father's brow,
the compressed lips, the haggard cheek, that he had met with severe
disappointment. Benjamin Isaacs almost threw to Benoni the single loaf
which he brought, as with suppressed bitterness he said, "Take it--I
got it by pledging the last of my tools."

"God has forsaken us!" muttered Sophy, putting up her hands to each
side of her head. There had been a shooting pain through it at that
moment, but a sharper pang still had pierced through the poor girl's
heart.

The one chair in the kitchen had been left for Benjamin Isaacs, but
he did not take it; he was too restless to sit down. Under a manner
usually quiet, he was a man of passions naturally fierce. These had
been kept under control, first by a habit of reserve, then by the
principles which he had adopted with the Christian religion, but now
and then they broke through restraint, and a short but vivid glimpse
was given of an impetuous, fiery spirit.

[Illustration: "Then go to the Christians," he said, mockingly, waving
me out of the shop. p. 244.]

"Man at least has forsaken us!" he exclaimed, with but
half-suppressed passion. "I went first to Elkanah da Costa, him under
whom I worked as a journeyman for years. There he was in his shop,
surrounded by the silver and the gold and the gems that are dear to him
as his soul. I told him of my difficulties; how anxious I am to find
work, even if my wages be much reduced. He knows _how_ I work,--many
of the glittering jewels in his cases had been set by these hands.
'I don't see you, Benjamin Isaacs, in the synagogue now,' he drawled
forth; he who cares less for religion, be it in Christian or Hebrew,
than for the lightest grain of gold dust that falls from the graver!
'No,' I replied; 'for these three years and more I have attended a
Christian church.' 'Then go to the Christians,' he said, mockingly,
waving me out of the shop. 'You will at least give me a certificate of
character,' I began. He cut me short with, 'Go to the Christians for
_that_,' with a sneer on his face which made the blood mount to mine;
and I turned my back on that place with its glittering wealth--forever!

"I had not walked many paces from the shop," continued Benjamin Isaacs,
"when whom should I come upon suddenly, on turning a corner of the
street, but my near blood relation, my cousin Reuben. He and I had
played when children together, shared the same meals, read out of the
same book, slept in the same room at night. I had written to Reuben
after my conversion, but I had received no reply. I did not doubt
that he would be angry at my having left our common faith; but he is
under obligation to me,--deep obligation,--and I scarcely thought that
even religious differences would entirely break the threefold tie of
gratitude, friendship, and blood."

Benjamin Isaacs paused, knit his dark brows, and pressed his lips
tightly together. Benoni thought of that which is written, _Brother
shall rise up against brother_, and silently thanked God that he and
his father, at least, had at the same time given themselves to the
Lord. Isaacs continued his narration; it seemed a relief to him thus to
pour out the bitterness of his spirit in words,--

"'Reuben,' said I, and held out my hand; he drew back, and looked as if
he would as lief have grasped a viper. 'Turncoat, dog of a Christian!'
he hissed forth, and passed me with a gesture, which, had I _not_ been
a Christian, would have made me strike him to the pavement, and stamp
upon him as he lay there!" The dark eyes of Isaacs seemed to flash fire
as he said this, and intuitively he clenched his thin hand.

"O father, dear, then you'll have your scars to show!" cried Benoni.
The soft, sweet voice of the boy sounded to Sophy like music after a
storm.

"Scars! what do you mean?" asked Isaacs.

"Ned Franks said that what we have to suffer for Christ, because we are
his faithful soldiers, will be to us at last like the scars left by
wounds got in battle."

There was something soothing in the idea to one who was at the moment
smarting from persecution borne for righteousness' sake. The furrows on
Isaacs' brow smoothed down; he seated himself wearily on the chair, and
drew his little boy towards him.

"You seem to have a good memory, Benoni, for everything done or said by
your good friend the sailor, though you were so young when we left the
village of Colme."

"We had such happy days there," said Benoni; "the happiest days in all
my life, when you and I lodged in the pretty cottage with old Mr.
Meade and dear Persis, and every evening Ned Franks came to court her
for his wife. He used to take me on his knee, and tell me stories, and
I think of them now so often,--most of all at night when I can't get to
sleep; it seems as if they brought those dear old times back again."
Benoni, in that gloomy London kitchen, could not repress a little sigh.
As memory may have recalled to Adam the sights and sounds of Eden, so
she pictured to Benoni the cottage mantled with creepers, buried in its
green wooded dell, with the gurgle of the stream and the clack of the
mill and the happy voice of Persis singing hymns at her grandfather's
door.

"And what was it that Franks said about wounds and scars?" asked Isaacs.

"You know that Ned Franks had served the queen, and had been in more
than one battle; yet he told me that he had never so much as received a
scratch in fight, and that he half envied the fellows that carried away
some marks that they'd been in the struggle; for that though wounds
may be sore at the time, an old soldier or sailor likes afterwards to
look at his scars. Franks said, that if the bright angels in heaven,
who have nothing but peace, happiness, and love, could envy us poor
mortals anything, it must be the opportunity of giving up something
and suffering something for the sake of the Lord Jesus, who suffered
so much for us. The angels may have the harps of gold and the crowns
of life, but they can't have the victor's _scars_, for no one has ever
hated or persecuted them for righteousness' sake. Sometimes," continued
the boy, nestling closer to his father, and speaking on, because he
felt that his simple words were giving comfort,--"sometimes I like to
think of all the Lord's faithful soldiers marching in glory before him,
when all their trials and battles are over, and when everything which
they have borne for him will be remembered. There will be Joseph,--he
got his scar when he was thrown into prison; Daniel, his in the den
of lions; the three brave Jews, in the burning, fiery furnace. And
then there will be the scars of those who have been reviled and spoken
against and laughed at because they would serve the Lord; scars of
those who have lost money for Christ, who have given up Sunday gains,
or wouldn't take bribes, or get gold in any bad way, and so were
sometimes hungry and poor while they lived upon earth. And sometimes
it has seemed to me," continued Benoni, "that even if I _could_ get
so easily through life as never to have a hard word or want a comfort
because I served the Saviour, I would _rather_ have some little scars
to show,--not because they would make me deserve anything as a reward
from my King, but because they would be like _marks_ to prove how
dearly I had loved him."

"Ay, ay," said Isaacs, calmly and even cheerfully, "_Blessed are they
which are persecuted for righteousness' sake_. It is the Master himself
who bade his wounded servants _rejoice and leap for joy_. If we have
never received so much as a scratch in the long struggle against the
world, the flesh, and the devil, it looks as if our fighting had been
but a sham,--that we had kept out of the fire, and thought a great deal
more of our own comfort than of the honor of our Leader. He bore shame
and loss for us; we should welcome shame and loss for him." The thought
was taking from Isaacs all the venom that had been rankling in his
wounded spirit.

"Such sorrows are blessings and honors," cried Benoni, and his pale
face brightened as he said it.

"But what are sorrows," thought poor Sophy, "that come upon us, not
because we have followed the Lord, but because we have wandered from
him?" She had listened to the preceding conversation in silence,
bitterly conscious that the wounds which festered in her heart were
not those received in Christian warfare, but rather, in part at least,
the consequences of her early folly and neglect of religion. Sophy
knew too well how entirely her mind had been set on the world. A gay
ribbon or dress, a gaudy bead necklace, a Sunday "lark," or a dance,
had been more to her silly, sinful heart than all the truths contained
in the Bible. She had not given up one folly for the sake of her Lord;
she had not through sense of duty ever renounced the smallest gain;
her dangerous pleasures had been torn from her,--not yielded up of
her own free will; she had clutched them as long as she could; she
had been made poor, desolate, and blind; but this had been because
her waywardness had rendered chastisements needful, not because her
faithfulness to God had led her into persecution or trouble. And yet
Sophy was far more disposed to repine than were Isaacs and his son; she
was more tempted to distrust God's love, though her very afflictions
were a token of it. Sophy had been a wandering sheep, straying upon the
mountains of sin and folly, now near to the brink of the precipice, now
close to the den of the lion who lurketh in wait for souls to destroy
them. She would not then hear the voice of the Shepherd: she chose her
own dangerous path. When her friend, Norah Peele, under the influence
of her uncle, had begun to try in earnest to lead a new life, Sophy had
done all in her power to hinder and keep her back; had first laughed at
her good resolutions, and then quarrelled with Norah because she could
not be persuaded to break them. It was in mercy indeed that sorrow and
sickness had been sent to Sophy, like the rough sheep-dog after the
straying lamb to frighten or drag it back to the fold; Sophy, if left
to herself, must have been lost forever. It is not always that trials
are blessings, but such they had been to her. Sophy had been suddenly
checked in her mad career, shut out by blindness from many temptations
which she had never been able to resist,--love of dress, of flattery,
of folly,--temptations which were drawing her farther and farther away
from her God. Sophy in her misery had learned to pray, but she had not
yet learned to praise; as a penitent she was sincere, but as a believer
she was weak. She reverenced the Lord as her king, had hope in him
as her Saviour; but she did not cling to him with rejoicing trust as
the Friend, the loving Friend who bids us cast all our care upon him,
because he careth for us.

"Shall we never go back to Colme, father?" asked Benoni, after along
interval of silence, during which the boy's thoughts had been wandering
back to what he considered the pleasantest spot upon earth.

"There would be no opening in a village like Colme, for a jeweller like
me," replied Benjamin Isaacs. "I finished the business that took me
there,--that of arranging and getting into order the curiosities and
gems at the Hall. My patron, Sir Lacy Barton, is dead, and his heir
knows nothing about me. I would never go to Colme to be a burden upon
the kindness of Ned Franks and his wife,--better enter a poor-house, or
starve!" There was an independence of character in the Jew which he
carried almost to a fault; Benoni knew that his father would suffer the
extremity of want rather than beg or borrow from a friend.

"It is long, very long, since we have heard either from the Frankses,
or from my dear friend Norah," said Sophy.

"They know not where a letter would find us, my daughter; I have twice
changed our lodgings since last I wrote, which I did when returning
money most kindly offered. Franks has his own family to care for; I
accept nothing but from those who are my relations by blood."

"Or by adoption," added Benoni, glancing kindly at Sophy, and then at
her basket of knitted goods.

"You and Sophy are alike my children," said Isaacs; "our purse shall
always be one; our good or bad fortune we share together. So," he added
more cheerfully, "take yon loaf, my boy, and divide it between your
sister, yourself, and me. 'Better the dinner of herbs where love is,
than the stalled ox and hatred therewith.' We'll thank God for the
bread which he gives to-day, and trust him to send more on the morrow."



XXVI.

A Scrap of News.


Heavy and joyless, Sophy on the following morning arose from her bed,
which was little better than a heap of rags, in a kind of cupboard off
the kitchen. Heavy and joyless she groped her way into the room where
Isaacs and his son were waiting for her coming to offer their daily
morning sacrifice of prayer and of praise. Sophy joined them in the
former, but when she attempted to sing

    "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,"

her voice faltered, and she broke down; tears came instead of music.

The remains of the loaf were shared for breakfast, and taken with some
almost colorless tea. Then Isaacs and Benoni quitted the kitchen, the
one to seek again for work, the other,--with the basket on his arm,--to
try to sell Sophy's knitting. When they had left her, the poor girl
seated herself on the box. She had no materials for work, even if she
had had the spirit to labor. She gave herself up to sad thought,
with her elbow on her knee, and her brow on her hand. "I wonder where
Norah is now, and whether she ever thinks of me! When she and I were
merry young girls together, singing, and laughing, and building all
kinds of castles in the air, how we used to promise each other that
our friendship should last as long as our lives! She will have new
friends now,--better friends than I ever was, who will not fill her
head with follies and her spirit with pride. If she ever thinks of me,
it will be with---- But I do not believe that she ever _does_ think of
me," continued Sophy, in bitterness of soul; "she is happy, earning
her living honestly and cheerfully; she is not dependent, despised,
despairing,--a poor, blind wretch, like me!"

Surely the ice of mistrust was growing very thick around Sophy, making
her doubt, not only the care of her heavenly Father, but the love of
her earthly friend!

And on that very day, Norah Peele was not only thinking of Sophy,
but thinking of scarcely anything else. One of those strange little
incidents which sometimes occur, small in themselves, but hinges on
which great events may turn, had brought poor Sophy on that morning
forcibly before the mind of her friend.

Norah was on her knees, lighting the kitchen fire at the vicarage, with
a bit of the advertisement sheet of the _Times_, which was used as
waste paper in her master's house, when her eye chanced to fall on the
following notice:--

"NEXT OF KIN. _If the nearest relative of the late Tabitha Turtle
apply to Messrs. Grant, Bold, & Co., ---- Lincoln's Inn, he will hear
of something to his advantage._"

"Tabitha Turtle! surely I know that name!" exclaimed Norah, pausing
with the lighted match in her hand. "Yes, to be sure, that is the
name of poor Sophy's aunt, who lived somewhere near Portman Square.
I remember how we two silly young things used to laugh and joke at
the name, and wonder whether she who had it was like a turtle-dove or
a tortoise! _Something to his advantage--nearest of kin!_ Why, what
if Sophy herself should be nearest of kin,--if there should be money
waiting for her,--she who is living now upon the charity of the Jew
who has adopted her, and who, I fear, has but little for himself! Oh,
that would be delightful, delightful!" and Norah threw down the match,
and tore off the little scrap from the paper, as eagerly as if it had
contained the greatest piece of good news for herself. She could hardly
settle to her work, so impatient was she to go and ask her mistress's
leave to run over to the school-house, to consult her uncle Ned
Franks as to what could be done for Sophy. However, it was clear that
the harder Norah worked, the sooner her business would be over. She
therefore plied her fingers so diligently, that, before eleven o'clock
had struck, she received leave to go, "just for a quarter of an hour,"
to speak to her uncle on something of great importance.

There was no time for Norah to change her working-dress, scarcely
time to wash her hands. On ordinary days there would have been no use
in going to Ned Franks before school-hours were over; but this was
hay-making time, and a week's holiday had been given to his pupils.
Carrying her precious little scrap of paper in her hand, Norah hurried
along the path to the school-house, where she found Ned Franks, with
Persis carrying her baby, just starting to pay a visit to Nancy Sands,
who had, on the previous day, returned from the hospital to her home.

"Why, here comes Norah!" exclaimed Ned Franks, gayly, "scudding along
like a yacht in a race!" and as he spoke, his niece came up breathless
alike in eagerness and the pace at which she had been going, for her
walk had quickened into a run.

"I've not more than five minutes," she began, and stopped to pant, her
eyes sparkling and her cheeks glowing with excitement.

"Come in, then, and take breath, and tell us what news you have to
bring us. What's this?" as Norah thrust the scrap of soiled paper into
his hand,--"what have we to do with Tabitha Turtle? She was certainly
none of our kith or kin."

As they returned into the school-house, Norah hastily informed
her uncle of her reasons for thinking that the notice might be of
importance to her poor blind friend. Franks and Persis listened with
interest.

"Certainly Sophy should know of this," said Ned Franks; "but she's
blind, and Isaacs is scarcely likely to see the _Times_, and if he did,
it's a thousand chances to one that he should connect his adopted
daughter with the name of an aunt whom she appears never to have seen,
and may never even have mentioned."

"We must write to Sophy at once!" cried Norah.

"But how can we write," asked Persis, "when we do not know her address?
Ned has not heard from Isaacs for months, and then our friend mentioned
that he was about to leave his lodgings, without saying where the next
one would be."

Ned Franks passed his hand through his thick curly hair, as if, by so
doing, he could draw out some bright idea. "I've half a mind," he said,
"as it's holiday-time, to be off to London myself, see the lawyers, and
find out if it's likely that there's really any money left to Sophy,
and then hunt her out, if I can; though looking for any one in London
is like searching for a needle in a haystack."

"Oh, if you will only go!" exclaimed Norah, eagerly, "I'll pay the
expense so gladly, as soon as I get my quarter's wages!"

"No, no, lass," said the school-master, laughing; "I've enough shot
in my locker to manage without your little store. Only"--Ned glanced
at his wife; he knew that Persis had been looking forward with the
pleasure of a child to his holiday-time; for him to go to London would
spoil a pleasant plan which the Frankses had talked over for months.
They were to have gone on that very afternoon on a short pleasure-trip
to the sea-side; for Franks longed, as he owned, "to smell salt water
again," which he had not done since he had left the profession of a
sailor.

"What do you say, sweetheart?" asked Franks of his wife. "I leave the
decision to you."

Persis stooped down and kissed her baby, probably to get a moment for
thought, and then raising her head, said, with a smile which cost her
some effort,--

"I think that you'd better be off to London."

Franks glanced at the clock, Nancy Sands's cuckoo-clock, which hung in
his little parlor. "I might be off by the 12-30 train if I hoisted all
sail," he cried. "I'll get my kit ready in no time. If I'm early in
town I may see the lawyers to-day. I must stay over Sunday in London,
but if I've a prosperous cruise, I hope to be back upon Monday."

Persis was too busy helping her husband, and putting up his dinner of
cold meat, to have time to think of her own disappointment, till Ned
Franks, quick and prompt in everything, had started off for the station
at almost a running pace, with his little bundle fastened to a stick
hanging over his shoulder. Norah had at once returned to the vicarage,
full of hope for her friend, having perfect confidence that whatever
business her uncle undertook he would do, and do well. Persis gave a
little sigh as her husband disappeared in the distance, and with him
all her prospect of a holiday-trip; yet she was glad that she had made
the sacrifice of her own inclination; and, taking up her baby from the
cradle in which she had placed him, at a slow pace she proceeded along
the dusty road towards the cottage of her neighbor.



XXVII.

Nancy's Return.


With very mingled feelings had Nancy Sands returned to her home. It was
in the twilight that she entered her native village. "I do not care,"
she said, "to have the gossips staring at me, or stopping me to talk."

John Sands would have hired a conveyance for his wife, as the walk
from the town was a long one for an invalid just discharged from an
hospital; but his wife, in her short, determined way, declined his
proposal to get one.

"I've two feet if I've only one arm," she said, almost sharply. "If
I've walked that road once, I've walked it a hundred times; the fresh
air will do me good."

Mrs. Sands set out briskly at her husband's side; but before they
had gone a mile she felt that she was no longer what she had once
been,--that the sufferings and confinement which she had undergone had
greatly told on her strength. Her pace very sensibly slackened.

"My dear, would you take my arm?" suggested the clerk, timidly, for he
was still afraid of a rebuff from his hot-tempered wife.

But this time there was no rebuff; Nancy thankfully took the proffered
arm, and leaned on it as she had never done since the first week after
her marriage. Whether it were that these old days were brought back
to her mind, or whether the very necessity for _leaning_ made her
realize the position of a wife in regard to her husband, who should be,
according to Scripture, her "head" and her "lord," we need not decide;
but never had Nancy Sands felt her wilful, wayward heart so drawn
towards her spouse as on that homeward walk in the twilight. As for
John Sands, his spirit was full of tenderness towards the wife of his
youth.

Very few words were spoken by either of the two as they slowly
proceeded on their way. Nancy was too weary for much conversation, and
so perhaps was her husband; but as they passed the carpenter's shop,
she observed,--

"So poor Stone is ill and not likely to live? He and I were the two
strongest people in the parish."

Very much tired was Nancy when she re-entered her home. She wearily
sank on a chair; exhausted nature craved the support of a stimulant.
An intense desire arose for a glass of spirits or a tumbler of ale;
but she had taken the pledge, and neither she nor her husband liked to
mention what was in the minds of both.

John Sands went to the cupboard and brought out of it the supper which
he had provided for his wife, and himself arranged it on the table.
There were little luxuries, in which the poor clerk had never thought
of indulging during her absence. Pickled salmon,--Nancy had a weakness
for pickled salmon,--Bath chop, fresh butter, and white rolls. Nancy
noticed the consideration shown for her tastes, and drew her chair to
the table, well disposed to do justice to the dainties before her.
Sands filled her plate, and then shyly--for he was afraid of hurting
his wife by showing that he remembered that she had no longer a right
hand--he cut up the viands into small pieces, and quietly pushed the
plate to its place, avoiding looking at Nancy as he did so. "It must
pain her, poor dear, to be so helpless, though I'm sure it's a pleasure
to me to help her," thought the indulgent husband.

Nancy had scarcely begun her meal when she stopped short, and fixed her
eyes upon a tumbler of water at the right hand of the clerk, where she
never before had missed at supper the pint of beer. "Where's your beer,
John?" she asked, abruptly.

"Well, my dear, I thought--I did not want"--stammered forth the clerk,
nervously.

"You do want it; it does you good; _you_ have not taken the pledge."

"No, but"--there was a look of perplexity on John Sands's sallow face;
he did not know how to finish his sentence.

"The truth is, you can't trust me even to _see_ it," observed Nancy,
gloomily.

"I thought that I should not like to be different from you, my dear,"
said Sands, in a deprecatory tone. He would have made any other
sacrifice of his own comfort, as he made this, for the sake of rescuing
his wife from her fearful vice.

"Different,--you can't help being different," murmured Nancy, "you who
never in all your born days took one drop too much. It's hard for
you to be kept from your beer. But perhaps you're right, John," she
added, looking her husband full in the face; "at least just at the
first. I suspect that if I saw any strong drink it would not end with
the _seeing_; I'd give the world at this moment for a draught of good
double stout."

Nancy rose on the following morning much the better for a calm night's
rest, and the breakfast was decidedly more cheerful than the supper had
been. The clerk had afterwards to attend a christening, but his wife
was not long left alone, for a succession of visitors came to see her,
some from curiosity, some from kindness.

One of the first to appear was Stone's wife, the former motive being
that which moved her, though she deceived herself into thinking that
she was performing a charitable deed by going to see "that wretched
creature Nancy, who must be ashamed to show her face."

"I hope that this will be a warning to you, Mrs. Sands, a solemn
warning," said Mrs. Stone, after the first greetings and inquiries had
been exchanged. "You've lost an arm, but you might have lost your life;
if you'd been taken _then_"--Bell paused, for there was something in
Nancy's face which told her that the temper of the old tigress might
be lurking in her still, and that it might be dangerous to rouse it.
It was hardly to be expected that Mrs. Sands would endure that any
officious bungler should, as it were, tear off the bandage and probe
the yet unhealed wound in her spirit. Had John Sands plied his wife
with reproaches and admonitions after the fashion of Bell Stone, it
is probable that Nancy would have returned to his dwelling, not as a
penitent, but as a savage-hardened offender.

The entrance of Mrs. Fuddles put a stop to what might have ended
in what she would have called a "flare up." Mrs. Stone suddenly
recollected that she could not stop long away from her poor dear
patient, and hurried away, shrugging her shoulders and saying to
herself, as she left the place, that it was clear, from the company
kept by Nancy, that in spite of all that had happened, she'd be as bad
as ever again.

Mrs. Fuddles's manner was an utter contrast to that of the visitor just
before her. She was excited and flurried in her greeting; she declared
that she was delighted to see her dear old friend again, and looking
well, wonderfully well, all things considered; only she'd need to take
plenty of good nourishing stuff to get up her strength again, after
such a terrible illness. "A little drop of something, taken hot, just
the first thing in the morning, my dear; I've known it work wonders,"
said the publican's wife, who doubtless spoke from personal experience.

"You forget I've taken the pledge," replied Nancy, who needed no
explanation as to the nature of the "drop" recommended.

"Now, really, I heard something about it, but I could not believe it.
A sensible woman like you! But people do get round sick folks, and
wheedle, and coax, and frighten them so!"

"No one ever wheedled, or coaxed, or frightened _me_," replied Nancy,
sternly; "what I did, I did of my own free will, and I'll hold to it
too."

"To be sure, quite right; I'd be the last to try to persuade you
against your wishes," cried Mrs. Fuddles, instantly changing her
ground; "you don't know how I've been cut up about you,--and to think
of its having happened after your leaving my house, though I said,
and always will say, _that_ had nothing to do with a slip of the foot;
any one might have a slip of the foot; the parson himself might have
tumbled into the mill-stream! But you won't keep away from the old
house, Nancy, my dear," continued the publican's wife in a fawning
tone, edging her chair nearer to that on which Mrs. Sands was seated;
"you and I won't give up our pleasant chats over a--a cup of tea, if
you like it; I won't press you to anything to put your husband out, or
to offend the young parson; I'll offer you nothing stronger than tea,
unless, of course, it was good for your health?"

Mrs. Fuddles thought that she saw symptoms of yielding in her of whom
she dared to call herself a _friend_. The woman, doing the work of the
tempter of souls, knew well enough that there was something within poor
Nancy which was making her only too willing to be persuaded against
her better judgment, and that if she crossed the threshold of the
"Chequers," that craving for stimulant, which had been like a disease,
would become altogether irresistible. Mrs. Fuddles, eager to press her
point, was annoyed by the interruption caused by another visitor.

"Why, if here ben't Mrs. Franks!" she exclaimed, rising from her chair
with ill-concealed vexation; a feeling which was increased by the very
cordial manner in which Nancy received the wife of her brave preserver.

It almost seemed as if the gentle, pure-minded mother, bearing her
innocent babe on her bosom, had come as a guardian angel to the aid
of a tempted soul. A purer atmosphere was breathed around Persis; the
fragrance of the roses, which she had brought from her garden as a
gift to Nancy did not contrast more strongly with the odor of brandy
which clung to the publican's wife, than did the meek dignity of the
Christian matron contrast with the fawning vulgarity of the mistress of
the "Chequers."

"My game's up for this time," thought Mrs. Fuddles, as she soon after
took her bustling leave. The cottage seemed a holier as well as a
quieter place when rid of her presence.

"I am so glad to see you back here," said Persis, looking with kindly
interest at Nancy, as one who had so narrowly escaped a terrible death.

"I know that you are, Persis Franks; you have always been a true friend
to me," replied Mrs. Sands; and the ear of Ned's wife caught with
pleasure the emphasis on the word _you_.

Then the baby was duly exhibited and admired; the heart of poor Nancy
always warmed towards a baby. How he had grown,--how much he was
improved,--how like he was to his father, especially when the little
one laughed and crowed, and showed the dimple on his cheek! Persis was
always a patient, smiling listener to the praises of either her husband
or her child.

The conversation, however, took before long an abrupt turn. Nancy had
something on her mind which, as was usual with her, soon found its way
to her tongue.

"Do you think I shall be _able_ to keep the pledge?" she asked
suddenly, though Persis had made no allusion to the subject. Mrs.
Franks, however, easily connected the abrupt question with the visit of
Mrs. Fuddles. Nancy repeated it rather impatiently, as Persis hesitated
before giving a reply.

"I think that depends upon two things," she answered, looking down as
she spoke, perhaps to avoid meeting the gaze of the keen black eyes
fixed upon her.

"What are these two things, Persis Franks? You need not mind speaking
out boldly; you are not one to force your advice where it's not asked,
nor to set yourself up, like Bell Stone, for being a deal better than
your neighbors. I want to keep the pledge if I can, if only for the
sake of poor John; but how am I to do it?"

"The first thing, at least so it seems to me," replied Persis, "is to
keep out of all way of temptation."

"You don't mean to say I'm to cut an old friend," said Nancy, who was
longing to renew her dangerous visits to Mrs. Fuddles.

"If I were you I would never venture near the 'Chequers;' at least, not
without my husband," replied Persis.

Nancy flushed, and muttered something that sounded like "with a
keeper;" but her good sense approved of that which had offended her
pride; and, after a short struggle with herself, she said, "Yes, yes,
I'll never more enter the 'Chequers' without John, and that's next
thing to saying that I'll never go there again. What's the second thing
that you meant, Persis Franks?"

Persis lifted up her heart for a moment in supplication for wisdom
before she ventured to reply. "I think that your next,--your _best_
safeguard, Mrs. Sands, must be earnest, daily prayer to Him who alone
can keep you,--or any of us, from falling. While we shun temptation, we
must also _watch and pray_."

Nancy made no reply, and Persis, after a pause, went on. "I feel
myself, Mrs. Sands, that I am no more able to stand firm without the
help of God's Holy Spirit, than my babe is able to support himself
without a parent's embracing arms. I come to God, just as a little
child, for the daily grace which I need. I have no strength to hold
him fast, but he will hold _me_ fast, if--with all my weakness and
sinfulness--I give myself up entirely to him."

Tears rose to Persis's eyes as she spoke, and tears were also
glistening in those of Nancy. "Shun temptation,--watch and pray," she
repeated, as if to impress the words on her memory; then, looking
fixedly at Mrs. Franks, and speaking in the measured tone of one who
has made up her mind, Nancy said, "I will never forget your advice. I
believe that I shall one day bless you for it in heaven."

And from that time forth Nancy Sands was never seen at the "Chequers,"
and not a morning or evening passed without the voice of simple,
earnest prayer arising from what had been once the home of the drunkard.



XXVIII.

A Search.


With all the speed which he had made, Ned Franks was scarcely in time
to catch the train for London. The journey was without incident, and
the village school-master ere long found himself in the centre of the
noise, glare, heat, and bustle of the great city in the dog-days.

"Difficult navigation this," said the former sailor to himself, as he
made his way across roads crowded almost to blockade. "I suppose it's
because I'm not used to the thing; but I can't understand how children
or old folks can manage this steering behind and before and between
omnibuses, carts, cabs, and vans, dodging right under horses' noses,
and all in the midst of such confusion and noise! I'd not bide in such
a rackety place as this to be made Lord Mayor of London!"

Ned's first care was to visit the office of Messrs. Grant, Bold, &
Co. He there obtained more precise information regarding the object
of the advertisement in the _Times_. Mrs. Tabitha Turtle having died
intestate, her little savings, amounting to something above two hundred
pounds, would of course revert to her next of kin. She had had no
brother, and but one sister, who, as the lawyer informed Ned Franks,
had been married more than twenty years before to a man of the name of
Peter Claymore; but whether Mrs. Claymore were living, or whether she
had had any children, had not as yet been ascertained. No answer had
been made from any quarter to repeated advertisements in the _Times_.

"I can pilot you a little lower down, sir," said Ned Franks to his
informant. "Mrs. Claymore died long ago, her husband about a year
back,--in a penal settlement; he had changed his name more than once,
I believe. They have left but one daughter, whose name is Sophy. She
is now blind, and, having been adopted by Benjamin Isaacs, a Christian
Jew, is probably called by his name, which may make it harder to find
her. But it is worth any trouble to do the poor orphan right, for she
has not a farthing in the world, and I fear that the generous Jew is
scarcely able to support her and his son."

"Can you give me any clue to her present place of abode?" asked Mr.
Grant, with a languid air of indifference.

"I'll give you what was Isaacs' address when he last wrote to me, sir,"
replied Franks; "but that was some months back, and he was about to
change his lodging. I've not had a line from him since, but I'll be off
to Islington at once, and try if I can't hunt him out. Poor Sophy shall
not miss such a chance for want of a friend who will take a little
trouble to find her."

Ned Franks took more than a little trouble; not feeling rich enough
to afford hiring a cab, he, a perfect stranger to London, was puzzled
beyond measure how to find his way through its endless labyrinth of
streets. "I'm like a blind man steering amongst shoals," muttered the
one-armed sailor. Twenty times had he to ask his way, "veering about
and tacking to half the points in the compass," as he afterwards
laughingly told his wife, and it was not till after the lapse of
several hours that Ned found himself, much heated, tired, and with a
racking headache, at the door of Isaacs' old lodging at last.

Here little comfort was to be obtained. The shrewish-looking landlady
who had unwittingly quitted her supper to answer the sailor's impatient
and repeated summons, seemed half-inclined to shut the door in his
face, and told him that she knowed nothing, not she, of Benjamin
Isaacs. A working jeweller with a boy and a blind girl had lived there
once, she owned, when more closely questioned by Ned; but they had gone
long since, she could not tell whither; if they were alive or if they
were dead, she didn't know and she didn't care! Slamming the door, the
woman went back to her supper, grumbling at being "bothered by impudent
fellows like that coming to hunt up old lodgers."

"Where am I to turn up now?" thought poor Franks, almost knocked up,
and a little discouraged by the result of his search. The street lamps
were lighted, the public houses flaring, night was coming on; but it
seemed as if to London and its suburbs night would bring no interval of
quiet or repose. The village school-master longed for food, sleep, and
rest.

"But I won't give up my chase yet," Ned said to himself. "Knowing
Sophy and Isaacs by sight, I'm much more likely to find them out than
a stranger would be; besides, I put more heart into the business than
that grand, sleepy-looking gentleman in black, who seemed not to care
the turning of a straw whether the money found its way into Sophy's
pocket or into the sea."

A thought occurred to Ned Franks as he stood in perplexity leaning
against a lamp-post. "I'll step into one of the post-offices, and
ask for a sight of one of the big red books that hold all kinds of
addresses. Though Isaacs' will not be put down there, I may light upon
some relation of his; and if I can but get hold of one end of the line,
I may manage to follow out the clue."

After a little more of inquiring his way along those noisy streets,
where no one seemed at leisure to answer a question, Franks found a
post-office, which he entered. The shopman was putting up the shutters,
and at first desired the sailor to wait till Monday; but, perhaps
struck by the worn, weary looks of the inquirer, he good-naturedly let
him have a sight of the directory, which he took down from a shelf,
bidding the sailor, however, make haste.

Franks hurriedly turned over the leaves by gas-light, and came to the
name of "Isaacs." It was perplexing to him to see how many persons in
London bore it; how should he choose between them? Ned ran his finger
down the closely printed column till he came to the name of "Reuben,"
and uttered an exclamation of satisfaction as his eye fell upon the
word.

"Ah! that's a Jew's name, anyhow; and now I remember Isaacs telling
me that he had in London a cousin called Reuben, who was to him as a
brother. I'm on the right tack at last! but 'Lisson Grove;' where's
Lisson Grove?" asked the weary stranger of the good-natured shopman.
"I hope that it's hard by, though I have not seen anything hereabouts
like a grove."

The Londoner smiled at the observation. "You must not look for trees
there," he said, "but a lot of low, dirty, narrow streets; and, as for
the distance from here, I should say at a guess, four miles."

"Four miles!" repeated poor Ned to himself, as, after thanking his
informant, he quitted the shop. "Tired as I am, I'd rather walk forty
miles on a country road than four miles through this labyrinth of
London. I could scarcely steer my course while I'd daylight; at night
I'd not have a chance. I must hail a cab, and to pay for it I'll do
without supper to-night, and maybe without dinner to-morrow, for I must
keep enough of the ready rhino to pay for my journey back."

A cab was hailed, and in due course of time Ned Franks, at the cost of
a half crown, found himself standing in front of a pawnbroker's shop,
where the blaze of gas-light fell on a crowd of the poor, thronging
around the door, some to pledge and some to redeem articles of
clothing, blankets, or plate.

"I'm glad he's not shut up yet, though the hour's so late," thought
Franks, as, with a little difficulty, he made his way through the
throng. The moment that he caught sight of the pawnbroker, the strong
likeness borne to his cousin by Reuben made Franks feel certain that
he had "hit upon the right Isaacs." He had to wait, however, which he
did with no small impatience, till the pawnbroker had leisure to attend
to his business, and then Franks knew that he must put it into as few
words as might be, as the night was now far advanced.

"Pray, sir, haven't you a cousin of the name of Benjamin Isaacs, who
has adopted a blind girl as his daughter?" asked Ned, in a rapid tone.

"Ay, more fool he!" muttered Reuben.

"That mayn't prove the case in the long run, my friend," said the
warm-hearted sailor. "No one's the worse in the end for helping widow
or orphan. The girl's just come in for some money. Can you tell me
where to find her, or your cousin?"

Little did Franks, himself the soul of candor and truth, suspect the
perfidy and malice that prompted the pawnbroker's reply.

"If you're seeking them out to tell them of such a bit of good luck,
you're a day too late for the fair. Benjamin, his boy, and the girl,
the whole lot of them, sailed last week for Australia!"

"Are you certain of that?" inquired Ned, anxiously.

"As sure as I am that my name's Reuben Isaacs. I saw them to the docks
myself;" and the man turned suddenly round to a customer, perhaps to
hide the smile of gratified malice which rose to his lips.

"Then my work is done!" exclaimed Franks, leaving the place with a
sense of bitter disappointment. "Nothing remains for me now but to find
some berth for the night."

And it was close upon midnight before the weary man found one.



XXIX.

Pleasure or Principle?


Ned Franks had wished to combine cheapness and comfort in his lodging,
but this appearing to be an impossible arrangement, he gave up the
second for the sake of the first, and passed in a dirty boarding-house
one of the most uncomfortable nights that he had ever known. Accustomed
as he had been when a sailor to "roughing it," Ned Franks could have
slept soundly in an open boat or under a hedge; but the suffocating
atmosphere of an almost air-tight room, shared with a dirty Portuguese,
made him, weary as he was, unable to snatch more than a few minutes
of broken, feverish slumber, to which the name of repose could not be
given. Franks was glad when morning broke, and he was able to rise and
go forth into the air from what he considered to be "as bad as any
black-hole."

"I wish that I were back again amongst our own green fields, or that
I'd never had the folly to come on such a wild cruise as this,"
muttered Franks to himself, he being in a somewhat irritable mood.
"Persis and I might have been now,--but there is no use regretting
what's done. I believe that the search, useless as it has turned out,
was the right thing to be attempted. It's our part in life to try
and do our duty; and then, if it seems that we've worked in vain, we
must remember that all is in God's hands, and that he has always some
wise, good, kind reason for sending us disappointment or trouble." If
there was one sin more than another, from which Franks was resolved
always to "sheer off" at once, it was _mistrust_,--that gathering
shoal-ice. He had been working hard; exerting all his energies, and
giving up his pleasures, not so much for the sake of a girl in whom
he had no particular interest (for Sophy had never been a favorite of
Franks), but from obedience to Him who commends to us the cause of
the fatherless and poor. What is done unto the Lord can never be done
altogether in vain. When he bids us work for him, he bids us do so in
a cheerful, trustful spirit, looking to him for a blessing, thanking
him for success when success is granted; and, if it seem to be denied,
never daring to doubt for a moment that _he hath done all things well_.

"Now, if this were any day but Sunday," thought Franks, as he walked
through the street where, even at an early hour, the cries of the
water-cress seller and the hawker unpleasantly broke on the comparative
stillness, "if this were any day but Sunday, I'd be off by the first
train, and not spend another hour in this hot, close city. And why
should I _not_ go to-day, although it is Sunday? Would there be any
harm? I should be in plenty of time for afternoon service at least, and
should pass a much holier, as well as happier, Sabbath in Colme than in
London. I should be with my Persis and my boy, and those who love and
serve God, and not tossing about here like a stray bit of sea-weed on
the waves. Why, in the midst of crowds here, I've not a single being to
speak to; and I feel as lonely in a city as Crusoe did in his island! I
think that I'd better go back at once to my home!"

Franks quickened his steps as he heard the shrill whistle from a
railway station near, which reminded him that there are plenty of
travellers from London, every Sunday, bound on errands of business or
pleasure. The temptation to Franks was strong; so many excuses offered
themselves to his mind for breaking the fourth commandment only _this
once_. Health, convenience, economy, the pleasure of giving a joyful
surprise to his wife, from whom he had never before been separated for
a single day since their marriage,--all combined to draw Franks to the
conclusion, that a journey on Sunday was excusable in his case, if not
perfectly lawful.

As the struggle was going on in the mind of the one-armed school-master
of Colme, a woman, with a basket filled with pottles of strawberries,
stopped him with the question, "Buy any nice strawberries, sir, this
morning?"

"I never buy or sell on the Lord's day, and I am sorry to see you doing
either," replied Franks, gravely but kindly.

"Sir, I can't help it," said the woman, with a sigh. "If I don't sell,
my children can't eat."

"Obey God's command, and trust his promise, my friend. His command is,
_Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy_. His promise is, _Trust in
the Lord, and verily thou shalt be fed_. God, who has all things in
his power, will return unto his servants a hundred-fold in the end,
whatever they lose upon earth by faithfully doing his will."

Franks walked on; but the whole current of his thoughts had been
changed by the little incident; he felt that in reproving another he
had condemned himself.

"Shame on me," he muttered, "that I, who know so well a Christian's
duty, should be so slack in performing it! I can see the mote in my
brother's eye, indeed; let me pull the beam out of my own! There is no
necessity for my travelling to Colme to-day; no one would be really
the better for my doing so; nay, my pupils might be injured by seeing
the inconsistency of one to whom they look for an example. I must take
heed that I _offend not one of these little ones_, by making them
think lightly of the sin of breaking the fourth commandment. As for
my passing a holier Sunday in Colme than in London, the day or the
place is holy to us, whenever the presence of the Saviour is with us.
Nothing but sin can divide us from him. I will stay, and take my meals
quietly or unquietly, as the case my be, at the boarding-house which
I've entered; and if I lack comfort for the body, there's many a church
in this great city in which I can get pure and wholesome food for
the soul. There are the church-bells ringing for early service,--the
sweetest sound I've heard in London! And there goes the railway whistle
again! The two calls seem, on this Sunday morn, like God's invitation
and the world's. How could I doubt which to accept?"



XXX.

Found at Last.


Saturday had been to Sophy one of the darkest days of her life. Isaacs
and his son had been absent during the greater part of it, and the
blind girl had been left to her loneliness and pain, the former only
broken by a visit from an angry landlord demanding rent which Isaacs
had been unable to pay. Isaacs, on his return, had found Sophy in
tears, and he was little able to cheer her, for again had the convert
been unsuccessful in his anxious attempt to get work. He seated himself
wearily, folded his arms, and, drooping his head, sat silent as one
who feels that life is full of trials. But who "can suffer and be
still,"--submissive and uncomplaining?

"If I had but a little capital to start with," he began, speaking
rather to himself than to Sophy; but he cut himself short by the
remark, "If God had thought it good for me to have it, he would not
have withheld it; I am content that my portion should not be in this
life. _Better the reproach of Christ, than all the riches of Egypt!_"

"Success, success! see what I've brought!" cried the cheerful voice
of Benoni at the door. Benjamin raised his head,--Sophy turned her
sightless eyes in the direction of the welcome sound.

"I've sold all; emptied your basket, emptied and filled it again!"
cried Benoni. "Here's bread, and delicious bacon, and a nice bit of
butcher's meat too! It's Saturday evening, so I got it for five-pence.
Have I not made a good bargain?" The boy turned with an appealing smile
to his father.

"How did you contrive to sell everything in the basket?" asked Isaacs.

"And how much did it all bring?" inquired Sophy.

"I'll tell you all about it. I had been wandering about for five or
six hours, and had sold but three kettle-holders for a penny apiece,
when I thought I'd try a woman who was standing at the door of a shop
where things just like yours are sold. I begged her to buy; she looked
doubtful. I told her she might have everything that was left for a
shilling, and so she cleared off all that was in the basket at once!"

Isaacs shook his head with a rather sad smile. "You are no great hand
at making a bargain in the selling line, whatever you may be in the
buying," said he.

"A shilling would not pay for the wool!" murmured Sophy, in a tone of
bitter disappointment.

Little Benoni looked mortified and distressed. "You told me to sell
the things for what they would bring," he said, sadly. "Yesterday they
brought nothing at all. I dare say I've done very foolishly, but I
wanted to bring home plenty of nice food for Sunday."

"And you have brought plenty; and we have to thank Sophy for feeding us
all by the work of her hands," said Isaacs, kindly. "I wish that I had
earned as much to-day as you and she have, my boy."

Benoni looked gratefully at his father, but the cloud did not pass from
the brow of Sophy. What hopes she had built on that basket of work!
How she had counted on the proceeds of its sale, not only to supply
present need, but to buy materials for future labors! She had probably
over-estimated the value of her little store as much as Benoni had
done the contrary, and now all that it had been sold for would be
consumed in two or three meals, and nothing be left with which she
might start afresh! Sophy, hungry as she was, scarcely cared to touch
the supper, purchased at what seemed to her at so very costly a price.

We know that severe cold is apt to benumb those who are exposed to
it, to make them dislike making efforts, even when life may depend on
their doing so, and that they are in danger of sinking into a sleep
from which they waken no more. The ice of mistrust brings to the soul
a peril much like this. A chill of despair often comes over sufferers
who doubt the love of their God. They are not inclined to struggle
against its benumbing effects, to wrestle in earnest, or to press
onwards with resolute faith. Thus it was with Sophy Claymore. When,
on the Sunday morning, Isaacs asked her if she were going with him to
church, she shook her head, and said that she was not well enough to
go. Her sickness was more of the soul than the body,--it came from the
tempter's whisper, "Where is thy God? He heareth thee not."

"If Sophy can't go with us, Benoni," said Isaacs, "I'll do as I once
promised,--take you to attend service in Westminster Abbey. Now bring
me the Bible; we'll have our morning reading, my son."

Isaacs read about the story of the woman of Canaan,--the touching
account of persevering pleading, of faith that would take no denial.
When the Bible was closed, Benoni, as was his wont, began to talk over
the passage to which he had just been listening.

"How happy that woman must have been!--so much happier than if the Lord
had granted her prayer directly!"

"I don't see why," said Sophy.

"Do you not?" cried Benoni. "Why, if the Lord had made her child well
at once, she would never have heard that delightful word, 'O woman,
great is thy faith!' I always fancy that the Lord smiled upon her as he
said that, but that he sighed when he said to Peter, 'O thou of little
faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?' I suppose," continued the boy, "that
both the woman and St. Peter really loved and served their Master, but
he spoke very differently to them. Sometimes I think--perhaps it is a
childish thought--that when God's people have no more troubles, and
they are welcomed up to glory, and see that what looked wrong really
was right, those who _trusted_ most will be those to _rejoice_ the
most. To some, then, the Saviour may say, 'Great was thy faith;' and
oh, the delight to hear him say _that_! But I'm afraid that to most he
will rather say, 'Thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?'"

These words from the lips of a child were as a soft warm breeze from
the south, melting and stirring the ice round the heart. Sophy felt
that her sullen mistrust was dishonoring her Lord, and that, had _she_
been in the place of the woman of Canaan, the first discouragement
would have driven her away from the Saviour. The blind girl made no
reply, but a few minutes afterwards she said, "I'll go to church this
morning; there's really nothing to hinder me."

"Yes, yes, we will all go together!" cried Benoni, cheerfully giving
up at once, and without any apparent regret, the plan of going to
Westminster Abbey, a place too distant for Sophy to walk to. It was
agreed that the three should, as usual, attend service in their own
parish church.

And Sophy, like many other sorrowful ones, found the Saviour in the
temple of God. Her burden grew lighter as she listened to the numerous
voices around her joining in singing the praise of the Lord. She
thought of the multitudes clothed in white robes, come out of _great
tribulation_, and felt that those who will share such bliss _then_, may
learn _now_ to _glory in tribulations also_.

Sophy and the Isaacs were among the last to quit Marylebone church. As
the blind girl slowly walked down the steps under the portico, she was
almost startled by the joyful exclamation, "Hurrah! I've found them at
last!"

"Ned Franks!" cried Isaacs and Benoni in a breath. It would
be difficult to decide who was most delighted by a meeting so
unexpected,--Franks, or those whom he had so anxiously sought. Isaacs
invited his friend to go home with him; then almost repented having
done so, for he was ashamed of his miserable abode. Benoni was secretly
glad that for once there was something better than a crust to offer to
the guest.

Franks was so eager to tell his good news, that he could scarcely wait
till they had reached a more quiet place than the Marylebone Road.
His eagerness was greatly increased by the poverty betrayed by the
appearance of his friends. "Help has not come before it was needed,"
he thought, as he looked at their thin, sunken features, and their
shabby, though still decent, dress. "How thankful I am that I came on
this cruise! and doubly thankful that I did not start for Colme this
morning, and so lose the prize which was right ahead of me!"

Franks kept his great secret tolerably well, only letting the fact that
he had some good news ooze out a little, till the party had entered
together the gloomy lodging of Isaacs. Then, indeed, he enjoyed to the
full that feast to a kindly heart, the power of imparting glad tidings.
The very bareness of the kitchen seemed to make his message brighter,
like a dark background setting off a pattern of gold. Isaacs' grave
features relaxed into a smile; Benoni clapped his thin hands and could
hardly keep from shouting; Sophy looked at first as if she could hardly
believe what she heard, then clasped her hands and raised her sightless
eyes towards heaven.

"Father," cried Benoni, "you said that if you'd but a little capital
to start with, you could make your way"--Isaacs hurriedly stopped him
short by gesture and glance.

"I shall advise Sophy how to lay out her little property to the best
advantage for herself," said the Jew.

"And that is by your taking it, using it, doing what you will with it!"
cried Sophy with emotion. "O my father, have you not called me your
child; have you not said again and again that our purse should always
be one? Have you not shared your little with me, fed and clothed me
for years? What is mine is yours and my brother's; let it start you in
business, and we will all share together whatever your gains may be. I
would rather throw the money into the street, and myself go into the
workhouse, than have property and not enjoy it with you and my dear
Benoni!"

"The lass says well," observed Franks. "Her money can't be better laid
out than in giving you the power to support all three."

"I might take it as a loan, if Sophy would trust me," said Benjamin
Isaacs.

"_Trust you!_" exclaimed the blind girl, while joyful tears coursed
down her cheeks; "you to whom I owe so much, you who have been to
me as a father, from whom I deserved nothing, and yet have received
everything! It would be strange indeed if I could not trust you!"

Did conscience then whisper to Sophy that it had been stranger still
that she should mistrust One who _like as a father pitieth his
children_, who had loved and watched over her from her cradle, and
would love and bless her even to the end?

And so the long struggle with poverty came to a close with Benjamin
Isaacs. From that time he was to be as successful in business as he had
formerly been unfortunate. The working jeweller was to realize how true
is the Word of God, _The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he
addeth no sorrow with it_. Sophy laid out her little property to very
good interest when she lent it to her father by adoption. The blind
girl never recovered her bodily sight, but the darkness had passed from
her soul; she had learned to _rejoice in the Lord_, and to wait with
trustful hope for the day when all clouds of sorrow and mists of doubts
shall be rolled away forever.



XXXI.

The Baronet's Return.


Ned Franks had an exceedingly pleasant journey home. He arrived at
Colme in high spirits, and received a joyful welcome from Persis; to
whom he gave a very amusing account of all his adventures in London,
and of their happy conclusion.

Persis, on her part, had a good deal to tell, though, like a sensible
wife, she let her husband first have out his say. She told of her
visit to Nancy Sands. Franks listened to her account with interest and
pleasure; and, when he heard that the poor woman had attended church
upon Sunday, his honest blue eyes lighted up with an expression of joy.

"It's a real pleasure," he cried, "to see a fellow-creature lifted
out of poverty, and given a good start in life, like Benjamin Isaacs;
but it's a still greater pleasure to see a poor sinner that was going
to ruin raised out of the mire, and turning her face towards Zion. O
Persis! I trust that there's many a one that man would have rooted up
as worthless tares that will be found in the heavenly garner at last!"

"And poor Ben Stone is, I hear, far more anxious about his soul than
he ever was before," said Persis. "I do trust that he is now resting
on sure ground; that he is giving up all vain hopes of being saved by
anything but living faith in the one great Sacrifice for sin."

"You and I are exchanging good tidings, my Persis," said Franks. "All
seems bright sunshine now, within as well as without, in this glorious
month of June."

"I cannot quite say that, dear Ned. We had something of a cloud
sweeping over Colme yesterday in the shape of a carriage and four,
with postilion and post-horn, dashing through the village during
church-time, on the way to the Hall."

"You don't mean to tell me that young Sir Lacy Barton has come to take
possession of his property!" exclaimed Ned Franks, looking startled at
the news. "I had hoped with all my heart and soul that he would have
kept away for years. You know that I had but too good an opportunity
of judging of the character of that young man when I was a sailor on
board the same man-of-war in which he was serving. I don't like to
think ill, still less to speak ill, of any one who has served under the
dear old Union-jack of England; but I should be sorry to think that the
queen has another officer to match that young scapegrace, Barton. I
wish that the old baronet had lived till he was a hundred years old; it
might have saved our village from the mischief which must be brought by
the influence and example of such a man as his son."

Ned Franks, who had been doing all in his power to train the village
boys under his charge to be not only good scholars but good Christians,
felt like a shepherd who hears that a bear has been let loose in the
midst of his flock. The lord of the manor would be like a little king
at Colme amongst his tenants, and his influence for good or for evil
would be very extensive indeed.

"The new baronet did indeed drive to the Hall yesterday," said Persis,
"and he took good care that all the village should know of his arrival;
for, as he dashed past the church where we were listening to Mr.
Leyton's sermon, the post-boy blew a loud flourish on his horn. The
church doors were open on account of the heat, so you may imagine the
effect of the trampling of horses, and the sudden loud blast upon our
little congregation. Every one turned his head round, half the people
rose from their seats, some of the children ran out of church to see
the great man drive past! One could hardly blame them, poor little
things. It was strange in Sir Lacy to return thus to the home of his
poor dead father."

"Just like him, just like him," muttered Franks.

"You should have seen how our young curate flushed up to his forehead,
and for a moment or two could hardly go on with his sermon," said
Persis.

"It was a personal insult to Mr. Leyton for Sir Lacy Barton to have the
horn blown at the very door of his church," cried Franks. "It is the
more strange that the baronet should behave thus, as our curate is his
own cousin, and, I've heard, the heir to his title and property."

"Sir Lacy might not like him the better for that," observed the
school-master's wife, with a smile. "Mr. Sands told me yesterday that
he believed that the noise was made on purpose to spite the young
preacher; for Sands, as clerk, had had to carry a message to the curate
just before service began, asking him to have the church-bells rung for
the next hour in honor of the baronet's arrival in Colme."

"Did you ever hear of such a thing!" exclaimed the indignant Franks.
"What answer did our young curate return?"

"Oh, a courteous one, you may be sure! I don't think that Mr. Leyton
could be rude to any one if he tried; but I believe that he proposed to
Sir Lacy a little delay. Of course bell-ringing during church-service
was out of the question, so the baronet gave us horn-blowing instead."

"Mean, sneaking spite!" muttered Franks. "We are likely to have a
stormy time of it if Sir Lacy stays long at the Hall."

"You and he are not likely to have anything to do with each other, I
trust," said Persis. "Do you think that Sir Lacy will remember having
seen you on board of his ship?"

"I don't know,--I was nothing to him,--he was not likely to take much
notice of a common sailor, and it is nigh four years now since we trod
the same planks. But if Sir Lacy _does_ chance to remember me, he will
not care to have any one in Colme who knows so much of his pranks at
sea as I do. I doubt he'll let me stay here long."

"I don't know what he has to do with your going or staying," said
Persis, speaking, however, with a little nervous hesitation, for she
was aware that the lord of the manor must be a powerful enemy.

"Do you not know," asked Franks, quickly, "have you lived here so long
without hearing, that this school was founded and endowed by a Barton
ages ago, and that the family have a right to appoint the master of it?"

"I thought," replied Persis, turning rather pale, "that you had been
appointed by our good vicar, Mr. Curtis."

"Oh! the last old baronet let our vicar appoint whom he would,
thinking, I suppose, that Mr. Curtis knew more about schools and
school-masters than he did himself. But the patronage of the place goes
along with the property."

"Then you must walk warily, Ned."

"That's not a thing I can do!" exclaimed the late sailor. "When I see
an unprincipled fellow trying to corrupt others, and making use of
wealth and position only to do the more mischief, I feel a kind of
game-cock spirit stirring within me; it seems as if I must have a dash
at him, come what may." Ned Franks's blue eyes sparkled with animation;
he looked as one of the soldiers at Waterloo might have looked at the
call, "Up, guards, and at them!"

Persis was fondling in her arms her little babe, that smiled up at her,
unconscious of the shade of anxious care passing over the mother's
face. She gazed wistfully first at Ned, then at their boy, as she said,
"Oh, do not forget that you are a husband and father now."

"No," replied Franks, more quietly; "it is wonderful what a difference
that makes in a man. It's well that tars are not allowed to take a wife
or children to sea, or they'd think twice before they ran a ship within
range of the enemy's guns. I could bear a pinch of poverty well enough
myself, but I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to seeing you or the
baby in want. Bless him!" the father stooped forward and kissed the
soft lips of his child. "But I can't answer for my own self-command,
if I've much to do with that worthless Barton. I detest him more than
any other man in the world."

"Now, Ned, darling, will you let me say a little thing to you?" asked
Persis, with a shy, tender glance at her husband, as she laid her hand
on his shoulder. "Do you think that our blessed religion allows us to
detest any being on earth?"

"It makes us hate sin!" exclaimed Franks.

"But surely _not_ sinners, my love."

"The truth is," said the sailor school-master, "that I'm by nature of
an impatient, fiery spirit. I'm one of those of whom it is said that
they make good lovers and good haters."

"A good lover, if you will," observed the wife with a pleasant smile;
"but it always seems to me that the expression, 'a good hater,' can
never describe a Christian, who is bound by the Lord's command, not
only not to detest but to love his enemies."

"That's a most difficult command to obey."

"I am sure that it is," observed Persis. "But He who gave the command,
can also give grace to keep it. It seems to me, as if hatred, revenge,
and all the fierce passions so natural to man, are like Satan's
fire-ships that he sends against even those who are going on the
straightest course towards heaven--"

"And you would have me 'sheer off,'" cried Franks, gayly, "as soon as
I see one bearing down on me, because I carry a dangerous quantity of
gunpowder down in my hold! You're afraid of an explosion, wifie, and
you're right. I dare say now that there's something of pride in my very
contempt for a fellow like Barton (he really is _not_ a gentleman);
I despise him too much in the spirit of _Stand by, I am holier than
thou_."

"And should we not remember," said Persis, softly, "that those whom we
cannot respect are our fellow-creatures still; they, like ourselves,
have souls, precious souls, that must live forever? If they, through
rejecting mercy, will have at last to share the misery of the rich man
in the parable, should not our deep, deep pity swallow up every feeling
of dislike? And if, on the contrary, they are to be found in the end
amongst those whose sins have been forgiven, can we not bear with them
a while in patience, even as God has borne so long with them, and with
us?"

Ned Franks answered the question by giving his wife a hearty kiss, in
return, as he said, for her lecture. He promised to keep on his guard,
less against Sir Lacy Barton than against his own fiery temper, and
to "sheer off" as fast as he might, whenever he found that Satan's
fire-ships of hatred, malice, or revenge, were drifting on the current
towards him.



XXXII.

The Bonfire.


The holidays given on account of the hay-making season were soon
over, and with their daily lessons at school, the boys of Colme
resumed their cheerful labors in Wild Rose Hollow. Already there was a
pleasant change in the aspect of two of the cottages, which, through
the combined efforts of workmen and boys, were declared by Franks to
be "quite weather-tight and seaworthy." The third was now "to be laid
up in dock, and well overhauled." Franks was ambitious to make the
almshouses pretty as well as comfortable. He set the boys to gathering
a large quantity of tough boughs which, tastefully interlaced, and
painted to preserve them from decay, were to form seven rustic porches,
round which creepers should be trained to climb.

"They'll be like cool, pretty bowers for the old folks to sit in during
the hot summer days," said Franks; and he took especial pleasure in
the gradually increasing pile of collected branches stripped of their
leaves, which formed one of the most conspicuous objects in what Ned
called "the building yard" in Wild Rose Hollow.

Cheerfully, on the day when work was resumed, the one-armed teacher led
his jovial crew of noisy young workers along the familiar road which
led to the scene of their labors. As Ned passed the cottage of Sands,
Nancy came forth to greet him with a good-humored smile on her face,
which, if it looked paler and older than when he last had seen it, had
certainly gained in pleasantness of expression since her accident in
the stream.

"A good-day to you, Ned Franks!" she cried, as she leaned over the
little gate of her garden. "I wonder if you and your good wife could
just step in and pass a quiet evening with me and John Sands? I can
promise you a good cup of _tea_," she added, with an emphasis on the
last word which was meant to assure the hearer that she had faithfully
kept the pledge.

"I shall be happy to come, if Persis can manage it; but the ladies
settle these matters," replied Ned, gayly; "and there's a little
troublesome fellow, you know, who will have a voice, though he is not
quite up to talking."

"Oh, you must bring the baby of course!" cried Nancy. "The days are so
long, and the evenings so warm, that he can't now take any harm."

The invitation frankly given was frankly accepted, and Nancy returned
into her cottage saying to herself, "How strangely things do change,
and people change as strangely! It's not three months since I used to
call Ned Franks that canting Jack with the wooden arm. I hated him,--I
hated his ways,--I'd have done him a mischief if I could. And now I've
lost an arm as well as himself,--I'm crippled far worse than he, and
yet I believe that I'm better off and happier now than I was when I
mocked and jeered at him. And, as for these pious ways of his, which
made me so mad against him, I only wish I could follow them myself, and
have the same lookout for another world as honest Ned Franks and his
wife."

"Nancy Sands is a changed woman if ever there was one," mused the
school-master, as he hurried along the dusty road after his boys, who
had gone on in advance. "There never was a being who tried my patience
more sorely than she did, with her waspish temper and her stinging
tongue. Why, I remember biting my lip till it bled, to keep in the
passionate retort to her very provoking taunts. Yes, the fire-ships
were bearing down upon me then; and if I was enabled to 'sheer off'
and avoid an explosion, it was because conscience stood at my helm,
and my sails had been filled with prayer. Let no one make an excuse
for passion by saying, 'It's in my nature;' the office of grace is
to conquer nature, and tame the unruly spirit to the meekness and
lowliness which become a Christian."

Ten minutes afterwards, Ned and his crew were busy as bees at their
work, sawing and digging, carrying bricks and piling up wood, some of
the boys singing cheerily as they labored, while the miller's little
girl, seated on a stone, watched the work, and joined in the song with
her sweet, childish voice.

Suddenly the singing ceased. Franks, who was working hard with his back
towards the path which led up to the high road, did not at first notice
the cause of the interruption, till he heard a loud, coarse, and too
familiar voice, exclaim, "You boys there, what are you about?"

Ned Franks did not need the murmur of "Sir Lacy--Sir Lacy Barton,"
which ran through the groups around him, to make him aware who had
appeared. He turned round quickly, and saw a young man not more than
two-and-twenty years of age, but whose bloated features already
showed the effects of the evil habits which must soon have caused
his expulsion from the noble service which he disgraced, had not his
succession to the baronetcy given him an excuse for quitting the navy
of his own accord. As the baronet stood on the path leading down into
the Hollow, between his fingers the lighted cigar which he had just
removed from his lips, Ned gravely touched his cap out of respect to
his position as lord of the manor. The moment that the eyes of the two
men met, the school-master felt certain that Sir Lacy had recognized
him, though the settled purplish-red on the baronet's cheek would
scarcely admit of a deepened flush. He took no notice of Franks's
salutation but by a haughty stare, and turned towards one of the boys
who was standing with his foot resting on his spade.

"What are you all about?" repeated Sir Lacy.

"Please, sir," answered the boy, "we's be a-building up them old
houses," and he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.

"And what do such young fry as you get for your work?"

"Please, sir, we don't not get nothing," replied the little brown-faced
rustic. "Ned Franks, he be our school-master, there; he tells us to
work for the pleasure of helping the poor."

Sir Lacy gave a loud, very scornful whistle, and then a still louder
laugh. "If you listen to such twaddle," he cried, "I'll tell you what
you'll come to, my lad. Your ears will grow longer than your purse,
and you'll have to take to browsing on thistles, like a donkey, as you
are!" and to give point to his wit, the young man caught hold of the
ear of the unfortunate boy, and gave it a pull, apparently to hasten
the lengthening process, but which had only the effect of forcing out a
sharp cry of pain.

The circle of boys retreated a pace backwards, and Franks had to press
his lips very tightly indeed together to keep in the word "brute!"

"And what's that?" asked the baronet, turning to another young worker,
who looked by no means anxious to be singled out for conversation with
the lord of the manor. Sir Lacy was pointing with his cigar to the
great pile collected for making the seven cottage porches.

"Them be branches," stammered out the child.

"I dare say; I did not take them for buttercups, wiseacre! So you've
been making preparations for a grand bonfire in honor of my return?"

The poor little boy gave a frightened, appealing glance towards Franks.

"Answer me; I suppose you've a tongue in your head," said Sir Lacy. The
boy was trembling for his ears.

"Them be for the porches, sir," faltered the poor little fellow, who
had been one of the most active in collecting for the purpose the
strongest and most pliable branches.

"Ah! but I say they're for a bonfire, and as a bonfire they shall
blaze!" cried Sir Lacy. "Here's a light,--you set fire to the heap!"

Again the frightened child looked to his master, though not daring to
refuse to take into his hand the lighted cigar. Franks strode forward,
and, with as much calmness as he could command, addressed Sir Lacy
Barton.

"I hope, sir, that you will not destroy that which it has cost us some
time and trouble to collect, and which is intended to add to the few
comforts of the respectable poor."

"Mind your own business, and hold your tongue," was the insolent reply;
"and you, little dog, do what I bid you, or I'll toss you on the top of
the blaze."

In a few minutes the pile of branches was a crackling heap of smoke and
flame, that curled up pale in the yet brilliant light of the declining
sun. Sir Lacy laughed, rubbed his hands, and bade the boys give a good
British cheer, if they knew how to do it. About half the number obeyed,
though the shout sounded different indeed from that which had burst
from them freely, at no man's command,--when they had resolved to give
two hours daily to working for the poor.

"Now off with ye all to your homes," cried Sir Lacy, as soon as what he
called "the fun of the thing" was over; "unless you've a mind to come
and look on at a famous match between some game-cocks that I'm going to
have up at the Hall."

Several of the boys cheered again at the great man's invitation, and,
whether from a regard for their ears, or a mean desire to curry favor,
not one of them seemed to be in the least disposed to return to work.
In short, as soon as Sir Lacy had lighted another cigar, and turning on
his heel began reascending the path, the jovial crew dispersed in one
direction or another. They were afraid or ashamed to appear to mind the
school-master's "twaddle."

"They've not the spirit of a tom-twit amongst them!" muttered Franks,
almost more indignant at the defection of his boys than at the
insolence of Sir Lacy. "They just follow one another like sheep!"

Little Bessy, with her face glowing scarlet, ran up to the sailor, who
was standing alone.

"Oh, isn't he a bad, bad man," she cried, "to burn up all in that great
big fire, and to make the boys go away? But don't mind him, don't mind
him, Ned Franks. I'll work with you, if they won't work. I can carry a
brick all by myself!" and she suited the action to the word.

"There's a brave little lass!" said Franks, stooping to pat her curly
head. "You won't be daunted by difficulties, nor bullied into baseness
by a"--he stopped short; the sight of the still burning pile recalled
to him Persis's simile of the fire-ships. He felt the fierce glow
rising hotter in his heart than the flame from the branches which
scorched his brow. He must not trust himself to say more, even to the
child, lest he should utter words which he might in vain desire to
recall.

Ned returned to his work, and labored with even greater energy than
usual. Perhaps the strong efforts of the arm relieved the pressure
on the spirits, or perhaps the hard blows which descended on pillar
and post were an outward expression of the struggle going on within,
to strike down, and then to keep down, the stubborn passions of the
natural heart.



XXXIII.

Watching for Souls.


The evil effects of Sir Lacy's residence at the Hall were soon seen
in the village school. Franks found that his boys became less regular
in attendance, and less respectful in manner. He more than once, when
giving a serious reproof, heard, from a distant corner of the room a
whisper, in which "twaddle" and "donkey's ears" were the only words
to be distinguished. Few of his jovial crew now ever worked in Wild
Rose Hollow; it was not the fashion to do so. Franks would see little
rustics, instead of engaging in healthful labor, sauntering about with
their hands in their pockets and smoking. The great ambition of the
boys was to get a cigar; and half-used ones, thrown away by Sir Lacy or
his rollicking guests, were counted as prizes.

Great was the annoyance of the good old invalid Vicar of Colme, great
the vexation of Mr. Leyton, his curate, when it was given out that Sir
Lacy would have a cricket-match every Sunday afternoon on his lawn,
and treat the boys to strong ale, or, as it was rumored, to something
stronger. The vicar and curate held anxious consultations together in
the study, where the old minister, feeble and suffering, reclined in
his large arm-chair.

"I have written a strong remonstrance to Sir Lacy, as you will see
here," said the vicar, handing a letter to his nephew. "I have tried to
write as temperately as I could. But would it not be well, Claudius, as
you are the baronet's near relation, that you should go and speak to
him yourself on the subject? He may be rather careless than actually
wicked. We know that

    "'Evil is wrought
      By want of thought
    As well as by want of heart.'"

The young minister shook his head sadly. "I have not the slightest
influence with my cousin," he said. "He asked me to dinner once after
his arrival at Colme, and I thought it right not to refuse his first
invitation. But what I saw at the Hall, and still more what I heard,
made me return home sickened and disgusted, and with a resolve that I
would never cross the threshold again. It is a misfortune to the whole
place that such a man as Sir Lacy Barton should hold the chief position
in it."

The curate, who was just beginning to know his flock, and be known by
them, to overcome his own painful shyness, and become accustomed to
parish work, looked overwhelmed by the new and unexpected difficulties
which had started up before him.

"My dear boy," said the old vicar, in his fatherly way, "this will be
a sifting time in the village; but we must not forget that temptation
itself is turned into a cause of rejoicing to those who in God's
strength overcome it. Were there no battle, where would be the victory?
It is _when the enemy comes in like a flood_ that _the Spirit of the
Lord shall lift up a banner_ against him. Let the danger to our flock
make us but more watchful, more vigilant, more earnest in prayer. God
is above all, and even sinners are made unconscious instruments in his
hands for working good that they intend not. Is it not written, _Surely
the wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath shalt
thou restrain_?"

"One comfort is that we have Ned Franks to look after the school,"
observed Mr. Leyton. "He has such an energy and intelligence, his heart
is so thoroughly in his work, and then his piety is so sincere, that
his influence is always for good."

"Such men as Ned Franks are indeed _the salt of the earth_," said the
vicar. "The Christian's calling is, not only himself to be, through
God's grace, purified, but to become a means of preserving all over
whom his influence extends from the corruption of sin. No man can live
merely unto himself; the effect of his example is ever silently working
on others; it is a talent entrusted to him, for which he will, at the
last day, render an account."

"For one like Barton how fearful an account!" cried the curate.

"He needs our prayers," said the vicar.

The letter of Mr. Curtis was sent to the Hall; Sir Lacy was at the
billiard-table when he received it. He tore it open, glanced at its
contents, then, laughing, twisted the paper round and round, and used
it to light his cigar.

"Since the good parson's squeamish about Sunday cricketing," he said,
"we'll have a little cock-fighting instead to please him."

The vicar was so much annoyed at this attempt to draw away his people
from church, and make them violate the sanctity of the day set apart
for worship, that all the entreaties of his wife, backed by the orders
of the doctor, were scarcely sufficient, as Norah told her uncle,
to prevent him from having himself carried up to the pulpit on the
following Sunday (as he could not have walked up the steps), to preach
on the Fourth Commandment. Very unwillingly the good old pastor gave up
to his curate the work which he had not the bodily strength to perform.
He felt like a wounded veteran standard-bearer, when obliged to resign
into the hands of the young recruit at his side the banner which he
would fain have defended himself to the last. Never before had bodily
infirmity been so painful a trial to the vicar. He was rather grieved
than surprised to hear how empty the benches had been at afternoon
service, though Claudius Leyton had exerted his utmost efforts in the
morning sermon to warn, to convince, to persuade.

"I should have been utterly disheartened," said the weary curate to
his uncle on the Sunday evening, "had not Nancy Sands been seated just
before me, looking so quiet, attentive, and earnest. When I remember
what she was, and see what she is, I feel that I dare never despair."

"_Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee
thy heart's desire_," repeated the vicar.

Difficulties were however to thicken, and trials to increase. An
incident occurred on the following day which caused great excitement
through the village of Colme.



XXXIV.

Put to the Question.


Persis sat with her work in her hand by her open window in the little
room over that in which the school was assembled below. Pleasant to her
ear was the hum of voices rising from beneath, for it told her that her
husband was, as usual, opening the day by devotion, and her busy needle
stopped, and she silently joined in the Lord's prayer repeated by many
young voices.

Persis was then about to set to her work again, when, chancing to
glance out of the window, her attention was drawn to three gentlemen
walking along the road, each smoking a cigar. Though Mrs. Franks
had not before seen the baronet, who never appeared at church, she
instantly recognized him as the central person in the group, by the
description which she had heard of him. There was no mistaking the
short, thick figure, the face where the color lay in patches of
purplish-red, and the hat cocked a good deal upon one side, over a mass
of sandy-colored hair. Sir Lacy's companions were a young lawyer and a
medical student, neither of whom looked as if they would be likely to
do much credit to their respective professions.

Persis Franks dropped her work on her knees, instinctively clasped her
hands, and drew back a little from the window, while keeping her eyes
anxiously fixed upon the unwelcome strangers.

"I hope and trust that they'll pass by the school without entering it,"
she said to herself, while the sound of their coarse laughter grew
louder as they drew nearer.

The hopes of Franks's wife were not realized. The three men were
evidently on their way to the school. Persis could catch a few of their
words,--something about badgering and baiting, and putting the fellow
to the question.

Hot as was that July morning, Persis grew cold and trembled, and for
the first time let her baby cry in his cradle for at least two minutes
before she went to see what her darling wanted. She had a terrible
misgiving that nothing good could come of the visit of those three men
who had just disappeared under the porch. Earnestly Persis prayed that
her husband might be able to command his temper under any provocation,
and so defeat the malice of one whom she could not but regard as an
enemy.

Franks, upon every Monday morning, as soon as prayers were ended,
questioned his boys on the subject of the sermon heard on the preceding
day. This was his invariable custom, and he found it to be followed
by two good results: it made the boys listen more attentively to the
sermon, and it enabled him to explain to them in his simple, homely
way, whatever had been too hard for them to understand. The addresses
of the young curate, unlike those of the vicar, were often above the
comprehension of some of his ignorant hearers.

Franks, upon this particular Monday morning, had just begun his
questioning with the words, "Now, Sims, what was the text?" when there
was a murmur of "Sir Lacy, Sir Lacy," heard through the school-room,
and every eye was turned towards the door through which the three
gentlemen were entering.

It must be owned that to Franks the visitors were extremely unwelcome,
and especially at that time. The influence of the baronet was already
working for evil amongst the Colme boys, and he was but too likely, not
only to take offence at the subject of the sermon, but to try to turn
into ridicule any religious instruction that he might hear. There was
some stiffness in the air of the school-master as he received the lord
of the manor.

"Go on, go on, just as if I were not here," said the baronet, replacing
the cigar which he had taken out of his mouth for a moment; and Franks
felt that for the sake of his boys he must go on. His pupils must
see in him no cringing fear of man overcoming the fear of God. Had
he changed his regular custom on account of the baronet's presence,
he would have shown himself unfit to train boys to do their duty
faithfully and fearlessly in the face of all the world.

"What was the text of the sermon?" repeated Ned Franks, addressing
himself again to young Sims.

But if the one-armed school-master preserved his presence of mind,
the scholar certainly did not do so also. Sims, the same boy who had
had his ear twitched by Sir Lacy in Wild Rose Hollow, looked with
an uneasy, frightened expression, not at his questioner, but at the
formidable visitor who was standing with his hands behind his back to
listen. The boy began to stammer forth, "Remember the--the," and then
stopped short, not daring to finish the verse.

Sir Lacy Barton burst out laughing at his evident confusion. "A
precious bright scholar you!" he exclaimed. "If you'd been questioned
as to whether Sharpspur or Redcomb had the best of it yesterday,
you'd have answered him a deal quicker;" and the baronet wound up his
sentence with a loud oath, such as had never been heard before within
the walls of that school-room.

Franks felt that the honor of his Master, the welfare of his pupils,
forbade him to pass over in silence, on account of the rank of the
offender, what in the case of any one else would have called forth
instant and stern rebuke. "_Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord
thy God in vain_," he said, in a tone not loud but clear, which, in the
breathless silence kept by the awe-struck boys, was heard distinctly
in the farthest corner of the room; and, as he spoke the message of
God, the master fixed his eyes calmly and fearlessly upon the profane
young man, who quailed and blanched under their gaze. The effect upon
the astonished boys was greater than would have been produced by the
most eloquent sermon against swearing. They saw that in Franks they had
a leader who would not only bid them wage war against vice in every
shape, but who would himself head the charge, and expose himself freely
in the conflict.

Badham, the lawyer, came to the assistance of the discomfited Barton.
He had a supercilious, sarcastic manner, almost more disgusting to
Franks than the coarseness of Sir Lacy himself.

"You are well up in the commandments, I perceive, my good friend," he
observed, addressing himself to the school-master, "and no doubt your
knowledge on all other parts of education is equally deep. May I ask
in what college you have studied?" Badham winked at the baronet as he
asked the question.

"I was never at college," replied Ned Franks; "I was brought up at a
village school, but left it early to go to sea."

"But of course you have read and studied a good deal since, or you
would hardly have been placed by the late Sir Lacy Barton in the
position which you now hold."

Ned Franks flushed. He felt as if he were being put upon his trial, and
before judges determined beforehand to condemn him. "I have not great
book-learning," he replied; "but Mr. Curtis recommended me to Sir Lacy
as one who could fulfil the duties of school-master here."

"But the present Sir Lacy takes such a fatherly interest in the school
which his ancestors founded," said the lawyer, winking again at the
baronet, "that he wishes to judge for himself as to the competency of
one entrusted with such a responsible charge as yours. He has desired
me to ask you a few educational questions, to which, I have not the
slightest doubt, you will give a prompt and able reply."

"I do not think this the time or place for such an examination," said
the school-master, whose countenance was glowing with indignation at
the insidious proposal. "I will wait upon Sir Lacy at the Hall at any
hour that he may choose to appoint."

"No time or place like the present!" cried the baronet, who had a keen
relish in the "baiting and badgering" of the school-master in the
presence of his pupils. "As I'm the patron of this school, I've a good
right, I take it, to see that the teacher isn't a blockhead or a dunce."

And then, at a sign from him, the flippant lawyer began to aim a
shower of questions, like a flight of arrows, against the unfortunate
school-master,--questions ingeniously contrived to perplex and puzzle
even one who had received a better education than had fallen to the lot
of Ned Franks. At every query to which no reply was or could be given
by him who had passed his youth at sea, the baronet burst out into an
insulting laugh, which was echoed by the medical student; as if the
ignorance of Franks regarding Neri and Bianchi, Palleschi and Piagnone,
the respective styles of French, German, and Dutch infidel writers, and
the names of female favorites of Bourbon kings, was as absurd as if
he had been unable to repeat the multiplication-table. Certainly, Sir
Lacy could not have himself answered one of the questions. But what of
that? One needs no deep study to learn how to laugh; and it was rare
fun to him to humble and degrade the teacher before all his pupils.
Franks was more annoyed by the titter from some of his scholars, which
now followed the gentlemen's uproarious mirth, than he was by the more
direct insults of the strangers. That his "jovial crew," that a single
boy amongst them, should be mean enough to join in the laugh against
him, was almost more than his spirit could endure.

_I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress_, had been the text
which Franks had chosen on that morning for his meditation during the
day. Sorely he needed it now. As he stood silent before his persecutor,
with flushed cheek and flashing eye, again and again he repeated that
text to himself, to keep in the burning words that were rising to
his tongue. He had spoken out boldly when the insult was against his
Master; there was the more need that he should show self-command when
the attack was personal to himself.

"You don't mean us to conclude," said Badham at last, "that you have
never so much as heard of all these well-known matters before?"

"Sir," replied Franks, as calmly as he could, though his tone betrayed
some emotion, "my work is to train village lads for usefulness here and
happiness hereafter; and I do not suppose that farm-lads will be the
less suited for either the one or the other because they can't give the
names of Italian factions or of the favorites of French kings."

Badham shrugged his shoulders, the baronet and the medical student
shrugged theirs, to express their utter contempt for such a very
ridiculous observation. The baronet was the first to break the silence
which followed, which he did by addressing himself to Badham.

"What say you to our master here,--you who have all kinds of learning
at the ends of your fingers,--is he fit to be a teacher of boys?"

"About as fit as to be a performer on a lady's grand piano," said the
lawyer.

"While he remains here, the motto of the school had better be, 'Where
ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise,'" observed the medical
student.

"It was a shame for Mr. Curtis to recommend such a fellow to my
father," said Sir Lacy. "You see how unfit he is for the place."

"Utterly unfit!" cried the lawyer.

"Disgracefully incompetent!" chimed in the student.

"I suppose," said Sir Lacy, in his insolent manner, "that
school-masters, like footmen, expect their masters to give a month's
warning. What day is this?--the sixth of July. Well, on the sixth of
August you will bundle yourself off, my fine fellow, and I'll take
precious good care not to consult the old parson as to whom your
successor should be. He might, in his wisdom, recommend some saint from
the Idiot Asylum!" and with another laugh at this brilliant joke, which
was echoed by his two companions, but by none of the boys, who stood
aghast at the sudden dismissal of their master, Sir Lacy sauntered out
of the school-room, accompanied by the lawyer and medical student.

There were a few moments of silence after they had left, during which
the ticking of the large school-clock sounded almost painfully loud.
It was broken by Ned Franks himself, who, turning towards his class,
resumed the interrupted thread of the morning studies by asking Sims
for the third time the question, "What was the text of yesterday's
sermon?"



XXXV.

Village Talk.


Very uneasy had Persis felt while Sir Lacy was in the school-room;
very anxiously she watched the porch, in hopes of seeing him and his
visitors quit it. She could hear from beneath the sound of laughter;
but it was laughter which raised in her soul a very opposite feeling
to that of mirth. She listened intently; but her baby was fretful from
cutting teeth, and his crying soon drowned every other noise. Persis
fondled him in her arms, and hushed him on her bosom, and just as she
had succeeded in quieting the child, saw, to her relief, the three
strangers issue from under the porch. She did not, however, like their
looks, still less the laughter which followed words of which she could
not catch the exact meaning, but which she was certain had none which
was good. Persis watched the three men till they disappeared down a
turn in the road, and then heaved a long, anxious sigh. Lessons were
evidently going on as usual below,--Persis knew _that_ from the hum of
voices from the school-room. She had to wait in restless expectation
till the school broke up for an hour's recess, and she saw the stream
of boys come issuing forth from the porch.

Their grave yet excited looks frightened the wife yet more. That
something remarkable had happened was written on every young face, as
the boys thronged together in knots of three or four, all seeming far
more eager to speak than to listen. But Persis was not much longer to
be kept in suspense; she knew the step of her husband; she saw him
enter, looking paler than she had ever seen him before. Franks seated
himself beside his wife, put his arm round her, and drew her tenderly
towards him, unwilling to inflict pain, scarcely knowing how to break
the news that he was a ruined man. Persis had guessed the truth before
Franks said, in a tone which he vainly tried to make cheerful, "Well,
sweetheart, you and I will have to set out on our travels together."

But when Ned gave his wife a more detailed account of what had
occurred; when he told of the absurd questions, the mocking laughter,
the insolent taunts which had made his blood boil, even natural
anxiety concerning his future prospects was swallowed up for the time
in passionate indignation. "I longed to strike him," exclaimed the
late sailor, "and I had to chain even my tongue! Wife--wife--it is
no easy matter to endure, or to forgive insults and injuries such as
that man has heaped upon me! To hold me up to the contempt of my own
boys,--that was the most intolerable wrong of all! I actually heard Sam
Barker and Peter Core tittering behind me, the little sneaking--But
your fire-ships are bearing down upon me full sail; I must not trust
myself to speak on these matters,--I must try not to let my mind brood
over them,--would that I could drive the whole scene out of my memory
forever!"

Persis did not, as most wives would have done, stir up her husband's
wrath to a blaze, and heap on it the fuel of her own grief, fears, and
regrets. She tried in her gentle, loving way to make him look beyond
second causes, to see that the trial--bitter as it was--was sent in
wisdom and love, and that man could inflict no real injury except by
drawing into sin. Persis did not say much, but she looked bright and
hopeful, to keep up the spirits of her husband. If they were to leave
their happy home at Colme, their pleasant occupation in the village,
it might be because God had provided for them something better still,
some wider field of usefulness in which they might humbly serve him.
They were spared to one another, and their darling was left to them
still. "Whilst I have you and our boy," cried Persis, as she rested her
head on her husband's shoulder, "I feel that I could be contented in a
hovel, or in a prison."

The news that Ned Franks, the one-armed school-master, had been
dismissed by Sir Lacy, spread like wildfire through Colme. The tidings
were received with almost universal regret and indignation, for both
Ned and Persis were great favorites in the village. Mrs. Fuddles of the
"Chequers," indeed, observed, as she wiped the dust from a bottle of
whiskey, "I guess that Sir Lacy knows what he's about. It aint likely
that a sailor that's been spending his life in mopping up decks should
know much about hedication." But the publican's wife was almost the
only person who did not regret the disgrace of the Frankses. Bat Bell,
the miller, declared that to send off an honest fellow like Franks
from the school was like damming up a mill-stream; and that everything
would come to a dead lock,--while his little girl cried as if her
heart would break, and wished that that wicked Sir Lacy never had come
to make every one unhappy. Ben Stone the carpenter, on his bed of
sickness, heard the news with less than his usual placid calmness.

"Sir Lacy," he observed to his wife, "is like the idiot who sawed at
the branch on which he was seated. If he goes on with this kind of work
he'll come down with a crash one of these days, though I shan't live to
see it," added the invalid, whose increasing weakness warned him that
his hours were numbered.

I will not say that the Clerk of Colme looked grave and solemn when he
carried the tidings to his wife, for he never looked otherwise, except
on the very rarest occasions; but his solemnity and melancholy were
of a shade so much more intensely black than usual, that his Nancy
exclaimed, as soon as she saw him, "Why, John Sands, has any one been
murdered to-day?"

But when she heard that Ned Franks had been dismissed,--dismissed in
disgrace as incompetent and ignorant,--the wrath of the clerk's wife
blazed up with a sudden fierceness that showed that the old shrewish
spirit was not quite dead in her yet. As her torrent of indignation
poured forth like lava-streams from a volcano, John Sands scarcely knew
whether he was glad or sorry to be so forcibly reminded of the Nancy
of former days. Nancy was certain that the school would go to rack and
ruin; they would never, never again see the like of Ned Franks and his
wife!

But perhaps in no place did the news cause deeper regret than in
the vicarage. Norah was almost overwhelmed by the sudden blow, and
her letter to Sophy Claymore, informing her of what had happened,
was wet with the young girl's tears. Mr. Curtis lay awake half the
night, meditating over a second letter to Sir Lacy (which was--when
written and sent--to meet with just the same fate as the first), and
the invalid had, in consequence, a relapse of fever in the morning.
Claudius Leyton, the young curate, broke through his resolution,--never
again to enter the Hall, and, like a man on a forlorn hope, set out to
endeavor to move and persuade his cousin to recall his hasty words. The
nervous shyness of the curate was not lessened by his being handed into
a room full of rollicking revellers; a room which in ancient days had
been used as a chapel, but which was reeking, even at that early hour,
with the fumes of tobacco and the odor of spirits. It need scarcely
be added that the visit of the young clergyman was as unsuccessful as
regarded its object, as it was to himself painful and disgusting. The
baronet, laughing, said to his cousin, "My dear fellow, you have come
a day too late for the fair. I have already written up to my friend,
Dick Sharpey,--you know Dick,--all the world knows him as the luckiest
card-player in London. I've bid him look out for a cute fellow who can
teach the clods in the day, and be my billiard-marker at night. That's
what I call killing two birds with one stone, ha! ha! ha!"

It was with a heavy heart that the curate again turned his back on
the Hall, not surprised, though grieved, at the utter failure of his
mission.

Mrs. Curtis, a very practical as well as kind woman, directed her
efforts to writing to friends in various quarters to try by their
means to procure some other situation for Franks before he should quit
the one which at present he held. As Ned would have nothing to fall
back upon except his very trifling pension as a disabled sailor, Mrs.
Curtis knew that, unless he could procure some work, he and his family
would be reduced to absolute want. She also quietly set on foot a
subscription to raise a little fund to supply his immediate need and
the expenses of removal to some new home, perhaps at a distance. "It is
only right," said the vicar's wife, and her husband warmly seconded her
proposal, "that a testimonial should be given, on his departure from
Colme, to a school-master who has for years so faithfully performed
his duties, and who has won the good will and respect of all whose
approbation is worth having." Ned Franks and his wife knew nothing
of this secret subscription. The most active agent in collecting it
was Nancy Sands, who went from cottage to cottage gathering the pence
given with willing hearts by the children, and the little offerings
freely bestowed even by the old tenants of the almshouses in Wild Rose
Hollow. Had the power of the villagers to give been equal to their
will, Ned would have been the wealthiest man in Colme; but it needs a
great weight in copper to make up a single sovereign's worth, and even
the vicar, whose charity never left him a full purse, was unable to
contribute largely, though he gave with all his heart.



XXXVI.

A Struggle.


Two, three, almost four weeks passed, every week bringing fresh
disappointments to Franks and his wife. The vicar sent over to them
every morning the advertisement sheet of the _Times_; and anxiously
were the columns of the paper searched and searched over again each
day, and many were the letters written by Ned, or by Persis to
his dictation, to take advantage of what they fondly hoped might
be openings to some new sphere of work. But few of these letters
brought any reply, and there was not one of an encouraging nature.
Ned always frankly stated the facts that he had passed no regular
examination, and that he had lost his left arm; and one or other of
these disqualifications seemed ever to bar his way to obtaining any
employment.

Isaacs had exerted himself greatly in his friend's behalf in London,
but hitherto without any success. He thought that the chance of Ned's
making his way would be greater were he himself on the spot, and sent a
pressing invitation in the name of Sophy to the family of the Frankses.
It was arranged that Ned, Persis, and their baby should travel up to
London on the succeeding Thursday, the day on which their dear home
must be given up to a stranger.

The new school-master had already arrived at the Hall, and was
constantly showing himself in the village. He even made his appearance
at church, where, on the first Sunday in August, the vicar had come to
return thanks for recovery after his long and dangerous illness. The
irreverent manner of the school-master-elect, who looked like--what he
was--a low sharper, likely to teach the boys little but how to play,
or to cheat at cards, made a very painful impression, not only on the
vicar and curate, but upon all who cared for religion or morality in
the parish.

A very sad Sunday was that to Ned and Persis. Even under happier
circumstances, the thought that it would be their last at Colme would
have sufficed to throw a shade over the brightest prospects. All their
happy wedded life had been spent in the place. There seemed to be dear
associations connected with every cottage, nay, almost with every
tree. The friends who were dearest to them, the children whom they had
taught, the pastor whom they revered, all, all must be left behind.
Would they ever see them again? And what darkness hung over the future!
Would Franks, a one-armed man, succeed in earning enough to support a
wife and child? And if not, what distress might be before them! And
all this wrecking of peace, this breaking up of one of the happiest of
homes, was the work of the wanton malice of one unprincipled man!

On the Sunday evening, Ned Franks, usually so cheerful and brave
in spirit, was overpowered by deeper depression than he had ever
experienced since he had first met with Persis. He sat gloomy and
silent in the darkening twilight, with his hand pressed over his eyes.
Persis had just placed her babe in his cradle, and drawing forward a
footstool, she now seated herself upon it, at the feet of her husband.
She longed to give comfort, yet scarcely ventured to speak, and at
last, feeling that the words of the Lord were far more likely to soothe
a troubled spirit than any of her own, she repeated very softly,
"_Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you_."

"If I had only that," said Franks, sadly, as he removed his hand from
his eyes, "I should care less for the troubles that have come upon
us thus. Do you know me so little, Persis, as to think that I'm so
downhearted just because we're in a few days to be turned out of our
home, or because we've been disappointed in these letters from London?
I do not say that I do not feel these things, but I should be a coward
if I could not bear them, and a fool if I'd expected that troubles
never would come." Then, suddenly appearing to change the subject of
conversation, Ned abruptly asked, "Did you hear what Mr. Leyton said
to me this afternoon when we had just come out of church?"

"No, I was speaking to Nancy Sands."

"He said, 'Poor Stone is now sinking fast. The vicar himself is going
to administer the communion to him--I fear for the last time--to-morrow
evening at six. Stone told me that he hoped that you and your wife
would come over and partake of the Lord's Supper with him, as he owes
more to you than to any one else upon earth!'"

"And what did you reply, Ned?" asked Persis.

"Nothing. Mr. Leyton noticed Nancy Sands at that moment, and turned to
ask her a question, and, as you know, you and I then walked home."

"Surely," observed Persis, "it will be a satisfaction to us both--once
more--in this dear, dear place--to"--She dared not go on, lest her
voice should betray her distress at leaving the village.

"How can I share the feast of love," exclaimed Ned Franks, bitterly,
"when my heart is full of hatred! I've been searching and examining
myself ever since Mr. Leyton spoke, and I _dare not_ go to the Lord's
table!" The school-master rose from his seat, and began pacing up and
down the room while continuing to speak. "'To be in charity with all
men,'--that is absolutely needful; without that I should but profane
the holiest service. I can't shut my eyes to the truth, I can't deceive
my own heart,--I do hate and detest Sir Lacy, more for what he _is_
than for what he has done! So I must keep away--like an outcast--from
the feast to which I am so lovingly invited; I must not share it with
my poor dying friend, or the pastor whom I reverence, though, by
keeping away, I shall own before all the village that I know myself
to be unworthy to join in Christian communion. And if I am unfit to
partake of the holy supper, I am also unfit to die, unfit to appear
in the presence of my God! O Persis!" exclaimed the agitated man,
throwing himself again on his chair, "people talk well of me, think
well of me--much too well; tell me that I've helped them on their way
to heaven; but what will it profit me if, after preaching to others, I
myself should be a castaway!"

"God forbid!" exclaimed Persis. "But, Ned dearest, surely it is not the
entrance of sin into the soul, but the harboring it there, that makes
us unfit for heaven, or unworthy to receive the means of grace."

"I _do_ harbor malice and hatred," muttered Franks.

"But you would turn them out this moment if you could."

"I can't; whenever I think of Sir Lacy"--

"Oh, think of him only when you're on your knees!" cried Persis. "Ned,
I share your temptation, I feel what you feel,--not quite so warmly
perhaps, but just as deeply. Let us kneel down together now; let us
confess our sin, our heart sin, to our heavenly Father; let us together
ask of him that Holy Spirit that can cast out the 'strong man armed,'
and keep him out; and make us ready to forgive even as we have been
forgiven!"

The husband and wife knelt down side by side, and silently poured out
their confession of sin and prayer for help unto Him who could himself
pardon his murderers. Night darkened around as they prayed; and with
the night came a rush of refreshing rain after the fervent heat of the
long summer day.

When Franks arose from his knees his manner was calmer and more subdued.

"Persis," he said, after he had resumed his seat, "God has been showing
me my weakness. I cannot by myself subdue the fierce passions within;
but he can, and he will send his Spirit, even as he sends his rain from
heaven to quench the fire, and calm the proud, resentful spirit! I
have made one resolution,--and may God help me to keep it!--never, if
possible, even to name Sir Lacy, except in my prayers. Yes, Persis, you
and I will not harbor malice and hatred as guests, but resist them as
foes; and, to gain strength for the struggle, you and I will to-morrow
seek the Lord in his own ordinance by the bedside of our poor dying
friend."



XXXVII.

The Sudden Summons.


On the following morning Franks started before breakfast for a spot
called Cliff Farm, to make arrangements with the owner of the place
for the loan of his cart to carry the school-master's family, and
what little luggage they possessed, to the station on the succeeding
Thursday. The errand was not a pleasant one, but Franks had no longer
the heavy weight on his heart which had oppressed him so long as he
felt that, not being in charity with man, he could not be at peace with
his God. Franks could now look calmly up at the clear blue sky, flecked
with rosy morning clouds, with a spirit in harmony with the tranquil,
holy beauty of nature.

Cliff Farm owed its name to its position. It stood on very high ground,
and was approached by a road steep enough to try the breath and mettle
of any horse drawing a conveyance. On one side, not a hundred yards to
the right of the farm-house, there was an abrupt fall of the ground,
forming a sheer perpendicular descent of some fifty or sixty feet,
down which tumbled a light sparkling cascade. It was the joyous leap
of the young stream which, not a mile lower down, turned the wheel of
the mill, after winding its way past the village of Colme. The brook,
rushing with a pleasant gurgling sound over its rocky bed, added to
the charm of the spot, which was one of the loveliest in the county.
Franks had often bent his steps towards Cliff Farm, and stood on the
edge of that steep, rocky bank, to enjoy the extensive view which it
commanded.

And there the school-master now lingered to gaze, perhaps for the
last time, from that point on the beautiful landscape before him.
There lay beneath him the village of Colme, the ivy-mantled church in
which he had been married to Persis, and to which they had brought
their first-born babe to offer him unto the Lord. There was the dear
little school-house, at once the scene of Franks's earliest labors,
and the home in which he had known more of pure happiness than falls
to the lot of most men, even during the longest life. The eye of
the school-master wandered along the high road leading towards the
town; his gaze lingered on the cottage of Nancy Sands; never would he
remember that dwelling and its inmates but with feelings of thankful
joy. Then the glance of Franks fell on the chimneys of Stone's house;
trees intervening hid the rest of the building from his view; there
the one-armed sailor had sought faithfully, and not unsuccessfully,
to open blinded eyes to the truth. Farther on--how well Franks knew
its position!--lay the wooded dell in which Persis had dwelt when he
wooed her, and where he had first met with Isaacs, then an unconverted
Jew,--now, partly through his words, his prayers, his example, a
consistent Christian believer. The little stream plunging over the
cliff, which was almost at the feet of Ned Franks, was the same from
which--by the mill in that same wooded dell--he had drawn the drowning
Nancy at the imminent peril of his life. The pines on yon eastern hill
looked down, as the school-master well knew, on the almshouses nestling
in Wild Rose Hollow. How greatly would he be missed there! If that
thought was sad, it also was sweet. There would be many a tear shed by
aged eyes in those cottages which he had labored so hard to repair. Ned
sighed to think that his work there must be left unfinished.

Still farther on roved the eye of Franks. On another hill, girdled with
woods, stood the Hall; he could see its upper windows glancing in the
light of the morning sun.

"O God! Thy blessing may yet rest on that dark place--as it seems to
us," said the school-master half aloud. "Thou sendest thy sunshine to
all, so may none be shut out from thy grace. It seems to me at this
moment as if I could forgive from my soul even Sir Lacy Barton."

As Ned pursued his meditations, suddenly he was startled by a cry of
"Stop him! stop him!" from behind, with the sound of the clattering
hoofs of a horse rushing on in wild, frantic career down the steep
slope just above the spot on which Franks was standing. Turning quickly
round, he beheld a black hunter dashing towards him at a furious speed,
which its rider, tugging at the rein, tried in vein to check, as his
horse was carrying him direct towards the cliff and--unless it were
possible to stop his career--to inevitable destruction! Franks had but
an instant to calculate chances, to recognize the rider, to resolve
to try to save him by catching at the rein as the maddened hunter
rushed like a whirlwind by! Franks made the attempt, but failed, and
was struck to the earth with violence! The hand of no single man would
have sufficed to stop the furious and powerful animal which the baronet
rode. Ned instantly sprang to his feet, and, as he did so, saw the
fearful plunge over the cliff, and heard the wild cry for help from
one beyond all human help. Then followed a terrible crash below!

"He's lost!" exclaimed the owner of Cliff Farm, who came panting up
to the spot, followed by one of his men, who had also witnessed the
frightful catastrophe, and Ned's gallant though fruitless effort to
avert it.

"Let's make our way down without a moment's delay!" cried Ned; "he may
be living still!"

The three men, Franks the foremost of the party, with all speed
clambered to the bottom of the cliff, at a place where a little
roughness in the ground, and a few bushes to hold by, enabled them to
manage the descent. I will not dwell on the fearful sight which awaited
them. The black horse lay dead, the rider apparently dying. Franks
took the lead in doing all that could be done for the sufferer. One
messenger was sent off to the Hall, another to the town for a surgeon.
There was no difficulty in finding messengers, for country people, who
had seen the horse when it first started off, now came running to the
scene of the disaster.

With all the tenderness that he could have shown to his dearest
friend, Ned helped to place the crushed and senseless Sir Lacy upon
a shutter, and to carry him by a steep path which wound up the cliff
at a little distance from the cascade, to the shelter of Cliff Farm.
Franks did not quit him till his own people, summoned hastily from the
Hall, were around him, and amongst them the school-master-elect. Then,
as he could be of no farther use, Ned Franks, thoughtful and grave,
returned to his home. He found his pupils already assembled. Of course
the tidings of the accident to Sir Lacy Barton were on every one's
lips, and the boys awaited from their master an account of all that had
happened, perhaps with such comments as what they deemed a judgment
upon a wicked man might call forth from their teacher.

But Franks was not one to condemn a poor sinner already under the
chastening of Heaven, nor to gratify private malice under the pretence
of enforcing a lesson. He was much more grave and serious than usual,
but avoided making any allusion to the fate of his persecutor, though
the awful scene which he had witnessed was the uppermost thought in
his mind. It was a relief to Franks, when, study-time being over, his
pupils dispersed, and he was able to go to his own quiet room, where
Persis was anxiously awaiting him. She, of course, like every one else
in Colme, knew what had occurred, and knew, also, that the baronet had
by this time been conveyed to the Hall, where he lay in a very critical
state.

"Persis, how thankful I am that God had enabled me to forgive that
man," said Ned Franks to his wife as they met. "Poor fellow! poor
fellow! had he wronged me far more than he has done, I could feel
nothing but pity for him now. Let us pray that God may spare him yet
for a new and a better life."

The day wore on, and Franks and Persis did not fail at the appointed
time to go to the cottage of Stone; a neighbor taking care of their
baby during the short time of their absence. Glorious was that evening
in August! The fields were dotted with golden sheaves, where the summer
harvest of joy was following the early sowing in tears. Mr. Curtis,
the venerable vicar, himself raised from what had been likely to prove
a death-bed, came to administer the Holy Supper to a dying, penitent
man. While the pastor had been a prisoner to his own room, as had for
many months been the case, he had been constantly visiting in thought
the dwellings of his flock; if he could not preach to them, he could
pray for them. There were two of his parishioners whose cases had
then lain particularly heavy on the mind of the good old man, Nancy
Sands and Ben Stone. At the beginning of the year they had been the
two in all the village who might have been pointed out, from their
appearance, as giving promise of long life; the brawny carpenter,
jovial and hearty, and the clerk's wife with her strongly built form,
muscular arms, and loud voice. They were also the two about whose
spiritual state their pastor had felt most concern. Nancy, a slave to
violent passions, furious temper, and a craving for drink. Stone, free
from all these vices, yet, in his self-righteousness and blindness of
heart, almost as far from the kingdom of heaven as the neighbor whom he
despised. Almost at the same time the two had been stricken down, the
one by a terrible accident, the other by sudden illness. Affliction had
come to both the Pharisee and the publican. One had been raised and
restored, though maimed, to her home; the other was never to quit his
cottage till carried forth in his coffin. But mercy had visited each,
and, as they met to attend the solemn service together, both penitents
could say in the words of the Psalmist, _It is good for me that I have
been afflicted_.

This was the first time that Nancy had been a communicant; she had never
before dared to approach the table of the Lord. Stone, on the contrary,
had attended regularly, at stated times in the year; but with him, until
now, the service had been but an empty form, only tending to increase
the blindness of his conscience, by leading him to think that he had
fulfilled all righteousness, when he made thus open profession of faith,
without one spark of its living reality. At that time Ben Stone would
have scouted the idea of Nancy Sands, whom he deemed the worst woman in
Colme, being permitted to enter his cottage on an occasion so solemn, to
show that she shared his faith and his hopes, and might share his
happiness in the mansions above. Yet there they were now together,
Pharisee and publican, both brought to the foot of the cross; the once
despised drunkard meekly giving God thanks that she was not what she
once had been, and the Pharisee, not raising up so much as his eyes unto
heaven, but silently uttering the prayer, _God be merciful to me a
sinner_!

Often had Persis and her husband joined in the holy service, but never
had they felt heaven nearer to them, and the Christian's hope sweeter,
than they did in Stone's cottage on that bright August eve. They saw
the saving power of the gospel in the two penitents before them, the
one rescued from the rock of self-righteousness, the other from the
whirlpool of intemperance. The little flock gathered together in that
peaceful home seemed an emblem of that blessed band, who, through God's
mercy and grace, shall, after life's troubles and tossings, reach in
safety the heavenly shore.

As the Frankses returned, after the solemn meeting by the sick-bed of
Stone, a rich, golden glow was over the sky, and a deep stillness in
the air; heaven seemed to be all brightness, and earth all peace. Then
came a sound, solemn at all times, but especially so at that hour, the
measured tolling of the church-bells for a departed soul. It was the
first announcement to those who had met in Stone's cottage that the
unhappy Sir Lacy had been called to his last account.

Yes, the bells that had been silent on his arrival at his ancestral
home, now, with slow and mournful peal, announced his departure. Soon
would a dark and narrow home receive the mortal remains of the late
possessor of thousands of acres. Had power, wealth, and high station
been a blessing or a curse to him who had not indeed _buried_ his
talents, but made them an instrument of evil? The profane tongue was
now silenced; the hand that had rattled the dice, the brain once so
busy with evil designs, the heart that had been a den of wickedness,
now lay lifeless and cold. The baronet's spirit had passed from earth,
and left no sweet memories behind. Another and a far better man would
now bear his title and rule in his Hall, and dispense happiness as
widely as the late lord of the manor had tried to spread the contagion
of evil. Every toll of the solemn bell, which pealed through the calm
evening air, seemed, with a voice more impressive than that of man, to
repeat the warning, _He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck,
shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy_.



XXXVIII.

Conclusion.


Franks and his wife received a message from Mr. Curtis, on the
following morning, to desire them to come to the vicarage at one.
At their accustomed time of assembling for study, the boys of Colme
flocked to their school-house, full of expectation and excitement,
the congratulations beaming in their eyes which their lips did not
venture to utter; for something in their master's manner told them
that they must not speak to him of any change in his prospects likely
to be caused by the baronet's death. The boys, who were rejoicing in
the assurance that they would keep their "dear old Ned Franks," since
there was a new baronet now, could hardly settle to business or attend
to their tasks. Had not their teacher found it quite as difficult to
do so himself, he would have had to reprove or correct half his pupils
for the most ridiculous blunders. There was also an unusual amount
of nodding, whispering, and smiling, which Ned Franks for once tried
in vain to repress. The boys had never seemed to care so little for
addition or multiplication, or found it so impossible to master a
column of spelling. "He'll never leave us, not he;" "Won't the curate
be glad to keep him!" "That fellow with the sly look, who was to have
been our master, will have to take himself off sharp, like a beaten
dog!" "Won't we have jolly days now, and won't we work double hard at
Wild Rose Hollow!" Such were the eager whispers which passed from mouth
to mouth. It must be owned that Franks seemed to be an inefficient
school-master on that day, and had very inattentive pupils.

Lesson time was over at last, and punctual to their appointment, the
Frankses appeared at the vicarage just as the church clock struck one.
The boys, instead of dispersing as usual, had followed them, like an
escort, as far as the garden gate. Norah, with a beaming countenance,
was waiting at the door to usher them in. The young maiden had double
cause for her joy, for her mistress had received a letter that morning
from Mrs. Lowndes, mentioning that the confession of Martha, her late
housemaid, that she had taken the lost sovereign which had accidentally
dropped on the floor, had entirely cleared Norah from all suspicion of
theft. Mrs. Lowndes expressed her satisfaction that Norah had succeeded
in getting a place, and gave her testimony that, except in one unhappy
act of deception into which she had been drawn, a more truthful and
faithful servant than Norah she never had known. Norah had not at
this moment time to tell the Frankses of this letter, which had been
a great relief to her affectionate heart, but her pleasure was seen
in her looks. She ushered her uncle and his wife into the study, and
then would herself have retired, but her mistress, with a kindly smile,
beckoned her to remain. Never had she been more readily obeyed.

In the vicar's study were collected several of the villagers of Colme,
looking on with curiosity and interest. Sands, the clerk, unusually
placid and serene in his mien, stood by the side of his wife, whose
dark eyes expressed pleasure mingled with something like triumph. The
sturdy miller was also present, holding by the hand his little Bessie,
who looked brimming over with joy.

Mr. Curtis, who was seated in his large arm-chair, shook hands with
the school-master, and then Persis received first from her pastor,
and then from his wife, the same kindly greeting. Had there been any
doubt before on the subject, the manner of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis, and
the smiles of the villagers present, would have assured the Frankses
that they were summoned to hear good news. The pastor when he spoke was
listened to in respectful silence.

"I have been requested, Franks, by Mr.--I mean Sir Claudius--to express
to you his hope that you will continue, and _long_ continue," there
was a strong emphasis on the word long, "to instruct the boys of our
village school. He has had, during the time that he has been curate at
Colme (as I have had during a much longer period), the opportunity of
seeing how faithfully, zealously, and successfully you have performed
the duties of your office. To no one could we more gladly, more
confidently, entrust the charge of our boys."

Ned Franks bowed and colored at the praise; Persis exchanged a glance
of pleasure with Norah.

"And I have another pleasant office to perform," continued the old
vicar, turning to receive from the hand of his wife a well filled
crimson purse which had lain on the study table. "When we were afraid
that we were going to lose you, that you and your good wife were about
to leave Colme, a little subscription was set on foot, to procure
a testimonial to be given at parting to those who have earned the
respect--I may say the affection--of those amongst whom they have
dwelt."

"They have--they have," murmured Nancy, and little Bessie squeezed
tightly the hand of her father to express _her_ silent assent.

"We are happily to keep you with us in Colme," continued the vicar;
"but our friends"--here he turned smilingly towards the parishioners
who represented the subscribers,--"our friends will not lose the
opportunity of offering the _present_, though we all unite in hoping
that the _parting_ may be very far off."

Ned Franks, by whom this tribute of regard from his neighbors had been
altogether unexpected, was taken by surprise, and looked more confused
and embarrassed than if he had been receiving a reproof instead of a
present.

"No--indeed, sir--I am very thankful--grateful to you--to all--but I
could not,"--he stammered forth, shrinking from touching the proffered
purse. "Pray, let the money be returned to the subscribers. I feel,
from my heart I feel, their great kindness all the same as if I availed
myself of it."

"They won't touch it, not a penny of it!" exclaimed Nancy, who was
standing behind the vicar's chair. "I went round to every one this
morning. You must take the purse, Ned Franks, if it be but to throw it
away!"

John Sands, who had a high sense of decorum, looked aghast at his wife
thus venturing "to put in her word" in the vicar's own study; but the
clerk only attempted to stop her by a faintly murmured "My dear!"

"No, indeed, I will never throw away money so kindly, so generously
given," said Franks. "Pray, sir," he continued, addressing Mr. Curtis,
"let the contents of the purse go towards repairing the almshouses in
Wild Rose Hollow. I and my wife have everything that we need, and I
think that I can answer for Persis that this is the way in which she
would best like the money to be spent."

There was a little murmur through the circle of villagers, in which
admiration of the sailor's generosity was mingled with something like
dissatisfaction at his giving everything away. Nancy said, in a very
audible whisper, "They could have had their trip to the sea-side." Mrs.
Curtis, who had hitherto remained a silent though interested spectator,
now spoke.

"Perhaps all parties will be gratified by a compromise," said the lady;
"let half of the contents of the purse be contributed by Franks to the
object for which he has pleaded and worked so hard, and let him satisfy
his friends here by using the other half for a little holiday-trip for
himself and his wife, when his pupils for a time give up their studies
for gleaning."

The proposal of the lady gave universal satisfaction, and when Ned
Franks and his happy wife had quitted the vicar's house, the loud
ringing, joyous cheer which greeted them from the boys who had been
waiting outside went as warm to their hearts as the praise of their
pastor, and the practical token of the loving esteem of their neighbors.

When the sound of cheers had died away, and all the shaking of hands
and exchange of words of kindness were over at last, Franks and his
wife, thankful and happy, turned towards their own home, whilst
neighbors and boys dispersed to theirs. For several minutes neither
husband nor wife spoke a word; perhaps each understood too well what
was passing in the mind of the other for any words to be needful. At
length the silence was broken by Ned.

"Persis," he said, with emotion, "I think I'm more humbled than exalted
by all this kindness, and all this praise. How our friends judge by the
outside! It is God alone who reads the heart. How little they guess
what a struggle with evil was going on here," Ned laid his hand on his
breast, "and that not forty-eight hours since!"

"God gave you the victory," said Persis, softly.

"He helped me in the hour of temptation," said Franks; "and when
the enemy of souls takes advantage of my weakness, and sends his
fire-ships again to set this impatient spirit in a blaze, may I be
enabled to be watchful and vigilant, and steer my onward course in the
safe track left by Him who was _meek and lowly in heart_!"

My little story is almost ended. I shall not linger over any
description of the well-earned holiday-trip, which was greatly enjoyed
by Franks and his wife. The almshouses in Wild Rose Hollow were put in
most perfect repair before winter, and each one had a beautiful porch.
The work of Ned and his "jovial crew" was helped forward by the ready
purse of the new baronet. Sir Claudius never forgot that he was the
minister of the gospel, as well as the lord of the manor.

I will but give a short glimpse of the party of village boys gathered
together on the following Christmas day in the school-room, not for
study, but to partake of a substantial feast provided for them by Sir
Claudius. The large room was richly decked out with wreaths of bay and
holly, bunches of mistletoe, and sprigs of laurel. Even blind Sophy had
helped to form the garlands; for the long-cherished wish of Benoni had
been gratified at last, and Isaacs had brought him and his adopted
sister to spend their Christmas at Colme. The preparations for the
banquet had been made by Persis, with Norah and Nancy Sands as her
cheerful assistants, while Benoni, proud of the charge, had insisted on
taking care of the baby.

"What a different Christmas this is from my last!" thought Nancy, with
a humbling recollection of having made the last anniversary of her
Lord's birth an occasion for plunging into mad and sinful excess! Such
memories but deepened her thankfulness to Him who had snatched her from
the whirlpool of destruction.

"What a different Christmas this is from the last!" observed Benoni,
looking up with a glad smile into the face of Persis, his first friend
in Colme, and still the one most tenderly loved. "Last Christmas we
were in London, and there was such a yellow fog that we could not see
to read without a candle, and we had no candle to light! and we should
have stood shivering round the fire, only there was no fire to stand
round! And when we came home from church, we were hungry enough for our
Christmas dinner, only," the boy added, with a laugh, "dry bread and
cold tea didn't look much like Christmas fare!"

"You must have had a sad time of suffering, then, dear Benoni!"

"It would have been sad indeed, except that the Lord was with us in our
trouble, as he is now in our joy!"

"Ah! my boy," said Ned Franks, who had overheard the last observation,
"that is the secret of having life's voyage a safe and a happy one. It
is when the Master is with us that we are guided through the rocks and
the shoals, and kept from running aground. It is having the Master with
us that turns the storm into a calm, so that the winds and waves are
still. And so, when the children of God reach the heavenly shore, it
will only be because the Master was with them, and hath brought them at
last, through his power and his love, unto their desired haven."


THE END.



Transcriber's Note

  Obvious typographical and punctuation errors have been corrected.

  Hyphenation has been made consistent throughout.

  Footnotes have been moved to the end of the chapter.

  Blank pages before illustrations have been removed.

  Emphasised text is shown thus:
  _italics_





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