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no one could say he interfered with his neighbours or pried into their business. As he came along now it seemed that he was unaware of the presence of any one, until one of the men called out, "I say, Watkins, do you want a child to adopt?."
The old man lifted his head then. "A child!" he said. "Has there been a child lost ?—another child lost?"
A whisper went through the group as he said this. "He lost his own child years ago," said the blacksmith.
"Has there been a child lost?" asked the old man, feebly.
"No, no; lost his mother; that's all. She came here with him yesterday; was took ill in the night, and died this morning."
"What have they done with the child?" asked the old man.
"Nobody knows what to do with it: six-year old children are plentiful enough about here, so he'll have to go to the poorhouse, I expect."
"To the poorhouse! Oh no, no! don't send him to the poorhouse; and don't let him go wandering through the world all alone!" said the old man. "I'll take him for a bit, if nobody else owns him, and then if anybody comes by-and-by they can have him." He did not stop to say any more, or to note the surprise that was so plainly visible in every face. He had scarcely got out of hearing, though, before it broke out in sundry exclamations and surmises.
One thought the old man a little touched in the head concerning his lost son. Another said the miser knew what he was about, and expected to make a good thing by taking the boy. Perhaps he knew something about him, and expected rich relations to claim him. This being the opinion of the blacksmith, came to be the one most generally received by the rest, and they settled it to their own satisfaction at least, that this was the object the old man had in view, and laughed to think how greatly he would be deceived, as they knew that his mother was poor—so poor that she had but a few shillings in her pocket, and the parish would have to lay her in the quiet churchyard.
Meanwhile the old man, instead of going home, went on to the cottage where the woman had died. He wanted to see this child at once, that had been left helpless and alone in the world. Knowing that it had not treated him too kindly, he judged that it would not be very gentle to this little boy.
As he walked along he murmured, "I wonder whether anybody ever did a kind turn to my lost boy—my pretty, fair-haired Tom!" for the old man's son had been lost—not taken by the angel of death as a blossom to be transplanted to the garden above—but lost. And whether thorns and rough stones had pierced the little weary feet, as he journeyed through life, or whether he had been caught by the many snares and pitfalls that surround the young; or whether from all these dangers and snares he had been early taken to another world, the old man did not know; but he sorrowed for him still, as he never would have sorrowed had he been laid beside his mother in the quiet grave.
The woman stared when she opened the door, in answer to the old man's knock. "Dear, bless me !" she exclaimed. But Watkins interrupted the rest of her exclamation: '; I've come to see the child," he said.
"The child," she repeated; "what child? Oh, you mean the little boy that came here yesterday?" she added. "Willie, come here," she called; and in answer to her summons, a pale-faced, delicate-looking child came forward. His eyes were red and swollen with crying, and he looked altogether so forlorn among the robust, healthy-looking children by whom he was surrounded, that the heart of the old man was touched at once.
"Poor litttle fellow!" he said, stroking the soft silky fair hair.
"Yes, it's a bad piece of business altogether, Mr. Watkins," said the woman. "We can't afford to keep the child, you know; nobody will pay us for what he's cost already."
The child had drawn nearer to the old man while she was speaking, and looked up in his face with an affecting glance. The words he had uttered were the first kind ones he had heard that day. The woman pitied herself too much to have any to spare for him, and he had cried for his mother until he was exhausted, and went to sleep only to wake up and cry again.
"Poor little fellow!" said the old man again. "Will you come home with me for a bit?" he said, taking the little boy's hand.
The child clung to him, and seemed willing to go at first, but the next moment burst into tears, and sobbed, "I want my mother."
The old man drew his coat sleeve across his eyes. "Come along with me, and tell me all about your mother," he said. "You can have him back if you want him, you know, Mrs. Brown," he said, addressing the woman.
"Oh, I shan't want him," she said, as soon as she could recover from the surprise into which she had been thrown; and as old Watkins turned the corner with his charge she ran to tell some of her neighbours the strange story.
It had been easy enough to fetch the child; but the weaver was somewhat at a loss, when he reached home, to know what to do with him. He was not used to children; but the dim, far-off time when he used to sit down by the fire with his boy upon his knee was still fresh in his memory; and so the first thing he set about doing was to light a fire in the rusty grate, and then, instead of turning to the clumsy loom, he seated himself in a chair and took the child upon his knee. How his hands shook and his heart throbbed as Willie with a weary sigh laid his head down upon his bosom! It seemed that all the hardness and coldness that had been gathering over him for years melted at the touch of that little child, and presently Willie heard a deep sob as the old man stooped and kissed him.
"Do you cry too?" said the child, simply. "Is your mother dead?"
The old man nodded.
"Our Father can't die, can He?" said Willie, looking into the fire thoughtfully.
"Our Father!" repeated the old man.
"Yes, our Father up there," he said, pointing upwards; "mother used to talk about Him very often. Don't you know about our Father?" he added, wonderingly.
The old man shook his head.
"Can you tell me about Him?" he said, for he liked to hear the little boy talk, and hoped by this means to make friends with him.
For nearly an hour the child sat telling him of the things his mother had taught him concerning the heavenly Father, who loved him, and was always watching over him.
More eagerly than the child talked did the old man listen to the life-giving words, that came back to him like a sweet refrain of his own childhood. He often heard of God then, from the lips of both mother and father; but he had gone out into the world and forgotten all that he had learned from them; and when trial came upon him, and he lost his wife by death, and his child by what seemed worse than death, instead of turning to God for grace and strength, he indulged hard thoughts of Him, and hardening himself against Him and all the world, determined to live only for himself—to love nothing and nobody again.
In this determination he had been somewhat shaken of late by various incidents which had tended to break down the hardness into which he had grown. And now that he heard of this child being left homeless and friendless among strangers, the vision of his own lost boy rose before him, and he longed to take the child in his arms.
After nursing little Willie for some time, the old man set about preparing supper.
"You must go to bed very soon," he said. And as the little boy seemed very sleepy when it was over, he set about undressing him. When this was at last accomplished, he carried the child to the bed, but Willie struggled out of his arms.
"I must ask God to take care of me first," he said. "Won't you kneel down, like mother did?" he added, noticing that the old man still stood at his side. The appealing glance of the child could not be resisted, and the old man fell on his knees beside him. It was the first time for nearly fifty years; and as the child lisped out his accustomed prayer the vision of his mother kneeling by his side, and praying for and with him, rose before his mental vision. He had thought of those prayers sometimes since, but the idea that they would ever be answered had never crossed his mind.
As Willie rose from his knees he was surprised by hearing another sob from the old man, who was still, kneeling with his face hidden in the coverlet.
"Tell our Father what's the matter," said Willie; "that's what mother used to do when she was sorry and cried."
And not knowing what else to say Willie crept into bed, and was soon fast asleep, while the old man still knelt on, sobbing and uttering, over and over again, "Our Father, our Father." He could not remember any more; nor was it necessary, for in those two words were embodied all his want. He had scarcely been conscious of this want until tonight; but his mother's prayers were answered at last; he felt himself an orphan and a prodigal, far away from his Father, and he longed to return. The answer to prayers put up at a throne of grace when he was a little child had been sent by the hand of another child.
It was not easy for old Watkins to break through all his old habits of isolation, but by degrees the love of the child that had drawn him first to long for the love of God drew him out towards his neighbours also. They were puzzled to account for the change, more especially when it came to be noticed that he and little Willie were rarely absent from the house of God on the sabbath now; but for his kindness to the child they were quite ready to respond to all his advances, and very soon the name "old Watkins the miser' was changed to "old Watkins the minister," for the old
weaver was so overjoyed that he had found Christ and His