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come home till I'm a great man, and when I've found my fortune father will forgive me. God bless you, mother; my love to the little ones—your own boy, Hugh."
And that was all we heard for many and many a long year, though we children, when we heard that there was a strange gentleman at the inn, or when a carriage drove through the village, always thought Hugh had made his fortune and come home. Mother began to look old before her time the neighbours said, and father grew more stern and grave, but he never mentioned Hugh's name.
When I was eight years old a sore trouble came upon us. It had been a hot long summer, but the autumn was wet and unhealthy, and fever broke out in the village. It spread from one to another, and the poor doctor, who lived a good ten miles off, was worn out with work. Ben took it, then it was my turn, and soon we were all down with the fever except mother. How she nursed us I can't tell, but she did it. I believe she sought and found the help which never fails, for however little people may care about religion when they are well, and everything is bright and pleasant, there's but few, I take it, can bear sorrow alone, or forget the good God when the heart is heavy. And, child, mind you this, the best man on earth would turn from one who never came nigh him but when he wanted something, and forgot him so soon as the gift was given; but our Father never turns away, he is ever waiting for us. I don't think mother knew much of this, but her sore heart was feeling after God, as a little tired child seeks its father. She had need of help, for she had a hard trouble. First of all Ben died, and then Johnny; but mother kept it from both father and me, and he was too ill to ask questions. After a while he never spoke sensible words, nor seemed to know who it was that watched all the long hours through by his bedside. My crib stood in a corner of the room, and I heard him moan over and over again the name of the boy whom he had seemed for so long to forget. It was "Hugh, forgive me, and come home;" or " Hugh, come back and don't break your mother's heart." Or he would cry out that Hugh was overboard, and he had done it. I can't think how mother bore it. The night before father died he woke up clear and sensible. "Mary,'' he said to mother, "I'm going from you; I've not thought much about death, and it isn't easy to turn to these
things on a sick bed; but I do pray God pardon me and take me to himself for Christ's sake: but teach the children to mind religion when they are young and strong." By and by he spoke again. ""lis Hugh lies heaviest on my heart now, wife, but I don't think he's dead; he'll come home; and tell him then that his dying father forgave him as he hoped to be forgiven, and prayed God blees him." That night father died.
Months went by, and grass began to grow on the three graves side by side in the churchyard. Mother and I lived alone in the house that was once so full of merry voices. It was a sad time; we were not badly off for a living, for father had saved money, and then mother took in a little clear-starching, that she might be able to put me to the dressmaking when I was old enough. The quiet weeks were so like each other that I scarce remember how the months and years went by till I was eighteen; but then something happened which I am not like to forget. It was a beautiful evening in September, the dahlias and foxgloves were out, and the vine over our cottage beginning to redden. Mother and I sat in this very room, mother in her big chair by the fireside, I by the table busy at work. We chanced to be very quiet that evening, nothing but the loud ticking of that old clock and the sound of my mother's knitting-needles broke the silence, and I suppose that was why we both started, and why mother turned so white, as we heard the sound of a man's footsteps come up the lane. He stopped at the garden gate and opened the latch, which was rather an awkward one, as if he were used to it. "It's only the man with the linen from the hall," I said, and ran to the door. There stood a stranger, a strong man above thirty, brown and foreign looking. He looked very earnestly at me, but only said in a rough constrained voice, "Is Mrs. Welham in?" Before I could answer I heard mother's step behind me and saw her eyes meet those of the stranger. "Mother," he said. "Hugh, my own boy," she cried, and in a moment he had caught her in his arms. It was some minutes before she would let him go even to kiss me, but at last we were all three sitting in the dusk round the window. Hugh had heard that his father and brothers were dead; for before he came to us he went to the olergyman, fearing rightly that there might be bad news for him. Well, I can't tell you of that evening nor the next, nor of the strange joy and sorrow which filled all our hearts. It was a sorer grief to Hugh than we could tell that he could not ask father to forgive him, but mother bade him take all the comfort of his parting message to his boy.
On Sunday we three went to church together, mother leaning on Hugh's arm, and then we stood awhile by the three graves and walked home very quiet and solemn. In the evening as we talked, I said, girl-like, "Ah, Hugh, you are not a very rich man, I fancy. Where's the great fortune you were going to make?"
"It's no good to seek riches by disobedience," he said," but through God's mercy I'm a richer man than you think."
I looked at him to know his meaning, for he had told us plainly that he had worked hard for scant wages, and come home far enough from being a rich man. For all answer he took from his coat pocket this old Bible. "If that's all you've got," said I, "I don't think you'll be squire yet awhile;" laughing at one of his foolish sayings when a boy. Hugh smiled and turning to mother asked if he might read a spell out of his Bible.
"Ay sure, my boy, 'tis good reading, though I can't always get at the sense; but there's comforting words there that have helped me many a time."
"We must ask the Spirit of God to teach us to understand," he said; and he began to read. I didn't listen much I fear; I sat looking at Hugh and wondering what he meant about being rich.
When he had finished, mother said nought, so I was driven to speak. "You read finely, Hugh," I said; "no one ever thought you'd be such a soholar."
"No scholar, lass, more's the pity: but shall I tell you how I came by this Bible and learnt to love it, and then you'll see maybe that I'm richer in it than in a mine of gold, and that it's better to spell out its words, if God helps you to their meaning, than to read over the top of them, as it were, like the finest scholar on earth.
"I was on board a man-of-war, and sore tired of the service, longiDg to come home and see your faces once more; but pride kept me away, for I had no fortune to bring back. I was very lonely, and did not care to make friends among my comrades; I was always thinking how I had cut myself off from home and was alone in the world. I never thought then, mother, of going to the best Friend; 'tis little religion one meets with on board ship; and though I could never take to the wicked doings 1 saw, yet thoughts of God or of the Bible were far enough from me. Though I never tried to make friends, there was one of my comrades seemed to care for me. He was an orphan lad, with no home but aboard his ship. Tom was different somehow from the rest, he never swore, nor got drunk when we went on shore, nor joined in the wild, bad talk on the forecastle, and was always ready to do any one a good turn. He got pretty well laughed at for his steady ways, and now and then one of the fellows would fly in a rage with him and abuse him. But he was brave enough, and managed to go right on and hold his own; so after a bit he was pretty well let alone. I know many on board respected and envied him while they jeered. Tom took a liking to me, and many a kind word and deed I had from him.
"One evening it chanced that we two were alone on deck, and as we paced up and down in the dusk, we began to talk as men don't often talk to each other. My heart was very full, and I told him of you, mother, and how bitterly I repented of having disobeyed father, and how I longed to go back and tell him so. I scarce know how it came about, but we talked too of God and the hereafter, and the thoughts that make a man strong for right. He spoke so bravely and feelingly that I couldn't but listen, and for the first time since I left you, mother—for the first time I prayed. I don't know what I said, 1 scarce knew what I wanted, but my heart spoke to God. After that evening Tom and I did not meet for some days, except at our work. I felt a little shamefaced, in the bustle of broad day, to think how I had opened my heart to him that night. But I went on trying to pray, and I think God heard me.
"About ten days after that talk our ship went into action. The decks were cleared, and we all stood to our posts. I hadn't time for thought or fear as the shots flew about us, and comrade after comrade fell by my side. I could see Tom from where I stood, and I think his quiet, resolute face helped me. At last a ball struck him and he fell; I forced my way to his side, he was badly wounded, but not dead. He was carried below, but the surgeon said he could not live many hours. We won the fight, but when it was over I thought only of how it had cost me the life of my only friend. I sat by his side that night. 'Hugh,' he said, 'take the Bible from my breast pocket, and read a verse or two.' I took the Bible, this very one; there was a stain of blood on it that turned me sick: you see it, Annie. The words I read seemed like cool water to parched lips, and his face grew peaceful and calm. 'Keep my Bible, Hugh,' he said, ' I've not much else to leave; God grant it may be even more to you than it has been to me.' He spoke again. 'I'm going home; Jesus has forgiven all my sins, I am not afraid to die. You will come to me, Hugh, will you not?' 'I scarce know the way,' I said. 'Jesus is the way, you will read of him in that book; pray God help you, he will make it plain.' In the morning, when he lay dead, I took his Bible, and God only knows the blessing it has been to me. Through God's great mercy it has brought me to himself, and given me hope of a better life. 'Tis the Bible broke down my sinful pride, and has brought me home a poor man to ask forgiveness."
This was the story of Hugh's Bible, and thank God we too learned to love it. We often said that Hugh had indeed brought us home a fortune, and I trust it has made and will make us all rich unto everlasting life.
NAT CANTLE, THE ORACLE.
"well, neighbour, I'm thinking," said old Nat Cantle, "that whilst you are so busy trimming other people's lamps, you are mayhap forgetting to trim your own."
Now Nat Cantle was looked up to as an oracle amongst the people in that and a few adjaoent streets. Not that he proclaimed his opinions, for he seldom left his own quiet fireside, unless to visit a sick person or go to a place of worship; but most of his neighbours sought him out when in trouble or difficulty, and they certainly were quite justified in so doing; for a clearer-headed and more conscientious man was not to be met with in their vicinity. Nat had seen a good deal of the world in his early days, having served under the Duke of Wellington in the peninsular war. Originally he must have been of a tolerable height; but roughing it abroad and bending over his work at home (for he was a shoemaker) had told upon him, and when I first knew him he was a spare little old man, with a remarkably intelligent countenance and peaceful expression.
"Yes, neighbour," continued Nat, "I fear you have been forgetting to trim your own."