Tales on the Parables Vol. 2 (III)

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LOST SILVER


CHAPTER I.


"AND Mercy — Mercy Baker — what became of her?"  The speaker had returned, a long-forgotten man, to his native country, and was making inquiry concerning those he had known when he went away twenty years ago.

    "Oh, Mercy has ten little girls," was the answer.

    "Ten little girls!" exclaimed the first speaker.  "Why, I thought she had never married?  He had not lost sight of the folks at home so completely as they had lost sight of him.

    "She is not married," answered the other; "she has only taken ten little girls to live with her."

    "How? boarders, do you mean?"

    "No; I see I must tell you the whole story," said Mrs. Brooks.  And this was the story she told:—

    "Mercy Baker lived with her father and mother in a large old-fashioned house, called 'The Stone House.'  It was built of grey stone, and walled round, so that you could only just catch a glimpse of it through the iron gate.  It stood just outside the circle of a great city; beyond it were the green fields and the broad river; but its upper windows looked over towers, and steeples, and chimneys, and masts, standing up dimly through the smoke and haze.

    "Mercy was the only child of two elderly people, and as a child had missed all the brightness and joy which more youthful parents share with their little folks.  Mercy grew up staid and thoughtful, and older than her years.  (All this the stranger knew before.)  But Mercy was her name, and mercy was her nature.  She was good to every soul that came near her, and to every creature, too.  Every mouse in the old Stone House had a friend in little Mercy.

    "The old father and mother had their old friends, and they never thought how dreary it was for their little maid to have never a little companion of her own.  They were good people, the Bakers, as the world goes, but they were of the world, worldly.  They would sit and play cards till ten o'clock at night, and let Mercy fall asleep in a corner of the sofa, over her books.  And such books for a child!  Milton, and Cowper, and Addison, and Pope, and even that bitter old Swift!

    ("You know I changed all that, and got them to let her be with my young folks a good deal, but it was the Church that gathered Mercy into the treasury of God.)

    "The Bakers went to church regularly, and Mercy with them.  Mercy did not play, and wander, or sleep, like other children, she joined in the service, and kept her big grey eyes fixed on the rector all the sermon-time.  Our rector was not much of a preacher.  It was what he had to say, not how he said it, that impressed his hearers.  It impressed Mercy more than any of them, for she had the mind of a woman and the heart of a little child.  But she kept back a long while from profession.  She was eighteen, I remember, at her first communion, and so tall and well grown.  We ought not to judge, but I think it was the carelessness of her parents that kept her back.  She was only confirmed the Thursday before.  She was kneeling in the middle of the others, and looked ever so much older in her full white veil and thick white muslin.  When the bishop came to her, he made a difference; instead of saying, 'this Thy child,' he said, 'this Thy servant.'  'Defend, O Lord, this Thy servant with Thy heavenly grace, that she may continue Thine for ever.'  I think Mercy felt it.  I could not see her face; but she bent her head lower and longer than the others.  And afterwards I could see an expression in her just like what a good and true servant comes to have — an expression of watchfulness and respect.

    "So meek and quiet she grew, too, and so simple in her dress.  She was a pleasure to look at.  You knew her then, did you not?" and Mrs. Brooks turned on her listener a look of inquiry.

    "Yes, I knew her then;" and loved her, he might have added.

    "Well, she stayed on with her father and mother, and they got older and older, and drearier and drearier, and wanted her all to themselves always.  A servant nowadays has twelve times as many holidays as Mercy had, for she had never a one.  When she was about twenty Mr. Baker fell ill, and Mercy nursed him all through the winter and spring.  He got better in the summer, but the doctor said it was chronic, and would come back again next winter most likely.  And so it did.  It was about that time you left us, wasn't it?"

    Her listener bowed.

    "It was a dull life for her," Mrs. Brooks went on, "for the old folks got queerer and queerer, and would hardly see anybody.  The Stone House was like a prison, and Mercy like a prisoner within its walls.  Everything had she to give up for them, even her class at the Sunday-school, of which she was so fond; but she never murmured, any more than a good servant does who is bidden do this thing rather than that.  She had given up her life to it.  When other girls of her age were loved and married, she remained unsought."

    Her listener's face took an expression of dissent, but he said nothing.  He could have told of one who loved and sought her, and who had at least the consolation that he had not loved though he sought in vain; duty calling him to one end of the world, and chaining her to the other.

    "Nobody sought her?" he said.

    "After you went away, I don't think a young man ever entered the Stone House gate.  And, as I was saying, Mr. Baker fell ill in the winter again, and Mercy had another six months of nursing.  But he didn't die.  He crept out again every summer, and went to church with Mrs. Baker and Mercy, and drove about a bit.  And this went on for six years at least.  Then he died, very peaceful and hopeful, the rector said, through Mercy's ministrations, and Mercy had only her mother."

    "And what about the ten little girls?" asked her listener, becoming impatient for the sequel.

    "We're a long way off from them yet," was the placid answer.  "Mercy's mother lived close on ten years after her father, a great invalid and a great sufferer.  Mercy's devotion to her was beautiful to see.  But I never could help thinking it a sacrifice; thinking somebody's children had missed such a mother.  She was so fond of children, and had such a way with them.  I used to send in any of my little grandchildren who came to see me, to see Mercy.  We used to send in little Charlie when he was naughty, to be made good; and his sister hearing this, said one day, 'Gran'ma, I want to be naughty.'  'Nonsense, Maggie,' I said, 'you must be good.'  'No, I mut be naughty,' she persisted. 'I mut be naughty.  I want to go see Mit Bater.'

    "Well, about the little girls.  Mrs. Baker died, and Mercy was left alone in the old Stone House.  She was left well off you know, not rich, but well off.  She had all the old folks had, and she didn't give up the old place; but it must have been dreadful lonely.

    "There was a woman who used to come in to help the cleaning at Christmas and Easter.  Mercy had her in to clean the house after her mother's death.  Her husband had deserted her, left her with a baby, about five years before.  Mercy had the little one to stay in the kitchen while her mother was there, that she might not be neglected in the poor mother's absence — left to drown or burn herself, as so many do.  A week or two after, one of the woman's neighbours came to Mercy to ask what was to be done.  The mother had run away this time, gone off with a dreadful dissolute fellow, no one knew where, and left the little girl to the care of the parish.

    "'We've knowed little Rosy all her life, miss, and we didn't like to send her to the workhouse,' said the woman.

    "'Why?' said Mercy.

    "'She'd pine there,' answered the woman.  'There's nobody to mother them, and the little ones want motherin'.'

    "'But her mother must have been a cruel one,' said Mercy, indignantly.  'She must have had a hard heart to go away and leave the little thing.  She could not have been kind to her.'

    "'She was kind enough off and on,' said the woman, 'and would cuddle her up now and then.  And Rosy was very fond of her.  I'd take her myself, miss; but my husband earns barely enough to keep the eight of them already, and he says we've no right to give the bit out o' their mouths to a stranger.'

    "'What would you like me to do?' said Mercy.  'Come an' see her, miss,' was the answer.  The woman was wise in her way.  Mercy went and saw, and could not resist the wistful blue eyes and quivering mouth of little deserted Rosy.  She came and stood beside the chair on which Mercy sat, and looked up into her face reading its fair open book, and then she leaned a little on the stranger's knee.  And she was not quite a stranger.  Rosy knew her as the lady for whom her mother had worked, and who had smiled on her more than once, and given her biscuits and apples.

    "'Will you come with me, and be my little girl?' said Mercy.

    "'Yeth,' lisped the little mouth, frankly; 'and will you find my mover?'

    "'I will if I can,' said Mercy.  And the little girl allowed her face to be scrubbed, and her hat tied on quite quietly, kissed her humble patroness, and one or two small companions, and trotted away holding Mercy's hand.

    "Rosy was the first of Mercy Baker's little girls; but before a year was out she had ten of them.  She took up again her class in the Sunday-school, and used to bring little Rosy with her.  She was the youngest there.  Next to her was a child of seven, whom nobody could see without loving.  Her name was Jenny Crawford, and she was the daughter of a poor shoemaker — Scotch, I believe.  You never saw such a strangely beautiful child; Rosy was quite common-looking beside her, as common as a pink rosebud.  But Jenny looked just like a child out of a sacred old picture — black, and white, and still, and sweet, and solemn.  She was quite colourless, and her hair was dark as night.  It fell upon her shoulders in thick and heavy locks, and never seemed to get rough and untidy; perhaps because the child was so still and quiet.  Her eyes were large and black — you could hardly distinguish the pupils — and they were full of melancholy and wonder.  When she was grave, they were simply sad.  When she laughed, like other children, the wonder came into them; but never mirth.  Her features were exquisite, as were all her limbs, moulded with perfect grace.  You could not help wondering, when you saw her surroundings, how a thing so perfect came to be there.  The mother was plain, except in the eyes, there she was like the child.  The father was a lowering brute.

    "Jenny did not seem to be a clever child.  It was very difficult to tell what she comprehended and what she did not; but she never gave any trouble.  She was sweetness and gentleness itself; and the lovely childish mouth lisped out the lessons so solemnly that she impressed others with the power of feeling them.  But there was great irregularity in Jenny's attendance, and Mercy made a point of calling in the course of the week when any of her children were absent.  There was both a little brother and a baby at home, and Jenny was constituted nurse to both, while the mother strove to eke out the father's wasted earnings, by taking in boots to bind.

    It was the beginning of June, and the school feast was coming on.  The children as usual were in a great state of excitement.  A gentleman belonging to the church had given the use of a beautiful field — the Hilly Field — for the day.  There they were to have dinner and tea, and all sorts of games.  But the Sunday before Jenny was absent.  When Mercy went to her home as usual, the mother explained that the child had been kept at home for want of a pair of shoes.  There she was, with her pretty bare feet on the bare boards, standing up in the presence of her teacher, with the baby clasped in her little arms.

    "'I hope she will not be kept away from the feast,' said Mercy.  'It will be such a disappointment to her.'

    "Jenny's eyes were fixed on her teacher's face with unusual eagerness.

    "'She shan't be kept away if I can help it,' said the mother.  'Jenny's a good girl; and I would be vexed for her to lose her treat.  Her father's promised for weeks back to make her a pair of shoes.  He's begun them now, and I'll try and keep him to them.'

    "Poor woman! she did try to keep him to the fatherly task, but in vain.  Orders came in, orders for which he would get the money — money which would buy him drink, and the little shoes lay still unfinished.

    At length he had done his last job, and had got the money, and still there was time.  Jenny sat watching the door for his return.

    "Dinner-time came.  There he was at last.  The shoes would be finished in time.  Jenny — her mother had never seen her do the like before — skipped across the floor to welcome her father.  She slipped her little hand into his, and looked up in his face with childish confidence.  The wretched man had not won many such looks even from his own child.

    "'You'll do my shoes now, father,' she lisped.

    "Alas! he had been drinking.  Early as it was, he had been drinking fiery spirits, and all his mad, evil passions were aflame with it.  He did not want to work any more that day, but to drink and drink again.  He had been worried about those shoes enough, and so, in answer to the upturned look, he flung the child from him savagely.

    "There was a fall and a terrible cry, and the mother rushed to her child.  A common iron pot had stood upon the hearth, and on it Jenny had fallen.  Her mother lifted her and laid her on her shoulder, the blood streaming down her cotton dress, and carried her swiftly out.  As she passed her husband the woman's eyes shot a look at him, which had killed him if looks could kill.  She bore her burden, heavy as it was, to the nearest chemist, who was a skilful man, and dressed poor Jenny's wound.

    "It was a terrible one.  The lovely face would be marred for ever by a deep, ugly scar.  The upper lip, which had barely closed over the pearly teeth, was severed, and two of the teeth were gone.  Jenny would never smile again with that cherubic smile of hers, which had lighted up all her face, save the eyes; and those eyes! — Mercy turned away to hide her tears, when she met for the first time their gaze of inexpressible mournfulness, looking out from the ruined face.

    "So poor Jenny was not at the school feast.  Her father, it seems, did not return to his home for days.  Her mother wished that she might never see him again, and began working for her children's bread single-handed.  But he came back at last, driven by hunger, and took his place, more lowering than ever, at his stool in the single room.  The mother gnashed her teeth and kept watch over her child, neglecting the others so that the baby died.

    "'He can't bear the sight of her,' she said to Mercy, who was kneeling by the bed on the floor.  'I think he'll kill her some day.'

    "'Oh! don't say such dreadful things,' said Mercy.  'You're frightening the child.'

    "'She can't take her eyes off him for fear,' said the woman, 'and see what she's wasting to!'  And she uncovered the little body, and showed the once rounded limbs terribly thinned.

    "'Give her to me!' cried Mercy, rising.  'Let me take her away.'

    "'Where to?' asked the woman, wondering.

    "'Home — to my own home,' said Mercy.  "I have one little one there already.  They will be companions.  You can come and see her as often as you like.'

    "'Jenny, will you go?' asked the heart-broken mother, feeling, oh, so glad that the child held fast by her hand.  That grasp satisfied the woman's heart.  She went over at once to Mercy's side, and felt all the advantages of her removal.

    "'I'll come and see you, Jenny,' she whispered, going down on her knees as Mercy had done.  "You'll go with your teacher, dear, and father won't come there — only me.  There's a darling.'

    "Jenny was docile and promised to go, though it was easy to see that she clung to her mother, whom she knew as protector from the worst of ills.  So one day, in the father's absence, she was taken away in a cab.  The mother had contrived it so, without Mercy's connivance.  Mercy was ready to subdue the savage, if need were.  The mother managed that he should be out of the way.  And it seems she would not tell him where the child had been taken.  It was true, he might have molested Mercy.

    "Jenny made two little girls under Mercy's roof.  'And there is room for more,' Rosy said one day, innocently; and the words kept ringing in her ears whatever room she entered in the old Stone House.  'There is room for more; there is room for more.'  And at last she took it for a message from the Master, and said in reply, 'What wouldst Thou have me to do?'

    "And then it seemed to her that all her future life took shape, and she planned how she would live on in the old house, and fill it with children, whom she would send out into the world from time to time, fully prepared for service, both of God and man.  And she had not far to seek.  She soon made up her number, which is fixed at ten, and most of them are orphans — all, I fancy, save the first two."

    "And the plan — has it succeeded? —"

    "I think she would say 'Yes,' for the children, undoubtedly, for herself; yes, too.  The children have been very troublesome.  It's only the first that she has any comfort in, even yet.  They've bad blood in them, physically and morally, most of them, and it's hard to get it out of them.  They take idle fits, and sickly fits, and vicious fits; and Mercy often doesn't know which to treat them for."

    "And how does she treat them?"

    "Just as a mother does — a wise kind mother — not always in one way, but seeking the way that is best for each.  You should see her among them."

    "That's just what I should like.  When is the best time to see her?"

    "Well, in the afternoon, when they are all at lessons, I think.  They take it in turns in the morning to be with the two old servants learning the house-work — two with the housemaid, and two with the cook.  The others are with Mercy in the school-room, or playing in the garden.  In the afternoon they all have lessons together — an hour of reading and an hour of sewing.  Then out to play again; then supper, prayers, and bed."


 
CHAPTER II.


IT was thus, then, that an old friend saw Mercy Baker.  In a high bare room the children were seated, sewing and singing.  Mercy was seated in front of the double row of them, sewing and singing too.  The light fell from a tall window upon her smooth, abundant hair, showing it tinged with grey; but the face beneath it was still fresh and unwrinkled.  Behind her was a fine carved mantle-shelf of dark oak.  The Window was open at the top, and the air coming in from the garden was pure and fragrant.  After a plaintive air the children took up the merry round —


"If I were a cobbler, I'd make it my pride
     The best of all cobblers to be;
 If I were a tinker, no tinker beside
     Should mend an old kettle like me."


    The voices rang out shrill and strong; Mercy smiled, bending over her fixing, and did not observe the door opened.  The first intelligence of it was conveyed by the turning of ten little heads, and the wandering of ten pair of eyes in that direction.

    Mercy Baker turned her eyes also, and saw her old friend.  Was it the change which time had wrought on him which made her rise, turn pale, and drop the white thing at her feet?  Possibly.  Time had changed him far more than it had changed her.  His hair was silvered to whiteness.  His face was furrowed and stained with care and with climate.  He was altered out of most people's knowledge, but not out of hers.  In another moment she was advancing to meet him, with outstretched hands and a smile of welcome.

    The children were dismissed to their play.  Their shrill cries floated up from the garden into the bare room where Mercy and her old friend sat and talked.  They talked of the past, which was easy.  Each had much to hear, and much to tell, while they dwelt upon that.  The present was more difficult; and when they came to it they were more embarrassed.  But the future was most embarrassing of all; and yet they settled what it was to be, even in that first interview.  It was to be unchanged for Mercy; save for the changes which time might bring, but unchanged by any act or deed of hers; "Think of me as if you had come back and found me a wife, and these children my very own," she had said.  And with that he was obliged to be content.

    He was made of commoner clay than Mercy, and he found a wife who became Mercy's most tender friend, and had children of his own to bring up for God.  Let that suffice for him.

    That very evening something occurred in the Stone House which was a great trouble to its mistress.  Her mind had been much agitated and pre-occupied by the visit of the afternoon, and she had left her keys in the school-room desk.  She was very careful about locking, that she might not lead the children into a temptation which they might not be able to bear, and she was sorry when she made the discovery, the last thing at night, that the key was in the lock, with the others hanging on the ring.

    Mechanically she opened the lock. In the front. of the cavity stood a plain wooden cup, or coggie, in which she held loose silver.  It happened to be nearly empty; but it had held three half-crowns when she saw it last, of that she was quite certain.  Now it held but two.  Mercy had a lamp in her hand.  In her agitation she nearly put it out.  Then she sat down upon a bench to think.  What was to be done?  No one had been out of the house, therefore the piece of money was still there.  But where? and who had taken it?  It went to her heart with a sharp pang to think that it must be one of the children.  She thought them over one by one, and could not feel sure.

    Oh, if she could but feel sure of one of them — could but know that one would not have done this thing because of the sin against God, not against her!  But she had no such assurance.  Rosy was ever affectionate and clinging.  "I don't think she would have done it, for my sake; but in her truthfulness I have no confidence.  Jenny is truthful, as a rule; it would cost her much to lie to me, but she has no high principle.  Of not one of them can I feel that she had given her heart to God, the only safeguard."

    Thus Mercy thought, and the thought was mingled with another — the natural outcome of the unsettling event of the day.  What if her life was a mistake — her life and her work!  What if she had that day wilfully refuse to enter on a more humble and natural one, in which a child might yet have called her mother, and claimed with her a spiritual kindred, close as the tie of blood.  All that was alien in the little ones under her roof — all that was repulsive — rose before her.  She was ready to renounce her work, ready, if that ear which had listened that very day to her decision to the contrary, had been there to hear her, to retract; ready to put her hand in that other hand, and say "I will give up my plan.  I can care for ten little bodies without so much cost, without the devotion of my life; their souls I cannot reach."

    She rose up sadly to search the desk inside, if by chance the piece of silver had fallen there.  As she did so, her lamp shone on an illuminated text which hung above, and she read: "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."

    "Father, forgive me," she murmured, looking upwards.  "Thy will be done."

    Then, animated with new courage and new faith, she set herself to face the practical difficulty before her. And first, she took her lamp and searched high and low in the school-room, lest the lost coin might be hidden there. Then she took her way up-stairs, and entered the children's rooms; but she would not disturb them. She was ever full of ruthfulness, and to see them sleeping there in their little white beds, looking, one and all, so peaceful and so innocent, brought tears to her eyes.  If she had only known which was the transgressor, over that one her love and her pity would have flowed forth yet more abundantly.

    But she arranged her plans for the morrow.  None of the children should go out, not even into the garden, till a complete and thorough search had been made of their rooms, their clothes, their drawers, and even their beds.  Having arranged it all in her mind, she betook herself to prayer and to sleep.

    She could and did pray; but she could not and did not sleep.  She could not help thinking of the investigation of the morrow, and what the result of it would be.  There was one little imp, the youngest of the ten; Mercy almost wished it might lie with her, for she showed less sense of responsibility than the others — nay, she might even have done it out of pure mischief.  The key of one of the rooms had been missing one day, and had cost great searchings, and it was afterwards found out that this little creature had flung it over the wall in sheer wantonness of mischief.

    The morrow came, and Mercy assembled the little ones and told them of her loss, watching to see its effect upon them.  But she could make nothing of it.  One and all denied having taken it, more or less boldly or timidly.  Most changed colour.  Which was the colour of guilt and which the colour of innocence — which the boldness, or timidity, of truth or falsehood?  Mercy concluded, after her fruitless investigation, that they must be very much alike.  The bedrooms and beds were searched, and the belongings of the children looked through, and still there was no coin to be found.

    Then Mercy, gathering her flock about her once more, said, gently, "I will not ask again who has done this."  In her great tenderness she was fearful of hardening one of them in sin.  "But I tell you it grieves me to the heart to think that there is one among you who cannot be trusted, who is not true, who is not honest; and if that one will come to me and confess her fault, it will give me a great joy to forgive her.  Remember this, and come to me at any time, in the day, or in the night.  Remember I shall count one of you lost till then."

    The children looked at her in wonderment.  Jenny's great dark eyes were specially fixed upon her face.

    "Listen!" said Mercy, solemnly, and taking up the book from her desk and reading, "What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she found it?  And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."

    "You are ten," said Mercy, shutting the book, "and one of you is lost.  One of your souls, far more precious than this piece of silver, has rolled away into a dark corner of deceit, covered over with the rubbish and dust of covetousness.  Think of the joy of bringing it forth bright and precious as ever.  Let me find my lost piece of silver.  This is your morning lesson, children," she added, dismissing them, and they went out from her presence unusually grave and quiet.  As one by one dropped a curtsey in passing she scanned the downcast faces.  Rosy blushed under her gaze.  Jenny's cheek was colourless, as usual; but the girl trembled, and there were tears on the long fringed lashes.  Jenny trembled into tears thus on very solemn occasions, and there had never been one so solemn as this.  The ordinary routine had been broken by it.  The ordinary tasks had not been possible, neither among the children was the ordinary noisy play.  As Mercy sat pondering sadly, no shrill shouts and laughter came in at the school-room window.  The ten were wandering about in the garden in groups of two and three, discussing the events of the morning.

    Rosy and Jenny walked together as usual, but they did not say much.  "I wish I knew who took it," said Rosy, "I would never speak to her again," and Jenny did not answer.  She began to speak of her mother and the little ones at home.

    Jenny's home had gone from bad to worse, and had long ago reached the worst that could befall.  There were other two children for the mother to provide for the father had given up that sacred duty, and was worse than an infidel, nay, worse than a beast.  He was the greatest fear, the most terrible misery in the lot of his wife and children.  For days, even for weeks, he would absent himself altogether, and then when they began to feel secure he would pounce upon them like a beast of prey, and rob them of whatever he could lay his hands on their food, their clothes, their all.  It was long since the room they lived in was left utterly naked and bare.  The mother and children slept on straw, sewn up in a coverlet.  A society lent her a blanket, and even that he would have sold but for the mark which made it unsaleable.  They were steeped to the lips in poverty, and so long as he lived there seemed no remedy.

    Lately they had had a longer respite than usual.  After a visit in which he had swept off everything, and even forced his wife to run into debt at the grocer's, he had disappeared, and Mrs. Crawford had moved her wretched lodging, if possible to elude him.  She had been very careful not to let the children go beyond the court in which they lodged, and never to go out herself till after nightfall.  She was a clever workwoman and earned good wages, for she would be at it from morning to night and from night to morning if necessary, with an industry and endurance which was marvellous.  She was getting the children more decently clad, and even a few necessaries for her home.  The oldest boy minded the little ones while she worked.

    And now she thought, if she could only have Jenny home, she would mind the children and learn the boot-binding, and let Robert go as an errand boy.  Jenny was twelve, and a fine, tall, handsome girl of her age, and it was time she was learning something.

    She had spoken to Miss Baker on the subject and laid her plans before her.  But Mercy had discouraged them.  "She is learning something," she had said.  "She is learning to be a good servant, I hope, and there is nothing better she can learn."

    "But she cannot do as I have had to do unless she has a trade at her finger ends," the poor woman had objected.

    "And let us hope there will be no need for her to do as you have done," Mercy had said.  "In a good situation, which I will try and find for her when the time comes, she will have less temptation to marry rashly than she would from such a home as you can give her.  Nobody has a more assured home than a good servant, or a more assured character; nobody has less anxiety, or is more truly independent?"

    And Mrs. Crawford had not pressed the matter, only she had not given up the idea of having Jenny home again, and she had sounded the girl.

    Mercy was therefore more vexed than surprised, when, a few days after the event just recorded, days which had thrown no light upon that event, Jenny herself, preferred a request to be allowed to leave the Stone House and return home.

    "You are far better off here than you can be at home," urged Mercy.

    And she felt ashamed of her plea when Jenny turned on her those mournful eyes, and said, "Yes, they're bad off at home, but I think I could help them."

    "Then you shall go and help them, dear child," said Mercy, "for it is right you should, and it will be best for you to do what is right; you are in God's hands."

    So before another week Jenny Crawford had left the Stone House and gone back to her mother.

    For some time longer the Crawfords were left in peace.  Jenny was a great help and comfort to her mother; and, thanks to Mercy's training, was the tidiest of small housewives, only there was so woefully little in that poor room on which to exercise her care.  But she had learnt to make a meat pudding; and what a feast that was to the children, especially to Master Bob, who had to put up with bread and weak tea for the most part, with some such unwholesome relish as shrimps or 'winkles on grand occasions.  Jenny had great resources.  She could make a nice soup with some rice, a carrot and turnip, and a few bones; or a dish of fish with two-pennyworth of sprats.  Besides the cooking and marketing, she kept the children clean and tidy, and helped her mother with the coarser parts of the work.

    Jenny had been warned that it was imperative to keep out of her father's sight; and, unless when it was absolutely impossible to help it, never to venture far from the entrance into the court.  The warning was, however, unnecessary.  Jenny seemed under a constant terror of his appearance.  She would scan every group of dirty, abject-looking men assembled on the pavement by a corner public house to satisfy herself that he was not among them, before she would pass on her errand.  If she should ever see him, she had made up her mind to fly, and to fly, not home, but away from it, trusting to her fleetness of foot to escape.  Mrs. Crawford, gaining boldness by security, had ventured to carry home her work in the broad daylight, for the summer daylight was long; but Jenny did not lose her dread.  Mrs. Crawford whispered that he might be dead — such men die suddenly in hospitals and workhouses.  Jenny knew better; she had her secret.

    In the Stone House the elder girls had sometimes been privileged to go an errand for Mercy, Jenny oftener than Rosy, for she never loitered and never forgot.  She had been sent on one of these the day before that visitor had come who caused the keys to be left in the desk, and thus led to the money being stolen.

    The errand was a very simple one — to post a few letters and get a fresh supply of stamps.  Jenny was returning with the stamps wrapped in a piece of thin grey paper in her hand, when she was accosted by a wretched-looking man, with a cap drawn over his forehead to the eyes.  At first she did not recognise him; but she was not long left in doubt.

    "Where's your mother?" he growled, with a tight grasp on her shoulder.

    "I don't know," said Jenny; and she spoke the truth.

    "I want to go home," he muttered; "haven't had a bit of meat for days."

    Jenny looked at him with compassion mixed with fear.

    "I'm hungry," he went on, with an oath.  "Have you got any money there?" He stooped towards her and let go his hold.

    "No," she cried, shrinking.

    "What have you got?"

    "Stamps."

    "They're as good as money.  You can say you lost them."  And he tried to seize hold of his daughter's hand.

    But she sprang past him, and fled, never pausing till she stood within the gate of the Stone House, breathless.  He had not dared to pursue, not knowing whether she might not cry out, and get him into trouble.  He stood still and looked after her, and shook his clenched fist, muttering, "I'll serve you out for this."

    Nor did Jenny breathe a word of this to anyone.  Her feeling towards her father was one of mingled dread and pity — a pity amounting to compunction — as if she, poor child, could possibly have helped him.  But she could not eat her comfortable meal without a vision of his hungry eyes.  Her dread was natural, considering what he was; her pity was natural too, but it had been increased by Mercy's teaching.  All that was tender and merciful and compassionate in the Scriptures had taken the strongest hold of the girl, being most in accordance with her nature.


 
CHAPTER III.


IT was Saturday evening, the evening of a hot midsummer day.  The sun had gone down over the city, and it was beginning, only beginning, at ten o'clock at night, to cool.  There had not been a breath of air all day, and in the close courts there was not a breath now to come in at the windows open to catch it.  Only at the entrances women and children stood and breathed the purer air of a wide thoroughfare, busier now than in the heat and glare of the day.  A great dark stream of people were passing, and would continue to pass for two hours yet.  Workmen and their wives were out, strolling along idly, or intent on making their weekly purchases.  Butchers' shops were busy, selling scraps of dismal meat.  The corner public houses were flaring and gaping to let in victim after victim, men and women clustering without like bees round a hive's mouth.

    Out of one of the courts came Jenny Crawford, with a basket in her hand.  She was going to buy the Sunday's dinner, and had made it late purposely, under the belief that she could buy more cheaply.  The group at the entrance made way for her, and she passed down the street.

    In a little while she was back again, and hurried in at the entrance, unconscious of observation.  Yet so closely was she followed that the group, composed of slatternly gossips, divided for her and for the man who came behind her at once.  Again it drew together, but opened again immediately to allow a third person to pass, a person who must have had something to mark him out from the common, so great was the attention bestowed upon him.  The women ceased their chatter to look after him.  Certainly he was more respectable in appearance than the usual visitors there.

    Jenny made her way to the back room of the second floor of the house facing the entrance, without once turning round.  The first man followed closely and stealthily, the second held back a little.  On the stairs Jenny burst into a warble of song.  She had a lovely voice.  Nature seemed to have lavished on this child of misery her most voluptuous gifts.  She entered the room, ceased her singing, and began to display her bargains.  Her mother was waiting for some savoury morsel of ready-cooked meat which was to be their supper.  Bob was sitting up for his share g the other children were sleeping peacefully in their corners.  The boy went out to sleep next door with a single lodger.  The contents of the basket had the charm of the unknown.

    "Cold biled?" said Bob, interrogatively.

    "Guess again," said his sister.

    Bob was unequal to the suspense.  He peeped into the basket, and exclaimed, "Oh, my!" with rapture.  The mother fetched a dish.

    "Fried fish for supper,"' said Jenny, laying on the dish three pieces of fish, and on the table a paper-full of scraps of fresh meat.

    "And this will do to make a nice pie.  We'll send it to the oven to save having a fire tomorrow," said the mother.

    "Yes, that will just suit me," said a voice behind the door, which had been pushed open.  On the threshold appeared the husband and father!

    Mrs. Crawford suppressed a scream, and stood trembling.  The boy sat scared, with open mouth.  Jenny turned on him her white illumined face, with its great wondering eyes.

    "Don't look at me like that," he cried, with an oath, and advanced and raised his hand.

    The mother came between them.  Her tremor ceased.  "Havn't you done her harm enough already?" she hissed between her set teeth.  "I tell you what, John Crawford; if you lay a finger on my children — especially her — there'll be murder done here this night!"

    Her spirit cowed him, and he laughed uneasily.  "I'm here," he said, "and I don't mean to go away again.  You'll gi'e me a bit o' supper, surely?"

    "Let him have mine, mother," whispered Jenny.

    But the horror of her fate overpowered the poor woman.  He had come so unexpectedly; she alone knew all the terrors of his coming.

    No more peace, no more security; only hunger, and nakedness, and misery, for herself and her children.  She sat down and burst into a fit of wild hysterical weeping.

    Bob, from his corner, scowled at the intruder, and first one and then another whimpering cry arose from the floor where the little ones lay.  They called on their mother; they looked at the man standing there with their great frightened sleepy dark eyes, and then broke into a chorus of howling, which drowned their mother's voice.

    When the crying in the room had reached this climax, the door opened again.  The man who had followed last entered unceremoniously, and laid his hand on Crawford's arm.  "You must come with me, my man," he said, quietly; "the quieter the better, you know."

    The prisoner — for such he was — began to bluster, but thought better of it.  He went away muttering.

    At the foot of the stairs he submitted his hands to a pair of shackles, and passed out to the court wearing them, to the edification of the gossiping women and lounging men.

    Mrs. Crawford ceased her weeping in wonder at the new turn of events, which she did not fully understand.  Jenny comforted the little ones, and hushed them off to sleep.  But Bob alone did justice to the supper.  He had a double allowance of fried fish that night.

    In a few days it became known, for the people among whom the Crawfords lived were well up in criminal information, that John Crawford had been taken up on a charge of housebreaking, and later, that he and an accomplice, or leader, had been sentenced to five years penal servitude.

    The Crawfords moved again to another quarter of the city.  The poor woman shrunk from being pointed out as a convict's wife, and yet in her heart she was thankful that her husband was detained within prison walls.  As for the future — it was five long years, and so much might happen in them.  She would not think of the future.


 
CHAPTER IV.


NEARLY four years have passed away.  No one would know the members of the Crawford family now; they look one and all respectable working people.  Bob is a stout lad, well clad and well shod, and earning his six shillings a week, wheeling an ironmonger's truck.  The children, a boy and girl, are at school.  The mother, a sad and somewhat sickly-looking woman, is soberly but decently dressed, and Jenny has grown out of knowledge.

    The girl at sixteen might pass for twenty, so finely developed is her beautiful stately form.  There is a colour on her soft cheek which was not there in childhood, and a languishing look in her soft dark eyes.  Only she cannot smile; the deep scar is on her upper lip, and smiling is ghastly work with her.  She has got into a way of never attempting it, and the scar does not show so much when the mouth is at rest.

    She is evidently fond of dress; from the pains she has bestowed on her abundant hair, plaited and done up in the height of fashion, and from the taste which has been exercised in the choice and make-up of the poor materials which compose her dress.  And the result is not altogether unsatisfactory to the eye, for this girl has even taste enough to be subdued.

    A companion with red hair, a lilac cotton gown, and a purple cloth jacket, has set on the top of her head an erection of pink gauze and white flowers; but Jenny's dress is dark green, and her jacket black, and she has fixed a small tea rose in the black lace which forms her headgear.

    The neighbourhood is not unlike the old one.  Other idle dirty women linger in the doorways, other rude and abject men lounge at the corners.  Jenny passes in and out among them.  Some of them know her, and exchange greetings with her.  The men will try and snatch her hand or her waist.  She frees herself good-humouredly.  She is not angry at oath or coarse allusion, she is used to both.  She is careless and gay in the midst of sin and misery.

    Alas!  Mercy Baker's lessons of holiness are long ago forgotten.  Not that Jenny Crawford is living a life of sin.  On the contrary, she is the model girl of her poor neighbourhood; the good daughter, the tender sister, the one held up as a pattern to the reckless and wanton.  But the Bible, which was Mercy's parting gift, remains unopened.  She never enters a church, she never kneels in prayer.  Sunday is only a holiday to her — a day in which she can plait her hair, and adorn herself, and walk abroad in the evening, with companions most of them far, far worse than herself — companions with a terrible knowledge of evil, and but little awe of it, and whose morals and manners are surely effacing from Jenny's mind the delicate bloom of maiden modesty.

    How different is her old companion Rosy!  She is growing up in the seclusion of the Stone House, sweet, and good, and refined as any lady of the land.  People look at her, if she goes out on an errand in her white apron and little straw hat, not for her beauty, but for the freshness of her face, and the simple prettiness of the costume she wears, and which Mercy had adopted for her girls.  And she has not forgotten her old companion; but often wonders sorely how it is that she never comes to see the teacher and friend whom Rosy loves and reveres.

    Mercy Baker marvels too, and often thinks of Jenny with regret and longing, often prays for her, too, prays for her as the lost piece of silver.  When days and weeks went by, and the piece of money was not found, Mercy ceased to keep over the children so close a watchfulness, but the result of her watchfulness had been to assure her that none of them were guilty.  Slowly, reluctantly, but surely, her mind turned to Jenny as the guilty one.  Jenny had gone away from the house that had been her home for so many years with evident eagerness.  Jenny had almost shrunk from her at parting, and had never returned; had allowed herself to be lost sight of altogether.  These things were not evidence of a fact; but they wrought a conviction into Mercy's mind.

    "And was the girl guilty of this frightful dishonesty and ingratitude?" asks someone.

    She was, but it ought to be remembered that such as it appears to us it did not then appear to her not in the act.  If sin put on its exceeding deformity at first sight, it would hardly be the tempting thing it is.  She took the money because the desk was open, and it was there, and the thought flitted through her mind that she might appease with it her cruel father.  She took it; but she had never used it.  When she saw what she had done in the light of Mercy's lesson, she shrank from either using it or revealing her guilt.  She had hidden the money away behind the wainscoting of the room, from whence it could easily be recovered by one who knew where it was, by means of a knitting-needle, or anything slight enough to insert, and strong enough to push it out.

    And there it lay still — the lost piece of silver.

    Jenny would never have acted as she did if she could have known beforehand the result of her action; if she could have known that she herself would have to shrink from Mercy's caresses — to give up for ever her love — if she could have known that Mercy would suffer too, so sorely that she had never yet recovered from the wound it gave; never recovered the faith in her work, or the ability to give her whole heart to any child as she had done to the two who had come to her at the first, and one of whom had deceived and deserted her.

    And Jenny had had her regrets — had them still at times — especially when anything shocked or grieved her.  Then she would remember the peace and purity of the old Stone House, and long to take refuge in Mercy's arms, and to tell her of the long-past sin, and beg her forgiveness and love.  Jenny was not given to thinking, or she might have thought concerning the invisible barrier which had risen up between her and Mercy; that on the other side of it was also a greater than Mercy; that that same barrier lay between her and God.

    In those days Jenny had forgotten all about her father.  Ever since he had been in prison the family had known a freedom which had never been theirs before, and only one—the unhappy wife and mother — speculated concerning the time when, with the freedom of the husband and father, theirs would come to an end.  That time was coming, perhaps it had already come.  If John Crawford had obtained a ticket-of-leave he was already free.

    It was Whit Monday — the great national holiday — and Jenny Crawford was abroad with her companions.  Her brother Bob was, per favour, of the art, which considered itself quite grown up and did not want children to be of it.

    It was a bright sunny day, and all the roads were dusty but the great river-way which the little party chose to take them to an open heath beyond the city.  How good it was that these pale-faced boys and girls, the majority, even the married majority, were little more, should breathe the bright pure air — should tread the turf and bask in the summer sunshine!  And yet the sight of them made you sad.  Their mirth had too much of madness in it — too little of gladness of heart.  Of the gladness that comes from a sense of the goodness of God there was scarce a sign.  Instead of it there was riot and licence enough.

    Young women raced, and ran, and mounted donkeys, and got into swings, where, with their skirts tied round above the feet, they looked like overgrown lettuces, and young men lost their respect, and were rude and coarse in act and speech.  And all this was intensified as the day wore on, under the effects of excitement and beer, which the young men tempted the girls to drink.  To a thoughtful spirit the scene was a mournful rather than a merry one.

    Through it Jenny Crawford passed more quietly than most.  Indeed, there was little to find fault with in the girl's deportment, and what there was was caused by the proximity of rude companions.  When the day was well-nigh spent, there arose a dispute about going home, which only got itself settled by continuing till the darkness began to come down, and all were of a mind as to the necessity.

    They had wandered far into the fields on the other side of the heath, and were now returning by a path which ran along an old thorn hedge, that day despoiled of all its blossoms.  There were gaps in the hedge, and a similar path ran along the other side.  The lads were chasing the girls out and in as they went along, so that the getting back to the pier where they were to start for home in anything like time seemed rather problematical.

    Walking along by the hedge was a man smoking a pipe, with a cap drawn down to his eyes.  He had followed the party from the heath over the fields and back, and they had not noticed him.

    At length, watching his opportunity, he laid hold of Jenny, who, because she walked more soberly, was left behind on one side of the hedge, while her companions had bounded through a gap to the other.

    Once more the girl stood face to face with her father — her father, and, to judge from his remark, more brutal than ever.

    "I wouldn't have known you now if I hadn't set my mark on you," he said.

    Jenny knew him then, and gave a slight fluttering scream.

    Her companions from behind the hedge shouted to her to "come on," and ran on themselves, looking for her to appear at the next gap.

    Her father laid a heavy hand upon her arm.  "I'm coming home with you," he said.

    "Let me go now," she cried in an agony of fear.  "Let me go, and I will give you all I have."

    "But I must know where you are," he said.  "I want to go home."

    "I'll tell you," said Jenny; "only let me go now."

    "No, no.  I'll not trust your telling.  Come along."

    And there was nothing for it but to walk by this man's side — to acknowledge him as her father — to take him home with her.

    When they came forth at length out of the shelter of the hedge, her companions saw that there was someone with her, and went on.  Bob, however, ran back to see who it was, and his sister bade him go and tell the party that she had met her father and must go home with him.  The boy did as he was told; but, urged by curiosity as well as a desire to protect his sister, returned to her immediately, and the three proceeded home together.

    When they had nearly reached the street in which it lay, Jenny sent on Bob to tell his mother what had happened, that she might be prepared to meet the calamity.  She had not been taking a holiday.  She had been hard at work all day, and was resting somewhat wearily, and thinking how late the holiday-makers were.  She was alone, for the family had two rooms now, and the children were in the front, sitting up for the return of their brother and sister, the former having promised them wonderful things in the shape of may-boughs laden with blossom, and a pocketful of nuts, nay, perhaps, a whole cocoa-nut, if he was fortunate enough to bring one down at the first shot.  And Bob had redeemed his promise.  He came on with quite a load of the fragrant branches laid upon his shoulder, but silent and subdued, as Bob was not wont to be.  The children ran to meet him, and he sent them off to divide the spoil.  Then in a low tone he made that communication to his mother.

    She fell to weeping and wringing her hands.

    "Never mind, mother," said the boy; "he can't touch you now.  If he strikes you or Jen, I'll strike him.

    It was strange comforting, nevertheless it had the desired effect.  Her children were growing up to take her part, they might be able to keep him in check.  At any rate, she must make the best of it.  So she dried her tears, and received her husband quietly, it coldly.

    He looked about and saw the home comforts they had secured, very poor and small they may seem, but so much to them — a decent bed, a few chairs, a deal table.  There were even ornaments on the chimney-piece, a pair of angels in white stucco, which Jenny had fancied and bought of the Italian image-vendor, and a vase of the same cheap material, filled with paper flowers.  This was in the front room, where the mother and her girls slept.  The boys had a bed made down in the back room, which was more scantily furnished, and where the family cooking was done.

    John Crawford looked round him, and sank upon a seat with a sigh.  He was feeling ill, exhausted with the day's exertions; and he looked ill, pallid, and sickly, as prisoners will look, in spite of the best prison diet in the world.  He had lost vitality, and was depressed into abjectness.

    Perhaps Mrs. Crawford pitied him — at least Jenny did, for she said, gently, "Father, will you have a cup of tea?"  He nodded an affirmative, and Mrs. Crawford went and prepared it forthwith.  John Crawford had a weary little hacking cough.  He took his tea in silence.  He seemed a changed man.  He did not quarrel with the arrangements made for him.  He was to sleep with the youngest boy.  A bed was, with difficulty, improvised for Bob.

    The ticket-of-leave man tried to get work at his old trade, and failed.  The trade had been undergoing great changes, owing to the introduction of machinery.  Mrs. Crawford still obtained employment, but she was an exception to the rule, and could no longer earn what she had once earned.  Jenny had turned to other work long ago.  Sometimes the girl worked at home, sometimes abroad; but always at some dainty work which sped through her supple fingers, and caused her to be always in demand, besides earning for her high wages.  All the winter she would be employed, with scores of girls like herself in making valentines; and all the summer in the wholesale manufacture of millinery, turning out bonnet-shapes by the hundred dozen.

    With the father to keep, the little household began to feel sadly encumbered.  Jenny put all her earnings into the common stock.  Her flimsy clothes and wretched boots wore out, and could with difficulty be renewed.  The family began to slide back into the slough of poverty.

    John Crawford fared badly enough; far worse than in prison, but he did not drink, and he was not violent, and no one reproached him.  Something seemed to withhold him from "breaking out," as he would have called it.  Whether it was the prison discipline, or his lowered vitality, he had not yet brought himself to rob his wife and children, as he had often done before, of all they possessed in the world.

    Hard as it was to keep him in idleness, Mrs. Crawford was thankful that at least so long as he was idle he had not the money to drink.  But at last he obtained it.  He was taken on as a mender of children's shoes at a shop he had once worked for.  He did the work and he drank the wages of it and disappeared.  He had taken to his old courses.

    When he next visited home he was like a man possessed.  Jenny was absent at work.  There was her box, with her sadly reduced stock of clothes, her best frock and bonnet; her still kept but unused Bible, and a few shillings from last week's earnings.  He seized it by the handle, and was about to carry it away.  But Mrs. Crawford would not permit it without a struggle.  She got between him and the window, dashed it open, and began to cry for the police.

    "Stop that," cried her husband, in a voice so changed and cowed that she turned once more toward him.

    He was trembling.  He had a morbid dread of the police.  He knew that he was under supervision, and that the policeman might lock him up for very little, even for robbing his own house.  "You would like to get me shut up again, wouldn't you," he growled.

    "It would be the best thing that could happen," she assented.  "If you touch my girl's things I'll do it too," she added.

    He turned to go, with a gesture of malignant menace, and, lifting a short heavy stick which he carried, swept poor Jenny's ornaments to destruction at a blow.  Before Mrs. Crawford recovered from the confusion of the crash he was gone.

    But he had not gone far.  He was only lounging about outside till his daughter should appear.  The demon that possessed him was not laid; foiled in the use of force, he was resorting to cunning.

    It was not long before the girl carne in sight, not so smart as we have seen her, and not so brisk in her gait.  It was a chill night in early winter, and she was feeling the cold through her thin jacket, and the damp through her bad boots.  The more respectable of her companions had looked down upon her lately, only the worst remained her friends.  A certain recklessness had begun to show itself in Jenny, which gave her mother much uneasiness.

    She saw her father without surprise, and did not avoid him.

    "Goin' home, Jen?" he said, shortly.

    "Yes."  She looked up at him kindly.

    "Got your wages?"

    "Yes."  It was Saturday night.

    "Could you let me have sixpence, Jen?  I'm worse than usual tonight."

    "Come home and have something," said the girl, fearful of giving him money, and knowing nothing of what had been going on at home.

    "Not tonight, Jen.  I've seen your mother, and I'll put up with a friend of mine; but I want something badly."  And he coughed and put his hand on his chest.

    They had walked towards the entry of the house, and now stood in the passage, the girl took out her worn old purse, and was about to give him what he had asked for, when he suddenly snatched the whole.

    Jenny gave a cry, and stood still for a minute.

    She was not swift in her movements, and in that minute he had escaped.

    All her money was gone.  She could not buy herself a pair of new boots now, as she had intended.  And she had worked so hard during the week with that end in view.  With overtime, she had earned sixteen shillings.  The new boots were gone, and her food for the week was gone too.  How was her mother to provide it, and she, too, short of funds, for her own work had been slack?

    The more Jenny thought of it the more miserable she became, the more hopeless life seemed to her.  What was the use of working hard?  Jenny worked hard; but it was in spite of her natural temperament, which was indolent and soft.

    She stood and loitered about, and the darkness fell deeper and deeper.  At last she went out into the night.


 
CHAPTER V.


WHEN hours passed by and Jenny Crawford did not come home, her mother got into a state of considerable anxiety.  Such a thing had never happened with her girl before.  The place of business where she worked was a punctual one; but they had been very busy and working over-time lately.  Mrs. Crawford sent Bob to see if his sister had been detained there.

    The boy came back to say that the place was closed.  He had inquired of the policeman, and it had been closed for hours.  Her anxiety now became alarm.  Strangely enough, the image of her husband flashed into her mind, as connected with Jenny's disappearance, and her heart burned with bitterness against him.

    She put on her bonnet and went out to seek her, but where?  A gay companion of hers had left her parents and taken a lodging for herself; perhaps she had taken refuge with her?  Mrs. Crawford had already ascertained that her husband had been seen hanging about after he had left her.  She felt sure she had gone to her gay companion.  The mother shuddered as she thought of it.  She knew to what such companionship led.

    But Jenny was not there.

    She returned to the neighbourhood of her home, and roamed up and down wildly interrogating all the people about who had ever seen her child.  Her other children were left to take care of themselves, only Bob would not quit her side.  Wherever she went the boy went on that dreadful night.

    At length the streets began to thin.  It was twelve o'clock at night, and they came home once more to find that she had not returned.  Of all the miseries which had befallen Mrs. Crawford, none had equalled this.  Jenny was dearer to her than all her other children.  Jenny had been the comforter she had taken to her bosom before the child could speak at all, and the mother could not remember an unkind word that she had ever spoken, no, not one.  Her sweet, good, hard-used, pretty Jenny.  The mother's heart was wrung for her and wrung again, till it seemed, from the actual physical pain, that the blood must be spilling.

    It came upon her with the suddenness of an inspiration to go to Mercy.  She started up at once to obey it.

    She wanted Bob to remain at home this time; but the boy insisted, and again they went out together.  They had a good distance to traverse before reaching the Stone House, and when they did reach it, all was dark and silent.

    Outside the gate there was a bell, and Mrs. Crawford rung, but so ineffectually that nothing came of it.  Bob took it in hand next, and the peal went echoing through the house.  They could hear it in the silence where they stood.  Mercy slept lightly, and she rose and stepped to her chamber door.  There she met one of the servants coming down to her, and they consulted together.  It might only be some mischievous passer-by, some tipsy wayfarer.  They resolved to wait till it was repeated, dressing in the meantime, to be in readiness to go out and unlock the gate.

    Nor had they long to wait.  The peal was repeated, and Mercy, taking the key, went out, followed by her servant.

    And first they could hold a colloquy through the gate.  A woman stood there pressing her face against it.  "Have you seen my Jenny?" burst from her without preface.

    "Mrs. Crawford!" exclaimed Mercy.  "What is the matter?  Is Jenny lost?"

    "Lost! lost! lost!" broke from the mothers lips in agony.  "She is not here!  Oh, my girl is lost!"

    She was turning from the gate in her despair.

    "Stay," cried Mercy; "I may help you.  Tell me when she went away, and where you have sought her?"

    Mrs. Crawford shortly repeated the evening's history.

    Mercy had by this time unlocked the gate, and she now led Jenny's mother into the house, and made her sit down to consider what was to be done.  "Hadn't we better give information to the police?" she said.

    Anything Mrs. Crawford was willing to do.  "Anything," she whispered, hoarsely.

    So these three went forth into the night together to seek their lost.  To each policeman they met Mercy made Mrs. Crawford give a description of Jenny, and bade him, if he met such a one in his beat, beg her to go to Miss Baker at the Stone House.  That was thought best.

    "What are you afraid of?" asked one.  "Is it the river?"

    A new dread took possession of Mrs. Crawford.  Yes, it was likely enough Jenny might seek the river.  She was often sad.  Her mother had caught her weeping lately, and when asked what ailed her, she had answered, nothing.  Mercy and Mrs. Crawford sped on to the river through the midnight.  Then, for the first time, Mercy became acquainted with the sorrows of the streets.  Doleful creatures were abroad in the darkness and the solitude ― abandoned wrecks of womanhood, crouching down in corners as if to die; cruel revellers, returning to homes which they must desecrate; hapless children, asleep under railway arches, huddled together in a heap.

    At length, after they had performed a wide circuit, they parted company, baffled and exhausted, Mrs. Crawford to go home and watch till morning, and Mercy to return to the Stone House.

    It was very dark, indeed, just before Mercy's gate.  In going up to it, she stumbled against someone lying there.  Beyond the gravel walk and the shrubbery a light shone in one of the house windows.  It was Mercy's old servant sitting up for her.  Mercy rang, and brought her to the door, before she stooped to speak to this "one more unfortunate."

    The old woman advanced with her lamp.  Mercy took it and bent over the prostrate form.  It was that of a girl thinly clad.  A long shiver ran through her frame at Mercy's voice, but she kept her face covered with both her hands.  Something in the form, and in the colour and fall of the hair, struck Mercy, and she called out, "Jenny, is it you?"

    The girl groaned and shuddered.

    Mercy bent yet lower, and with gentle force removed the hands.

    It was she.

    "Jenny," said Mercy, "rise and come in.  We have been seeking you for hours."

    The girl rose and looked at Mercy as in a dream.  The lamplight fell upon her face.  It was ghastly white, and the dark eyes shone out of it like coals of fire.  She staggered against the gate.

    Mercy drew her within, and put an arm round her to keep her from falling till they got into the house.  A fire was burning in the kitchen grate, and by it Jenny was set and made to swallow some warm food.  But she seemed very sick and faint, and given to long shiverings.

    Where had she been?  Mercy tried to draw it from her gently.

    She had been nowhere, only wandering about.

    "And your mother," said Mercy; "had you no thought how you were vexing her?"

    Jenny burst into tears.  "I will go to her now," she cried, and rose and seemed unable to stand.

    "No, you cannot go; I will go myself" said Mercy.  But the servant interfered, with the freedom of an old friend.

    "No, indeed, ma'am," she said; "I'll put on my things in a minute, and go and tell the poor woman that you've found her."  And in a minute, she was down again wrapped in a thick blanket plaid, and lost no time in starting on her errand.

    Mercy kept Jenny sitting by the fire in the hope of chasing away the chill which was on her, and, as they sat, she drew her on to open her heart to her.  It was indeed the case that the poor child had sought the river, and had stood long looking at its black waters, stood till those shiverings seized her.  "But I couldn't do it," she said.

    "Thank God you could not," said Mercy.

    "And then," returned the girl, "I seemed to see you so clear just for a minute, and then I couldn't see you at all, and it came into my head that I would like to look at this place first.  And then I lost my way and wandered a long time; but at last I got into a street I knew, and came here and looked through the gate, and saw a light burning.  And then I saw you quite clear again, just as I saw you come into the room that night I took the half-crown.  You came in with a lamp and looked at us.  I wasn't asleep, though I pretended to be.  And I saw the light jump up and down, and my legs wouldn't hold me up any longer, so I sat down at the gate, and, oh, how I wished it would open and you would come out that I might tell you that I took that money!"

    "I feared you did, Jenny.  Oh, my child! have you asked God to forgive you?"

    "I couldn't," said Jenny.  "I needed first to tell you," she said, simply.  "May I go and fetch it?"

    "Fetch what?" said Mercy, anxiously.  The poor girl's cheek flamed now with the deepest crimson.  Mercy took her hand as she rose, and it was burning.  She feared her mind was wandering.

    "The piece of silver," she answered.  "It is in the school-room, under the skirting.  Let me go and find it."

    Mercy took up the lamp and led her to the school-room, all dark and silent.  Jenny looked round the once familiar room.  In a little while she saw what she wanted.  It was a paper-knife lying on Mercy's desk.  She took it and went with it to a particular spot, and knelt down with it there.  Mercy held the lamp, and saw her insert the knife between the skirting and the floor, and bring the piece of silver to light.  She picked it up and held it out to Mercy, who could not restrain her tears as she said, "Ah, Jenny, you too have been lost.  How I shall rejoice if this night should be the finding of you!  And I should not rejoice alone, you remember."

    She laid down the lamp, and Jenny clung to her, weeping.

    Mercy led her away, and put her to bed, and sat long beside her listening, for the girl talked much for once, listening to longings after God the Saviour, which had been quenched and stifled in that hard, unlovely life.  She listened, and ever between whispered the words of encouragement, and hope, and love.

    She was glad in the days that followed that she had sat by her so long, for in the days which followed Jenny was delirious with fever, and raved of endless seeking and never finding, and of a dark dreadful river, and a father whom she dreaded as a mortal foe.

    But at length she came back to consciousness, and back very slowly to life and hope of life.  She lay helpless as an infant, and it was when she lay thus, wholly depending on Mercy's care, that the latter felt sure of her great reward, sure that she had found her lost piece of silver.  The great beautiful eyes raised to hers in loving confidence were full of faith and hope.

    While she lay there, Mercy set a friend of hers to work to procure for Jenny's mother legal protection from her husband.  It was procured without difficulty or delay; for no sooner had he spent poor Jenny's earnings than he returned to prey upon his wife.  She had resisted him, and he had resorted to violence, and the neighbours had witnessed his brutal conduct.  Mrs. Crawford was freed from her tyrant, and her husband was an outcast in every sense.

    Jenny recovered, and left Mercy's roof once more for her own humble home.  Mercy would have kept her with her, for Rosy, her chief help and comfort, was engaged to be married to a respectable young tradesman who had sometimes worked at repairs in the old Stone House.  But Jenny's heart was set on home — on the toiling mother and the struggling children.  She would come to Mercy often, and show her grateful love in many ways; but the deep and strong affections, however they might overflow, would still keep the old channels full.  For the mother and the little sisters Jenny would have given her life, nay, this poor girl felt something of what the great apostle felt, though she would not have dared to utter it.  She felt that she could well-nigh wish herself accursed from Christ for the sake of her kinsfolk according to the flesh.  It did not cost her much, on her own showing, to be utterly self-denying and devoted towards her family; but Jenny went on to higher things, she began to develop a peculiar tender devotedness in seeking the lost.

    And she had opportunities.  Among those I whom Jenny had known as only gay and heedless girls, there were some who had fallen to the lowest depths to which women can fall.  With them Jenny would plead to return and sin no more.  She was not afraid of contact with their and their vice; they and it were too awful, too pitiful, to be enticing.  Honest poverty might have its trials, but what were they to the horrors which those unhappy ones had to endure — the shame and the cruel abuse, the suffering, the sorrow, the early death, the death in life.

    "I wonder you would speak to the like of us — you who go to church, and all that," one of them would say.  And the sneer would be met with the gentle answer, "If Christ had not come to seek and to save them that are lost, I might have been the same as you."  To them she would speak far more freely than she would to Mercy of the grace that had saved her.

    And if one urged yet more bitterly, "There is no returning; nothing on earth can ever make us what we were before; where is the use of trying to be good?" she would tell them of One who cared more for the sinner that repenteth than for the ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance; of the home where the prodigal was welcomed as a son, and not as a servant, and where the father says, "It is meet to be merry and be glad, for this my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found."  And some by her agency were lifted up-raised out of the very mire.  As far as their worldly circumstances were concerned, Jenny had little power to aid them; but she took them to Mercy, and dealing-with them one by one, Mercy found power to save all who were sent to her thus.

    As brand kindles brand in the burning, soul kindles soul.  This is the divine reason for all communion of men.  There are thousands of souls in whom the feeble spark is quenched, because no kindred fire was at hand to raise it into a flame; and there are thousands more who sit nursing a solitary flame, which scarce suffices for their own hearths, but which united would burst into a very conflagration of zeal and love.  Many were joined to Mercy in her work, whose spirits had been kindled by contact with her own.

    "It's a perfect nest of philanthropists," said an old lady, and a very worldly one, speaking of Mercy's neighbourhood, and speaking as if it was a nest of hornets.

    "So it is," said an old friend of Mercy's; "she has spread her influence on every side."

    "For Heaven's sake don't join with them," said the old lady; "but you won't, you're a sensible man, and philanthropy is humbug."

    "One hears that pretty often nowadays," said Mercy's friend.

    "And it is quite true," the old lady hastened to say.  "If every one helped their friends as they ought to do, there would be no need for philanthropists."

    "But what is to become of the friendless," was asked of her.

    And she was ready with her answer that nobody was quite friendless, except through his or her own fault; besides that they should help themselves, philanthropy only encouraged helplessness.  And she added, "philanthropists generally do with other people's money what they neglect to do with their own."

    And another took up the parable, and said, "Yes, philanthropy is altogether humbug, of that I feel quite convinced.  Women take to it for a pursuit, for a living, or for an excitement; men generally with some ulterior object, publicity, notoriety, a seat in Parliament, what not! If they are not humbugging other people, they are humbugging themselves, and doing a great deal of harm besides.  I have given up philanthropy."

    "Then you must go a little farther," said Mercy's friend, "and give up Christianity."  But Mercy's name had been mentioned, and he was far more anxious to defend that life of hers than to argue the general question.

    "There is Mercy Baker," he said, "she leaves no single duty undone.  She helps the helpless, but it is to make them help themselves.  Above all she spends and is spent herself."

    "Oh, well, Mercy is an exception you know," broke in most of the voices.

    "I'm afraid she is," was the reply.  But when people speak of the failure of philanthropy, either in their own experience or observation, I should like to ask if they had ever tried it, or even seen it tried.  Our philanthropy is a wretched ghost.  Its great things are, with one or two exceptions, a tradition, its very name, is dying.  Who now a days thinks of giving up all that he has to follow Christ?"

    Mercy had devoted herself and her substance wholly to the Lord; but so in her place had humble Jenny Crawford.  There are many who call themselves Christians nowadays, and who give themselves an immense deal of trouble to reconcile Christianity and modern life, as they say they need to be reconciled.  It must be very difficult indeed to do this for those who live and act as if the Christian religion were a religion of shams; as if the Sermon on the Mount was a mistake — the mistake of a noble-
hearted fanatic, who has deluded the world for nigh two thousand years.  For such as Jenny Crawford there is no such reconciliation wanted.  She would give to any one that asked of her, and if any one borrowed of her she turned not away.  It was easier for her, because she was poor.  Just so.  It was the same in Judea eighteen hundred years ago.

    And as, under the influence of her religion, Jenny Crawford's character developed, there grew in her an intense desire to find and to save her unhappy father.  He too, it might be, was as the lost silver.  He too might be brought to the light, lifted out of the mire of defilement, made bright, and pure, and good.  Might be.  If Jenny could not hope for him, how could she hope for herself!  He too was precious in the sight of God; he too had come out of the treasury of heaven, and thither again he might be restored.  A sense of the infinite value of every human soul had dawned upon this humble girl, giving all life a new and sacred meaning, with undimmed lustre.  And yet if any one had seen human nature at its worst, surely she had so seen it.  A gleam of the silver might shine out here and there in the spirit of the lowest and the worst; but there were others, among them her own father, in whom all was dark, and seemingly worthless and vile, in whom it might have seemed easier to work some miracle of bodily transformation, than to change the habits of their lives from evil to good; easier for the Ethiopian to change his skin, and the leopard its spots, than that they should put on the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.  But Jenny dwelt upon the beautiful parable of the silver, till out of it there shone the truth, that evil is not of man's real nature, that the lost silver, tarnished, alloyed, buried in the dust-heap, is silver still, and that he who sits as its refiner and purifier can make it shine.

    John Crawford had not been heard of for some time, and Jenny had been on the watch for him, just as she used to be on the watch in the old days, only with such a different purpose — with such different feelings.  At length one day she was returning home from the warehouse to which she had taken her finished work.  Her money — the money she had earned — was snug in her little purse, and she was going into the region of shops to buy a new dress for herself and one for her mother, which was to be a present, and an unexpected one.

    Jenny was thinking of the pleasant surprise awaiting the mother, and felt unusually light-hearted and happy; all the more light-hearted and happy, surely, because of her childlike faith in a world ruled and guided by a loving Father, when she saw a man stoop and lift a crust from the pavement and eat it greedily.  Jenny's heart was in her mouth, as the saying is, at once, and her hand was in her pocket as quickly.  A baker's shop was close at hand, and she hastened into it, and bought a two-penny loaf keeping her eye on the forlorn figure in the street.  As she did so, waiting for her change, the man turned his face towards her, and she recognised her father.  She hurried over and touched him on the arm.

    The man looked round, gaunt, lowering, famine-stricken.

    "Father," murmured Jenny, with her sweet pitiful voice, "father, are you hungry?"

    "Little else," he growled.  It was almost the voice of a beast.

    "Let me come with you, and get you something to eat — something comfortable," said Jenny.

    "With me — where?" he asked, in the same dull, dreadful tone.

    "Home," said Jenny.

    "Haven't got such a thing."

    "The place where you live," said Jenny.

    "That's the street, then," he answered.

    "You surely sleep somewhere," said the girl.

    "Didn't last night, at any rate."

    "You weren't out all night?" she whispered.

    "But I was.  They turned me away from the workhouse door.  The casuals were full.  They want me to come in altogether."

    "Better than this," said the girl, pleading.

    "I'll never do it while I live.  I'll die rather," he said, defiantly.  "What are you stopping alongside of me for?" he added.

    "I must help you, Father," said Jenny, looking up at him with swimming eyes.

    He looked at her, and something seemed to strike him.  It was the change in her from shrinking fear to protecting pity.  "You're not frightened for me now, Jenny.  I suppose you think I can't hurt you any more," he said, bitterly.

    "I was not thinking about that," said the girl, gently; "only I'm so sorry — oh, so sorry, for you, Father.  I didn't love you then, but I love you now."

    "I can't make you out, Jen," he murmured, "that I can't.  I spoiled your face for you, and your mother told me that I nearly drove you to do for yourself altogether the very last time I saw you.  Don't you bear me a grudge yet?"

    "No," said the girl simply; and repeated, "Father, I love you."

    "Me?" said the man.  Suddenly a light fell upon him, as from the opening of a walled-up window, out of which some hand had struck a stone.  "Me, Jenny?" he added.  "I'm a beast.  You go away, and leave me to die in the kennel; it's what I've deserved.  It won't be long, either.  I'm racked with pains.  The night afore last, when it rained so hard, I woke up on a bench in the park, and thought I was in hell."

    "Oh, hush!" she said, and laid hold of him.  "Come with me."

    She took him to the house of a poor widow, who had a spare bed to let, and paid for it a week in advance.  She knew him too well to trust him with money, but before she left him she saw him sit down to a meal of tea and bread and butter, and she gave the widow enough to provide him with food for a time.  Then she went home without the long-planned present, without what she had needed for herself, and with a terrible burden hung round her neck.  She had promised to provide for her father as far as she could, seeing that he was crippled by rheumatism in the hands.

    When Jenny told her mother what she had done, her mother said never a word.  Jenny's life of patient self-denial and perfect charity drove back the bitterness which was in her heart when it would have risen to her lips.  It was about to be driven even from its refuge there; for the wretched man fell into the torture of a rheumatic fever, and Jenny worked for him almost day and night, taking her work beside him, and snatching a little broken slumber on the floor beside his bed.

    And to save her when she was quite worn out, one night her mother asked leave to take her place, and the sick man assented, and there was tacit though unspoken forgiveness between them.  They named each the old familiar name, and held each other's hands a moment.  It was enough.

    One thing more was said by one, and assented to by the other — "Our Jenny's an angel."

    She was still "Our Jenny"—a sacred bond between them who felt that they would be united on earth no more.

    During the long illness which preceded the death of John Crawford (for the rheumatic attack ended in disease of the heart, and he lingered many months), his wife and daughter continued to support him in a humble but sufficient way.  And it was a strange and beautiful thing to see the man, though with faltering steps and slow, rise upward, trampling out the beast; to see the tarnish, black as that given by the fumes of sulphur, gradually rubbed from the silver, till there appeared upon it the image and superscription of the King.

    "Jenny," said her father one Sabbath near the end, when she had read to him the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke, "Jenny, I never would have believed it if you had not been so good to me after all I made you suffer.  If I had my life to do over again, I think I would be another sort of man.  I'm a deal worse than the prodigal there, for he did harm to himself mostly; and see what I've been to you, and to the mother: but if you've forgiven me so may He."


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