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Title: Her Benny - A Story of Street Life
Author: Hocking, Silas K. (Silas Kitto), 1850-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Her Benny - A Story of Street Life" ***

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http://www.freeliterature. (From images generously made
available by Europeana and the Bodleian Library of Oxford.)
"This etext edition of 'Her Benny' is dedicated to the
memory of Edgar, John and Kenneth Graham - three brothers
from Liverpool who made good."



HER BENNY.

A STORY OF STREET LIFE.


BY

SILAS K. HOCKING,

AUTHOR OF "ALEC GREEN," ETC.


ILLUSTRATED BY H. TUCK.


LONDON

FREDERICK WARNE AND CO.,

BEDFORD STREET, STRAND.



[Frontispiece: BENNY AND NELLY BATES IN THE HUT OF JOE WRAG.--_See p._ 30]



TO

My Bairns

(GOD BLESS THEM!)

THIS LITTLE BOOK IS DEDICATED

WITH MUCH

AFFECTION.



PREFACE.


My pastoral work, during a three years' residence in Liverpool, called
me frequently into some of the poorest neighbourhoods of that town,
where I became acquainted with some of the originals of this story.
It was not until I had seen the little Arabs of the streets in their
homes--if such haunts of wretchedness be worthy of that name--that I
felt that interest in, and sympathy for them, that I have experienced
ever since. Getting to know them in their homes, I was glad to stop
and speak to them in the streets, and give them a word of sympathy and
encouragement. They are not all bad, as many people seem to think.
Many of them try hard to earn an honest living, though they find it a
difficult matter, especially when at home they receive no encouragement,
while in the streets temptation is being continually put in their way by
those of whom "Perks" so justly complained.

The grouping of the characters that figure in the story is purely
fictitious, but not the characters themselves. Benny and little Nell,
Perks and Joe Wrag, Granny and Eva Lawrence, are drawn from life. I knew
them well. Some of them are alive to-day, others have gone to their rest.

For the interest my little story has awakened in both old and young,
in its serial form, I am rejoiced and thankful; and if, in the more
permanent and attractive style it now assumes, it shall awaken any
sympathy for the poor little waifs of our streets, I shall have my
reward.


SILAS K. HOCKING.

_October_ 21_st_, 1879.



CONTENTS

       I. Brother and Sister
      II. Addler's Hall
     III. Roughing it
      IV. A Friend in need
       V. "O Death! what dost thou mean?"
      VI. In which Benny makes a Discovery
     VII. Two Visits
    VIII. In which Joe Wrag has a Vision
      IX. Tempted
       X. In the Woods
      XI. Benny Prays
     XII. Fading away
    XIII. The Tide turns
     XIV. A Glimpse of Paradise
      XV. A terrible Alternative
     XVI. An Experiment
    XVII. Perks again
   XVIII. Adrift
     XIX. The Border-Land
      XX. Life at the Farm
     XXI. An Accident
    XXII. Recognition
   XXIII. The Question settled
    XXIV. The Reward of Well-doing



CHAPTER I.

Brother and Sister.

  Perhaps while in our glowing grate
    The cheerful blaze is rising higher
  There's some one sitting desolate
    Without a spark of fire.

  Oh, what are we, that God hath blessed
    Our winter homes and made them glad,
  While other hearts are sore distressed,
    While other homes are sad?


It was getting dark, though the Town Hall clock had only just
struck four. But a fog had hung all over Liverpool since morning,
and everything was as damp and dismal as it well could be; and now,
as evening came on, the fog had settled into a downright drizzle,
converting the streets into what seemed to Nelly Bates (who was
crouched in the shadow of St. George's Church) to be endless puddles.

"I wish Benny would come," said she to herself. "I wonder what has kept
him? He said he'd be here when the clock struck four."

And she wrapped her tattered clothes more closely around her, and looked
eagerly down Lord Street and up and down Castle Street. But no Benny
appeared in sight.

"I'm glad as how they's lightin' the lamps, anyhow. It'll make it feel a
bit warmer, I reckon," she went on, "for it's terrible cold. But Benny
won't be long now, nohow. I hope he's sold all his fusees."

And she looked wistfully at the unsold matches lying in her lap. Then,
after a pause, she went on again,

"I's had desp'rate bad luck to-day. I reckon the gen'lmen thinks it too
much trouble to take off their gloves to get at the coppers. I wonder if
they know what it is to be cold and hungry like me?"

And the child moved a little farther into the shadow of the church, to
escape the keen cold blast that swept up from the river.

Little Nelly Bates was a delicate-looking child, with a pale, thoughtful
face, and big, round, dreamy-looking eyes. She had none of that wolfish
expression that so often characterizes the street Arabs of our large
towns and cities; but, on the contrary, there was an air of refinement
about her that was difficult to account for. Poor little waif! Her own
mother she could not remember. She had only known a stepmother--a cruel,
drunken woman; and, alas! her father was no better. Almost as soon as
she could walk she had been sent into the streets with her brother
Benny, who was a year older, to get her living as best she could. Never
knowing a parent's love, the affections of these two children had gone
out to each other. Each to each was more than all the world beside. At
the time our story opens Nelly was nine years of age, and Benny, as we
said, a year older.

Still the minutes dragged along, and Benny came not. The 'busses were
crowded with people outside and in, wrapped in huge warm overcoats, and
all down Lord Street she watched the hurrying crowds bending their steps
homewards. And she tried to picture their cheerful homes, with great
blazing fires, and happy children running to greet them, and wondered
how none of them ever paused to notice her, shivering there in the
shadow of the church.

At length the great clocks all around began to strike five, and Benny
had not come; a sense of unutterable loneliness crept over the child,
and she began to cry. Besides, she was hungry and cold, and there was
a great fear in her heart that something had befallen her brother. The
last stroke of the Town Hall clock, however, had scarcely died away
when she heard the patter of bare feet around the corner, and the next
moment her brother, panting and breathless, stood before her.

"Oh, Nell!" he burst out, "I's just soft, I is. I's missed a hour in
the time. I never did think I was sich a fool. But can't be helped now,
nohow."

"I was afraid you'd got hurt, Benny; but I don't care now you're all
right," said Nelly, looking proudly at the flushed face of her sturdy
young brother.

"Me hurt? Oh, never fear! I knows how to take care of myself. But what
luck, Nell?"

"Bad, Benny, very bad. Nobody wanted matches to-day."

For a moment Benny was silent, then he burst out,

"By golly, Nell! what's us to do? You know what the guv'nor said when we
came away this morning?"

"Ay," said Nelly. "But 'ave you 'ad bad luck too?"

"Horful, Nell--simply horful!"

And for a moment the children looked at each other in blank dismay. Just
then a gentleman was seen crossing the street carrying a portmanteau.

"Here's a gent with a portmantle," whispered Benny to his sister. "I'll
try my luck! Foller me, Nell, as quick as you can." And off he darted
across the street.

"Carry yer bag, sir?" said he, stepping in front of the gentleman; and
there was something very appealing in his tone as he spoke.

The gentleman looked kindly down into the two honest-looking eyes that
flashed in the gaslight.

"What will you take the bag to the ferry for?" he inquired.

"For what you please to give," said Benny sturdily. "Times is bad at
present, and little chaps like us is glad to 'ave what we catches."

"Oh, that's it, is it? But I'm afraid this bag is too heavy for you."

"Oh, never fear," said Benny, as he got hold of the portmanteau. "I'se
'mazing strong, and I ken carry this like winkin'." And he trotted down
the street before the gentleman in a way that showed he was in earnest
about the matter.

The gentleman looked after the little fellow with an amused smile, but
volunteered no further remark.

Meanwhile little Nelly, who had become stiff and cramped with cold,
followed at a little distance, taking care, however, that Benny did
not get out of her sight. On reaching the bridge that led down to the
landing-stage, Benny turned round, and, seeing his sister behind,
shouted back,

"Stay here, Nell, till I come back--I'll be no time sca'ce." And down
the bridge he trotted, evidently glad that he was so near laying down
his burden.

"Woodside boat, sir?" said he, turning round to the gentleman.

"Yes, my lad."

"Here we is, then, jist in time." And down the gangway he went at a
sharp trot, and into the saloon, letting the bag down on one of the
seats with a thump. "There you be, sir. Couldn't a-been sarved quicker
by a bigger chap."

"All right, my little fellow," and he held out his hand.

Benny's eyes gleamed as he caught sight of something white between the
gentleman's finger and thumb.

"Be jabbers! it's a thrip'ny," was his mental soliloquy, as he eagerly
clutched the coin; and bowing his thanks as politely as he knew how,
he dashed up the gangway with the fleetness of the wind, muttering to
himself, "Shouldn't wonder if 't was a fo'penny, arter all." Standing
under a lamp, he took the coin out of his mouth and looked at it. "Oh,
glory!" he ejaculated; "if 't ain't haaf a bob. Murder and turf! this
are a catch!" And he turned two somersaults on the stage by way of
expressing his delight, unfortunately, however, planting his foot in his
second revolution in the stomach of a young gentleman who was hurrying
down to catch the boat.

The gentleman soon recovered his sudden loss of wind, though the dirty
footprint on his immaculate coat was not so easily removed.

"Beg pardon," said Benny, in a fright, and hurried away just in time to
escape a vigorous kick aimed at him by the infuriated young gentleman.
"My stars and stockings!" he soliloquized, as he hurried up the bridge
to join his sister. "If he 'ad a-catched me, I'd a-got a wolloping, an'
no mistake. Hallo, Nell! what's a matter?" he said, as he saw great
tears on the cheeks of his little crouching sister.

"I'se so cold, Benny--oh, so very cold!" sobbed the little girl.

"Never mind, Nelly, I'll soon get yer warmed up. Look here, I'se got
haaf a bob, and a good warming into the bargain. Now for a roast tater,
my gal, and you'll feel as right as ninepence."

And, taking his sister by the hand, they hurried away at a quick trot,
lessening their pace only when they were quite out of breath, and Nelly
declared she was quite warm.

"Here's the tater man," said Benny; "now for't, my gal. Pennorth o'
taters--hot, plaise, an' a good sprinkle o' salt," said Benny, with
quite an air of importance.

"All right, my young gent, 'ere you are;" and the man put three
moderate-sized potatoes into Benny's outstretched palms.

"Now for old Joe's fire, Nell, where the roads is a-mendin';" and once
more they hurried away at the same quick trot.

In the next street they caught sight of the glowing grate of Joe Wrag,
the night watchman, and of Joe himself, sitting in the doorway of his
little wooden hut.

"You ax him, Nell," whispered Benny; "he winna say no to you."

"May we eat our taters by your fire, Joe?" said the plaintive voice of
little Nelly, as she placed her tiny hand on the fence, on which a red
light was burning.

"What dost 'a say, little woman?" said Joe, in a rough though not
unkindly voice.

"May we eat our taters by your fire, please--Benny an' me?"

"Ay, ay, my little 'arties. Come along, I'll make room for 'e here;" and
honest old Joe moved aside to make room for the little waifs who sought
shelter from the biting cold.

"By golly, Nell!" said Benny, as he felt the grateful warmth of the
fire, and dug his teeth into the potato, "ain't this sumpshus?"

"Ay, Benny," was all the child's answer, as she greedily devoured the
two potatoes that Benny had insisted was her share.

Then there was silence between them for awhile, and Joe went out and
heaped more fuel on the grate, while Nelly kept her eyes steadily
fixed on the fire. What did the child see as she gazed into its glowing
depths? For ever and anon a sweet smile played around the corners of her
mouth, and spread over her pale thoughtful face, lighting it up with
a wonderful beauty, and smoothing out the lines of care that at other
times were only too visible.

Meanwhile Benny was busily engaged counting his money. Fourpence he
laid aside for the purpose of purchasing stock for the morrow's sale, a
penny he had spent in potatoes, and still he had threepence to the good,
besides the sixpence the gentleman gave him, which was clear profit. The
sixpence was evidently a great prize to him, for he looked at it long
and earnestly.

"Wish I could keep it for mysel'," he muttered; "but it's no go--the
guv'nor will 'ave to 'ave it. But the coppers I'll keep 'ginst bad
times. Here, Nell," he said, nudging his sister, "you keep these 'ere
coppers; and then if the guv'nor axes me if I has any more, I can tell
him no."

"All right, Benny." And again the great round eyes sought the glowing
grate, and the sweet smile played over her face once more.

"What are 'e looking at, Nell?" said Benny, after a pause. "You look as
'appy as a dead duck in a saucepan."

"Oh, Benny, I see such beautiful pictures in the fire. Don't you
'members on fine days how we looks across the river and sees the great
hills 'way behind Birkenhead, such miles an' miles away?"

"Ay, I 'members. I'll take 'e across the river some day, Nell, when I'se
richer."

"Will 'e, Benny? I shall be so glad. But I sees great hills in the fire,
an' trees, an' pools, an' little rivers, an' oh! such lots of purty
things."

"Queer!" said Benny. "I don't see nowt o' sort."

Then there was silence again, and Joe--who had been to see that the
lamps at each end of the torn-up street were all right--came up.

"How are 'e now, my 'arties? Are 'e warmer'n you was?"

"Ay, Joe, we's nice now," said Nelly; "an' we's much 'bliged to you for
lettin' us come."

"Oh, ye're welcome. But ain't it time you was to home?"

"What's o'clock?" said Benny.

"Seven, all to a minit or so."

"Ay, then, we must be off," said the children in chorus; and wishing Joe
good night, they darted off into the wet, cold street, and disappeared
in the gloom.

"Purty little hangel!" said Joe, as he stood looking up the street long
after they had disappeared. "I wonder what will become o' her when she
grows up?"



CHAPTER II.

Addler's Hall.

                           The whole court
  Went boiling, bubbling up from all the doors
  And windows, with a hideous wail of laughs
  And roar of oaths, and blows, perhaps.... I passed
  Too quickly for distinguishing ... and pushed
  A little side door hanging on a hinge,
  And plunged into the dark.
                        --Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


On the western side of Scotland Road--that is to say, between it and
the Docks--there is a regular network of streets, inhabited mostly by
the lowest class of the Liverpool poor. And those who have occasion to
penetrate their dark and filthy recesses are generally thankful when
they find themselves safe out again. In the winter those streets and
courts are kept comparatively clean by the heavy rains; but in the
summer the air fairly reeks with the stench of decayed fish, rotting
vegetables, and every other conceivable kind of filth.

The children, that seem to fairly swarm in this neighbourhood, are
nearly all of a pale, sallow complexion, and of stunted growth. Shoes
and stockings and underclothing are luxuries that they never know, and
one good meal a day is almost more than they dare hope for. Cuffs and
kicks they reckon upon every day of their lives; and in this they are
rarely disappointed, and a lad who by dodging or cunning can escape this
daily discipline is looked upon by the others as "'mazin' cute."

To occupy two rooms is a luxury that only comparatively few families
indulge in. Why should they pay rent for two rooms when one will answer
the purpose? "We know a trick worth two o' that," is their boast. And so
year by year they bid defiance to all law and authority.

The police rarely, if ever, venture into this neighbourhood alone, or if
one should be foolish enough to do so, he has generally to pay dearly
for his indiscretion. House agents and policemen are objects of special
aversion.

A friend of ours, some years ago, came into considerable property in
this neighbourhood, and employed a young man who was new to the work
to collect the rents for him. On entering the first house the agent was
confronted by a big, villainous-looking man, who demanded in a surly
tone what he wanted.

"I am come for the rent," said the agent.

"Oh, you have, have you?" was the reply.

"Yes."

"Ah! Did anybody see you come in?"

"No."

And instantly seizing a huge poker and waving it in the air, he shouted
to the affrighted agent, with a terrible oath, "Then I'll take care
nobody ever sees you go out."

This had the desired effect, and the terrified agent escaped for his
life. At the next house at which he called he was received very blandly.

"So you have come for the rint, have you?"

"Yes, that is my business."

"Ah, yes, indeed, very proper. Could you change a five pun' note, now?"

"Oh, yes."

"That will do." Then raising his voice to a loud pitch, he shouted,
"Mike, come down here; there's a chap that 'as five pun' in his pocket;
let's collar him--quick!"

And a second time the affrighted agent fled, and gave up the situation
at once, vowing he would never enter any of those streets again while he
lived.

It was to this neighbourhood that Benny Bates and his sister wended
their way, after leaving old Joe and his warm fire. Whether the
lamplighter had neglected his duty, or whether some of the inhabitants,
"loving darkness rather than light," had shut off the gas, is not
certain; but anyhow Bowker's Row and several of the adjacent courts were
in total darkness.

This, however, seemed no matter of surprise to Benny and little Nell,
who wended their way without difficulty along the rough, ill-paved
street. At length they turned up a narrow court, darker and dirtier even
than Bowker's Row, which went by the name of "Addler's Hall." About
half-way up this court they paused for a moment and listened; then,
cautiously pushing open a door, they entered the only home they had ever
known.

Much to their relief, they found the house empty. A lump of coal was
smouldering in the grate, which Benny at once broke up, and soon a ruddy
glare from the fire lighted up the dismal room.

The furniture consisted of a three-legged round table, a chair minus
a leg, and a three-legged stool. On the window-sill there was a glass
bottle with a candle stuck in the neck, and under the stairs there
was a heap of rags and shavings, on which Benny and his sister slept.
A frying-pan was suspended against the wall near the fireplace, and
several cracked cups and saucers, together with a quart mug, stood on
the table. The only other article of furniture was a small cupboard in
a corner of the room close up to the ceiling, placed there, no doubt, to
be out of the way of the children.

Drawing the chair and the stool close up to the fire, Benny and his
sister waited the return of their parents.

Outside, the wind moaned and wailed, and whistled through the keyhole
and the chinks in the door, and rattled the paper and rags with which
the holes in the window were stopped. And as the children listened they
shivered, and drew closer together, and nearer the fire.

"By golly!" said Benny, "this 'ouse is like a hair-balloon. I wish as
how we could keep the wind out."

"You can't do that, Benny; it creeps in everywheres."

"Are 'e cold, Nell?"

"No, not very; but I's very hungry."

Just then an uncertain step was heard in the court outside, and the next
moment their stepmother staggered into the room.

"Now, out of the way, you brats," was her greeting, "while I cooks your
faather's supper."

And without a word they got out of her way as quickly as possible, for
they saw at a glance she was not in the best of humours. They were
pleased to see, however, that she had brought with her a loaf of bread,
some butter, and several red herrings, and so they were hopeful that for
once they would get a good supper.

The supper was not quite ready when their father came in, flushed and
excited.

"Where's the brats?" was his first angry exclamation, glancing round the
room.

"There," said his wife, pointing under the stairs, where the children
were crouched.

"Come out here, you young vermin; quick! do you hear?"

And the frightened children came out and stood before him.

"Have you brought me that sixpence that I told yer? For, if you
ain't," said he, scowling at Benny, "I'll loosen yer hide for yer in
double-quick time."

"Ay," said the little fellow, producing the sixpence, "'ere it are."

"Is that all you've got?"

Benny shot a quick glance at his sister before replying, which, however,
did not escape his father's eye.

"Ay," he said, stoutly; "I ain't got no more."

"You lie, you villain!" roared the father; "fork it out this moment."

"I tell yer I ain't got none," said Benny. Nelly was about to speak
here, but a glance from her brother silenced her.

"Will you fork it out?" said the father again.

"No," was the reply.

In a moment Dick Bates had taken the leather strap from his waist, and
without mercy rained blow after blow upon the head and shoulders of his
child.

At first Benny bore the blows without shrinking and without uttering a
cry; but this only the more aggravated the inhuman father, and faster
and more furious fell the blows, till the little fellow shrieked with
pain and begged for mercy. But there was no mercy in the father's heart,
and still the blows fell, till little Nelly, unable longer to bear it,
rushed in between her father and brother, saying, "You shall not beat
Benny so."

"Oh, you want it too, do you?" roared he. "Then take that, and that, and
that."

"Faather," said Benny, "will you strike Nell?"

The question for a moment seemed to stagger him, and he looked down upon
the pleading face of his suffering child, and into those great round
eyes that were full of pain and tears, and the hand that was raised to
strike fell powerless to his side, and with a groan he turned away.

What was there in the face of his little daughter that touched this
cruel, besotted man? We cannot tell. Perhaps he caught a glimpse in that
sweet face of his early love.

It is said that he loved his first wife dearly, and that while she
lived he was tolerably steady, and was never unkind to her. He even went
with her to the house of prayer, and listened to her while she read the
Bible aloud during winter evenings. These were happy days, but when she
died all this was changed; he tried to forget his trouble in drink, and
in the companionship of the lowest and most degraded men and women.

Then he married again, a coarse drunken woman, who had ever since led
him a wretched life; and every year he had become more drunken and
vicious.

If he yet loved anything in the world, it was his "little Nell," as he
always called her. She was wonderfully like her mother, the neighbours
said, and that was doubtless the reason why Dick Bates continued to love
her when all love for everything else had died out of his heart.

He had never treated her before as he had treated her to-night; it was a
new experience to the child, and for long after she lay on her heap of
shavings with dry eyes and hot cheeks, staring into vacancy.

But when the last spark of fire had died out, and her father and
stepmother were asleep in the room above, turning to her brother, who
was still awake, she said,

"Put your arm about me, Benny, will yer?"

And Benny put his arm around his little sister, and pressed her face to
his bosom. And then the fountain of the child's tears was broken up,
and she wept as though her heart would break, and great sobs shook her
little frame, and broke the silence of the night.

Benny silently kissed away the tears, and tried to comfort the little
breaking heart. After awhile she grew calm, and Benny grew resolute.

"I's not going to stand this no longer," he said.

"What will you do, Benny?"

"Do? Well, I dunno, yet; but I's bound to do some'at, an' I will too."

After awhile he spoke again. "I say, Nell, ain't yer hungry? for I is. I
believe I could eat a grave-stun."

"I was hungry afore faather beat me, but I doesna feel it now," was the
reply.

"Well, I seen where mother put the bread an' butter, and if I dunna fork
the lot I's not Ben Bates."

"But how will yer get to it, Benny?"

"Aisy 'nough, on'y you must 'elp me."

So without much noise they moved the table into the corner of the room
underneath the cupboard, and placing the chair on the top of the table,
Benny mounted the top, and was able to reach the cupboard without
difficulty.

A fair share of the loaf remained, and "heaps of butter," Benny said.

"Now, Nell," said he, "we'll 'ave a feast."

And a feast they did have, according to Benny's thinking, for very
little of either loaf or butter remained when they had finished their
repast.

"What will mother say when she finds out?" said Nelly, when they had
again lain down.

"We must be off afore she wakes, Nell, and never come back no more."

"Dost 'a mean it, Benny?"

"Ay do I. We mun take all our traps wi' us i' t' morning."

"Where shall us go?"

"Never fear, we'll find a shop somewheres, an' anywheres is better nor
this."

"Ay, that's so."

"Now, Nell, we mun sleep a bit, 'cause as how we'll 'ave to be stirring
airly."

And soon the brother and sister were fast asleep, locked in each other's
arms.



CHAPTER III.

Roughing it.

  Ne'er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!
    The river glideth at his own sweet will:
  Dear God, the very houses seem asleep;
    And all that mighty heart is lying still.
                           --Wordsworth


Next morning Benny was stirring early, and when the first faint rays of
the coming day peeped through the dust-begrimed and patched-up window,
they saw the little fellow busily engaged in gathering together what
things he and Nelly possessed previous to their final departure from
home.

Nelly still slept on, and several times the brother paused and looked
fondly down upon the fair face of the sleeping child. She looked very
beautiful, Benny thought, as she lay sleeping there, with a pink spot
glowing on either cheek, and the long flaxen hair thrown carelessly back
from the pale forehead. Once or twice she murmured in her sheep, and the
same happy smile spread over her face that he had noticed the evening
before when she sat gazing into Joe Wrag's fire.

"I wonder what she's a-dreamin' on?" he murmured to himself. "Perhaps
she sees the hills and flowers and trees agin."

Then he set to work again turning over a heap of rubbish that had been
pushed as far back as possible under the stairs. At length a joyful
exclamation burst from his lips as he came upon a small heap of potatoes.

"Here's a fortin', an' no mistake; Nell and I'll be able to walk off the
lot."

And he brought them out into the room, and wrapped them up in an old
handkerchief that his stepmother used to tie round her head when she
went out. There were scarcely twenty potatoes altogether, but to Benny
they seemed almost an inexhaustible supply.

This being done, he sat down beside his sleeping sister and waited until
he should hear any movement in the room above. Gradually the cold grey
light of the morning stole into the room, revealing all its squalor and
dinginess, and Benny felt that he and Nelly would have to make their
escape soon, or else they might be prevented. He felt very loth to awake
his sister, she slept so sweetly, and he did not know where they might
find a shelter when darkness covered the earth again. But there was no
help for it. His father might awake any moment, and the neighbours would
soon be stirring in the court and in Bowker's Row. So bending over her,
he pressed his lips upon her brow: still she moved not.

"Nelly," he whispered, "it's time to be movin'."

Slowly the great round eyes opened, and looked languidly up into his
face.

"Come, stir your pegs, Nell, or we'll be too late."

"Oh, ay," she said, as the recollection of the previous evening came
back to her. "We 'as to be off to-day, ain't we?"

"Ay, my gal, we's goin' on our own 'ook now, so look alive."

"Does yer think we's doin' right, Benny?"

"'Course we is, Nell; I'll take care o' yer, never fear."

Thus reassured, she followed Benny silently out of the house and into
Bowker's Row; then seeing that no one was about, they set off at a quick
trot in the direction from whence they had come the previous night.

Nelly had the utmost confidence in Benny's sagacity, and though she had
doubted for a moment whether they were doing the wisest thing in the
course they were taking, yet she had little doubt that her brother would
be equal to every emergency, and that he would find her a home of some
sort. And the child had a vague, undefined feeling that they could not
be worse off, whatever might happen. To see her Benny punished as she
had so frequently done of late was "pain and grief" to her: not only had
he suffered the pinchings of cold and hunger during the day, but he had
been compelled to bring home a certain amount every night, or else take
the consequences of her father's senseless anger.

And as the child thought of these things she could not wonder that Benny
had resolved to run away and seek a home somewhere else. But what of
herself? She had on the whole been much better treated, and she thought
perhaps her father did not well know what he was doing last night, as
he was in drink. Ought she, then, to run away? "Ay, but I canna leave
Benny," was her mental response; and having settled that question,
she seemed perfectly satisfied to share the fortunes of her brother,
whatever they might be, and help him as best she could to fight the
battle of life.

As for Benny, he had no qualms of conscience about the matter. He had
never heard the command,

"Honour thy father and thy mother," and even if he had, it would not
have troubled him on the present occasion. He had a feeling that he had
been wronged, cruelly wronged, and that he ought not to stand it any
longer. Once the question had crossed his mind, "Had he any right to
take those potatoes?" But he answered the question to himself by saying,
"Ain't I brought home a haaf a bob every night for th' week, an' then
bin kep' without supper? By jabbers, I's paid for those taters, and I'll
eat 'em." Moreover, his notions of right and wrong were of the vaguest
character. He had some dim recollection of his mother, and how she used
to tell him it was wrong to steal, and to tell lies, and to cheat. But
the more he tried to recall it, the vaguer the recollection became. Yet
sometimes when he was tempted to steal, and would look around to see
that no one was watching him, a voice within him would whisper, "Don't,
Benny, it is wrong to steal," and he would turn away with a sigh,
feeling that there was something in that voice that he dared not disobey.

In after years he held firmly to the belief that his own mother was
permitted to be the guardian angel of his childhood, and that it was
she who whispered to him when he was tempted to do wrong. He has
also been heard to say, that though he regarded it as very wrong for
children, under ordinary circumstances, to leave their home without
their parents' consent, yet in his case he thought his action perfectly
justifiable.

But we must leave this question, with the hope that none of the children
who read this story may be driven by cruelty and wrong to a similar
course of action, and must follow the little waifs as they threaded
their way through the dingy streets that cold December morning. Their
object was to reach Joe Wrag's fire before his watch ended, and in this
they were successful. Joe was standing before his hut, rubbing his hands
over the still glowing grate, though Benny noticed that the fire was
burning low.

"We's brought some taters from hum, may we cook 'em on yer fire, Joe?"
said Benny, putting on as bold a face as he could. Joe looked at the
children for a moment without speaking.

"Please do, Joe, like a good man," chimed in Nelly's plaintive voice.

"Come along with yer, then. But how are 'e out so airly?"

"Lots o' bisness on hand," was Benny's prompt reply.

"There's some'at up wi' you youngsters, I reckon. But yer not goin' to
eat all these taters at once, are yer?"

"Oh, no!" said Benny, "we on'y want two apiece, and we want you to keep
the rest till we comes agin."

"Very likely story," said Joe, gruffly. "Where's yer bin stealin' 'em
from?"

"Oh, nowheres, Joe," said Nelly. "We bringed 'em from hum, we did, for
sure."

"Well, ain't that a-stealin' on 'em?"

"No!" said Benny stoutly. "I's tooked 'em hum a haaf a bob every night
for t' week, and they b'longs to me."

Joe shook his head dubiously, as if not certain of the soundness of
Benny's logic, but made no further reply. He, however, gave his aid
to the children in cooking their potatoes, which were soon done to a
nicety, and even gave them a piece of bread, the remains of his own
morning's repast. Thus fortified, the children were soon ready for the
duties of the day.

Their first business was to go into Park Lane and get in a stock of
matches for the day's sale; this done, they separated and went their
different ways, agreeing to meet in the shadow of St. George's Church at
twelve o'clock, and at four, to report progress.

Nelly's stand was near the junction of Lord Street, Church Street,
Paradise Street, and Whitechapel, going occasionally as far as the
"Sailors' Home." Benny, on the other hand, waited about near the
landing-stage, selling his matches if he could, but at the same time
looking out for an opportunity of carrying some gentleman's bag.

But to-day Benny had another object in view, and that was to discover,
if possible, some place where he and his sister might sleep when night
came on. He knew of a place where, for the payment of a penny each, they
might sleep in a cellar on some dirty straw amongst a lot of rough boys.
But somehow Benny shrank from introducing his sister to such company as
there assembled night after night. He must find some place where they
could be alone, if possible, though he felt that that would be no easy
matter.

The day was beautifully fine, with a clear frosty sky, and both Benny
and his sister carried on a brisk sale in fusees, and when they met at
noon they were in high spirits over the proceeds of the day. Still Benny
had found no place as yet where to spend the night.

During the afternoon, however, his attention was directed to some
sailors who were caulking a boat not far from the George's Dock. The
boat he noticed was turned bottom upward, and that it had one end stove
in; evidently it had had rough handling somewhere. And besides this,
Benny noticed that there was a large quantity of hemp and tow on which
the sailors were kneeling while at their work. Several times during the
afternoon he took a look at the sailors, and when at length he saw them
lift up the boat and push the tow underneath, his mind was made up.

"Stunnin'!" he ejaculated; "I b'lieve we is in luck's way to-day.
Couldna have bin better if it wer' a-made for us."

Punctually at four o'clock the children were at their trysting-place.
They were both in high spirits, for their profits were larger than they
had been for many a day past. Benny especially was in high glee, for he
had the prospect of a comfortable lodging-place for the night, without
any fear of his father's fury, and was consequently eager to communicate
his discovery to Nelly.

"Golly, Nell," was his greeting, using his favourite expression, "it's a
heap too cold to stick in one place. Let's off into Park Lane and git a
feed; we can 'ford it to-night."

And off they started, hand in hand. The place to which they directed
their steps was not the most select, the character of the customers
being of no consequence, so long as the money was forthcoming. This fact
was well known to Benny, so he entered, leading his sister by the hand,
without any trepidation. It was a long narrow room in which they found
themselves, with several small tables placed at regular intervals down
the sides. A bright fire was burning in the farther end of the room,
near which Benny took his seat, requesting that "two penny loaves might
be brought, and a pennorth of cheese."

They remained as long as they felt they dared do so, then again sought
the wintry streets. But the keen frosty air made them long for shelter,
and once more they sought the glowing grate of honest Joe Wrag. The
old man seemed pleased to see them, and made room for them in his hut,
though he said little. Oh, how the fire glowed and crackled in the keen
frosty air, revealing to little Nelly Bates scenes of wondrous beauty!
And as Joe watched her face glowing in the firelight, he muttered to
himself, "Purty little hangel; I hopes she'll grow up good, or--or
die--ay, or die!"

It was after eight o'clock when they left Joe's warm hut, for Nelly had
pleaded so hard to stay that he could not deny her request. She seemed
to be twining herself around the old man's heart in a wonderful manner,
and but for his fury of a wife he would have taken her to his own home
when it became known to him that the children were homeless.

It did not take them long to reach the boat; and having satisfied
themselves that they were not noticed, they crept underneath in a
"jiffey," as Benny would have expressed it.

"Brimstone and treacle!" said Benny, as he put his hand on the large
heap of tow; "ain't this sumpshus? We'll be as snug as Jonar 'ere."

"Ay, Benny, this is fine."

"Let's shut out all the daylight fust, Nell, an' then the cold won't git
in."

Thanks to the abundance of tow this was not difficult, and soon the
children were cuddled in each other's arms, feeling warmer than they had
felt for many a night past. It was a long time, however, before they
could get to sleep. To Nelly especially was it strange. And thoughts too
deep for them to express kept crowding into their minds, keeping them
wide awake.

At length, however, a feeling of drowsiness began to creep over them,
and they were just dropping off to sleep when they were startled by a
footstep near them, and a hoarse voice muttering, as if in anguish, "O
Death, what dost thou mean?"

For a moment the children clutched each other in terror; then they heard
the footsteps dying away in the distance, and their confidence returned
again.

"Who could it be?" said Nelly.

"A bobby, I 'specks," said Benny; "but he ain't catched us, so we's safe
'nough now."

For awhile after they lay listening, but no other footsteps disturbed
them, and soon balmy sleep stole over them, sealing their eyelids, and
giving rest to their weary little heads and hearts.



CHAPTER IV.

A Friend in Need.

  Friendship, peculiar boon of heaven
    The noble mind's delight and pride;
  To men and angels only given,
    To all the lower world denied.
                     --Samuel Johnson.


The experiences of Benny and his sister during the next day were but
a repetition of what we recorded in the last chapter; but during the
second night they found the shelter of the boat but a poor substitute
for a home, and in the morning they were stiff and cramped through
lying so long in one position; and when they paid Joe Wrag their third
morning visit, the old man noticed that all was not right with them.
Nelly especially was gloomy and depressed.

Joe Wrag was generally a silent man, and not given to asking many
questions; but when he saw great tears in Nelly's round eyes as she
sat gazing into the fire, he felt that he must know what was troubling
the child, and help her if he could. He had also a dim suspicion that
they had not been to their home of late, and he wondered where they
could have spent their nights; and, like Benny, he dreaded the idea of
little Nelly congregating with young thieves and vagabonds, and felt he
would rather a thousand times the child should die than that she should
grow up to be a wicked woman. So after reflecting for some time, and
wondering how he should best get at the truth, he burst out suddenly
with the question,

"When were you last to hum, eh?"

For a moment there was silence, and Benny looked at his sister as much
as to say, "That's a poser; we're in for it now."

"Come, now," said Joe, seeing their hesitation, "let's 'ave nowt but
truth; out wi' it, an' it will be best in the end."

"You tell 'im, Nell," said Benny, "'cause he'll b'lieve you."

So Nelly, in her sweet pleading voice, told him all the story of Benny's
wrong, and of her father's cruelty, and how even she herself had not
escaped his anger.

"And did he beat you, my purty?" said Joe, clenching his fist tightly at
the same time.

"Ay, Joe; but I dunna think he know'd what he were a-doin'."

For a few moments the old man's face worked as if in pain. Then he
muttered to himself, "Some'at must be done, an' no mistake; but what?
Eh, what?" Then he looked at the children again. "Don't yer think you'd
better go to hum again to-night?" he said; and he watched eagerly for
the effect of his question. Nelly was the first to speak.

"Oh, no," she said; "we should get it worse nor ever. Dad would a'most
kill Benny." And the tears welled up into her eyes again.

"I's not goin' to risk it," said Benny stoutly. "I's 'ad hidin's enough
to last me a lifetime."

"Ay, ay," said Joe. "I wonder, now----" And he looked reflectively into
the fire.

"What are 'e a-wonderin' on?" queried Benny.

But Joe was silent. He had evidently got hold of some idea which he was
trying to work out. At length he looked up and said,

"Now, away with yer, an' come here again this ev'ning at six o'clock.
D'ye hear?"

"Ay, ay," was the response; and away they bounded, leaving Joe alone to
his meditations.

Joe remained some time after they were gone in one position, scratching
his head most vigorously, and would doubtless have remained much longer
had he not been disturbed by the men who had come to their work, and
who set him at liberty from his watch until darkness should again come
down upon the earth. Joe walked leisurely to his home as if burdened
with some great thought, ate his morning meal in silence, and then went
to bed, and lay tossing for full two hours ere he could find a wink of
sleep.

Joe Wrag had been for many years a complete enigma to a number of
well-meaning people, who had become much interested in this silent and
thoughtful man, and were anxious to know more about him than he cared
to reveal. Several "town missionaries" had tried to make something out
of him, but had utterly failed. He had never been known to enter a
house of prayer, and whether in the matter of religious knowledge and
belief he was a heathen or a Christian was an open question; and yet,
notwithstanding this, he lived a life that in many respects was worthy
of the imitation of many who made greater professions.

Indeed, to be strictly accurate, Joe Wrag never made any profession
whatever of any kind, and yet he was as honest as the day, and as true
as steel. Honest, not because "honesty was the best policy." Nay,
policy never entered into his thoughts; but he was honest because he
could not be otherwise. His _soul_ was honest; and as for lying, he
loathed it as he would loathe a viper. Nothing could tempt him to be
untruthful. In fact, he recoiled as if by instinct from everything mean
and deceitful. What teaching he had received, or what influences had
surrounded him during his early life, we have never been able to gather.
He kept himself mostly to himself, and was silent about the past. Year
by year he moved along the even tenour of his way, ever ready to do
a kindly deed when opportunity presented itself, but never thrusting
himself where he felt he might not be wanted. He had a perfect horror of
appearing to be better than he really was; and it was thought that that
was his chief reason why he never made any profession of religion.

About three o'clock Joe got up, and after partaking of a substantial
meal, wended his way to the neighbourhood of Copperas Hill. After
turning several sharp corners, he found himself in a small court
containing about half a dozen houses. Before one of the doors he paused
for a moment, then raised his stick, and gave a sharp rat-tat-tat. The
door was instantly opened by a woman who had evidently reached her
threescore years and ten. Yet she appeared hale and strong for her age,
and though poorly, was yet tidily attired.

"Well, ye are a stranger," was her greeting. "I'm verra glad to see 'e,
though."

"An' I'm glad to see you, Betty."

"Well, come tha in. What's i' tha wind?"

"Nowt much, Betty; but what thar is consarns you as much as me."

"Well, out wi' it, Joe," said Betty, as soon as Joe had seated himself.
"No trouble, I 'ope?"

"No, not that I knows on; but could 'e make room 'ere for a couple o'
lodgers--little 'uns, mind you--children, on'y 'bout so high?" holding
out his hand.

"Well, what an idear, to be sure! What are ye a-dreamin' on?"

"Your old man," said Joe solemnly, "was my mate for mony a year, an'
a good man he wur; an' if from that fur-off country he can see what's
doin' 'ere, he'd be mightily pleased for 'e to do, Betty, what I'm
a-axin' o' yer."

"But I dunno that I quite understand," said Betty; "explain your meanin'
a bit more."

And Joe, in a solemn voice, told the story of little Nell and her
brother Benny. "It mebbe, Betty," he said, "they're the Lord's little
'uns. I'm none o' the Lord's mysel'. I've tried to find 'im; but He
winna be found o' me. I'm none o' the elect. I've settled that for
more'n twenty year now. But if these bairns are the Lord's, we mustna
turn 'em away."

"All bairns are the Lord's," said Betty; but Joe only shook his head,
and sat gazing into the fire.

Before he left, however, it was settled that a bed should be made for
the children in the corner under the stairs, which would be near the
fire also. For this they were to pay a penny per night.

"We mustna make paupers o' them, you know, Betty," was Joe's remark.

It was also agreed that she should do what washing and mending the
children's clothes needed, for which they were to pay also, if they
could afford it. "If not," said Joe, "I'll make it square wi' you,
Betty."

Punctually at six o'clock the children put in an appearance at Joe's
hut. They had had but poor luck during the day, and Benny did not feel
nearly so courageous as he had felt two days before. The prospect of
sleeping night after night underneath a boat was not so inviting as
he had imagined it would be; besides, there was the fear that their
hiding-place might be discovered, and that even this poor shelter might
be taken away from them at any time.

He did not confide his fears to Nelly; he felt that it would be cruel
to do so; and she--whatever she may have felt--never uttered a single
word of complaint. She knew that "her Benny" had enough to bear, and she
would not add to his burden.

Benny had been very much puzzled at Joe Wrag's manner in the morning,
and had wondered much during the day "what he 'ad been a-turnin' over in
his noddle." He was desperately afraid that Joe would try to persuade
him and Nelly to return to their home, or even insist upon their doing
so; and rather than do that, he felt that he would lose Joe's friendship
and warm fireside into the bargain.

Joe was looking very abstractedly into the grate when they came up
to the fence, and for a moment they watched his rugged face with the
firelight playing upon it. But Benny, who could read his father's face
pretty cleverly, declared to himself that "he could make nowt out o'
Joe's."

As usual, Joe made room for Benny in his little hut; but to-night he
took little Nelly very tenderly on his knee, and stroked her long flaxen
hair with his hard rough hand, muttering to himself the while, "Purty
little hangel; I reckon she's one o' the Lord's elect."

Benny wondered for a long time when Joe was going to say something that
he could understand; but somehow to-night he did not like to disturb him
by asking questions. Nelly, on the contrary, was far away again from the
cold and dingy streets, and the ceaseless roar of the busy town, and
was wandering in imagination through sunny meadows where the turf was
soft and the grass was green. She fancied she heard the music of purling
streams, and the songs of happy birds in the leafy trees that waved
their branches over her. The air was fragrant with the scent of flowers
that she had heard of, but never seen, and weariness and cold she felt
no more.

The voice of Joe banished the beautiful vision from the glowing grate,
and the child wondered if ever it would become a reality--if ever she
would dwell amid such scenes in a life that had no ending.

"I've some'at to say to 'e, my dears," was Joe's first exclamation; and
the children looked up into his face, and wondered what was coming next.
"I've found a hum for 'e, and a reet good 'un, an' ye'r to go to-night."

"Oh, scissors!" shouted Benny; and he ran into the street, and had
turned two somersaults ere he knew what he was doing; then stood on his
head for at least five seconds by way of cooling off, and what other
performances he might have gone through I cannot say, had not Joe called
him into the hut.

Little Nelly said nothing; she only nestled closer to her benefactor,
and Joe felt great scalding tears dropping upon his hand, and knew that
her heart was too full for her to speak. Then he told them all about
their new home, and what would be expected of them, and how he hoped
they would be good and kind to the old woman, and always be honest and
truthful, and then when they died they might go to the good place.

"Does folks go somewheres when they die?" said Benny, with a look of
astonishment.

"Ay, Ben, that they do."

"Oh, beeswax and turpentine!" he ejaculated, "that are a go!"

But Nelly's face grew luminous, and her eyes fairly sparkled, as she
faintly grasped the idea that perhaps her dreams might come true after
all.

They had no difficulty in finding their way to Tempest Court, or in
discovering the house of Betty Barker. The old woman gave them a rough
though kindly welcome, and Benny was soon at his ease. Their bed in
the warm corner under the stairs was, to use Benny's phrase, "simply
sumshus;" and next morning when they appeared before Joe, it was with
faces glowing with gladness and delight.



CHAPTER V.

"Oh, Death! what does thou mean?"

  To sleep! perchance to dream;--ay, there's the rub;
  For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
  When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
  Must give us pause.
                             --Hamlet


We must now go back to the morning when Benny and his sister left their
home, and pay one more visit to "Addler's Hall." Dick Bates got up in
the morning with a splitting headache, and, if the truth must be told,
with an aching heart. His sleep had been disturbed by horrid dreams,
the recollection of which haunted him still, and made him feel anything
but comfortable. He had dreamt that he had been working near the docks,
and in going close to the edge of one of them he saw his two children
rise to the surface of the water clasped in each other's arms; and while
he looked at them, they opened their glassy eyes and cast upon him one
lingering, reproachful glance, then sank to the bottom again. Twice
during the night had this dream been repeated, and when he awoke in the
morning it was with a vague fear of impending evil. Dick Bates, like
many other hardened and cruel men, was at heart a great coward, besides
being very superstitious. He listened several times for any movement
downstairs, but all was still; and this only increased his alarm, for he
knew his children were in the habit of stirring early, and he saw by the
light that the morning was far advanced.

We may judge, therefore, of his alarm when, on coming downstairs, he
found the room empty, and he thought, with a terror in his heart that
made the perspiration ooze from his forehead, that perhaps his children
had been driven by his cruelty to put an end to their existence.

He tried to banish the thought as weak and childish, but he could not;
his nerves were completely unstrung to-day, and he did not seem at
all himself. When his wife came down he sent her into the neighbours'
houses, and into Bowker's Row, to inquire if any one had seen them. But
everywhere the same answer was given: no one had either seen them or
heard them. His wife characterized his fears as "bosh," and declared "he
wur wuss nor any owd woman. The brats'll turn up agin to-night, never
fear," she said; and Dick sincerely hoped in his heart that they would
do so. He was too late to get any work that morning, so he spent most
of the forenoon in the house, brooding over his fears. And while he sat
there on the low stool with his face buried in his hands, memories of
other and happier years crowded in upon his brain. His boyhood life in
the country seemed to him now, as he looked back at it through a long
vista of years, like a happy dream. And he was glad that his old father
and mother were dead, and did not know how low he had fallen.

Then he thought of the morning when he had led his first young bride to
church, and of the few short years of happiness that had followed. He
remembered, too, the promise he had made her on her dying bed--that he
would take care of the children, and meet her in heaven. Alas! how he
had belied those solemn words! He had not cared for his children, he
admitted to himself with shame; but, on the contrary, he had cruelly
neglected them, had behaved towards them as the veriest brute. And now
perhaps they were dead--driven to death by his cruelty.

Then other thoughts took possession of him. "If they're dead," he said,
"they are better off: what is there to live for? Better for 'em to die
now than to grow up to be like me an' Sall."

Then he began to wonder what dying meant. "If I wur sartin," he said,
"that there wur nowt arter death, I'd die too." And he got up and walked
about the room; after awhile he sat down again, and buried his face in
his hands once more. "Mary used to say," he mused, "that bad people went
to a bad place an' was tormented for ever; but that if we was good, an'
trusted in the Saviour, we should go to 'eaven an' be 'appy for ever.
And poor owd father and mother used to say t' same. I remembers it very
well! Ah me, I've nearly forgot all sense o' it, though."

And thus he mused hour after hour, heedless that his wife swore and
raved that "the brats had eat all the butter, and walked off all the
taters."

When, however, he was made to comprehend this fact, he became less
concerned about his children, and a little before noon he started off in
search of work. But all the afternoon he was gloomy and depressed, and
instead of going to a public house, as was his wont when the day's work
was done, he set off home, much to the surprise of his mates, who grew
warm in a discussion as the evening advanced as to what "'ad a-comed
over Dick Bates."

From seven to nine he sat in his own desolate home alone, for his wife
was in no humour to keep him company, and every patter of feet in the
court made him start and look eagerly towards the door, in the hope that
he would see it open, and his children enter; but the door did not open,
and his children never came.

"I wouldna a-minded so much," he said, "if I hadna a-wolloped poor
little Nell;" and he vowed with a terrible oath that "he would treat 'em
better in t' future, if he ever had the chance."

But when the clock in the steeple not far away struck nine, he started
up, muttering to himself, "I canna stand this: I wonder what's comed to
me? If 't bairns would come home, I reckon I'd be all right." But the
bairns did not come, and he started out to get a glass, to help him to
drown remorse.

His mates tried to rally him, but they had to confess that it was "no
go;" and when at eleven o'clock he left them at the corner of the
street, and once more directed his steps towards Addler's Hall, they
touched their foreheads significantly to each other, and whispered it as
their opinion "that Dick Bates was a-goin' wrong in his noddle, and was
above a bit luny."

When he reached his home, he opened the door with a beating heart. All
was silent, save the heavy breathing of his wife in the room above.
He went to the dark corner where his children slept, and felt with
his hands; but the bed, such as it was, was empty, and with a groan he
turned away and hid his face in his hands. And again his past life came
back to him more vividly than it had done for years.

"I mun go an' look for 'em," he said. "I shall see 'em floating in one
o' the docks, as I did last night in my dream." And with a feeling
of despair in his heart he wandered forth again into the now almost
deserted streets.

As we have before stated, it was a clear frosty night; not a single
cloud obscured the myriad stars that glittered in the deep vault
of heaven. And as Dick Bates wandered under the light of the stars
along the long line of docks, no one would have believed that this
anxious-faced man was the brutal drunkard that only on the previous
night punished his unoffending children without mercy.

Was it God that was working in his heart, bringing back to him the
memories of other years, and awaking within him better thoughts? Who
shall say it was not?

Still on he went, starting continually as he fancied he saw something
white on the dark still water. "How nice it would be," he muttered, "to
sleep for ever! to be free fra the worry an' trouble." But how could he
know that death was endless sleep? Might it not be, as his Mary said it
was, the beginning of a life that should never end? He was now near the
boat under which his children lay. It was his footstep that startled
them just as they were dropping off to sleep. It was his voice that
muttered the words, "O Death! what dost thou mean?"

How near father and children had come to each other! but neither knew of
the other's presence: then they drifted apart again, to meet no more on
earth. There were only a few small vessels in the next dock, and all the
lights were out.

"There they be, sure enough," said Dick, as something white, floating on
the surface of the water, caught his eye, and he went close up to the
edge of the dock, forgetful of the fact that the huge damp coping stones
had, by the action of the frost, become as slippery as glass. He had
scarcely planted his foot on one of the huge stones when it slipped from
beneath him; a piercing shriek rang out on the startled air, followed by
a plunge, a gurgling cry, and the cold water closed over him.

A moment later a pale agonized face gleamed up from the dark water, a
hurried prayer floated up on the cold frosty air, "Saviour of my Mary,
save me!" then the water closed over him again. Two other times, at
longer intervals, Dick Bates' agonized and horror-stricken face appeared
for a moment on the surface; then the ruffled waters grew smooth, hiding
in their dark bosom the dead body of Richard Bates, whose soul had been
so suddenly called to its account.

The next day the dead body was dragged to the surface, and conveyed
to the dead-house, where it was claimed by his wife. An inquest and a
funeral followed, of which Benny and little Nell never knew. And it
was well, perhaps, they did not. The knowledge would have been pain to
the little waifs, and they had already as much trouble as their little
hearts knew how to bear.



CHAPTER VI.

In which Benny makes a Discovery.

  All unseen the Master walketh
    By the toiling servant's side;
  Comfortable words He speaketh,
    While His hands uphold and guide.
                           --Baynes.


Christmas Day this year came upon a Wednesday, and, during the two days
preceding it, Benny did what he characterized as a "roaring bizness."
There were so many people leaving and arriving by all the ferry-boats
and at all the stations, that our hero was kept on the trot nearly all
the time. His frank open face seemed to most people, who had a bag or a
bundle to carry, a sufficient guarantee of his honesty, and they hoisted
their bag upon the little fellow's shoulder without any fear that he
would attempt to pry into its contents, or make off with it round some
sharp corner.

For a time the "match business" was turned over entirely to Nelly's
management; and though the modest little girl never pushed her
wares--she was too shy for that--yet Benny declared she did "stunnin'."

Many a gentleman, catching just a glimpse of the pale sweet face as he
hurried past, would turn to have another look at the child, and, without
taking any of her fusees, would put a penny, and sometimes more, into
the little thin hand. And Nelly would courtesy her thanks, unable to
utter a word.

Benny declared "he liked Christmas-time 'mazin' well, and wondered why
folks didn't have Christmas a sight oftener than once a year." How it
was that coppers were so much more plentiful at this time of the year
than at any other time was to him a mystery. Poor little fellow! the
thought never seemed to enter into his small head that it might be that
people's hearts were more open at this festive season than at some
other times. However, Benny was not one that speculated long on such
questions; he only wished that people were always as ready to have their
bags carried, and always gave their pence as ungrudgingly. Once or
twice he felt a bit sad, and brushed away a hasty tear, when he saw boys
no bigger than himself wrapped up in great warm overcoats, and beautiful
little girls with fur-trimmed jackets and high-heeled dainty boots,
clasped in the arms of their parents as soon as they stepped from the
ferry, and then hurried away to a cab or to a carriage in waiting--and
then thought of his own cheerless life. "I specks they's mighty 'appy,"
he said reflectively, and then hurried away to the other end of the
stage, where he thought he saw the chance of employment.

On Christmas Eve Benny took his sister through St. John's Market, and
highly delighted they were with what they saw. The thousands of geese,
turkeys, and pheasants, the loads of vegetables, the heaps of oranges
and apples, the pyramids of every other conceivable kind of fruit, the
stalls of sweetmeats, the tons of toffee, and the crowds of well-dressed
people all bent upon buying something, were sources of infinite pleasure
to the children. There was only one drawback to their happiness, and
that was they did not know how to lay out the sixpence they had brought
with them to spend. If there had been less variety there would have been
less difficulty; but, as it was, Benny felt as if he would never be able
to decide what to buy. However, they agreed at last to lay out twopence
in two slices of bread and ham, for they were both rather hungry; and
then they speculated the other fourpence in apples, oranges, and
toffee, and, on the whole, felt very well satisfied with the results of
their outlay.

It was rather later than usual when they got home, but old Betty knew
where they had gone, and, as it was Christmas Eve, she had got a bigger
fire in than usual, and had also got them a cup of hot cocoa each, and
some bun loaf to eat with it.

"By golly!" said Benny, as he munched the cake, "I do wish folks 'ud
'ave Christmas ev'ry week."

"You are a cur'us boy," said the old woman, looking up with a smile on
her wrinkled face.

"Is I, granny? I specks it's in my blood, as the chap said o' his timber
leg."

The old woman had told them on the first evening of their arrival, when
they seemed at a loss what name to give her, to call her granny; and no
name could have been more appropriate, or have come more readily to the
children's lips.

"But could folks have Christmas any oftener if they wished to?" asked
little Nell.

"In course they could, Nell," burst out Benny. "You dunna seem to know
what folks make Christmas for."

"An I thinks as you dunno either, Benny."

"Don't I, though?" he said, putting on an air of importance. "It's made
to give folks the chance of doing a lot o' feeding; didn't yer see all
the gooses an' other nice things in the market that the folks is going
to polish off to-morrow?"

"I dunna think it was made purpose for that. Wur it, now, granny?"

Thus appealed to, the old woman, who had listened with an amused smile
on her face, answered,

"No, my child. It's called Christmas 'cause it is the birthday of
Christ."

"Who's He?" said Benny, looking up; and Nelly's eyes echoed the inquiry.

"Don't you know--ain't you never heerd?" said the old woman, in a tone
of surprise.

"Nay," said Benny; "nothin' sense. Some o' the chaps says 'by Christ' as
I says 'by golly'; but I never knowed He was somebody."

"Poor little dears! I didn't know as how you was so ignorant, or I
should have told you before." And the old woman looked as if she did not
know where or how to begin to tell the children the wonderful story, and
for a considerable time remained silent. At length she said, "I'll read
it to 'e out o' the Book; mebbe you'll understand it better that way nor
any way else."

And, taking down from her shelf her big and much-worn Bible, she opened
it at the second of St. Matthew, and began to read in a tremulous
voice,--

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the
king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying,
Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in
the east, and are come to worship Him."

And slowly the old woman read on until she reached the end of the
chapter, while the children listened with wide-open and wondering eyes.
To Nelly the words seemed to come like a revelation, responding to the
deepest feeling of her nature, and awakening thoughts within her that
were too big for utterance. Benny, however, on the contrary, could see
nothing particularly interesting in the narrative itself. But the art of
reading was to him a mystery past all comprehension. How granny could
see that story upon the page of her Bible was altogether beyond his
grasp. At length, after scratching his head vigorously for some time, he
burst out,--

"By jabbers! I's got it at last!--Jimmy Jones squeeze me if I ain't!
It's the specks that does it."

"Does what?" said Nelly.

"Why, the story bizness, to be sure. Let me look at the book through
your specks, shall I, granny?"

"Ay, if you like, Benny." And the next minute he was looking at the
Bible with granny's spectacles upon his nose, with a look of blank
disappointment upon his face.

"Golly! I's sold!" was his exclamation. "But this are a poser, and no
mistake."

"What's such a poser?" said granny.

"Why, how yer find the story in the book; for I can see nowt." And Benny
looked as disappointed as if he had earned nothing for a week.

By much explaining, however, granny enabled him to comprehend in some
vague way how the mystery was accomplished; and then arose within the
heart of the child an unutterable longing to understand this mysterious
art fully, and be able to read for himself--a longing that grew in
intensity as evening after evening he tried, by granny's help, to master
the alphabet. In fact, it became a passion with the lad, and many an
hour in the weeks and months that followed he spent gazing at the
placards on the walls, and in trying to explain to the other Arabs that
gathered around him the meaning of the mysterious characters.

Benny was naturally a sharp lad, and hence, though his opportunities
were few, his progress was by no means slow. Sometimes he startled Joe
Wrag by spelling out a long word that he had carried in his head the
whole of the day, and asking its meaning. Long words had an especial
fascination for him, and the way he brought them out in all sorts of
connections was truly amusing.

Nelly manifested no desire to learn to read. If ever she thought about
it, it was only to regard it as something infinitely beyond her
capabilities; and she seemed content to remain as she was. But if she
could get granny to read to her a chapter out of St. John's Gospel,
she seemed to desire no higher pleasure. She would sit with a dreamy
far-away look in her half-closed eyes, and the smiles that old Joe Wrag
loved to see would come and go upon her face like patches of spring
sunshine chasing each other across a plain. She never said very much,
but perhaps she thought all the more. To honest Joe Wrag she seemed as
if ripening for a fairer country, and for a purer and nobler life. Not
that she ailed anything. True, she had a little hacking cough now and
then, and when she lay asleep a pink spot would glow on either cheek;
but nothing more than that.

"Speretual things," mused Joe Wrag one night, as he sat in the door of
his hut looking into the fire, "are speretually discerned, an' I b'lieve
that child 'as rale speretual discernment: she looks a mighty sight
deeper than we thinks she do, that's my opinion. I should like to get
howld o' all that passes through her purty little noddle, the little
hangel--bless her! As for the boy, 'e's a little hanimal. I reckon
the passons would call him a materialist. I don't b'lieve 'e b'lieves
nothing but what 'e sees. No speretual insight in 'im--not a bit. P'raps
he's like me, don't belong to the elect. Ah, me! I wonder what the likes
o' us was born for?"

And Joe went out, and heaped more fuel on the fire by way of diverting
his thoughts from a subject that was always painful to him. But when he
came back and sat down again, and the fire before him blazed up with
fiercer glow, the thoughts returned, and would not be driven away.

"Bless her!" he said. "She sees in the fire only woods, an' meadows,
an' mountains, an' streams; an' I only see the yawning caverns o' hell.
An' to think I must burn in a fire a thousan' times bigger an' hotter
than that for ever and ever without a single moment's ease; scorching
on every side, standin' up or lyin' down, always burnin'! No water, no
light, no mercy, no hope. An' when a million million years are past,
still burning, an' no nearer the end than at the beginnin'. Oh, how
shall I bear it--how shall I bear it?"

And big drops of perspiration oozed from his forehead and rolled down
his face, testifying to the anguish of his soul.

"I canna understand it--I canna understand it," he went on. "All this
pain and suffering for His glory. What kind o' glory can it be, to bring
folks into the world doomed aforehand to eternal misery? to give 'em
no chance o' repentance, an' then damn them for ever 'cause they don't
repent! O Lord a mercy, excuse me, but I canna see no justice in it
anywhere."

And once more Joe got up and began to pace up and down in front of the
fire; but the thoughts would not leave him. "'Whom He did foreknow,'" he
went on, "'them also He did predestinate.' Mighty queer, that a Father
should love a part o' His fam'ly an' hate the rest. Create 'em only to
burn 'em for ever an' ever! An' what's the use o' the burnin'? That
bangs me complete. If 't was to burn away the dross an' leave the metal,
I could understand it. I think sometimes there's jist a bit o' the right
stuff in me; an' if hell would burn up the bad an' leave the good, an'
give it a chance of some'at better, there 'ud be more justice in it,
seems to me. But what am I a-saying? It shows as how I'm none o' the
elect, to be talking to myself in this way. What a wicked old sinner I
be!"

And once more Joe sat down with a jerk, as if he meant to say, "I'm not
going to be bothered with such thoughts any more to-night." But alas! he
found that thoughts would come, whether he would or no.

"Pr'aps," he said, "we don't know nowt about it, none o' us. Mebbe God
is more marcyfuller than we think. An' I'm sadly banged about that
'makin' an end o' sin;' I don't see as how He can make an end o' sin
without making an end o' the sinner; an' whiles there is millions sich
as me in hell, there'll be no end to neither on 'em. I'm sadly out in my
reck'nin' somewheres, but 'pears to me if there was no sinners there 'ud
be no sin; an' the way to rid the univarse of sinners is to get 'em all
saved or kill 'em outright."

Much more to the same effect Joe Wrag turned over in his mind that
night, but we must not weary the reader with his speculations. Like many
other of God's children, he was crying in the darkness and longing for
light. He had found that human creeds, instead of being a ladder leading
up into the temple of truth, were rather a house of bondage. Men had
spread a veil before the face of God, and he had not courage to pull it
aside. Now and then through the rents he caught a ray of light, but it
dazzled him so that he was afraid there was something wrong about it,
and he turned away his face and looked again into the darkness. And yet
the night was surely passing away. It wanted but a hand to take down the
shutters from the windows of his soul, and let the light--ay, and the
love of God that surrounded him, like a mighty ocean--rush in. But whose
hand should take down the shutters? Through what agency should the light
come in? Let us wait and see.



CHAPTER VII.

Two Visits.

  Tell me the story slowly,
    That I may take it in;
  That wonderful redemption,
    God's remedy for sin.
  Tell me the story simply,
    As to a little child;
  For I am weak and weary,
   And helpless and defiled.
                 --Hankey.


One clear frosty evening early in the new year two little figures
might have been seen threading their way along Old Hall Street, in
the opposite direction to the Exchange. It had not long gone five,
and numbers of clerks and warehousemen were crowding into the street
and hurrying in the direction of their several homes. But the little
figures dodged their way with great skill through the crowded street,
still holding each other by the hand and keeping up most of the time a
sharp trot.

After pursuing a straight course for a considerable time, they turned
off suddenly to the right into a less frequented street. Then they took
a turn to the left, and then again to the right. It was very evident
they knew the streets well, for they wound in and out, now right, now
left, without the least hesitation.

At length they reached a street where all was darkness, save where
here and there the flickering rays of a candle struggled through the
dirt-begrimed window. This was Bowker's Row, and Benny and his sister
paused for awhile before venturing into the darkness.

For several days their little hearts had been aching with curiosity
to visit once more their old home. They had no wish to be seen, and
as for living again in Addler's Hall, that was altogether out of the
question. Still, they were filled with a curiosity that they could not
resist to peep at the old spot once more, and ascertain, if possible,
how far their father and stepmother were pleased or otherwise with their
disappearance.

They had talked the matter over for several nights as they lay in each
other's arms in the warm corner under Betty Barker's stairs. They
admitted that there were difficulties, perhaps danger, in paying such
a visit; but at length curiosity became too strong for them, and they
resolved to risk it.

With Nelly, too, there was something more than curiosity.
Notwithstanding his drunken habits and his cruelty to Benny, she loved
her father, for there had been times when he had made much of her,
and called her "his little Nell." Perhaps she did not love her father
very deeply. In comparison to "her Benny," he occupied indeed a very
third-rate place in her affections. Still he was her father, and now
and then he had been kind to her, and hence he was more to her than a
stranger, and her little heart longed for one more sight of his face.
They did not wait long at the end of Bowker's Row. Ascertaining that
the coast was tolerably clear, they darted up the street, and without
any one recognizing them, turned into Addler's Hall. From the window of
their late home a feeble light struggled, which satisfied them that the
house was not empty.

"Take care," said Benny to his sister, "an' don't make no noise if yer
can 'elp it."

"Right you are," whispered his sister, and with silent footfalls they
glided up to the door and listened.

From within came the sound of voices, but they were the voices of
children--strange voices, too, they were.

And Benny looked at his sister and whispered--

"By golly! this are a go. The owd folks 'ave flit, that's sartin."

"Can yer get a peep through the winder, Benny?" said Nelly, with a
white, startled face.

"Dunno, but I'll try;" and try he did, but without success.

"Brimstone!" he whispered, scratching his head; "what's us to do? Oh, I
'ave it," he said at length. "Come 'ere, Nell. I's 'mazin' strong, an' I
can lift you 'igh 'nough to get a peep."

And, taking his sister in his arms, he managed, not without considerable
difficulty, to enable her to look through the window and get a glimpse
of the inmates of the room.

"Do 'e know 'em, Nell?" said Benny, after he had lifted her down very
carefully.

"No, I dunno who they is; I've never seen 'em afore."

"Well, then, we'll ax 'em." And without further ado he pushed open the
door.

There were four hungry and neglected-looking children in the room,
the oldest of them about the same age as Benny. They looked up with
questioning eyes at the intruders, but said nothing.

"Does you live 'ere?" said Benny, putting on a bold face.

"Ay," was the response from all together.

"How long?" said Benny.

"Week afore last," answered the oldest lad.

"Where's the folks as lived 'ere afore you comed?"

"Dunno."

"Ain't you ever heerd?"

"Ay, we've heerd."

"Where is they, then?" queried Benny.

"Childer is drownded."

"Golly! are that so?" and there was an amused twinkle in Benny's eye as
he put the question.

"Ay," was the response; "we's heerd so."

"Where's their faather?" was Benny's next question.

"Dunno," said the biggest lad.

"Ain't you heerd?"

"Ay, we 'ave."

"Where is he, then?"

"Well, faather says he's gone to Davy Jones, but I dunno where that are."

"Nor I too," said Benny, scratching his head. Then he looked at the
oldest lad again.

"Did the man's missus go wi' him, does yer know?" he inquired.

"Never heerd nothing 'bout 'er," said the lad.

"An' yer knows nothin' more 'bout 'em?"

"No, nothin'."

"Mich 'bliged," said Benny, with an air of importance. And taking Nelly
by the hand, he walked out of the house.

He hardly knew whether he was most pleased or disappointed with his
visit, so he said nothing to his sister until they had left Bowker's
Row behind them, and got once more into the region of gaslight. Then,
turning to his sister, he said,

"What does yer think o' it now, Nell?"

"P'r'aps father's mended, and 'as gone to live in a better 'ouse," was
the quiet reply.

"Mos' likely," said Benny, and again they trudged on in silence.

At length they paused in front of a chapel that abutted close on to the
street. A few people were dropping in quietly one after another, and
Benny wondered what they did inside. He had never been inside a church
or a chapel; they were most of them so grand, and the people that went
were dressed so well, that he had concluded long since that they were
not for such poor little chaps as he. But this chapel was anything but
grand-looking, and the people who were going in did not look very smart,
and Benny began to wonder if he might not dare take a peep inside.

While he was speculating as to what he had better do, a gentleman who
had been standing in the vestibule came out, and said in a kindly voice,

"Well, my little ones, would you like to come inside?"

"May us?" said Benny, eagerly.

"Oh, yes," was the reply; "we shall be very glad to see you, and there
is plenty of room; come this way."

And without a word they followed him.

"Here," he said, pushing open a green baize door, "I will put you in my
pew; you will be nice and comfortable there, and none of my family will
be here to-night."

For a few moments the children hardly knew whether they were awake or
dreaming; but at length they mustered up sufficient courage to look
around them.

The place they thought was very large, but everything felt so snug and
warm that they almost wished they could stay there all night. Still the
people dropped in very quietly and orderly, until there were between
two and three hundred present. Then a gentleman opened the organ and
began to play a voluntary; softly at first, then louder, swelling out in
rich full tones, then dying away again, like the sighing of a summer's
breeze; anon bursting forth like the rushing of a storm, now rippling
like a mountain rill, now wailing as a child in pain; now rushing on as
with shouts of gladness and thanksgiving, and again dying away like the
wind in far-off trees.

Nelly listened with open mouth and wondering eyes, oblivious to
everything but the strains of music that were floating all around her.
And Benny sat as if transfixed.

"By golly!" he whispered to Nelly, when the piece was ended, "if I ever
heerd sich music as that afore. It's made me cold all over; seems to me
as if some one were pouring cold water adown my back."

But Nelly answered nothing; her attention was attracted to a gentleman
that stood alone on a platform with a book in his hand. Nelly thought
his voice was strangely musical as he read the words,--

 "Jesus, lover of my soul,
    Let me to Thy bosom fly,
  While the nearer waters roll,
    While the tempest still is high.
  Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
    Till the storm of life be past;
  Safe into the haven guide:
    Oh, receive my soul at last."

Then all the people stood up to sing, and the children thought they had
never heard anything half so sweet before. Great tears welled up in
Nelly's brimming eyes and rolled down her cheeks; though if any one had
asked her why she wept, she would not have been able to tell.

Then followed a prayer full of devout thanksgiving and of earnest
pleading. Then came another hymn--

 "Would Jesus have a sinner die?
    Why hangs He then on yonder tree?
  What means that strange expiring cry?
    Sinners, He prays for you and me:
  Forgive them, Father, oh! forgive;
    They know not that by Me they live."

And once more the congregation stood up to sing. Nelly was even more
affected than during the singing of the previous hymn, and while they
sang the last verse--

 "Oh, let me kiss His bleeding feet,
    And bathe and wash them with my tears,
  The story of His love repeat
    In every drooping sinner's ears,
  That all may hear the quick'ning sound,
    Since I, even I, have mercy found,"--

she fairly broke down, and, hiding her face in her hands, she sobbed
aloud.

She soon recovered herself, however, when the preacher began to speak.
Clear and distinct his words rang out:--

"Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,
and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and
to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

And Nelly eagerly drank in his words as he went on to tell how we were
all wanderers from our Father's house; and how the Father's heart
yearned towards us, and how He had invited all to return home, giving
the same invitation to every one of His children, and promising an
abundant pardon to all that would come. And then he told, by way of
illustration, the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son, and concluded
with an earnest exhortation to all the unsaved to come to the Saviour
that very night, and to come just as they were.

Nelly felt that she would very much like to "come to the Saviour," but,
alas! she did not know how. And when she saw several persons leave
their pews and kneel around the communion, she wondered if they were
"prodigals going home to the Father."

But what of Benny? Alas! if Joe Wrag had seen him that evening, he would
have been more than ever convinced that he was none of the elect, and
that he had not one particle of spiritual discernment. The words of the
preacher seemed to have a very soothing influence upon our hero, for
scarcely had he uttered twenty words of the sermon ere Benny was fast
asleep. Nor did he wake again till near the end of the service, when he
was startled by a strange voice speaking.

It was one of the men that Nelly had noticed kneeling at the communion.
The man stood up, and with a face radiant with his new-found joy, he
said, in broken accents,

"Oh, friends, thank the Lord for me, for I have found the Saviour!"

Evidently he intended to have said more, but, overcome by his emotion,
he sat down and hid his face in his hands.

"I'm glad the chap found 'im," said Benny to his sister, as they hurried
homeward, "for he seemed desp'rate cut up 'bout it."

But Nelly did not answer, she was too full of what she had seen, and
heard, and felt, to speak.

The next evening, long before service-time, they were waiting around the
chapel door, and when at length the door was opened, they were welcomed
by the same gentleman that had spoken to them the previous evening, and
put into the same pew. And once more was Benny delighted with the music,
and once more was he soothed to sleep by the sermon.

But not so Nelly. As the preacher explained that wonderful text, "For
God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life,"
she seemed to see more clearly what the preacher meant on the previous
night. And while he dwelt on the word "whosoever," she felt that she was
included in this invitation of mercy. In fact, it seemed to her as if a
great deal the preacher had said had been for her special benefit, and
that for _her_ the Saviour had provided a home more beautiful than any
of the pictures she had seen in Joe Wrag's fire.

As they were leaving, near the close of the service, a young gentleman
placed his hand on Benny's shoulder, and said,

"Well, my little man, I hope you have found the Saviour."

"Lor' a massy!" said Benny, with a look of surprise upon his face,
"are that little chap lost agin? He can't be well looked arter, that's
sartin."

"You don't understand," said the young man; "but perhaps I should have
asked if the Saviour has found you?"

"Not that I knows on," said Benny stoutly. "Nobody finds me, I finds
myself."

"Dear me!" said the young man, "you mistake my meaning altogether."

"Does I?"

"Yes, my little fellow. But I will talk with you again some other time,
when there is more time."

"Will yer?"

"Yes; but now good night."

"Good night," said Benny and Nelly in chorus, and once more they left
the warm house of prayer for the cold and wintry street.

"You would understand better, Benny," said his sister, as they journeyed
homeward, "if yer would listen to granny, an' not go to sleep whiles the
man is talkin'."

"Dunno that I should, Nell. I's not 'cute 'bout those things like you
is; but let's 'urry on, for I's gettin' as cold as Jonar in the den o'
lions."

Benny was very fond of Old Testament stories, and granny had humoured
his liking in this respect, but the way he mixed up the prophets,
patriarchs, and other noted Bible characters, was rather bewildering.

"Never mind," he would say, when granny took him to task on this matter,
"so long's I gets hold o' the right hend o' the story, mixin' up the
names a bit makes no matter, as fur as I can see."

So granny let him have his way, concluding that he would mend in that
matter as he got older.

"But," the old woman would say, "he'll never be like little Nelly. Bless
her! I's afeard, sometimes, she's too good an' knowin' to live."



CHAPTER VIII.

In which Joe Wrag has a Vision.

  They are going, only going,
    Jesus called them long ago
  All the wintry time they're passing
    Softly as the falling snow.

  When the violets in the spring-time
    Catch the azure of the sky,
  They are carried out to slumber
    Sweetly where the violets lie.


As winter slowly wore away, little Nelly's health began to fail. She
seemed weary and languid, and poor little Benny was at his wits' end to
know what to get her to eat. After spending more than he could really
afford in something that he thought would tempt her appetite, he was
grieved beyond measure when she would turn away her head and say,

"I's very sorry for yer, Benny, but I canna eat it; I would if I could."

And he would be compelled reluctantly to eat it himself, though he would
not mind going without food altogether if only "little Nell" could eat.
But he comforted himself with the thought that she would get better when
the spring-time came, and the streets were dry and warm. He might get
her into the parks, too, and she would be sure, he thought, to get an
appetite then. And so he kept up his spirits, and hoped for the best.

"She's ripenin' for the kingdom," was Joe Wrag's reflection, as he
watched her pale face becoming thinner, and her great round eyes
becoming larger and more luminous day by day. "She belongs to the elect,
there ken be no doubt, an' the Lord don't intend for her little bare
feet to walk the cold, dirty streets o' Liverpool much longer. I reckon
she'll soon be walking the golden streets o' the shinin' city, where
there's no more cold, nor hunger, nor pain. I shall be main sorry to
lose her, bless her little heart, for I'm feared there's no chance of
me ever seein' her agin' when she's gone. I wonder if the Lord would
permit me to look at her through the bars o' the gate just for a minit
if I wur to ax Him very hard? 'T will be nice, anyhow, to think o' her
bein' comforted while I'm tormented. But it comes 'ard 'pon such as us
as don't belong to the elect, whichever way we looks at it."

Sometimes Joe would leave his home earlier in the afternoon than usual,
and getting a nice bunch of grapes, he would make his way towards
Nelly's stand as the short winter's day was fading in the west. He would
rarely have much difficulty in finding his little pet, and taking her up
in his great strong arms, he would carry her off through bye-streets to
his hut. And wrapping her in his great warm overcoat, and placing her on
a low seat that he had contrived for her, he would leave her to enjoy
her grapes, while he went out to light the fire and see that the lamps
were properly set for the night.

With a dreamy look in her eyes, Nelly would watch her old friend
kindling his fire and putting things "ship-shape," as he termed it, and
would think how well she had been cared for of late.

By-and-bye, when the fire crackled and glowed in the grate, Joe would
come into the hut and take her upon his knee, and she would lean her
head against his shoulder with a heart more full of thankfulness than
words of hers could utter. And at such times, at her request, Joe would
tell her of the mercy that was infinite, and of the love that was
stronger than death. She had only been twice to the chapel, for when
she and Benny went the following week they discovered that there was
no service, and so disappointed were they that they had not gone again;
for the chapel was a long distance from Tempest Court, and she was tired
when the day's work was done, and to go such a long distance and find
the doors closed was anything but inviting. So they had not ventured
again. But Nelly had heard enough from granny and while at the chapel to
make her thirst for more. And so Joe became her teacher, and evening by
evening, whenever opportunity presented, he unfolded to her the "old,
old story of Jesus and His love."

It made his heart ache, though, to talk of the "good tidings of great
joy," and think they were not for him. If the truth must be told, this
was the reason why he kept away from church and chapel. He had adopted
in early life the Calvinistic creed, and had come to the conclusion,
when about thirty years of age, that he belonged to the "eternally
reprobate." Hence, to go to church to listen to promises that were not
for him, to hear offers of salvation that he could not accept, to be
told of a heaven that he could never enter, and of a hell that he could
not shun, was more than his sensitive nature could bear.

And yet, as he repeated to Nelly the wonderful promises of the Gospel,
they seemed sometimes to widen out, until they embraced the whole world,
including even him, and for a moment his heart would throb with joy and
hope. Then again the bossy front of his creed would loom up before him
like an iron wall, hiding the light, shutting out the sunshine, and
leaving him still in "outer darkness."

One day Nelly rather startled him by saying, in her sweet childish way,

"I does like that word who-so-ever!"

"Do you?" said Joe.

"Oh, yes, very much; don't you?"

"Well, I 'ardly knows what to make on it."

"How is that, Joe?" said Nelly, looking up with a wondering expression
on her face.

"Well, 'cause it seems to mean what it don't mean," said Joe, jerking
out the words with an effort.

"Oh, no, Joe; how can that be?"

"Well, that's jist where I'm floored, Nelly. But it seem to be the fact,
anyhow."

"Oh, Joe! And would the Saviour you've been a-tellin' me of say what He
didna mean?" And a startled expression came over the child's face, as if
the ground was slipping from beneath her.

"No, no, Nelly, He could not say that; but the pinch is about what the
word do mean."

"Oh, the man in the chapel said it meaned everybody, an' I reckon he
knows, 'cause he looked as if he wur sartin."

"Did he, Nelly? Then perhaps he wur right."

"Oh, yes, it's everybody, Joe. I feels as if it wur so inside."

"Purty little hangel!" said Joe, in an undertone. "But there are
somethin' in the Book about 'out of the mouths of babes an' sucklings.'
I'll read it again when I gets home."

That night, as Joe Wrag sat in his hut alone, while the silence of the
slumbering town was unbroken, save for the echoing footfall of the
policeman on his beat, he seemed to see the iron wall of his creed
melt and vanish, till not a shred remained, and beyond where it stood
stretched endless plains of light and glory. And arching the sky from
horizon to horizon, a rainbow glowed of every colour and hue, and in
the rainbow a promise was written in letters of fire, and as he gazed
the letters burst forth into brighter flame, and the promise was this,
"Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast them out." And over
the distant hills a great multitude appeared in sight--so many, indeed,
that he could not number them. But he noticed this, that none of them
were sick, or feeble, or old. No touch of pain was on any face, no line
of care on any brow, and nearer and yet nearer they came, till he could
hear the regular tramp, tramp of their feet, and catch the words they
were chanting as if with one voice. How thankful he was that the great
town was hushed and still, so that he could not mistake the words. "And
the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.
And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the
water of life freely." And still nearer their echoing footfalls came,
when suddenly the glowing arch of fire in his grate fell together, and a
policeman passing his hut with measured tread, shouted,--

"Good night, Joe. We shall have a storm, I reckon; the wind has got up
terrible during the last hour."

"Ay, ay," responded Joe, rubbing his eyes and wondering for a moment
what had come over him.

"You seem hardly awake, Joe," laughed the policeman.

"Believe I 'ave nodded a bit," said Joe. "But, bless me, how the wind do
howl!"

"Yes, it'll be rough outside the 'bar,' I reckon. I hope we shall have
no wrecks. Good night."

"Good night," said Joe, as he staggered out of his hut to mend the fire,
which done, he sat down to reflect.

"Wur it a vision," he soliloquized, "or wur it a dream, or wur it
'magination? Wur it given to teach or to mislead me? But, lor', how
bright that promise did shine! I ken see it now. It are in the Bible,
too, that's the queerest part on it. An' how beautiful they did sing,
an' how they did shout out that part, 'Whosoever will.' Lor' bless us!
I can't get it out o' my noddle; nor I dunno that I want to, it's so
amazin' comfortin', and much more nearer my idear of what God ought to
be, 'cause as how there is no limit to it."

And Joe scratched his head vigorously, which was a sure sign that some
new idea had struck him.

"Well, bang me!" he ejaculated, "if I ain't floored again. Ain't God
infinite, an' if that be the case He must be infinite 'all round.' An'
that bein' so, then His power's infinite, and His marcy's infinite, an'
His love's infinite, an' He's all infinite. No limit to nothin'. An' if
that be so, it don't square nohow with His love an' marcy stoppin' just
at the point where the elect leaves off an' the reprobate begins."

And Joe took a long iron rod and stirred up the fire until it roared
again, muttering to himself the while. "Well, if I ain't completely
banged. I'll ax little Nell. I b'lieve she knows more about it now than
I do, by a long chalk."

By this time slates and chimneypots began to drop around him in a
decidedly dangerous fashion, and he had again to seek the shelter of his
hut. But even there he did not feel quite safe, for the little wooden
house rocked and creaked in the might of the storm, and threatened to
topple over altogether.

There was no longer any chance of meditation, so he had to content
himself listening to the roar of the storm. Sometimes he heard its voice
moaning away in the distant streets, and he wondered where it had gone
to. Then he heard it coming up behind his hut again, at first quietly,
as if meditating what to do; then it would gather strength and speed,
and he would listen as it came nearer and nearer, till it would rush
shrieking past his hut, making it creak and shiver, and once more there
would be a momentary lull.

And so Joe waited and listened through the wild solemn night, and longed
as he had rarely done for the light of the morning to appear.



CHAPTER IX.

Tempted.

  Where the watching, waiting angels
    Lead them from the shadow dim,
  To the brightness of His presence
    Who has called them unto Him,--
  Little hearts for ever stainless,
    Little hands as pure as they,
  Little feet by angels guided,
    Never a forbidden way.


Towards the close of February Nelly caught a very severe cold, which
kept her indoors for several days. One night her cough had been so bad
that she had scarcely slept at all, and when she got up in the morning,
with flushed cheeks and hollow eyes, unrested and unrefreshed, granny
insisted that she was not fit to go out, and that she must stay indoors
and keep herself warm.

Benny was very sorry to lose her earnings, for, alas! it had been a hard
struggle for the children to find the necessary coppers day by day to
purchase food and pay for their lodgings; and had it not been for Joe
Wrag's kindness, they would often have fared much worse. Nelly knew this
very well, and hence it was a great trial to her to stay indoors doing
nothing, while her Benny was out fighting the world alone.

"How will yer manage, Benny?" she said, with an anxious look in her
eyes, the first morning that he went out alone.

"Oh, never fear, Nell, I'll 'cumulate the coppers somehow," was the
response.

"What's 'cumulate, Benny?" for it was the first time he had ventured to
use that word in her hearing.

"Well, I might a-knowed," he said, putting on a knowing look, "that you
would not hundercumstand sich words, 'cause as how you don't seem to
care for larnin' like me."

"Well, you 'ave not told me now, Benny."

"Oh, it means as how I'm bound to get the coppers somehow."

"How _somehow_, Benny? You'll only get 'em the right way, will yer, now?"

"Never fear, Nell; I's not goin' to steal 'em."

"But if you dunna get enough, Benny?"

"Oh, I'll go hungry for a day or two; 't won't be fust time I's done it."

"Poor Benny!" and she placed her wasted hand on his shoulder. "But I
'ope it will be true, what Joe told me t'other night."

"What did he tell yer?"

"Well, he said the good Lord was sure to provide; that is, you know,
Benny, He willna let us starve."

"I dunno much about _Him_, Nell."

"Oh, but Joe 'as told me lots an' lots about Him; an' He never says what
He doesna mean; an' if He says He'll provide, He will, Benny."

"Anyhow, I shall be glad to see it," was Benny's observation, as he
walked away, leaving Nelly standing at the door.

He found the days very long without a sight of his sister's face from
morn till eve. But he bore up bravely, and hurried home as early as
he possibly could when the day's toil was over. Nobody knew how much
"little Nell" was to him: she had been the only comfort of his cheerless
life, and when the world seemed more rough and unfriendly than usual, it
was Nelly who stood by his side like a ministering angel, encouraging
him still to persevere.

The sight of her sweet patient face in the evening was like a
benediction to him, and after the frugal meal they would sit on the
floor with their arms around each other before granny's fire. And Benny
would tell his sister all the experiences of the day; making light,
however, of the difficulties and disappointments, and magnifying every
little pleasure that had fallen to his lot.

It was wonderful how thoughtful he was of his sister, and how he
anticipated her every want. He would not give her a moment's pain on any
consideration if he could possibly help it. Yet Nelly always knew when
he was in trouble, though he said nothing about it; for experience had
made her quick to detect his every mood.

One afternoon, as Benny was passing along a narrow and not very
frequented street, he paused before a small hosier's shop. A great many
things had been hung outside the door to catch the eye of the passer-by.
But one article especially attracted his attention, and that was a
woollen "cross-over."

"Golly!" he said to himself, "if Nelly only had that, she'd be better in
no time."

Nelly had been much better that morning, and but for the keen east wind
that had been blowing for several days, she would have again ventured
into the streets. And as Benny looked again and again at the cross-over,
he thought how nice she would look with it crossed over her chest, and
how nice and snug and warm it would make her feel. No cold, he was sure,
could come through a thing like that; and it was the cold, granny said,
that made her cough so much.

But he knew he could not purchase it, so with a sigh he turned away. Yet
in less than half an hour he was standing before the shop again.

"They would never miss it," he muttered to himself, "an' Nelly needs it
so much."

Then a voice within him whispered, "Don't steal, Benny," and again he
walked away. But the tempter followed and gave him no rest.

"I could cut the string as easy as that," he said to himself, snapping
his fingers. "And it ain't for myself that I wants it, and I dunna think
it can be so very wrong to take it for little Nell, when she's so ill."

While he was musing thus, he was startled by a voice near him,

"Hullo, Ben, are 'e goin' to a funeral, yer look so glum?"

Looking up a narrow entry, he saw a lad that went by the name of
"Perks," engaged in trying on a pair of shoes, that were evidently new,
though they had been well plastered with mud.

Perks was not so big as Benny, though he was two or three years older.
He was a strange-looking lad. A great shock of fiery red hair made hat
or cap totally unnecessary. His face was plain, looked at under any
circumstances, but a look of low cunning made it at times appear almost
repulsive.

Perks was no friend of Benny's, who rarely took the trouble to reply
when addressed by him. Benny knew that he was not honest. He never sold
matches, and rarely carried parcels, and yet he had generally plenty
of coppers at his disposal, and wore better clothes than any of the
street lads. But to-day Benny was in a different humour to what he was
generally. He had permitted an evil spirit to take possession of him,
and so was not so particular about his company.

So he walked up the entry close to where Perks sat, and pointing to the
shoes, said in a whisper,

"Where'd yer get them?"

"Walked 'em," was the response.

"That is, stole 'em, ain't it?"

"Gem'men of our per-fession don't say stole, it ain't perlite," said
Perks, trying to look important.

"It means that, though," said Benny.

"Well, I admit I took 'em without leave, as I takes most things; it's
most conwenient."

"How did yer manage?" said Benny.

"So yer wants to take up the per-fession, does yer?" And there was a
cunning leer in his eye as he spoke.

"No, I don't," said Benny, colouring up.

"What yer ax me for 'ow I did it, then?"

"For fun."

"No doubt. But, I'll tell yer, nothin' is easier. Folks hang things
outside on purpose to be stole. I took up the per-fession 'cause I
couldn't 'elp it. Shop-keepers put things right under my nose, an' made
me take 'em against my will at fust. Now I's no feelin' 'bout it at all."

"'T ain't right, though, nohow," said Benny.

Perks was about to sneer at this remark, but thought better of it, and
answered, after a pause,

"Well, if it ain't, I's not to blame. Folks just put things in my way;
an' a chap's not to blame for eatin' butter when it's put in his mouth."

To this Benny ventured no remark. And Perks having fastened on the shoes
to his satisfaction, said, "Come with me a minute," and together they
walked off into a more crowded thoroughfare.

Poor Benny! in such a state of mind as he was, he could not have fallen
into worse hands. He was fast getting into the toils of the tempter; and
who should deliver him?

For awhile Benny and Perks walked on in silence, when suddenly Perks
clutched his arm and whispered in his ear,

"Look alive, an' I'll show yer a bit of nice play."

"What yer mean?" said Benny.

"Yer see that man afore us, with a bit o' his hankecher peepin' out o'
his pocket?"

"Ay."

"Well, there's another chap walking alongside o' him, an' comin' down
the street is three or four more; don't 'e see as how they'll all meet
by that lamp-post? Well, ther'll be a bit o' crush, an' I'll just pop
in atween 'em at the same time onexpected, an' for a moment we'll be
sixes an' sevens, an' then the thing is done."

And off Perks darted like the wind. Benny did not wait to see how he
succeeded in his undertaking. The poisonous seed had taken root in the
soil that had been prepared for its reception, and Benny hurried away
to the hosier's shop, alas! already a thief in heart, if not in action,
for he had made up his mind to take the cross-over if anything like a
favourable opportunity presented itself.

"I's not to blame for takin' things," he said, using Perks's words, "if
people puts 'em right in one's way."

It was getting dusk, and in this narrow street it was darker than in the
street he had just left.

Yes, there was the cross-over. And, after looking at all the windows
in the neighbourhood, to see that no one was watching him, he glided
stealthily up to the door. The shopkeeper was busy inside. "So much the
better," he thought. "Now's the time," and he stretched out his hand to
grasp the coveted article, when a hand was laid upon his arm with a firm
grip, and, turning, he saw a face that made the perspiration ooze from
him at every pore.

Leaving Benny for a moment to recover his fright, we will go back to
Tempest Court, and have a look at Nelly. She had been restless and ill
at ease all the day--a sign, granny said, that she was getting better;
and, indeed, she felt much better in body, though she was uneasy in
mind, and, as the day kept fine and got much warmer as the hours wore
on, she determined she would go out and see how Benny was getting on,
for she had a vague presentiment that all was not right.

On reaching the landing-stage she looked anxiously around, but Benny
was nowhere visible. This did not trouble her much, but after loitering
around for a good part of an hour, and he did not come, she began to
feel alarmed; still she waited around, till, unable longer to bear the
burden of suspense, she started off to search for him. Up one street
and down another she went, looking here and there and everywhere, but
without avail.

Just before four o'clock she made her way to the old trysting-place by
St. George's Church, in the hope that Benny might do the same; but,
alas! she was doomed to disappointment, for he did not come; and when
she saw the daylight begin to fade, she got frightened, feeling sure
that some evil had befallen "her Benny."

Evil, alas! had befallen him, though not of the nature that she had
feared.

At length she saw some one turn up a narrow street that looked like
Benny. She could not be certain, but she would follow and see; so with
beating heart she hurried up the street.

Yes, it was Benny; she was near enough to recognize him now. But when
she saw--as she did at a glance--what he was about to do, her heart
stood still for a moment; the next moment she hurried forward with the
fleetness of the wind, and laid her hand upon his arm, unable to speak a
word.

For two or three seconds the children looked at each other in silence,
then Nelly took her brother by the hand and led him away. She uttered no
word of reproach, she only said, "My poor Benny!" and her great round
eyes filled with tears, which rolled silently down her wasted cheeks.

"It was for you, Nelly. I thought 't would warm yer. I wouldna 'ave done
it for myself."

And again came the words, in a choking voice, "My poor Benny!"

"I didna think it wur so very wicked, seein' as you is so ill, Nelly. Is
you very mad at me, Nell?"

"I's not mad, Benny, but I's sorry--oh, so sorry! I did not think----"

But here she broke off abruptly: she would utter no word of reproach,
for she knew it was all out of love for her.

That evening she could eat no supper. Benny knew the reason and did not
press her, but her silent grief nearly broke his heart. He would rather
suffer anything himself than see his sister suffer. And yet now he had
given her keener pain than words could tell.

In the middle of the night he awoke and found her sobbing by his side as
though her little heart would break, and he knew that he was the cause
of her grief.

"Don't take on so, Nell," he said, in a voice that had the sound of
tears in it. And he drew her tear-stained face towards him and kissed
her affectionately.

But she only sobbed the more.

"Do forgive me, Nell," he said. "I's very sorry."

"I 'as nothin' to forgive you for, Benny; you's always been good to me.
Ax the dear Lord to forgive yer."

"I knows nowt about Him, Nell."

"But He knows about you, Benny--Joe says so; and He sees everything we
does. Ax Him."

"Could He hear if I wur to ax Him?"

"Yes, Joe says as He hears everything."

"Then I'll try Him," said Benny, and, sitting up in bed, he commenced,--

"If you plaise, Mr. God, I's very sorry I tried to stole; but if you'll
be a trump an' not split on a poor little chap, I'll be mighty 'bliged
to yer. An' I promise 'e I won't do nowt o' the sort agin'."

"There, will that do, Nell?"

"Say Amen."

"Amen," said Benny, and he lay down to listen for the answer.

But after waiting a long time and no voice broke the stillness of the
night, and Nelly having fallen asleep, our hero concluded that _she_ had
received the answer, as she seemed so much comforted; so he thought that
he might go to sleep also, which he accordingly did, and did not awake
till late in the morning, when he saw his sister bending over him with a
calm face, from which all trace of pain had fled, and a beautiful light
shining in her eyes.

This satisfied him that his prayer had been answered, and once more his
heart was at peace.



CHAPTER X.

In the Woods.

    I roam the woods that crown
  The upland, where the mingled splendours glow,
  Where the gay company of trees look down
    On the green fields below.

    Let in through all the trees
  Come the strange rays; the forest depths are bright,
  Their sunny-coloured foliage in the breeze
    Twinkles like beams of light.
                           --Bryant.


Perks was very much annoyed that Benny had not stayed to see him perform
the feat of picking a gentleman's pocket, nevertheless, he was very
anxious to cultivate our hero's acquaintance, especially as Benny had
generally treated him with unmistakable contempt; so on the following
morning he sought out Benny, and tried his very best to make himself
agreeable. But Benny was in a decidedly unfriendly mood, and threw cold
water on all Perks' advances. But, nothing daunted, Perks kept near him
most of the day, and even offered to treat him to what he called "a
feed." But it was of no use. Benny had learned a lesson he would not
easily forget, and he knew that his safety lay in having as little to do
with Perks and his class as possible. So as evening came on and Perks
still hung around him, he lost all patience, and, doubling his fist in
an unmistakable manner, he said, with a gymnastic flourish,

"Look 'ere, Perks, if yer don't walk yer pegs in double-quick time,
you'll wish yer had, that's all."

"Oh, that's yer game, is it?" said Perks, in a defiant tone, and
squaring up in front of Benny.

"It are," was the reply; "an' if yer don't want to see fire, you'd
better be off like greased lightnin'."

"I shall go when I likes, and not afore," said Perks; "an' if yer thinks
yer's goin' to bully this little chap, you's got the wrong pig by the
ear."

"I wants to bully nobody," said Benny, in a milder tone; "but I won't
have yer a hangin' about me all day."

"I 'spose yer wants to crib somethin' without my knowin' it," said
Perks, with a sneer.

"It's a lie," said Benny, colouring painfully, as the event of the
previous day crossed his mind.

"'T ain't a lie, neither," was the response, "or you'd not get so red
over it."

"D' yer think I's a thief, then?" said Benny.

"No," said Perks scornfully, "but I knows it."

"An' yer shall know some'at else afore yer a minit older," said Benny,
springing upon him, and dealing him a blow between the eyes that made
him stagger; and, before he could recover himself, a second blow sent
him reeling against a wall.

For a moment Perks glared at his antagonist with flaming eyes, but he
saw that he was no match for Benny, so he turned on his heel and walked
away. He had not gone many steps, however, before he came back again.

"Look 'ere, Ben Bates," he said, "you's licked me now, but I'll get my
revenge, an' I'll a'most plague the life out o' yer," and once more he
walked away.

Perks kept his word; from that day he became the greatest plague of
Benny's life. He stole his matches, picked his pocket, tripped him up in
the street, and annoyed him in every possible way that he could imagine,
always mindful, however, to keep out of the reach of Benny's arm; and,
being fleet-footed, that was not difficult.

Benny, however, said that he could "'ford to bide his time," so he
quietly went on his way, feeling that nothing could trouble him very
much now that "little Nell" was getting better again.

And as the summer advanced she did seem to get very much better. The
cough became less troublesome, her appetite improved, her cheerfulness
came back, and altogether she seemed to be taking, as Joe Wrag put it,
"a new lease of her life."

And yet a close observer would have noticed that the improvement was
more in appearance than in reality. The pink spot still burned on either
cheek, and her great round eyes shone with an unnatural lustre, and her
strength, which had been failing for months, did not seem to come back;
and though she went out with Benny in the morning and came back with him
in the evening, yet each evening she seemed more tired and worn than on
the previous one. She made no complaint, however; but, on the contrary,
always declared that she was getting ever so much better.

For several weeks Joe Wrag had been planning to give the children a
treat; and one fine morning in June he put in an appearance at Tempest
Court before they had left, much to their surprise and delight.

Nelly was the first to see him coming up the court, and ran to meet
him, her eyes beaming with pleasure. "Oh, Joe," she exclaimed, "I's so
pleased to see you!"

"Is you, my purty?" said Joe fondly; and, stooping down, he took her up
in his arms, and carried her into the house.

Granny looked up in surprise, and Benny stared in bewilderment, fearing
there was mischief in the wind.

"Yer don't get much heavier," said Joe, sitting down with Nelly on his
knee. "We'll have to feed yer up a bit somehow."

"Oh, I's very well, Joe," said Nelly, nestling closer to her old friend.

"Dunno 'bout that," said Joe reflectively; "but what d' yer say 'bout
havin' holiday to-day?"

"Oh, Methusaler!" said Benny, brightening up in a moment, "that's the
game, are it?" and he went out in the doorway and stood on his head--a
sure sign that he was more than usually delighted.

Nelly looked up in Joe's face with a beautiful light in her eyes. "D'
yer mean it, Joe?" she said, simply.

"Ay, my bonny, that I do," responded Joe.

"Oh, then, won't it be jist--jist--"

"Profusely," said Benny, coming to her rescue with one of his grand
words, of which he had been laying in a stock of late.

"Now, then," said Joe, "get on yer best togs, and let's be off."

Poor children! they had not much of best or worst in the way of attire,
but, such as it was, it was clean and neatly mended. Granny did her
very best to turn them out respectable, and certainly they did her no
discredit.

"Where is we going?" said Nelly, as she stepped along by Joe's side, her
eyes sparkling with delight.

"Into the woods somewhere on t' other side o' the water," said Joe,
looking fondly down into the child's beaming eyes.

Benny had nearly stood on his head again when he heard that; but thought
better of it, and contented himself with a shrill whistle expressive of
delight.

"Better an' better," he thought, flinging his cap into the air and
catching it on his toe; "won't I enjoy myself, just, that's all?"

By ten o'clock they were on the landing-stage, and soon after they were
gliding up the river towards Eastham. Oh, how the wavelets sparkled in
the summer's sunshine, and how the paddle-wheels tossed the water into
foam! How happy everything seemed to-day! The ferries were crowded with
passengers, all of whom seemed in the best of spirits; and the rush of
water and the beat of the engine seemed to Nelly the happiest sounds she
had ever heard.

Benny was rushing here and there and everywhere, and asking Joe
questions about everything. But Nelly sat still. Her thoughts were too
big for utterance, and her little heart was full to overflowing.

At length they reach New Ferry, where several passengers get off and
several others get on; then on they glide again. The river here seems
like a sheet of glass, so broad and smooth. Now they are nearing the
river's bank, and Nelly is delighted to watch the trees gliding past.
How wonderful everything seems! Surely her dreams are becoming a reality
at last.

For awhile after they land they sit on the river's bank in the shade of
the trees, and Nelly rubs her eyes and pinches herself, to be certain
that she is not asleep. How grandly the mile-wide river at their feet
flows downward to the sea! And what a beautiful background to the
picture the wooded landscape makes that stretches away beyond Garston
and Aigburth! And Nelly wonders to herself if it is possible that heaven
can be more beautiful than this.

But Benny soon gets impatient to be off into the wood, and, humouring
his wish, they set off up the narrow path, between banks of ferns and
primroses and wild flowers of almost every hue. The tall trees wave
their branches above them, and the birds whistle out their happy hearts.
Here and there the grasshoppers chirp among the undergrowth, and myriads
of insects make the air vocal with their ceaseless hum.

They had scarcely got into the heart of the wood ere they found that
Benny was missing; but they were neither surprised nor alarmed at this,
for the lad was fairly brimming over with delight, and could not stay
for five minutes in the same place if he were to be crowned.

Nelly was as much delighted as her brother; perhaps more so, but she
had a different way of expressing it. She felt as she sat on a mossy
bank, holding Joe's rough and horny hand within both her own, and looked
away up the long avenues between the trees, and watched the dancing
sunlight that was sifted down in golden patches, and listened to the
dreamy murmur of the summer's wind through the leafy trees, mingling
with the song of birds and the lowing of the cattle in the distant
fields, as if she could have cried for very joy. It was all so solemn,
and yet so delightful, so awe-inspiring and yet so gladsome, that
she hardly knew whether to laugh outright, or hide her face on Joe's
shoulder and have a good cry.

Benny, however, decided the matter for her. He had been wandering no one
knew whither, and Joe was beginning to think that it was time to go off
in search of him, when they heard him shouting at the top of his voice,--

"Joe, Joe! Golly! Make haste--quick, d' ye hear? Thunder!"

Judging by the tone of his voice, as well as by his words, that he was
in a difficulty of some kind, Joe and Nelly started off in the direction
from whence the sound came. They had not gone far, however, before they
espied our hero, and at sight of him Joe stood stock-still and held
his sides. For there was Benny suspended by his nether garment to the
branch of a tree, and striking out with his hands and feet like a huge
octopus in a frantic and vain endeavour to recover a horizontal position.

He had gone out on this branch, which was not more than six feet from
the ground, for some unknown purpose, and, missing his hold, he slipped,
and would have fallen to the ground but for the friendly stump that held
him suspended in mid-air.

"Joe! Oh, do come! Murder and turf! D' ye hear? What's yer larfin at?
Are 'e moon-struck? Oh--h--!" he shrieked out at the top of his voice,
still going through most unheard-of gymnastic exercises, and vainly
trying to raise his head to the level of his heels.

To make the matter worse, a young gentleman passing at the time inquired
of Benny, with a very grave face, "Whether his was a new method of
learning to swim on dry land? If so, he thought he had got the action
nearly perfect, the only thing required was to keep his head just a
trifle higher."

By this time, however, Joe had come to his relief, and easily lifted him
down without further mishap.

The young gentleman tried to poke some more fun at Benny, but he would
not reply, and soon after set off with Joe and Nelly to get some dinner.
After dinner they took a ramble across the fields, in the direction
of Raby Mere. Benny's adventure had rather sobered him, so he did not
object to assist his sister in gathering wild flowers, while Joe
artistically arranged them into what seemed to the children to be a
magnificent bouquet.

Fleet-footed indeed were the hours of that long summer's afternoon.
Benny wished a thousand times that the day could last for ever; and
Nelly, though she was getting tired, watched with a look of pain in her
eyes the sun getting farther and farther down in the western sky.

As they were returning across the fields Benny was strongly tempted to
leap a ditch that he had noticed at the beginning of their ramble--so
strongly tempted indeed that he could not resist it. So off he set at
a swinging trot as soon as they got into the field. Joe guessed what
he was after, and called him back; but it was of no use, he either did
not hear or would not heed, for he went faster and faster as he neared
the ditch. Joe saw him fling up his hands, take a flying leap, and then
disappear. After waiting a few moments, and he did not appear on the
opposite bank, Joe and Nelly hurried after him. On reaching the ditch
they found that he was stuck fast in the mud about two feet from the
opposite side, and the more he tried to get out the deeper he sank.

"Oh, quick, Joe!" he shouted, "or I'll be out o' sight in another minit."

"Sarve you right!" said Joe, laughing; "you had no business to get in
there."

"I can't stay to argify," retorted Benny; "don't yer see there's scarce
anything of me left?"

"Ay, I see plain enough," said Joe, going to the other side, and pulling
him out, though not without an effort. "I wonder what mischief you'll be
into next?"

"Dunno," said Benny, regarding his legs with a look of dismay. Then,
after a long pause, "I say, Joe, how's I to get this mud off?"

"Scrape off what yer can," said Joe, "and let the rest dry, and it'll
rub off as clean as a new pin."

Benny was rather ashamed of his appearance, however, when he got into
the wood again, and found himself in the midst of two or three hundred
Sunday-school children and their teachers, all nicely dressed, who had
come out for a picnic. But when he saw them each with a small bun loaf
and a cup of milk, he could not help drawing near, notwithstanding the
rather disgraceful state of his legs. Nelly was also anxious to have a
nearer view of all those happy-looking children.

Fortunately for Benny, the superintendent of the school was the
gentleman that had invited him into the chapel months before. Benny felt
sure he knew them again, but whether he did or not he invited all three
to sit down with the rest, and gave them each a bun and a cup of milk.

Joe was as delighted as the children with the kindness shown, and was
soon quite at his ease.

After lunch the children ran races for prizes, and Benny was invited to
compete with the rest. This suited him exactly, and very soon after,
with about a dozen others, he was bounding up a broad avenue between the
trees, in a well-matched and most exciting race.

For the first half of the distance Benny dropped into the rear, then he
began gradually to gain upon the others. Now was his time, so putting on
a spurt, for which he had saved his breath, he went bounding ahead of
all the others, and amid loud hurrahs came first into the goal.

Benny never felt so proud in his life before as when that first prize--a
brand new sixpence--was put into his hand. His success, however,
disqualified him from competing again, so he had to content himself with
watching the others run.

But the most delightful circumstance of all to Nelly was when all the
children stood up in a large circle, and sang in their pure young voices
the following hymn:--

 "Land ahead! Its fruits are waving
    O'er the fields of fadeless green;
  And the living waters laving
    Shores where heavenly forms are seen.

 "There let go the anchor. Riding
    On this calm and silvery bay,
  Seaward fast the tide is gliding,
    Shores in sunlight stretch away.

 "Now we're safe from all temptation,
    All the storms of life are past;
  Praise the Rock of our salvation,
    We are safely home at last."

Nelly never forgot that little hymn to her dying day; and when that
evening they glided down the placid river towards home, she repeated to
herself over and over again--

 "Seaward fast the tide is gliding,
    Shores in sunlight stretch away."

And when in her little corner she lay down to sleep, it was only to
dream of the sunlit shores on the banks of the far Jordan river.

Heaven seemed nearer and dearer to her ever after that day, and she
sometimes almost longed for the sunny slopes of that far-off country
where there should be no more weariness nor pain.



CHAPTER XI.

Benny prays.

  Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
    The falling of a tear,
  The upward glancing of the eye
    When none but God is near.

  Prayer is the simplest form of speech
    That infant lips can try;
  Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
    The Majesty on high.
                  --Montgomery.


The long summer days passed all too quickly, and autumn came again.
The days began to shorten, and the evenings to be cold. Nelly felt the
change in an unmistakable manner, for her cough returned worse than
ever, and her appetite and strength began to fail rapidly. But the
hopeful little child battled bravely with her growing weakness, and
each morning went forth to earn her daily bread.

One afternoon in October Benny was down on the pier, when he saw Perks
coming towards him, and not wishing to have anything to say to him, he
was about to turn away, when Perks called out,

"Does yer want to hear a bit o' news?"

"No!" said Benny.

"Yer wants to 'ear what I knows, I'm sartin."

"Well! what is it?" said Benny, carelessly.

"Your Nelly's killed!"

"It's a lie!" said Benny, paling to the lips.

"'Taint a lie, neither; she's been run over with a 'bus, an' 'ad her yed
cut off."

"You lying thief!" said Benny. "If yer not out o' my sight in a minit
I'll pound yer to a jelly."

And Benny made a rush towards him. But Perks was not to be caught, and
was soon out of sight.

Benny did not believe a word Perks had said; and yet, somehow, his words
troubled him, and very long seemed the time till four o'clock, when he
would meet her in the shadow of St. George's Church.

If Perks' only object was to plague and annoy Benny, he could not have
been more successful, for try as he would, he could not get Perks'
words out of his head. Punctually at four o'clock he was standing
by the church, but Nelly was not there, and a dull pain crept into
his heart, such as he had never felt before. Five minutes pass--ten
minutes--fifteen minutes pass, and still Nelly had not come, and Benny
began to fear that something had really happened to her.

Just then he saw Bill Tucker--a boy of his acquaintance--coming towards
him.

"Have yer seen Nelly, Bill?" he shouted, when the lad got within hearing
distance.

"Ay; ain't yer heerd?"

"Heerd what?" said Benny, growing paler than ever.

"Why, she's got hurt," said the other.

"Are 'e sure, now?" said Benny, great tears starting in his eyes.

"Ay, quite sure. I seed the perlice myself takin' her to the 'firmary."

"Oh, no! 't aint true, are it, Bill? Say yer a-foolin' me," said Benny,
trembling from head to foot.

"I wish it weren't true," said, the lad, "but I seed 'em pick her up
mysel', an' I's 'feared she's dead; she looked like it."

"Did a 'bus run over her?"

"No. A big dog runned agin her, an' she fell with her yed on a sharp
stone."

"Yer quite sure, Bill?"

"Ay, quite," said the lad; "but go to the 'firmary an' see for yoursel'."

"Which way?" said Benny.

"Haaf-way up Brownlow Hill, an' roun' to the left; a mighty big 'ouse."

And off Benny started, like the wind. By dint of many inquiries he found
himself in the right street, but looking in vain for the Infirmary.

Just then a policeman came up.

"Could yer tell me where the 'firmary are, please?" said Benny, doffing
his cap.

"Why, there, right afore your eyes."

"What, that?" said Benny, pointing to the huge building.

"Ay, to be sure," said the policeman.

"Oh, lor'!" was the reply, "I thought that wur the 'ouse the Queen lived
in."

The policeman was about to laugh, but noticing Benny's troubled face, he
said,

"Do you want to get in?"

"Ay," said Benny, "that I do."

"Then go up this street. There's the lodge door on your left; you can't
miss it."

"Thanks, sir," and off Benny started. In response to his timid knock the
door was opened by a kind-looking man.

"This are the 'firmary, ain't it?" said Benny.

"Yes, my little man," was the answer. "What do you want?"

"I wants to know if Nelly are in 'ere?"

"I don't know. Who is she?"

"My sister," said Benny, the tears starting in his eyes.

"When was she brought here?"

"To-day. Bill Tucker said as 'ow she was hurt in the street an' brought
here."

"Yes, a little girl was brought in two or three hours ago."

"Wur she very white, an' had long hair?"

"Yes, my little man."

"Oh, that wur Nelly. Let me see her, please."

"You cannot to-day, it's against rules; you can see her to-morrow
morning, after ten o'clock."

"Oh, do let me jist peep at her."

"I cannot, my little fellow; and besides, it would do her no good."

"But it ud do me good," said Benny, gulping down a great lump in his
throat. "She is all I has in the world."

"I'm very sorry, my boy, but you can't see her to-night."

"Not for jist a minit?"

"No, not to-night."

"She ain't dead, then?"

"No, but she is unconscious."

"Will she get better?"

"I hope so. Now run away and come again to-morrow, and rest satisfied
that your little sister will be well taken care of."

"Oh, please," said Benny, making a last appeal, the great tears running
down his cheeks the while.

"I cannot let you see her, however willing I might be," said the man.
"Now run away, there's a good lad."

"Oh, dear," groaned Benny, as he stepped out into the darkening street.
"What shall I do? what shall I do?"

He had tasted no food since noon, but he never thought of hunger. He had
been on the tramp all the day, but he felt no weariness. There was one
great pain in his heart, and that banished every other feeling. Nelly
was in that great house suffering, perhaps dying; and he could not speak
to her--not even look at her. What right had these people to keep his
Nelly from him? Was not she his own little Nell, all that he had in the
wide, wide world? How dared they, then, to turn him away?

Hour after hour he wandered up and down in front of the huge building,
watching the twinkling lights in its many windows. How could he go away
while Nelly was suffering there? Could he sleep in his snug corner while
his own little Nell was suffering amongst strangers? It could not be.

So when the great town grew silent around him, he sat down on a doorstep
nearly opposite the entrance, and waited for the morning.

The night was chilly, but he felt not the cold; his heart felt as if it
would burn through his body. How long the night seemed, and he almost
wondered if morning would ever come.

Suddenly a thought struck him. Had he not better pray? He remembered
how Nelly prayed every night ere she lay down to sleep, and once he had
prayed and felt all the better for it. He would pray again.

So he got up and knelt on the cold flags, and looking up into the silent
heavens, where the pale stars kept watch over the sleeping earth,
he said, "Oh, Mr. God, I's in great trouble, for Nelly's got hurt,
and they's took her into the 'firmary, an' won't let me see her till
to-morrer, but You knows all about it, I specks, for Joe says as how You
knows everything. But I dunna want her to die, for Joe says You takes
people who dies that is good to a mighty nice place; nicer'n Eastham by
a long chalk, an' how You has lots an' lots o' childer; an' if that be
the case, I's sure You needn't take little Nell; for oh, Sir, she's all
I's got in the world. Please let her stay an' get better. Oh, do now!
for I'll break my heart if she dies. An' 'member, I's only a little
chap, an' I's no one but Nelly; an' 'tis so lonesome out here, an' she
in there. Please make her better. If I was in Your place, an' You was a
little chap like me, I'd let Your Nelly stay. I would for sure. An' oh,
if You'll let my Nelly stay an' get better, I'll be awful good. Amen."

Benny waited for a few moments longer in silence, then got up and crept
to the doorstep, and in five minutes after he was fast asleep.

He was aroused in the morning about nine o'clock by the door being
opened suddenly, against which he was leaning, and he fell into the
passage. He got up as quickly as possible, but not in time to escape a
fierce kick dealt him by a hard-featured woman.

Poor child! it was a painful awaking for him. But he was thankful it was
broad day. He was cold, and almost faint for want of food, yet he was
not conscious of hunger.

When at length he was admitted into the Infirmary he walked as one in a
dream. At any other time he would have noticed the long corridors and
broad flights of stairs. But he saw nothing of this to-day. He kept his
eyes fixed on the nurse who walked before him, and who was leading him
to his little Nell.

He was told that he must be very quiet, and on no account excite her, or
it might prove fatal to her, as she was in a very critical state. She
had recovered consciousness on the previous night, but she was so weak,
and her nervous system had received such a shock, that she could not
bear any excitement.

Benny only partly understood what it all meant, but he had determined
that he would be very quiet, and make no more noise than he could
possibly help. So he followed the pleasant-faced nurse as silently as
possible into the Children's Ward. He noticed the two long rows of beds
between which they were passing, but he had no eyes for the occupants.

At length the nurse stopped by the side of a little cot, and with a
sudden bound he stood by her side. He could hardly repress a cry that
rose to his lips, and a great lump rose in his throat that almost choked
him; but with a tremendous effort he gulped it down, and brushed away
the tears that almost blinded him.

There in the cot was his little Nell, pale as the pillow on which she
lay, yet with a look of deep content upon her face, and just the shadow
of a smile lingering round the corners of her mouth.

Benny was about to throw his arms around her, but the nurse held up her
finger. Nelly's eyes were closed, so that she did not know of their
presence, and Benny was made to understand that he must wait until she
should open her eyes of her own accord.

So he stood as motionless as the little figure on the bed, gazing with
hungry eyes at his little sister, who was silently slipping away from
his grasp. He had not to wait long. Slowly the great round eyes opened,
the vanishing smile came back and brightened all her face, the lips
parted sufficiently for her to whisper "My Benny." And with a low cry
Benny bent down his head, and the little wasted arms were twined about
his neck, and then the round eyes closed again, and the nurse saw two
tears steal out underneath the long lashes, and roll silently down her
cheek.

For a few moments they remained thus in silence, then Benny, unable
longer to restrain his feelings, sobbed out--

"Oh, Nelly! I can't bear it; my heart's breaking."

"Don't give way so," she said softly. "It's so comfortable here, an' the
good Lord'll take care o' you, Benny."

"But you will soon be better, Nelly, won't you?"

"Yes, Benny, I'll soon be better, but not as you mean it. I's going to
Jesus, and shall never have no more cough, nor feel no more pain."

"Oh, no! you's going to get better. I axed the Lord last night to make
you better an' let you stay."

"No, Benny, I shan't stay long. I's known it for months, an' I's willin'
to go, 'cause I know as how the Lord will take care of you."

"But I canna let you go," said Benny, sobbing louder than ever.

Then the nurse came forward, and laid her hand upon his shoulder. "You
must not excite your sister," she said kindly, "for that is not the way
to make her better."

"Oh, but she's all I has," he sobbed.

"Yes, poor boy, I know," she replied. "But if your sister leaves you
she'll be better off, and will not have to tramp the streets in the cold
and wet; so you must think that what is your loss will be her gain."

Nelly raised her eyes to the nurse with a grateful look for talking to
Benny in that way. And before he left he had grown calm, and seemingly
resigned. It was a painful parting; but Nelly did her best to cheer him
up, reminding him that in two days he would be able to come and see her
again.

Granny was in great trouble at the absence of the children, and it was
no small relief to her when, about noon, Benny put in an appearance
at Tempest Court. One look at his face, however, was sufficient to
convince her that something had happened, and when Benny told her what
had befallen his little Nell, the old woman sat down and cried; for she
knew very well that never more would the little face brighten the dingy
court. And granny had got to love the sweet, patient little child as her
own; and though for months she had been convinced that the little flower
was marked to fall, yet it had come in a way she had not expected, and,
like Benny, she felt it very hard to give her up.

After dinner Benny went out again to face the world. It was with a very
sad heart that he did it; for he felt that from henceforth he would have
to fight the battle of life alone.



CHAPTER XII.

Fading Away.

  The morning flowers displayed their sweets,
    And gay their silken leaves unfold,
  As careless of the noontide heats,
    As fearless of the evening cold.

  Nipt by the winds unkindly blast,
    Parched by the sun's directer ray,
  The momentary glories waste,
    The short-lived beauties die away.
                           --S. Wesley.


Joe Wrag heard the news in silence. Benny, who had gone to him to tell
him what had happened to Nell, was not half pleased that he said nothing
in reply. But Joe was too troubled to talk. Like granny, he had known
for months what was coming, but it had come suddenly, and in a way that
he had not expected, and the old man, as he afterwards expressed it, was
"struck all of a heap."

Benny waited for some time, but finding Joe was not inclined to talk,
he made his way home, leaving the old man gazing into the fire, with a
vacant look in his eyes and a look of pain upon his face.

No one ever knew what the old man suffered that night. It was like
tearing open the wound that had been made twenty years before, when his
only son, as the crowning act of his unkindness, ran away from home, and
had never since been heard of.

"If I could only believe that there was the smallest hope o' my ever
getting to heaven," he muttered, "it 'ud be easier to bear."

And he hid his face in his hands, while great tears dropped between his
fingers to the floor.

"Bless her little heart!" he murmured; "she did not believe as how any
wur excluded; she allers stuck to that word 'whosoever,' an' sometimes I
wur inclined to think as how she wur right. I wonder, now, if she wur?
for sartinly it looks the reasonabler.

"Bless me!" he said after a long pause, "I'm getting mortal shaky in my
faith; I used to be firm as a rock. I wonder if it are my heart getting
righter, or my head getting wrong. But I mun have a few more talks wi'
the little hangel afore she goes."

As soon as Joe was liberated from his watch, he made his way direct to
the Infirmary, and bitterly was he disappointed when told that he could
not be admitted, and that if he wanted to see the child he must come
again on the following day.

His heart was yearning for a sight of her face, and another day and
night seemed such a long time to wait; but he turned away without a
word, and went slowly home.

Evening found him again at his post of duty, and the next morning found
him anxious and sad. The night had seemed so very long, and he was
burning with impatience to get away.

The men came to work at length, and off he started with all possible
speed. The porter at the door knew him again, and he was admitted
without a word.

Nelly was expecting him; she knew it was visitors' day, and she was
certain he would come, so she waited with closed eyes, listening for the
footfall of her old friend.

She knew without looking up when he stooped beside her, and reached out
her wasted hand, and drew down his weather-beaten wrinkled face and
kissed him.

For a long time neither of them spoke. Joe felt if he attempted to utter
a word it would choke him, for she was far more wasted than he expected
to see her, and somehow he felt that that was the last time they would
ever meet on earth.

Nelly was the first to break the silence.

"I's so glad you's come, Joe," she said simply.

"Are 'e, my honey?" said Joe, with a choking in his throat.

"Ay," she replied; "I wanted to see yer once more. You's been very good
to me, Joe, and to Benny, an' I wanted to thank you afore I died."

"I dunna want thanks, honey," he said, sitting down in the one chair by
her bedside, and hiding his face in his hands.

"I know yer does not want 'em, Joe; but it does me good, an' I shall
tell the Lord when I gets to heaven how good you've been."

Joe could not reply, and Nelly closed her eyes, and whispered again to
herself, as she had often done,

 "Seaward fast the tide is gliding,
    Shores in sunlight stretch away."

Then after awhile she spoke again, without opening her eyes.

"You'll not be long afore you comes too, will yer, Joe?"

"Perhaps the Lord will let me look at you through the gate," sobbed Joe;
"but I'm afeard He won't let sich as me in."

"Oh, yes, Joe," she said, opening her eyes with such a pained look.
"Does you think the Lord does not love yer as much as I do? An' won't He
be as glad to see yer as I shall?"

"It does look reasonable like, my purty," said Joe; "but, oh, I'm so
afeard."

"'Who-so-ever,'" whispered Nelly, and again closed her eyes, while
the troubled expression passed away, and the smile that Joe loved to
see came back and lit up her pure _spirituelle_ face with a wonderful
beauty. And as Joe watched the smile lingering about her mouth as if
loth to depart, he felt somehow as if that child had been sent of God
to teach him the truth, and to lighten the burden of his dreary life by
giving him a hope of heaven.

"'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,'" he muttered to himself.

"Yes," said the nurse, coming softly to his side, "out of the mouths of
babes He perfects praise."

Joe looked up in surprise. "Do you think the bairn is right?" he
stammered out.

"I'm sure of it," she replied.

"But what about the elect?" said Joe, in a tone of voice that proclaimed
how deeply he was agitated.

"I think the elect are 'whosoever will,'" she replied.

"So Nelly thinks," he said, and shook his head sadly, as if such news
were too good to be true.

The nurse, besides being a kind motherly woman who dearly loved
children, was also a person of strong common sense, and hence she saw
Joe's difficulty in a moment.

"You have no children of your own, I suppose," she said.

"I had a son once," said Joe. "I hope he's still living."

"You do not love him, of course?"

In a moment Joe was on his feet.

"Love him!" said Joe, trembling from head to foot. "I'd lie down an' die
for him this blessed moment if it would do him good."

"Ah! he has been a very good son, I expect," said the nurse.

Joe sat down again, and hid his face in his hands. After awhile he
looked up and said with evident emotion,

"No, he was what people would call a bad son--a very bad 'un."

"Then if he were to come home again, you certainly would close the door
against him?"

"Close the door agin him! Close the door agin my own child, my own flesh
and blood! Why, I've been longing for years for him to come home. I
wish he'd try me, he should have the best of everything I've got in the
house. Oh, marcy! how my poor old heart 'ud ache with joy if he were to
come to-night."

Joe had got quite excited while delivering himself of this long speech.
So the nurse said quietly,

"So you think, Joe, that you are better than God."

"Better 'n God?"

"Yes; more merciful, and loving, and kind."

"Who said so?" said Joe, staring at her as if he could scarcely believe
his own ears.

"Well, you implied it," said the nurse, quietly.

"Me implied it?" said he in a tone of bewilderment. "How so?"

"Well, you say you have a bad son who has been away many years, and yet
you say you love him still, so much so that you would willingly die for
him; and that, bad as he has been, if he were to come home to-night,
instead of driving him from the door, you would give him the heartiest
welcome, and think nothing in the house too good for him. And yet you
think God will turn away you. So you must admit, Joe," she said with a
smile, "that you think you have more love and mercy in your heart than
God has in His?"

Joe was silent. And Nelly whispered to the nurse, "Thank you _so_ much."

After awhile Joe got up, and leaning over the crib, he kissed the pale
brow of the little sufferer. "Good bye, my purty," he whispered. "We'll
meet again, I do believe."

"Ay, Joe, I'm sure we shall."

"I'm main sorry to lose 'e," he said in a faltering voice, and brushing
his rough hand across his eyes; "but I ken give yer to God."

"I'll be waiting, Joe, 'gin you come. Now kiss me, for I'll be gone, I
reckon, afore you come again."

Silently Joe bent over her, and pressed a last lingering kiss upon her
paling lips. Then, sobbing, turned away and left the room.

Granny and Benny called a little later in the day, and found her sinking
fast. Her last words to her brother were: "Be good, Benny, an' the Lord
will provide, an' we'll meet in heaven." Then she lay as if asleep,
taking no further notice of any one.

Once or twice the nurse heard her repeating, "Seaward fast the tide is
gliding," and felt that the words were sadly true.

The nurse told granny that the child was dying, not of the blow on the
head, but of swift decline. Nothing could save her, she said. The shock
to her nervous system had of course hastened the end; but for that she
might have lived till another spring, but certainly not longer. She did
not seem to suffer in the least. Hour after hour she lay quite still,
while the tide of her little life ebbed swiftly out, and the darkness
stole on apace; but she did not fear the gloom. The brave little heart
that had borne so patiently the frowns of an unkindly world, was now
resting in the love of God.

The smile that had so long flickered over her face like firelight on a
wall, now settled into a look of deep content. No murmur ever escaped
her lips, not even a sigh; now and then her lips moved as if in prayer,
that was all.

And thus she lay waiting for the messenger that should still the little
heart into an everlasting rest, and listening for the footfalls that
should tell of the coming of her Lord.

After her last look at Benny, she was never seen to open her eyes again,
but gradually sank to rest.

  So fades a summer's cloud away,
    So sinks the gale when storms are o'er,
  So gently shuts the eye of day,
    So dies a wave along the shore.

Two days after, Joe and Benny went together to the Infirmary. But they
were too late: the pure spirit had gone to God, and the little tired
feet were for ever at rest.

"Cannot we see her?" said Benny.

"No, you had better not," was the reply.

Benny felt it very keenly that he might not see his little dead sister,
and yet it was best.

They were told, however, if they would be at the New Cemetery at the
east of the town on the following day, they might see her buried, and
mark her grave.

It was a cold cheerless afternoon when little Nelly Bates was laid in
her grave. There was no pomp or display about that funeral, for she was
buried at the public expense. Only two mourners stood by the grave,
Benny and Joe, but they were mourners indeed.

Benny went from the grave-side of little Nell to his corner under
granny's stairs, and sobbed himself to sleep. And Joe went to his hut to
muse on the mercy of God, and to revel in his new-found hope of heaven.



CHAPTER XIII.

The Tide turns.

  Be what thou seemest: live thy creed,
    Hold up to earth the torch divine;
  Be what thou prayest to be made;
    Let the great Master's steps be thine.
                                  --Bonar.


How Benny lived through the next few weeks he never knew. It seemed to
him as if the world had become suddenly dark. The one little being who
had been the sunshine of his life was buried up in the damp cold grave,
and now there seemed nothing to live for, nothing to work for, nothing
even to hope for; for what was all the world to him now his little Nell
was gone?

He missed her everywhere, and was continually fancying he saw her
running to meet him as he drew near the church where they had regularly
met for so long a time; and sometimes he would turn round with a sudden
start, and with the word "Nelly" on his lips, as he fancied he heard the
pattering of her little feet behind him.

He grew despondent, too. While Nelly lived there was some one to work
for, some one to bear rebuffs and insults for; but now what did it
matter whether he sold his matches or not? He could go hungry; he did
not mind. In fact, he did not seem to care what became of him. There
seemed to him nothing to fight the world for--nothing.

But for Joe he would have moped his life away in some dark corner where
no one could see him. But Joe taught him to believe that his little
sister was not lost, only gone before, and that perhaps she looked down
upon him from heaven, and that it might grieve her to see him fretting
so.

So he tried to sell his matches or earn a penny in some other way in a
listless, hopeless manner. But it was very hard work. And when evening
came he would drag himself wearily to his little corner under granny's
stairs, and generally sob himself to sleep. He missed his little
companion in the evenings almost more than at any time, and wished that
he had died with her.

Sometimes he went out to the cemetery to see her grave; and no one knew
what the little fellow suffered as he knelt there with clasped hands,
dropping scalding tears upon the cold earth that hid his little sister
from his sight.

He seemed to take no comfort in anything, not even in the story-books
that granny had hunted up for him, and which he was beginning to read so
nicely. He was proud of his learning while Nelly lived; but all that was
changed now.

And so the weeks wore away, and winter came in dark and cold. But people
generally did not seem to mind the darkness nor the cold, for Christmas
was drawing near, and they were anticipating a time of mirth and
merrymaking, of friendly greetings and family gatherings.

The trains began to be crowded again with homecomers for their holidays;
shopkeepers began to vie with each other as to which could present
in their windows the grandest display; the streets were crowded with
well-dressed people who were getting in a stock of Christmas cheer; and
everywhere people seemed bent on enjoying themselves to the utmost of
their ability.

All this, however, only seemed to make Benny sadder than ever. He
remembered how the Christmas before Nelly was with him, and he was as
happy and light-hearted as he well could be. Yet now the very happiness
of the people seemed to mock his sorrow, and he wished that Christmas
was gone again.

One bitterly cold afternoon he was at his old place, waiting for the
railway boat to come up to the stage, in the hope that some one of
its many passengers would permit him to carry his or her bag, when
he noticed a gentleman standing against the side of the boat with a
portmanteau in his right hand, and holding the hand of a little girl in
his left.

The boat was a long time coming to, for a heavy sea was running at the
time, and the gentleman seemed to get terribly impatient at the delay.
But Benny was rather glad of it, for he had abundant opportunity of
looking at the little girl, whose pleasant, smiling face reminded him
more of his little dead sister than any face he had ever seen.

"Golly, ain't she purty!" said Benny to himself; "and don't that woolly
stuff look hot round her jacket! And what long hair she have!--a'most as
long as little Nell's," and he brushed his hand quickly across his eyes.
"An' she looks good an' kind, too. I specks the gent is her par."

And Benny regarded the gentleman more attentively than he had hitherto
done.

"Well now, ain't that cur'us!" he muttered. "If that ain't the very gent
whose portmantle I carried the night faather wolloped me so. I'll try my
luck agin, for he's a good fare, an' not to be sneezed at."

By this time the gangway had been let down, and the gentleman and his
little girl were among the first to hurry on to the stage. In a moment
Benny had stepped forward, and touching his cap very respectfully, said,

"Carry yer bag, sir?"

"No," said the gentleman shortly, and hurried on.

"Oh, please, sir, do!" said Benny, his eyes filling with tears. "I's had
no luck to-day."

But the gentleman did not heed his tears or his pleading voice. He had
been annoyed at the delay of the boat, and he was in no mood to brook
further delay. So he said sternly,

"Be off with you this moment!"

Benny turned away with a great sob, for since Nelly died rebuffs had
become doubly hard to bear. He did not try to get another fare, but
stood looking out on the storm-tossed river, trying to gulp down the
great lumps that rose continually in his throat.

"I specks I'll have to starve," he thought bitterly, "for I can't get a
copper to-day nohow."

Just then he felt a touch on his arm, and turning his brimming eyes, he
saw the little girl he had noticed on the boat.

"What's the matter, little boy?" she said, in a voice that sounded like
music to the sad-hearted child.

They were the first kind words that had been spoken to him for the day,
and they completely broke him down.

At length he stammered out between his sobs,

"Oh, I's so hungry an' cold, an' little Nelly's dead; an' all the world
is agin me."

"Have you no father?" she said.

"No; I's no father, nor mother, nor sister, nor nobody. Nelly was all I
had in the world, an' now she's dead."

"Poor boy!" said the kindly little voice. "And how do you get your
living?"

"Oh, I sells matches or carries gents' portmantles when they'll let me,
or anything honest as turns up."

"Well, don't think papa is unkind because he spoke cross to you, but he
had been annoyed. And here is a shilling he gave me to-day; you need it
more than I do, so I will give it to you. Are you here every day?"

"Ay, I's mostly here every day," said Benny, closing his fingers around
the bright shilling as one in a dream.

The next moment he was alone. He looked everywhere for the little girl,
but she was nowhere visible.

"Golly!" said Benny, rubbing his eyes, "I wonder now if she wur a
hangel. Nelly said as 'ow the Lord 'ud provide. An' mebbe He sent her
with that bob. I wish I had looked more particler to see if she had
wings, 'cause Nelly said as how hangels had wings."

More than twenty times that afternoon Benny looked at the bright new
shilling that had been given him; the very sight of it seemed to do him
good. It seemed to turn the tide, too, in his favour, for before dark
he had earned another shilling; and that evening he trudged to his home
with a lighter heart than he had known for many a week.

The weather on Christmas Eve was anything but orthodox. There was
neither frost nor snow; but, on the contrary, it was close and sultry.
Benny had been out in the neighbourhood of Edge Hill with a big bundle
for a woman, who dismissed him with three halfpence, and the remark that
young vagabonds like he always charged twice as much as they expected to
get. So Benny was trudging home in a not very happy frame of mind. He
had been tolerably fortunate, however, during the early part of the day,
and that compensated him to some extent for his bad afternoon's work.

As he was passing along a street in the neighbourhood of Falkner Square
he was arrested by the sound of music and singing. Now, as we have
hinted before, Benny was very sensitive to the influence of music, and,
in fact, anything beautiful had a peculiar charm for him. The window of
the house before which he stopped stood slightly open, so that he was
not only able to hear the music, but also to distinguish the words that
were being sung.

It was a pure childish voice that was singing to a simple accompaniment
on the piano,--

 "There is beauty all around,
    When there's love at home;
  There is joy in every sound,
    When there's love at home.
  Peace and plenty here abide,
  Smiling sweet on every side;
  Time doth softly, sweetly glide,
    When there's love at home."

Benny waited, as if rooted to the ground, until the song ended; waited
a minute longer in the hope that the singer would begin again. And in
that minute the little singer came to the window and looked out and saw
our hero; and Benny, looking up at the same moment, saw the face of his
angel, and hurried away out of sight, as if he had been guilty of some
wrong.

The little singer was Eva Lawrence, the daughter of a well-to-do man of
business in the town. She was not ten years of age by several months,
but she was unusually thoughtful for her age, and was as kind-hearted as
she was thoughtful.

As soon as Mr. Lawrence had finished his tea that evening, and had
betaken himself to his easy chair, little Eva clambered upon his knee,
and, putting her arms about his neck, said,

"Papa, what do you think?"

"Oh, I think ever so many things," he replied, laughing.

"Now, you naughty man, you're going to tease again. But I've begun wrong
way about, as usual. I want to ask a favour."

"I expected as much, Eva," said her father, smiling. "But how many more
Christmas presents will you want?"

"But this is not a present exactly."

"Oh, indeed," he said, pretending to look serious.

"Now, don't be a tease," she said, pulling his whiskers, "for I'm quite
serious. Now listen."

"I'm all attention, my dear."

"You want a little boy to run errands and sweep out the office, and do
little odd jobs, don't you?"

"Well, who has been telling you that?"

"Nobody, papa; I only wanted to know, you see. So you do, don't you?"

"Well, I shall the beginning of the year, for the boy I have is leaving.
But what has that to do with my little girl?"

"Well, papa, our teacher is always telling us that we ought to be little
missionaries, and lend a helping hand to the needy whenever possible,
and do all the good we can."

"Quite right, my dear; but I can't see yet what my little girl is
driving at."

"Well, she was telling us only last Sunday that lots of people would
be better if they had better surroundings; and that if something could
be done to get those little street Arabs more out of the reach of
temptation, they might grow up to be good and honest men and women."

"Well, Eva?"

"Well, papa, I should like for you to give one of those little street
boys a chance."

"Who do you mean?"

"That poor boy I gave the shilling to on the landing-stage the other
day, don't you remember--when you called me a silly girl?"

"And were you not silly, Eva?"

"No, papa, I don't think I was; for I am sure the boy is not bad, he has
such honest eyes. And he said he had no father, nor mother, nor brother,
nor sister, and he seemed in such trouble."

"Well, my child?"

"You know now what I mean, papa. I confess I had quite forgotten the
poor boy till this afternoon I saw him standing in front of the house. I
had been singing 'Love at Home,' and he had been listening, I think; and
I fancy it had made him sad, for his eyes were full of tears, but when
he saw he was noticed he hurried away as quickly as possible."

"And suppose I should decide to employ this boy, Eva, where should I
find him?"

"Oh, he said he was nearly always on the landing-stage. He sold matches
there, except when he was running errands."

"Well, I will think about it, Eva."

"Oh, promise, papa, there's a good man."

"I don't believe in making rash promises, Eva," said Mr. Lawrence
kindly; "and, besides, I have very little faith in those street boys.
They are taught to be dishonest from their infancy, and it is a
difficult matter for them to be anything else; but I'll think about it."

And Mr. Lawrence was as good as his word; he did think about it, and,
what is more, he decided to give the little boy a trial.

Benny was on the landing-stage on New Year's Day when Mr. Lawrence was
returning from Chester. He had scarcely left the railway boat when
several lads crowded around him with "Carry yer bag, sir?" Benny among
the number.

He quickly recognized our hero from the description Eva gave, and placed
his bag in Benny's hand, giving him the address of his office. Arrived
there, much to Benny's bewilderment, he was invited inside, and Mr.
Lawrence began to ply him with questions, all of which he answered in a
straightforward manner, for there was little in his life that he cared
to hide.

Mr. Lawrence was so much impressed in the boy's favour that he engaged
him at once, promising him two shillings a week more than he had
intended to give.

When Benny at length comprehended his good fortune--for it was some time
before he did--he sobbed outright. Looking up at length with streaming
eyes, he blurted out, "I can't tell 'e how 'bliged I is," and ran out of
the office and hurried home to tell granny the news, not quite certain
in his own mind whether he was awake or dreaming.

Granny was upstairs when Benny burst into the room, and when she came
down the first thing she saw was Benny standing on his head.

"Oh, granny," he shouted, "I's made my fortin! I's a gent at last!"

Granny was a considerable time before she could really discover from
Benny what had happened; but when she did discover she seemed as pleased
as the child. And a bigger fire was made up, and a more sumptuous supper
was got ready in honour of the occasion.



CHAPTER XIV.

A Glimpse of Paradise.

  I know not how others saw her,
    But to me she was wholly fair;
  And the light of the heaven she came from
    Still lingered and gleamed in her hair;

  For it was as wavy and golden
    And as many changes took
  As the shadow of sunlight ripples
    Or the yellow bed of a brook
                      --J.R. Lowell.


For the next month Benny lived in a seventh heaven of delight. The only
drawback to his happiness was that Nelly was not alive to share his good
fortune. Time was mercifully blunting the keen edge of his sorrow, and
day by day he was getting more reconciled to his loss. Yet never a day
passed but that he wished a hundred times that his little sister were
still with him, that they might rejoice together in his good fortune. He
knew that she was better off, and even hoped that she was not altogether
ignorant of his success in life. Yet how much pleasanter it would have
been, he thought, if they could have journeyed on through life together.

Benny had wonderful dreams of future success. Though not of a very
imaginative temperament, he could not help occasionally indulging in
daydreams and castle-building, and some of his castles, it must be
admitted, were of the most magnificent description.

He saw the glowing heights before him, the summits of which others had
reached, and why might not he? He certainly had commenced the ascent:
what was there to hinder him from reaching the top? Had not granny
told him of poor Liverpool boys who, by perseverance and honest toil,
had become wealthy men, and were now occupying high and honourable
positions? Surely, then, there was a chance for him, and if he did not
succeed it should not be for want of trying.

He felt that already he had got his foot on the first rung of the
ladder, and if there was any chance of his reaching the top he would do
it. And as he thought thus, the future opened out before him in glowing
vistas of unimagined beauty.

He knew that he must wait many years; that he must work hard and
patiently; that perhaps many difficulties would arise that he could not
foresee; still, still, across the boggy valley the mountain rose up with
its sunlighted crown, and the question came back--Others had reached the
top, then why might not he?

It is true he never attempted to put these thoughts into words. They
seemed to him too big for utterance; yet they were always with him,
lightening his toil and brightening the long future that lay before him.

If Benny had been of a less practical turn of mind, he might have done
what so many others have done--dreamed his life away, or waited idly for
fortune to drop her treasures in his lap. But Benny, notwithstanding his
occasional daydreams, was sufficiently matter-of-fact to know that if he
was to win any success in life, it must be by hard work.

He was already able to read very creditably. But now a new desire seized
him--he would learn to write as well. But how was he to begin? He had to
confess that that was a poser, for neither granny nor Joe could give him
any assistance. Still he had set his heart upon learning to write, and
he was not to be defeated.

So one day he said to one of Mr. Lawrence's clerks,

"Does yer think, Mr. Morgan, that I could learn to write if I was to try
very hard?"

"Of course you could, Benny," said Mr. Morgan, looking kindly down into
the dark earnest-looking eyes of the office boy. For Benny had done
several little things for Mr. Morgan, and so that gentleman was disposed
to be kind to the little waif.

"But how is I to begin?" said Benny eagerly.

"I'm busy now," said Mr. Morgan, "but if you will wait till to-morrow,
I'll bring you a slate and pencil, and will set you a copy, and then
you'll be able to begin right off."

Just then Mr. Lawrence called Benny from the inner office, and sent him
with a note to Mrs. Lawrence, with instructions to wait for an answer.

"You know the way, Benny?"

"Yes, sir."

"But you've never been to the house?"

"No, sir."

"Then how do you know the way?"

"It's where you has the music an' 'love at home,' sir, ain't it?"

Mr. Lawrence smiled and said,

"You are on the right track, Benny, I think. Go to the house, and give
this note to the servant that opens the door, and say that you have to
wait for an answer."

"Yes, sir," said Benny, bowing very politely, and hurrying out of the
office.

Benny had often longed to listen under the window of Mr. Lawrence's
house that he might hear again the song that had so touched his heart,
and see again the little angel face through whose intercession he owed
his good fortune; for Mr. Lawrence had hinted as much as that to him.
But even if nothing had ever been said, he would still have connected
Mr. Lawrence's kindness to him with his little daughter, who had spoken
so kindly to him in the hour of his sorrow and despair, and whose bright
shilling he still kept, and regarded with almost superstitious reverence.

But he had never dared to listen under the window again; he felt somehow
as if he had no business in that neighbourhood, no right to look upon
the face of his little benefactress; so he kept away and spent his long
winter evenings by granny's fireside, poring over the few books that she
and Joe were able to procure for him.

Benny could not help wondering, as he hurried along the streets, holding
the letter very carefully in his hand, whether he would see again the
little face at the window or hear her voice in song. He hoped that one
or the other would greet him; but he was disappointed in both. No face
was at the window, no sound of music floated out on the bright frosty
air.

He pulled the door-bell very timidly, and then waited a long time very
patiently for the door to open. It was opened, however, at length, and,
bowing very low, he said,

"Please, 'm, here's a letter from the master, an' I's to wait for an
answer."

"You'll have to wait some time, then," said the girl, scornfully, "for
Mrs. Lawrence has gone out;" and she shut the door with a bang.

"May I wait here?" said Benny, looking round the roomy hall.

"Yes," said the girl; "I'll have no brats in the kitchen; you can sit on
that chair if you like;" and she hurried downstairs.

Benny obeyed, and sat for a long time holding his cap between his knees.
At length, as he was growing rather impatient, he heard a light step on
the stairs near him, and, looking up, he saw his little benefactress
descending, carrying a huge doll in her arms.

Benny felt himself growing hot all over, for he had no idea whether it
was the proper thing to stand or sit still, so he shuffled about on his
chair in a very uneasy manner.

The little girl looked at him curiously for a moment, and then came
towards him, saying,

"Are you not Benny, that papa has in his office?"

"Yes, 'm," said Benny, shuffling dangerously near the edge of the chair,
and blushing to the roots of his hair.

"Don't be frightened," she said, noticing his embarrassment. "I've been
wanting a long time to see you. Are you waiting for something?"

"Ay," said Benny, regaining his composure; "the master sent me with a
letter, an' told me to wait an answer."

"Well, mamma won't be in yet, so you can come into the nursery; it is
warm there."

Benny had not the remotest idea what a nursery was, but he followed
his guide at what he thought a very respectful distance, and soon
found himself in the most wonderful room he had ever seen in his life.
Toys of every description were scattered about, and pictures of every
description adorned the walls. A swing was suspended from the ceiling
in the centre of the room, and in the nearest corner was a doll's
house furnished in magnificent style. But what most attracted Benny's
attention was a huge rocking-horse. At first he thought it was alive,
but soon found out his mistake, though his wonderment was not in the
least diminished by his discovery.

Little Eva Lawrence was evidently amused at Benny's astonishment, and
after regarding him for some time with a merry twinkle in her eyes, said,

"Did you never see a rocking-horse before, Benny?"

"Never!" was the laconic reply.

"Would you like to ride, Benny?"

"Wouldn't I just!" said Benny, his eyes beaming with pleasure.

"Well, here are the steps; take care you don't fall off, though," said
Eva.

"Oh, never fear," said Benny, mounting the horse. "Now for 't, miss, an'
see if I ain't a stunner at it!"

And the next moment our hero was sprawling on the floor in the middle of
the room.

"Golly!" he ejaculated, picking himself up with a bewildered air, and
scratching his head. "I's floored, to a sartinty."

"You tried to go too fast to begin with," laughed Eva; "you'll do better
next time."

"May I try again?" he questioned.

"Oh, yes," was the reply; "I want you to enjoy yourself."

And enjoy himself he did, to his heart's content.

After awhile Eva said, "Now, Benny, I want to know more about you: won't
you tell me something about yourself and about your little sister?"

"Ay, that I will, if you wish," said Benny, sitting down in a low chair
before the fire. And in his simple childish way he told her all the
story with which the reader is acquainted--for he had lost all shyness
now--told it with a simple eloquence and pathos that brought the tears
again and again to his little listener's eyes. Ay, he wept himself when
he told of his little sister, of her goodness and of her love. He did
not even hide from his listener the story of his temptation, and how but
for his little Nelly he would have been a thief in act as well as in
heart.

With the account of little Nelly's death Eva was much affected, and
Benny sobbed again as the recollection of his loss came back to him.

"I thought I should ha' died when she were took," said he, between his
sobs.

"Poor little boy!" said Eva, soothingly; "but you see your little
sister's words have come true, after all."

"What words, miss?"

"Why, what you told me just now, Benny,--how the Lord would provide."

"Oh, ay," said Benny, reflectively, "though I wur as near as nothin' to
starvin' the day I fust seed you."

"Were you? Then perhaps the Lord sent me to help you."

"Oh, no doubt on that score," said Benny, stoutly; "I's sartin about
that matter."

"Do you go to Sunday-school, Benny?"

Benny shook his head.

"Nor to church or chapel?"

"Not since that night me an' Nelly went, that I told you 'bout."

"How is that?"

"Well, we did try to get into another place o' the sort, smarter like,
but the gent at the door shoved us out, an' said there wur no room for
such brats as us, an' told us to be off 'bout our bizness."

"Poor boy!" said Eva, wondering if he came to the chapel she attended
if he would not receive similar treatment.

At length she looked up and said, "I would go to that chapel again, that
you and Nelly attended, if I were you, on a Sunday. It would not be
closed then, and I'm sure that kind gentleman would be glad to have you
in the Sunday-school."

"Oh, then, I'll go," said Benny, who felt that this little girl's wish
was law to him.

Soon after Mrs. Lawrence came in, read her husband's note without a
word, and hastily wrote a reply.

"Make haste, Benny," she said kindly, giving him the letter she had
written. "I'm afraid Mr. Lawrence will think you've been away a very
long time."

Benny took the letter without a word, and hurried away with a heart full
of gratitude for the kindly treatment he had received. It seemed to him
as if that day he had had a glimpse of Paradise, and had spoken to one
of God's angels face to face.

How bright and smooth his path of life was growing! He almost feared
sometimes that he was dreaming, and that he would awake and find himself
destitute and forsaken.

He was now beginning to enjoy life, and as he looked back upon the past
he almost wondered how he and his little sister had managed to live in
those dark years of cold and want.

When Joe Wrag first heard of Benny's good fortune, he lifted up his
hands, and said in a voice of reverence,

"The Lord is good! the Lord is good!" Then after a moment's pause he
went on, "But oh! what an old sinner I've a-been, to be sure."

"How so?" said Benny.

"How so? 'cause as how I turned my back upon God, an' tried to persuade
mysel' that He had turned His back on me. Oh, I did, lad, an' in my
heart I called Him 'ard names. I didn't dare say it wi' my lips, but in
my heart, boy, I said He wur cruel--that He wur a monster, that He had
no feelin', that He had shut the door agin' me, when all the time He wur
a-sayin', 'Joe, come back, come back, for there's room in the Father's
heart and home for thee.' But, oh! praise His name, He sent His hangel
to tell poor owd Joe the way, an' reveal the Father's love--He did, boy,
for sure."

"His hangel, Joe?" said Benny, trying in vain to comprehend all Joe had
said.

"Ay, His hangel, boy. An' that hangel wur little Nell, bless her! she's
wi' Him now, in the land where there's no more sorrow nor pain, an'
Joe's on the way."

And the old man looked up into the star-bespangled sky, as if he would
look through the very floor of heaven.

Benny thought of all this, as he hurried from Mr. Lawrence's door, and
felt as if he, too, had had an angel sent from God to help him on the
way to heaven.

Poor boy! he did not see the heavy cloud that was gathering in the sky,
nor the dark and painful paths that lay before him, which he, with
bruised and bleeding feet, would have to tread. He only saw the promised
land, bathed in sunshine and clad in beauty, a land where plenty reigned
and want could never come, and knew not of the weary wilderness that lay
between. He thought that he had passed through the wilderness already,
and that all the sorrow, and hunger, and pain lay behind him.

It was well he did so. Let him enjoy the sunshine while it lasts, and
dream his happy dreams of coming joy. The awaking will come all too
soon. Poor boy! may God protect him in the struggle of life.



CHAPTER XV.

A Terrible Alternative.

  Sow truth, if thou the true wouldst reap,--
    Who sows the false shall reap the vain;
  Erect and sound thy conscience keep,
    From hollow words and deeds refrain.

  Sow love, and taste its fruitage pure;
    Sow peace, and reap its harvest bright;
  Sow sunbeams on the rock and moor,
    And reap a harvest home of light
                              --Bonar.


The days of peace and sunshine sped all too swiftly. Winter soon gave
place to budding spring, and spring lengthened into summer. Twelve
months had passed since that happy day in Eastham Woods, for June had
come again; and the parks and squares were once more green, and the
streets were hot and dusty.

It had been a strange year to Benny. Pain and pleasure had strangely
commingled. Never had he felt such sorrow, never had he known such joy.
The old year had closed in sorrow and despair; the new year had opened
in joy and hope.

Benny had grown much during those twelve months, for neither the
chastening of grief nor the stimulus of kindness had been lost upon
him. Both had done him good, and so the year had been to him one of
growth--growth in every sense. He had grown physically. He was barely
twelve yet, but he was well developed for his age; especially so
considering how little had been the care bestowed on his childhood. His
face was open and pleasant, and there was a frank honest expression in
his eyes that won him favour wherever he went.

He had grown, too, mentally. Mr. Morgan had regularly set him copies,
and Mr. Lawrence, discovering his eagerness to learn, had lent him
books that would help him in the pursuit of knowledge. He became a most
diligent student. At first he sought after knowledge as a means to an
end. He believed that it would help him in the race of life. But the
farther he advanced the pleasanter became his studies, and knowledge
became precious for its own sake. What at first he set before himself as
a stern and even unpleasant duty, became at last a joy and delight.

He was eager also to improve his manners. He was anxious to speak
correctly, and not be a disgrace to the gentleman who employed him and
the butt of the clerks. And it was wonderful what progress he made in
this respect. It is true that he frequently forgot himself, and the old
expressions that habit had made familiar rolled easily from his tongue.
But he had made up his mind to conquer, and he was certainly succeeding.

And last, but not least, he had grown morally. For three months he had
regularly attended the Sunday-school, and among the five hundred boys
and girls that assembled regularly week after week there was not a
more diligent inquirer than Benny. The spiritual discernment that Joe
Wrag thought he lacked was being given, and the "old, old story" was
beginning to have a wonderful fascination for him.

Mr. Lawrence was wonderfully pleased with his _protégé_, and had decided
that if during the next six months he made such progress as he had done
in the past, he should be promoted to a higher position.

Benny regarded his fortune as made. Never had life seemed so bright
to him as, one Saturday afternoon, he was busy at work putting Mr.
Lawrence's office in order. There was no one in the office but himself.
Mr. Lawrence had just left, giving him instructions that he must wait
till Mr. Morgan returned, who would lock up the offices, and then he
(Benny) must bring up the keys to his residence.

Benny had swept out the inner office, put the few books that were lying
about in their proper places on the shelves, and was busy dusting the
furniture, humming to himself the song that haunted him continually--

 "There is beauty all around,
    When there's love at home,"

when Mr. Lawrence came in hurriedly, and went straight to his desk and
began to search carefully among the few papers that were lying on it;
then he looked behind it, around it, and underneath it, but it was
evident, from the perplexed look on his face, that he could not find
what he was in search of.

"Benny," he called, "come here."

And Benny came in from the outer office, to which he had retired on Mr.
Lawrence's appearance.

"Has Mr. Morgan returned yet?" demanded Mr. Lawrence, in a stern voice.

"No, sir," said Benny, wondering what had happened.

"Has any one been here since I left?"

"No, sir."

"You are quite sure?"

"Yes, sir, quite sure."

"Then will you tell me what has become of the five-pound note that I
left lying on the desk when I went out?" And he looked straight in
Benny's face.

Benny turned pale, for he knew what the question implied, but he did
not quail before Mr. Lawrence's stern gaze, and, looking his employer
straight in the eyes, he answered,

"I do not know, sir; I have not seen it."

"Now, Benny," said Mr. Lawrence, "mind what you are saying."

In a moment his face flushed crimson as he answered,

"Did you ever know me lie, sir?"

"No, Benny," answered Mr. Lawrence; "I never did, nor steal either.
Though I can quite conceive how, in a moment of weakness, you might be
tempted to do both."

"But I've done neither," said Benny, with trembling lip.

For a moment Mr. Lawrence was silent, then he said,

"Look here, Benny. I left a five-pound note on the desk when I went out.
I am quite certain of that--as certain as I am that I stand here at this
moment. And, according to your own statement, no one but yourself has
been in the office since I left, and when I come back the note is gone.
What am I to think?"

"It's mighty queer, sir," said Benny, turning pale again; "but I hope
you'll not think that I've took it."

"I'm afraid that I must think so."

Then there was another pause, while Benny trembled from head to foot. At
length Mr. Lawrence spoke again.

"I do not wish to be hard with you, Benny," he said; "and if you will
only confess that you have taken the note, I will forgive you."

"And if I was to tell a lie and say I took it, you would ask me for it
at once, and I ain't got it." And Benny burst into tears.

"No, I will be more lenient still, for I know what a grief it will be to
my little girl when she hears about it. If you will only confess that
you have taken it, I won't even ask you to return it. But if you will
not confess, I'm afraid the law will have to take its course."

Poor Benny! It was a terrible moment to him, and he tried to realize
how much depended upon his answer. By telling a lie he might still
keep his situation and the friendship of his little benefactress, and
yet reach the heights to which his ambition pointed. But if he stuck
to the truth, what would there be? A prison, perhaps, and then the old
life in the streets--hunger and weariness and cold. True, if he told a
lie Mr. Lawrence would then have no doubt of his guilt. But, alas! he
would still believe him guilty if he told the truth, and not only Mr.
Lawrence, but every one else that knew him would regard him as a thief.

It was a terrible alternative. Tell a lie, and still go on the shining
way that for months had been opening up before him; tell the truth, and
go back to the old life, that would now seem worse than death--go back
to want and disgrace.

At one time he would not have been long in deciding the question. But
conscience had been awakened since then, and, while he hesitated,
the little pale face of his dead sister rose up between him and his
employer, and a voice within seemed to whisper, "Tell the truth, Benny,
and the Lord will provide."

It was a brief interval since Mr. Lawrence had spoken, but in those few
moments Benny had fought the fiercest battle of his life, and had won
the victory.

He lifted his swimming eyes to Mr. Lawrence and said,

"I cannot tell a lie, sir." That was all.

Mr. Lawrence regarded him for a few moments in silence, then left the
office with a deeply puzzled expression on his face. He did not know
what to think. Either Benny was honest or he was a most hardened thief,
and somehow he felt that the boy could not be the latter. He had always
found him so truthful and thoughtful and obliging. There seemed nothing
bad about the boy. And yet where could that note be if he had not taken
it?

And again he walked back into the office, and commenced a search more
careful and diligent than before, but all without avail: the note was
nowhere to be found.

Sorely puzzled what to do, he left the office once more, and had
scarcely got into the street when he stumbled across Police-inspector
Sharp.

"Good afternoon," said the inspector, touching his hat.

"Good afternoon," said Mr. Lawrence, passing on. He had not gone many
steps, however, before he turned back.

"I don't know but that it is a fortunate thing, Sharp, that I have met
you," he said. "The fact is, I'm in a bit of a difficulty, and I don't
know a more likely man than you to help me out."

"I'm at your service, sir," said Mr. Sharp, "and if I can render you any
assistance, I shall be most happy to do so."

"Well, the fact is," said Mr. Lawrence, and he went on to tell all
the circumstances connected with the missing note, and finished up by
saying, "But somehow I cannot for the life of me believe the boy has
stolen it."

"Indeed, now," said Mr. Sharp, putting on a professional air, "I cannot
for the life of me believe that the urchin has _not_ stolen it. So you
see my difficulty is in the opposite direction, Mr. Lawrence."

"But you don't know this lad, Mr. Sharp."

"Well, perhaps, I don't know this particular young dog, but I know the
whole tribe of them," said Mr. Sharp, trying to look wise, "and I tell
you they are all rogues and vagabonds, from the oldest to the youngest
of 'em. Bless you, it is bred in their very bones, and they couldn't be
honest if they were to try ever so."

"But this boy has been with me six months, and a nicer lad I never knew."

"Ay, yes, Mr. Lawrence, their cunning is amazing; and they can play the
hypocrite equal to old Satan himself. I tell you what, sir, if you had
had the experience of 'em that I've had, you'd mistrust the whole tribe
of 'em."

"Well, I dare say, Sharp, you know more about them than I do, and I
confess that it was with some amount of misgiving that I engaged the
boy; but he has never taken anything before."

"Did you ever give him the chance?"

"Well, perhaps not," said Mr. Lawrence, looking thoughtful.

"Just so," said Inspector Sharp. "The young dog has patiently waited his
opportunity. Oh, bless you, sir, they know their game."

"But what had I better do?" said Mr. Lawrence, looking puzzled.

"If you'll leave the matter to me," said Mr. Sharp, "_I'll_ work the
oracle for you, and very likely restore you the missing money."

"I'm very unwilling to prosecute," said Mr. Lawrence, in a troubled tone
of voice.

"Just so, just so. I quite understand your feeling. But you'll not have
need to do much in that direction, I can assure you," said Mr. Sharp, in
a patronizing manner.

"Well," said Mr. Lawrence, looking like a man that had made up his mind
to submit to a painful operation, "I'll leave the matter in your hands."

Half an hour later, as Benny stood in the street waiting until Mr.
Morgan had locked the doors, a police constable came forward and touched
him on the arm.

"You'll come with me!" he said. "I've found fresh lodgings for you
to-night."

"Did Mr. Lawrence send you?" said Benny, the tears standing in his eyes.

"The orders came from him in the first place," said the policeman; "he
intends to stop your cribbing for a week or two."

"Oh, but I didn't steal the money," sobbed Benny, "I didn't really."

"They all say that," laughed the constable; "but from what I can hear,
you're a particular cunning dog. However, you're caught this time."

Benny felt that it was of no use saying any more, so he walked along by
the officer's side with the calmness of despair settling down upon his
heart.

He had no wish to resist. He knew it would be useless for him to attempt
to do so. He had lost everything now, and the only thing he hoped for
was that death might come speedily, and that he might soon be laid to
rest by the side of his little sister, and be at peace for ever.

He thought everybody was looking at him, as the officer led him through
the streets, and he could not help feeling thankful now that Nelly was
dead. Such disgrace would break her heart if she were alive. And for the
first time he felt glad that she was sleeping in her grave.

How changed everything had become in one short day! A few hours ago
he was mourning the loss of his sister; now he was glad that she was
numbered with the dead. But one short hour before the world had never
seemed so bright, and he had thought how he should enjoy the beautiful
summer evening in Wavertree Park; now the world had never seemed so
cheerless and dark, and his evening was to be spent in a prison cell.

Poor boy! it is no wonder that he wished he might die, for every hope
had been blasted in an hour.

On arriving at the police station he was thrust into his cell without
a word. He was thankful to find that it was empty, for he wanted to be
alone with his thoughts. Selecting the darkest corner, he crouched down
upon the floor and rested his head upon his knees. He could not weep,
his grief was too great for tears. He could only think and think, until
his thoughts seemed to scorch his very brain. And as he crouched thus,
while the hours of that summer's afternoon and evening dragged slowly
along, his whole life passed vividly before him, he seemed to live it
all over again, and he asked himself if he could go back to the old life
of hunger and cold in the streets.

When Nelly was with him, and they knew no other life, they were not
unhappy. But he had had a glimpse of Paradise since then. He had tasted
the joys of hope and had cherished dreams of a happy future, and he felt
that it would be easier to die than to return in disgrace to what he had
thought he had left behind him for ever.

It was very hard that just as the world seemed brightest, and hope
seemed growing into certainty--just as the path of life was getting
clear, and the end seemed certain, that he should be thus thrust down,
and thrust down to a lower depth than he had known in his darkest days.

Could it be true, he asked himself again and again, that he, who had
been trying so hard to be good and truthful and honest, was really in
prison on a charge of theft? It had come upon him so suddenly that he
thought sometimes it must be all some horrid dream, and that he would
surely awake some time and find the bright future still before him.

And so the hours wore away, and the light faded in the little patch of
sky that was visible through his high grated window, and the cell grew
darker and more dismal all the while.

At length there was a tramp of feet in the courtyard outside. The key
grated in the lock, the door flew open, and two lads were tumbled into
the cell. These were followed in half an hour by three others, and Benny
became aware by the noises in the courtyard that other cells were being
filled as well as the one he occupied. And, as the darkness deepened,
night grew hideous with shouts, and laughter, and songs, and curses loud
and deep.

It seemed to him as if he had got to the very mouth of hell. Nothing
that he had ever heard in Addler's Hall or Bowker's Row could at all
compare with what he heard that night: now there was the sound of blows;
now cries for help; now shrieks of murder, accompanied by volleys of
oaths and shouts of laughter.

The companions of his own cell were on the whole tolerably orderly,
and were evidently disposed to make the best of their situation. They
started several songs, but in every case broke down at the end of the
second line, so at length they gave up trying, and settled themselves
down to sleep.

It was far on towards morning before all grew still, but silence did
drop down upon the prisoners at last; and Benny, weary with counting
the beats of his heart, dropped at length into a troubled sleep. It was
late in the morning when he awoke again, and for a moment he was unable
to recall what had happened or where he was. Then the memory of the past
evening rushed in upon him like a flood, and he buried his face in his
hands in the misery of despair.

He wondered what granny would think of his absence, and what his teacher
would think in the Sunday-school. Alas! he should see them no more, for
how could he go to them with such a stain upon his name?

While he was musing thus he was startled by a familiar voice addressing
him, and looking up he saw Perks looking at him, with a broad grin upon
his countenance.

"Well, this are a onexpected pleasure!" he said. "I's jolly glad to see
yer, Ben. Yer see, I's of a very forgivin' natur'."

But Benny made no reply. He only wondered if his misery would ever end.

"In the dumps, eh?" continued Perks. "Well, I an' my mates'll help you
out in quick sticks: now let's have a song all together. You ken take
the big end, that's the bass, yer know."

"I want to be quiet," said Benny; "do let me alone."

"In course I'll let 'e alone. I looks like it, don't I? I's a very
forgivin' natur', Mister Benjamin Bates, you knows that, though I don't
forget. But the fact is, I's so pleased to 'ave yer company agin, that
I'm bound to show my delight in some way."

"If you don't take yourself off, Perks, you'll wish you had," said Benny.

"Now, don't be touchy, Mr. Bates. But let's dance a cornpipe, while one
o' my mates whistles 'Pop goes the Weasel.'"

Poor Benny! he could not escape his tormentor, so he bore throughout
that weary Sabbath, as best he could, a series of petty persecutions. He
tried to be patient, he even tried to pray, but the only prayer he could
utter was, "O Lord, kill me at once, and put me out of misery."



CHAPTER XVI.

An Experiment.

  Sow ye beside all waters,
    Where the dew of heaven may fall;
  Ye shall reap, if ye be not weary.
    For the Spirit breathes o'er all.

  Sow, though the thorns may wound thee:
    One wore the thorns for thee;
  And though the cold world scorn thee,
    Patient and hopeful be.
                  --Anna Shipton.


While Benny in his prison-cell was dragging out the weary hours
of that June Sabbath, Joe Wrag was engaged in an experiment that
had occupied his thoughts for some considerable time. Since that
never-to-be-forgotten day when he had kissed his little Nelly a last
good bye, he had never doubted three things:--First, that the elect were
"whosoever will;" second, that he had been accepted of the Father; and,
third, that little Nelly Bates had been to him the "sent of God," to
lead him out of the darkness of error into the light of truth.

The certainty that he was included in God's invitation of mercy was to
him a new revelation. He felt as if he had suddenly grown young again,
and, notwithstanding his grief for his little pet, he experienced a joy
springing up in his heart the like of which he had never known before.

The words that have comforted so many sorrow-bruised hearts--"for we
mourn not as those without hope, for them that sleep in Him"--seemed to
him to have a new and deeper meaning. For he felt that not only was his
little Nelly safe, but that he, too, was secure in the almighty love of
God.

For several weeks Joe hardly knew at times whether he was in the
body or out of it. Wrapped in contemplation, he would forget "all
time and toil and care," and the long nights would slip away like a
dream. He grew more silent than ever; but the look of melancholy was
rapidly disappearing from his weatherbeaten face, and an expression of
heart-rest and peace was taking its place.

But one morning, as Joe was walking home from his work, lost as usual in
contemplation, a thought crossed his mind that fairly startled him, and
for several moments he stood stock-still in the street.

"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" he groaned. "If I don't desarve to be reprobated,
my name's not Joe Wrag."

Then he walked on again with rapid strides, as if he would escape the
haunting thought. But the thought would not leave him; nay, it seemed to
grow into a living voice, that sounded clear and distinct above the roar
of the streets.

"Joe Wrag," it said, "is your religion such a selfish thing, and is
your joy such a selfish thing, that you can think of nothing but
yourself? Are you the only one for whom Christ died? Are there no tired
and toil-worn men and women around you struggling in the darkness and
longing for light? Do you want heaven all to yourself, that you invite
no one to go along with you? For shame, Joe Wrag, you are actually
growing selfish! In your thankfulness that you have found a place of
shelter, you have forgotten the many outside still exposed to the storm.
Is this what you have learnt of Christ? Get down on your knees, man, and
ask His pardon, and ask Him for grace also that you may be saved from
yourself, and that henceforth you may live for Christ and humanity."

"O Lord, have marcy!" cried Joe, rushing on faster and faster. "I've
been as blind as a bat, an' as selfish as sin could make me. Enter not
into judgment with me for Thy marcy's sake, an' I'll try to do better--I
will, for sure."

When Joe reached his home, he went at once to his bed-room, and, falling
on his knees, he poured out his soul in a long and agonizing prayer. He
prayed for grace and strength, he prayed for light and wisdom. He did
not ask for peace or joy, but he asked to be made holy and useful, that
he might do diligently his life-work, and be able to say when death
came, "I have finished the work that Thou gavest me to do."

When Joe came downstairs a light was shining in his eyes, such as his
wife (who had been for many years Joe's "thorn in the flesh") had never
seen before.

From that day Joe Wrag was a changed man, and, as might be expected,
his wife was the first to notice the change and the first to appreciate
it. That very morning, instead of eating his meal in silence, as had
been his custom for many years, he began to talk to her, to ask her
questions, and to interest himself in domestic affairs. And when he
had taken his four or five hours' sleep, instead of moping in silence,
as he had been in the habit of doing, until it was time to go to his
work, he actually began to help his wife to tidy up the house, and even
anticipated her wants in several little matters, and altogether made
himself so agreeable that his wife was at her wits' end to know what had
come over him.

Mary Wrag had grown, as the years had slipped by, from a light-hearted,
high-spirited girl, into a sour, disappointed, and vixenish woman. Poor
Joe was utterly at a loss to understand the change that had come over
her. He could not think that he had contributed to it in the smallest
degree. He had never crossed her, never answered her back when she
snarled at him, never bothered her with his own troubles, and never
vexed her by trying to pry into hers. He had always let her have her own
way, and had scarcely interfered with her in anything, and hence it was
a mystery to him how she had grown so cross-grained and sour.

It was a very common mistake, and one that has been fraught with the
most serious results. He did not know how, in the years gone by, his
wife had longed to share his troubles (for she was too proud to tell
him), and how she wanted him to share hers. He did not know what a
trouble it was to her when he sat hour after hour moody and silent,
never speaking to her, and taking no interest in anything she did or
said. He did not know what bitter tears she shed in the early years of
their wedded life, because he would not notice a new bow of pink ribbon
she had made, or a new fashion in which she had done up her glossy hair.

"I don't believe," she would say bitterly, "that Joe cares a bit what I
wears. It's not a bit of pleasure to try an' make oneself look nice, for
he never notices."

And so she grew cross and sour. He never blamed her, it is true, but she
complained to herself that he never praised her, and even when she got
thoroughly out of temper and gave him a good "blowing up," his silence
only exasperated her all the more.

"I'd rather a thousan' times over," she would say, "that he'd get cross,
an' answer back again, than sit still, turnin' up his eyes like a dyin'
dolphin."

Had Joe known all this, it would certainly have been a great trouble to
him, and yet if he had known it, it would doubtless have saved him many
years of pain.

But after the morning to which we have alluded, Joe's conduct and manner
changed in a remarkable degree. He became thoughtful and attentive and
communicative, and he began to think, too, that his wife's temper was
improving; and after a few weeks he was surprised at the wonderful
change that had come over her, little dreaming that it was the change in
himself that had produced the change in his wife.

The experiment to which we alluded in the opening sentences of
this chapter was that of trying to get hold of his neighbours and
acquaintances, and helping them if possible to a higher and better
life. There were people living all round him--some of them he had known
for twenty years--who never went to church or chapel, and who seemed
utterly unconcerned about death and the great hereafter that lay beyond
it--people whose life was one hopeless round of toil, with nothing to
brighten or cheer its dull monotony. Some of them were decent people
too, honest and industrious. It is true they got drunk occasionally, and
were not always as civil to their wives and families and to each other
as they might be; yet, notwithstanding, they had a soft place in their
hearts, and were ever ready to watch by a sick neighbour's bed-side, or
lend a helping hand to a mate more needy than themselves.

How to get hold of these children of the great Father, and lead them
into His fold, was a problem that had puzzled Joe for some time. At
length he decided, with his wife's consent, to invite them to tea, or as
many of them as could be accommodated, some Sunday afternoon, and when
he had got them together, to talk to them on those matters which were of
such vital importance.

Accordingly the invitations were sent out, and on the Sunday afternoon
already mentioned some fifteen men found their way to Joe Wrag's
cottage, wondering what was in the wind.

When they had all got comfortably seated on the forms that Joe had
provided, Joe stood up in a corner of the room, and looked around him:
evidently it was no easy task to begin to talk. Joe had no idea that it
would be so difficult. Every eye was fixed upon him with a wondering
expression. Joe coughed two or three times, then making a tremendous
effort, he said,

"You all know me, mates?"

"Ay," they all exclaimed, "we ought to, anyhow."

"Ay, jist so," said Joe, feeling more at ease now that the ice was
broken; "but I've discovered lately, lads, that I ain't a-done my duty."

"Come, old boss, we ain't a-blamin' yer; so don't begin a ballyraggin'
yoursel' in that way," said one of the men.

"Facts is stubborn, though," went on Joe, "an' I see that I've kep'
mysel' too much to mysel', an' I ain't a-been that neighbourly as I
ought to ha' been; but I intend to do differ'nt."

"Well, I'm hanged," said the man who had before spoken, "if I ain't
considerable at a loss, Joe, to know what yer drivin' at."

"I 'spects so, no doubt, but I'm not good at 'splainin'; but it 'pears
to me, mates, as how we ain't got hold o' life by the right end."

"Yer mean _us_, Joe?" questioned several voices together.

"Well, p'raps I do. Yer don't git much comfort in this life, and yer
ain't preparin' for a better life. Don't stop me; but I used to think
that heaven wern't for me, and for lots o' us poor chaps--that we
didn't belong to the elect; but, bless yer, lads, I know now, that
the elect are everybody as likes. We are all God's children, an' He
loves us all, the bad 'uns as well as the good 'uns, an' He's promised
pardon an' heaven to whosoever will. Let me tell 'e lads, how it came
about. A little girl an' her brother comed an' axed me to let 'em warm
theirselves by my fire one pinchin' cold night. A purtier little critter
than little Nelly never breathed, wi' her great round eyes an' sweet
mouth. I seem to see her now, though she's asleep in her grave. Well,
when her father druv 'em from home, I got a place for 'em wi' Betty
Barker. An' Betty used to read to 'em out o' the Testament. An' then
they got into a chapel, an' heerd a couple o' sermons--leastaway Nelly
did; the lad were asleep durin' the preachin'. Well, you can't tell
how eager that little gal became to know more about the Saviour, an'
heaven, an' all the rest o' it. An' she used to come an' ax me all sorts
o' questions. Bless yer, that little girl had real speretuel insight;
she used to floor me complete. I never heerd sich posers as she used to
put sometimes. But I tell 'e, mates, every one of the questions helped
to lead me out o' the darkness into the light. Day after day it got
clearer, an' yet I doubted. I spoke the promises to the little gal, and
yet I were afeard to take 'em mysel'. I had a vision, too, one night,
an' that helped me amazin'. But not until my little Nell was dyin' did I
see clear. The nurse said to me what she seed the little gal wanted to
say, an' that took down the last shutter, an' the light streamed in. I
can't tell yer all the joy, lads, I've felt, but for a long time I kept
it all to mysel'. But the Lord has showed to me how selfish I've been,
an' now I want for everybody to get close to the Saviour."

For a moment there was silence, then one of the men said,

"But there's wussur chaps 'n us goin'."

"Ay, that's true, lad," said Joe; "but you're all bad enough to be
better, an' the Saviour wants 'e all to be good, an' He wants to help 'e
all to be patient an' bear the burden of life, an' He wants to show 'e
how much He loves an' cares for 'e all."

"I dunna think He ken love us very much," said one of the men sullenly,
"or He wouldn't ha' put us in this 'ere muck all our lives."

"Well, lads," replied Joe thoughtfully, "I 'fess I can't 'splain all.
An' the Book tells us how we on'y see through a glass darkly. We looks
at life an' the world an' everything through a smoked glass, an' it all
'pears dark. But I tell 'e, lads, this I know, that God loves us, ay,
loves us, and He'll make everything right and square by-and-bye, if we
will only leave it wi' Him."

"I dunna see much sign o' the love anywheres," said the man in reply.

"P'r'aps so," said Joe. "But yer see, mates, as how sin an' the devil
have comed in th' world, an' they's made terrible mischief, terrible,
and many o' us 'as bin 'elping the devil all we could, an' so between us
we's got oursels into a queer scrape, an' piled misery an' sorrow o' top
o' our 'eads. But God loved us so much that He sent the Saviour to take
away our sin an' make us free. An' yet all the time we complain as if
our Father made all the mischief an' trouble, when most o' us 'as a-made
it oursels."

"Ay, that's true, lad," said Dick Somerset, the man that had spoken most.

"Course it are true," said Joe, brightening up. "An', besides, it may be
a good thing for us to be kep' poor an' 'ave plenty o' 'ard work. The
Lord knows best, you may depend on 't, what's best for us; lots of us
couldn't stand riches, 't would be the greatest curse we could 'ave. I
b'lieve if you place some people on a hoss they'd ride to the devil, but
if you were to keep 'em in clogs they'd plod on all the way to Paradise."

"It's 'nation 'ard, though," said several of the men, "to be allers
a-grindin' away at it as we's bound to do."

"Ay, lads," said Joe, "that are true, an' yet I reckon we ain't a-tried
very much to better our position. Some o' yer 'as spent in drink what
yer might a-saved, an' if yer 'ad a-done so, an' 'ad spent yer evenin's
improvin' yer mind an' gettin' some larnin', ye might ha' been better
off. I might, I see it now quite clear; but as I said at the fust, we's
'ad hold o' life by the wrong end. An' I wants us all to begin afresh."

"But how is we to do it, Joe?" said several voices.

"Well, let's begin by axin' the Lord for pardon for all the past, an'
for strength to do better for the future."

And Joe got down upon his knees at once and began to pray, and while he
pleaded the promises, it seemed to him as if the little room became full
of the presence of the Most High. All his hesitancy of speech vanished.
It seemed to him as if he had got hold of the very hand of God, and he
cried out, "I will not let Thee go until Thou bless me." Promise after
promise crowded into his mind with more rapidity than he could utter
them; until at length, overcome by his feelings, he cried out, "I canna
doubt, I canna doubt no more!" then he hid his face in his hands, and
there was silence throughout the room. When he rose from his knees his
face fairly shone with joy, and the men looked wonderingly at him and at
each other.

Just then there was a knock at the little kitchen door, and Joe's wife
came in to say that she was waiting to bring in the tea.

"Right thee are, lass," said Joe. "I'd nearly forgotten the tea; bring
it away as fast as thee likes."

And Mary Wrag and a neighbour's wife who had come in to help began
to bring in large plates of cake and bread and butter, which the men
greedily devoured. It was very evident that whatever they thought of the
other part of the service, they enjoyed this part of it.

Joe was more pleased than he could tell at his experiment, and from
that day every Sunday afternoon his house was thrown open to any of his
neighbours who might like to come in, and hear the Bible read, and have
a little conversation about spiritual things.

It was wonderful, now that the tongue of this silent man had been
unloosed, how freely he could talk, and he never lacked a congregation.
The neighbours flocked to hear him talk of Jesus and of His wondrous
love, and in Joe's little kitchen many a weary and heavy-laden soul
found peace and rest.

In a little Bethel near his home Joe found a place to worship God. He
loved now to be in the house of prayer. It no longer gave him pain to
talk of heaven and of the joys of the redeemed for he knew that heaven
was open to him, and that in a little while he would find again the
little angel that led him into the light, and look upon the Saviour whom
he loved.



CHAPTER XVII.

Perks again.

  I knew, I knew it could not last;
  'T was bright, 't was heavenly, but 'tis past
  Oh, ever thus from childhood's hour
  I've seen my fondest hopes decay.
  I never nursed a tree or flower,
  But 't was the first to fade away;
  I never nursed a dear gazelle
  To glad me with its soft black eye,
  But when it came to know me well.
  And love me, it was sure to die.
                        --Moore.


On the Monday morning Benny was brought before the magistrates, charged
with stealing five pounds from his master's office. He was almost ready
to faint when placed in the dock; but, conscious of his own innocence,
he gathered up his courage, and answered fearlessly the questions that
were addressed to him.

Inspector Sharp gave the particulars of the case, adding that though
the money had not been found on the prisoner, or indeed anywhere else,
yet he had no doubt that the lad had accomplices to whom he had given
the missing property.

Benny denied most emphatically that he had seen the money: he admitted
that appearances were against him. "But, oh," he said, looking at the
presiding magistrate, his eyes swimming with tears, "I'm not a thief,
sir, if you'll on'y believe it; I'm not, really."

Benny's honest face and simple straightforward answers evidently made
in his favour; but as Mr. Lawrence had not appeared against him, he was
remanded until the following day, so he was removed once more to his
cell.

Perks's case was not tried that day, so once more Benny had him for a
companion.

During most of the evening Perks sat in one corner, with his face in his
hands, and his elbows on his knees, without either speaking or moving.
Benny took the opposite corner, glad for once that he had a chance of
being quiet. He wondered what would be done to him, whether he would be
sent to prison or set at liberty. He felt that he did not care much what
happened, for to be penned up in prison, he thought, could not be much
worse than to go back in disgrace to the old life of selling matches in
the street.

Above the grated window the little patch of blue began to fade as the
day waned and darkened into night. Then a solitary star appeared, and
looked down with kindly eye into the dreary cell. Benny watched the star
twinkling so far above him, and wondered what it could be. Was it one of
God's eyes, or the eye of one of His angels? Could it be his Nelly that
was looking at him? Or were the stars only holes in the floor of heaven
to let the glory through?

He could not tell, but somehow that kindly star looking in upon him
seemed to comfort his heart; and he felt that though the world buffeted
him, and would not give him a chance of getting on, yet he was not
forgotten of God.

Then his thoughts turned to Perks. Was God watching him also? for the
star was not visible from the corner where he crouched. Why was he so
quiet? Was he sorry for what he had done, or was he ill?

Benny was glad to be quiet; and yet somehow as the darkness deepened he
felt lonesome, and wondered what had come to the silent figure in the
corner. It was so unusual for Perks to be quiet so long. He listened for
a moment, but all was still. And still the minutes dragged away, and the
silence became oppressive.

"Perks!" said Benny, unable longer to keep quiet; and his voice awoke
the sleeping echoes of the cell, and made it sound hollow as a tomb.

But the echoes were his only answer.

"Perks!" in a louder voice.

Still there was silence, and Benny began to get frightened. Was he dead?
he wondered. How awful it would be to be in that cell all night alone
with a dead body!

"Perks, do speak!" in a tone of agony.

And he listened for an answer, while the perspiration stood in great
drops upon his forehead. But still only silence. He could hear the
thumping of his own heart distinctly, and he became hot and cold by
turns with fright.

At length he thought he heard a noise coming from the corner where he
felt sure Perks was crouched dead. It sounded like suppressed laughter.
What could it mean? He dared not move from his corner. Was it Satan come
to carry away Perks? for he was very wicked, he knew.

It had got too dark now to see anything distinctly; but there was a
shuffling noise on the floor. Horrors! it was coming across the cell
towards him. What was it? He could see some unshapely thing moving.
Now it was drawing itself up to its full height. Benny nearly shrieked
out in an agony of terror. Then it flashed across his mind in a
moment--Perks was playing him another of his tricks.

Waiting until Perks was near enough, he dealt him a blow straight from
the shoulder that sent him sprawling to the other end of the cell.

"Oh, lor a massy!" he shouted, "if that ain't a stinger!"

"Serves you right," said Benny.

"Lor, but didn't I give you a scarin', just! I never did injoy a thing
as much in my life; but, oh, lor! I nearly busted once or twice wi'
larfin'."

"I think I gived you a scarin' too," retorted Benny.

"Well, I confess it comed raather sudden like; so that's one to you,
Ben. I'll give you yer due."

"I've a good mind to pound you to a jelly," said Benny. "Yer always on
with yer tricks."

"Well, I didn't 'tend to scare yer, Ben, for I wur bissy medertatin' on
a little plan I 'as in my yed; but when yer spoke 'Perks!' anxious like,
the idear comed to me all in a moment. Oh, lor, weren't it a spree!"

"I don't see no fun in it," said Benny.

"Oh, lor, yer don't?" and Perks laughed again. "But I say, Ben, I wants
yer 'elp in carryin' out as purty a bit o' play as ever you seen."

"Is it what you've been thinking about all the evenin'?"

"Ay, lad, it's the most butifullest idear that wur ever 'atched in this
'ere noddle; an' if you'll only 'elp me, my stars! our fortin's made."

"You're up to no good again, I'll be bound," said Benny.

"Well, I reckon you'll alter your mind on that score when yer 'ears the
details o' my plan," said Perks, coming closer to Benny's side.

"Well, what is it?"

"I must whisper it," said Perks, "though I dunna thinks any bobbies is
around listenin' at this time o' night, but it's allers best to be on
the safe side."

"I don't want to 'ear it," said Benny, "if it's some'at you must
whisper. It's no good, that I'm sartin of."

"Don't be a ninny, Ben. Just listen."

And Perks confided to Ben a plan of getting into the house of an old man
who kept a little shop, and lived all alone, and who kept all his money
locked up in a little cupboard in the room behind the shop.

"How do you know he keeps his money there?" said Benny.

"Never you mind," was the answer; "I does know it to a sartinty."

"Where does the old man live?"

"No. 86 ---- Street."

"What's his name?"

"Jerry Starcher. Ain't yer 'eard o' 'im?"

"Ay," said Benny.

"Then you'll 'elp?" said Perks, eagerly.

"Ay," said Benny, "but not in the way you thinks."

"What does yer mean?"

"I mean, if I git out of this place, I'll put the old man on his guard."

"What, an' split on me?"

"No, I'll not mention names."

"Then I 'opes ye'll be sent to a 'formatory an' kep' there for the next
five year."

"Do you? Why?"

"'Cause yer a fool, Ben Bates."

"How so?"

"'Cause ye are, I say."

"Well, your saying so don't make it so, anyhow," retorted Benny:

"Don't it, though? But look 'ere: ye're 'ere for stealin', and I can
tell yer from 'sperience, that a gent as takes up the perfession is
worse nor a fool to give it up agin 'cause he 'appens to get nabbed."

"But I'm not here for stealin'," said Benny, colouring.

"Ye're not, eh?" said Perks, laughing till the tears ran down his face.
"Well, that are the richest bit I's heard for the last month."

"But," said Benny, with flashing eyes, "though I'm here charged with
stealing, I tell yer I'm honest."

"Are that a fact now, Ben?" said Perks, looking serious.

"It is," replied Benny; "I never took the money."

"Well, so much the worse," said Perks.

"How's that?"

"Cause yer might as well be a thief, hout an' hout, as be charged wi'
bein' one. I tell 'e there's no chance for yer; the bobbies'll 'ave
their eyes on yer wherever yer be; and if yer gits a sitivation they'll
come along an' say to yer guv'nor, 'Yon's a jail-bird, yer'd better 'ave
yer eye on 'im;' then ye'll 'ave to walk it somewheres else, an' it'll
be the same everywheres."

"How do you know that?" said Benny.

"'Cause I's 'sperienced it," was the reply. "I's older 'n you, though
you's biggest; but I reckons as I knows most, an' it's true what I say.
Why, bless yer, the first time I ever nabbed I got a month, an' I wor
so horful frightened, that I vowed if ever I got out I'd be honest,
an' never get in no more; but, bless yer, it wur no go. The bobbies
told each other who I wur, an' they was always a-watching me. I got a
sitivation once, a honcommon good 'un too; but, oh, lor, the next day
a bobby says to the guv'nor, says he, 'Yon's a jail-bird, you'd better
keep yer eye on 'im;' an' you may guess I'd to walk in quick sticks.
I made two or three tries arter, but it wur no go. As soon as hever a
bobbie came near I'd to be off like greased lightnin', an' you'll find
out what I say. If yer not a thief now, ye'll 'ave to come to it. I tell
yer there's no help for it."

"But I tell you I'll _not_ come to it," said Benny, stoutly.

"But I knows better," persisted Perks; "there ken be no possible chance
for yer. Ye're down, an' the world'll keep 'e down, though yer try ever
so."

Benny looked thoughtful, for he had a suspicion that a good deal that
Perks said was true. He was down, and he feared there was very little,
if any, chance of his getting up again. He had proved by experience that
the world was hard upon poor lads, and he knew it would be doubly hard
upon him now that his character was gone. Yet he felt that he could not
become a thief. He would sooner die, and he told Perks so.

But Perks only laughed at the idea.

"You'll find that dyin' ain't so precious easy, my lad," he said in a
patronizing tone of voice. And Benny felt that very likely Perks' words
were true in relation to that matter, and so he was silent.

"You'd better come partner 'long wi' me," said Perks, in a tone of voice
that was intended to be encouraging.

"No," said Benny. "I'll help you if you'll try to be honest; for look
here, Perks: there's another life besides this, an' if we're not good we
shall go to the bad place when we die, for only good people can go to
heaven. An' I want to go to the good place, for little Nell is there;
an' I want to see her again, for she was all I had to love in the world,
an' oh! it 'ud grieve her so if I were to be a thief, an' grieve the
good Lord who died for us all. No, Perks, little Nell begged me afore
she died to be good, an' she said the Lord 'ud provide, an' I means to
be good. Won't you try to be good too, Perks? I'm sure it 'ud be better."

"No," said Perks: "folks 'as druv' me to what I is. I tried to be
honest once, an' they wouldn't let me, an' so I intends to stick to the
perfession now, for I likes it; an' ye'll come to it yet."

"I'd rather die," said Benny solemnly.

"Humbug!" snarled Perks. "But I'll say this afore I go to sleep, for
I's gettin' des'pert sleepy, if ye'll join me in the perfession I'll be
a frien' to yer, an' put yer up to all the tricks, an' forgive yer for
that hidin' yer give me. But if," and he brought out the words slowly,
"ye'll 'sist on bein' a fool, I'll pay off old scores yet, an' I'll
plague yer worse nor ever I's done yet; so I give yer fair warnin'. Now
for the land o' nod."

Neither of them spoke again after that, and soon after they were both
locked in the arms of kindly sleep.

The following morning Benny was again brought before the magistrates,
but nothing new was brought forward in evidence. Mr. Lawrence, however,
stated that he did not wish to prosecute, or in any way punish the lad.
And as there was no positive evidence that Benny had taken the money,
he was dismissed. It was evident, however, that the general belief was
that he was guilty; but as the evidence was only presumptive, and this
being his first appearance before them, he was given the benefit of the
doubt, and set at liberty, with a caution that if he came before them
again he would not get off so easily.

His week's wages that Mr. Lawrence had paid him was restored to him on
leaving the court, and once more he found himself a homeless orphan on
the streets of Liverpool.

Perks did not fare so well. He was an old and evidently a hardened
offender. The case was also proved against him, and he was sentenced to
be kept in prison for three calendar months. Perks heard the sentence
unmoved. He liked liberty best, it is true, but the only thing that
grieved him was that it was summer-time. If it had been winter, he would
not have cared a straw; but as it was he was determined to make the best
of it, and get as much enjoyment out of it as he possibly could.

So Perks and Benny drifted apart, and Benny wondered if they would ever
meet again. Life before him lay dark and cheerless. He seemed to have
drifted away from everything: no friend was left to him in all the
world. There were granny and Joe, but he could not see them, for he felt
that if a shade of suspicion crept into their manner, it would break
his heart. No, he would keep away. Then there was Mr. Lawrence; he could
expect nothing further from him. He believed him to be a thief, of that
there could be no doubt, and so doubtless did Morgan and all the other
clerks. And then there was little Eva, the angel that had brightened
his life for six brief months, and whose bright shilling nothing could
induce him to part with. Did she believe him guilty too? Of course she
did. His guilt must seem so clear to every one of them. And so he was
alone in the world, without a friend to help, unless God would help him;
but of that he did not feel quite sure. Sometimes he thought that the
Lord would surely provide, but at other times he doubted.

He was at liberty, it was true, and ought he not to be thankful
for that? he asked himself; but alas! his innocence had not been
established. Young as he was, he felt the force of that. And he felt it
terribly hard that all--all! even his little angel--believed him to be a
thief.

Ah! he did not know how sore was Eva Lawrence's little heart, and how
she persisted to her father that Benny was innocent, and pleaded with
him, but pleaded in vain, for him to take back the poor boy and give him
another chance.

And night after night she cried herself to sleep, as she thought of the
little orphan sent adrift on life's treacherous ocean, and wondered what
the end would be. And when one day she tried to sing "Love at Home,"
the words almost choked her, for the pleading, suffering face of the
homeless child came up before her, and looked at her with hungry wistful
eyes, as if asking for sympathy and help.

But children soon forget their griefs, and as the days wore away and
lengthened into weeks, Benny was almost forgotten, till one day a
circumstance occurred which made him again the talk of the Lawrence
household. What that circumstance was shall be told in its proper place
in the unfolding of this story of Benny's life.



CHAPTER XVIII.

Adrift.

  A fathomless sea is rolling
    O'er the wreck of the bravest bark;
  And my pain-muffled heart is tolling
    Its dumb peal down in the dark.

  The waves of a mighty sorrow
    Have 'whelmed the pearl of my life;
  And there cometh to me no morrow,
   To solace this desolate strife.

  Gone are the last faint flashes,
    Set is the sun of my years;
  And over a few poor ashes
    I sit in my darkness and tears.
                    --Gerald Massey.


Had any of our readers been passing the front of St. George's Hall
during the afternoon of the day on which Benny was acquitted, they might
have seen our hero sitting on one of the many steps, with his face
buried in his hands and his elbows resting on his knees. Hour after hour
he sat unmolested, for Perks was no longer at liberty to tease him, and
the police did not notice him.

Benny was utterly unconscious of the flight of time, for he was trying
to decide upon some course of action by which he could honestly earn his
daily bread. He felt that he was beginning life again, and beginning it
under tremendous disadvantages. He knew that there was a great deal of
truth in what Perks had said to him. All who knew him would mistrust
him, and even should he succeed in getting employment under those
who did not know him, they might soon get to know, and then he would
be dismissed. He was getting too big to be a match boy. He did not
understand blacking shoes, and yet to remain idle meant starvation.

"I'm wuss nor a chap buried," he said to himself, thrusting his hands
into his trousers pockets and staring around him. "I've heerd of chaps
beginnin' at the bottom, but lor a massy! I'm beginnin' furder down than
that by a long chalk. I'm six feet under ground, an' I'll 'ave to bore a
hole up inter the daylight, or die, I 'specks."

As the afternoon wore away he became conscious of a feeling of hunger.
Fortunately, he had sufficient money to keep him from starving for a
day or two. He counted over the coins very carefully, and laid aside
eighteenpence as being due to granny, and which he resolved should be
paid.

"I'll begin honest," he said to himself, "an' I'll keep on at it too, or
go to heaven to little Nell."

So after purchasing two sheets of paper and two envelopes, he made
his way to a small eating-house and ordered some bread and cheese. He
was not long in devouring his very simple meal, and then with a lead
pencil commenced his first attempt at letter-writing. The first letter
contained only a few words of warning to Jerry Starcher. The second
letter was longer, and was addressed to granny. This letter cost Benny
a tremendous effort, for, fearing that granny would not be able to read
writing, he had, to use his own words, "to print it," and he found it to
be a rather slow process. The letter was to the following effect:--

"Deer Grany,--I ken never come 'ome no more. You's heerd what's took
plaas, but I nevver stole the money. I is 'onest, for shure I dunno wat
I'll do or whair I'll go; but I meen to be 'onest or die. I wish I wur
ded. I is very, very, very 'bliged for ole you's don for me an' littel
Nel: tel Joe I is 'bliged to 'im to. P'r'aps I'll never see 'e no more,
p'r'aps I'll go to littel Nel soon. I 'ope I may, I's very lon-ly. I put
with this the money I ow's. Good nite.--Benny."

More than one scalding tear fell upon the letter while he wrote, for the
tears would come despite his efforts to keep them back. Life seemed to
him such an utter desolation, and hope had almost died out of his heart.

When he had carefully folded and sealed the letters, he went out again
on the steps in the shadow of the great Hall, and waited for the
darkness. All around him the people hurried to and fro. But had he been
in the heart of Africa he could not have felt more utterly forsaken and
alone.

When at length the darkness crept over the busy town, he hurried away to
Tempest Court, passing Jerry Starcher's, and pushing the letter under
his door on the way. His heart beat very fast when he reached granny's
door. He was strongly tempted to knock for admittance, for something
told him that granny would not turn him away, but he struggled against
the feeling. Welcome as would have been his little bed under the stairs,
and glad as he would have been for a hiding-place from the world's
scorn, yet he felt he would rather not see granny and Joe again while
this stain darkened his name.

Within the cottage silence and darkness reigned, for granny had retired
early to rest--not without a prayer, though, that the boy she was
learning to love might see the error of his ways, truly repent of his
sin, and lead a new life. For Joe had told her what had befallen Benny,
and furthermore had extracted from her the promise that if he should
ever seek again the shelter of her home, for his little sister's sake
and for the sake of the Saviour, she would not turn him away, but would
help him to begin a better life.

Benny listened for awhile at the key-hole, then cautiously pushing the
letter under the door, he hurried away into the darkness. He had no idea
where he would spend the night, nor did he concern himself about the
direction he was taking; he only felt that he must go somewhere. So on
he went in a northerly direction, passing street after street, till,
footsore and weary, he stumbled into a dark corner where he thought
nobody would notice him, and soon fell fast asleep.

Why could not the policeman who passed a few minutes later, and spied
the little crouching figure, have permitted the child to sleep on? He
was doing no harm, and the policeman might have known that had the boy a
home to go to he would not have been found sleeping in the street.

I suppose he thought nothing about the matter, for he seized Benny by
the collar and lifted him off the ground, and after shaking him as a
terrier might shake a rat, he ordered him to move on, giving emphasis to
his words by a cruel kick, which made Benny grind his teeth with pain,
and hurry limping down the street.

He had not gone far before a clock near him began to strike slowly the
hour of midnight. At the first stroke of the bell Benny started, and
looked carefully around him. Clang went the second stroke.

"It must be the same," he muttered to himself.

The third stroke made him certain.

He was near Addler's Hall without knowing it. The tone of the church
clock was as familiar to him as the voice of his father. Scores of times
during the years of his childhood he had listened to that clang, waking
up the midnight silence when all the others were asleep.

"I wonder if father's comed home yet?" he said to himself; "I'll go and
see, anyhow."

Bowker's Row was as silent as the grave, and, as usual, wrapped in
darkness. But the darkness was no difficulty to Benny, as he made his
way cautiously up the dingy street and into the dingier court that was
once his home. It seemed very strange to him that he should be there
alone in the silent night, and that Nelly should be alone in her little
grave miles away from where he stood.

What a lot had been crowded into his lonely life since last he stood in
Addler's Hall, holding his little sister by the hand! And he wondered
if ever Nelly left her beautiful home in the sky to pay a visit to the
dreary haunts of her childhood.

Before him the door of his old home stood open--the night was not so
dark but he could see that--and he could see also that the place wore
even a more forsaken appearance than in former days.

Pausing for a moment on the threshold, he plunged into the darkness,
then stood still in the middle of the room and listened; but no sound of
breathing or noise of any kind broke the oppressive stillness.

He soon discovered also that the house was destitute of furniture; a few
shavings under the stairs alone remained.

"The bobbies'll not find me 'ere, I reckon," he said to himself, "though
Nelly may."

And he stretched himself on the shavings in the corner where he and his
little sister used to sleep in the days that had gone for ever.

It seemed so strange to be there again, and to be there in sorrow and
disgrace; and once or twice he stretched out his hand in the darkness as
if expecting to find his little sister by his side. Then, as the memory
of his loss and the loneliness of his life crept over him, he gave vent
to his feelings in a flood of tears. By-and-bye he grew calm, and soon
after fell asleep; and in happy dreams, in which he wandered with Nelly
through Eastham Woods, he forgot all his trouble and care.

When he awoke the next morning the court was alive and stirring, and
Bowker's Row was crowded with ill-fed, ragged, and dirty children: some
were doing their best to climb the lamp-posts, some were practising
cart-wheel revolutions, some were squatted idly on the pavement, and
others were playing with the refuse in the street.

On Benny making his appearance, he was greeted with a shout and a howl
that made the street echo again, and summoned the elders to the doorways
to see what had happened.

It was very evident that the older children had recognized him, while
many a familiar face appeared at door and window. This Benny thought was
very unfortunate, for he was in no mood to be questioned or to brook
delay. So he darted down the street as if on a race for life, knocking
over several of the older lads who tried to check his progress.

For some distance he was followed by a whole tribe of noisy urchins, who
shouted at the top of their voices. But Benny was too fleet-footed for
them, and soon Bowker's Row and its noisy denizens were left far behind.

Benny's first thought now was to secure a substantial breakfast, which
was by no means a difficult matter. That done, he made his way toward
the docks, in the hope that he might get employment of some kind. But to
a little friendless lad, without character or recommendation, employment
was not so easily obtained. Most of those whom he addressed did not
condescend to notice his question in any way. A few asked him what he
could do, and when he replied "Anything," the invariable answer was,
"That means nothing," and he was sent about his business. In fact, there
seemed to be no work in the whole line of docks that a child of his age
was capable of doing. And night found him worn out with fatigue, and
with a sadly lightened pocket.

However, he kept up his heart as well as he could, and sought rest and
sleep in a damp cellar upon some dirty straw, which for the payment
of twopence he shared with a dozen other lads, who appeared to be as
friendless as himself. That night he slept the sleep of the innocent and
weary, and awoke next morning, strengthened and refreshed, to find that
all his companions had left and that his pockets were empty!

This was a terrible blow to Benny; but when he discovered that his
"lucky shilling" was still safe in the lining of his waistcoat, he dried
his tears, and went bravely out, hungry as he was, to battle with an
unfriendly world.

Before sunset, however, he had nearly lost heart, for he had been unable
to earn a single penny, and he was almost faint with hunger. So in
sheer desperation he sought his old place on the landing-stage, in the
hope that he might have the chance of carrying some one's portmanteau,
and in that way earn his supper; but everyone to whom he offered his
services repulsed him, and for the first time he wondered whether it
would be wrong to throw himself into the river, and whether that would
not be the easiest way out of his trouble. Somehow he could not help
thinking that it would be less wicked for him to do that than to steal.
He could not starve; drowning he was sure would be a much less painful
death; and, as far as he could see, it had really come to this, that he
must either steal or die. But he would not steal, he had made up his
mind to that. Had he not promised Nelly that he would be honest? And had
not Joe and granny and his Sunday-school teacher told him what a wicked
thing it was to be a thief? No; he had settled that matter, and when he
had settled a thing in his own mind he was not to be moved. The question
then was, what was the easiest kind of death? The river looked beautiful
this summer evening, and he thought it must be very nice to rest beneath
its cool sparkling waters after the hot glare of the streets. Should he
plunge in now, or should he wait a little longer? He had been without
food for twenty-four hours. He had no place to sleep, no means of
getting supper.

Then suddenly he remembered his "lucky shilling."

"Queer!" he mused. "The Lord sent His angel wi' this bob, an' I've never
wanted it till now, an' now I does want it, I've got it. I'm floored
again. Nelly said the Lord 'ud provide, and He do." And he took out the
bright shilling and looked at it fondly.

Just then he heard a countryman inquiring the way to Lime Street
Station, of a man who stood near him.

"Here's a chance," he thought; and, stepping forward, he said, "I'll
show you the way, sir, if yer likes."

"Dost thee know th' way thysel', lad?" inquired the man.

"I should think I do," said Benny, drawing himself up to his full height.

"Lead the way, then," said the farmer; and Benny trotted on before him,
feeling sure that he was safe now for a good supper without spending his
shilling.

"Thankee," said the farmer, on their arrival at the station; "thee'rt a
sharp lad, an' no mistake."

And he smiled benevolently, and hurried away to the booking-office,
leaving our hero staring after him in utter bewilderment.

Benny felt that he would have liked to have had his revenge on that man
then and there.

"Golly," he said, "don't I feel savage, just!"

Just then a gentleman pushed against him, carrying a bulky leathern bag.

"Carry yer bag, sir?" said Benny in an instant; and, without a word, the
bag was hoisted on his shoulder, and once more Benny was on the trot.

By the time he had reached the top of Brownlow Hill he was almost
exhausted, and without a word the man (gentleman, I suppose he thought
himself) took the bag from his shoulder and handed him a penny in
payment for his services.

When will men, and professedly Christian men, learn the great though
simple lesson--to do unto others as they would that others should do
unto them?

A benevolent baker, moved to pity by the sight of Benny's suffering
face, gave him a twopenny loaf for his penny, with a smile and a kindly
word into the bargain, and Benny went out into the darkening street with
a lighter heart than he had felt for the day.

The evening was oppressively warm, and having no inclination to go back
again into the dingy town, where policemen were plentiful, Benny made
his way in an easterly direction, hoping that he might find a dark
corner somewhere where he might sleep undisturbed.

After a while he found himself in the neighbourhood of the cemetery
where Nelly was buried. He was not superstitious, so without a moment's
hesitation he climbed over the wall, and, getting dark as it was, he
easily found his sister's grave; and, stretching himself on the damp
grass, with his head upon the little mound under which his Nelly slept
in peace, he tried to think--to form some plan for the future.

Above him twinkled the silent stars. Around him slept the silent dead.
Everything was silent; not a leaf stirred, not even a blade of grass;
and yielding to the silent influence of the hour, he fell asleep,
though not before he had resolved that he would return to his old haunts
no more, but would commence his new life as far away from Liverpool as
he could possibly get.

Next morning he was up with the lark, and kissing the sod above his
sister's face, he hurried away. At noon Liverpool was several miles
behind him, and before him--what?

Under the shadow of a tree by the roadside he rested for an hour during
the heat of the day, and in a clear stream that babbled by he slaked
his thirst and washed the dust from his hands and face, then hurried on
again.

The country looked very beautiful bathed in the summer's sunshine, but
he was in no mood to enjoy it. The birds sang their glad songs in the
trees, but to him they seemed only to mock his sorrow. In the fields
he saw the sleek cattle grazing as he passed, or lying in the sunshine
contentedly chewing their cud, while he was footsore, hungry, and sad,
and he wondered what the end of it all would be.

As the afternoon wore away he found himself hedged in with plantations
on every side, and not a single human habitation in sight.

For awhile he dragged himself along with fast failing courage and
strength; then he gave up in despair.

"It's no go," he said; "I ken go no furder."

His feet were hot and blistered with his long tramp over the hard and
dusty road. His head ached from the fierce heat that had been beating
down on him all the day, his strength was all but gone, for he had
tasted no food since the previous evening.

"I dunno how the Lord's goin' to do it," he said, the tears starting in
his eyes. "Nelly said as how the Lord 'ud provide, an' so did the angel
that gived me the bob; but I dunna see how. I wonder if He's goin' to
take me to heaven? P'r'aps that's the way He's goin' to do it, an' then
I'll never be 'ungry no more."

Climbing on a gate, he looked around him, but no house was anywhere
visible.

"It's all up, I reckon," he said sadly, getting down on the inside and
making his way through the tangled undergrowth into the heart of the
plantation. "I'll find a snug place 'ere somewheres, where I ken wait
till the Lord comes. I wonder if He'll be long?"

He had not gone far before he found a place that suited him. A luxuriant
patch of ferns growing out of a carpet of moss, bordered on every side
with tall brushwood, while overhead giant fir-trees sighed and moaned in
the evening breeze, made a perfect arbour of quiet and repose. Pressing
down the yielding ferns, he had soon a bed soft as he could desire,
while a mossy bank made a pillow grateful as a kiss of love to his
aching head and burning cheek.

"I'll be comfortable 'ere till the Lord comes," he said, stretching out
his weary limbs. "I wonder if He'll bring Nelly wi' Him?"

Then he closed his eyes and waited. Above him the fir-branches swayed
gently in the soft evening breeze, and from far away came the subdued
plash of falling water. It was very strange and solemn, but soothing and
restful withal.

The pangs of hunger abated, too, after he had rested awhile, and his
head ceased to ache, while the wind in the trees sounded like an evening
lullaby, and brought back to him a vague and misty recollection of his
mother rocking him to sleep on her lap, in the years long, long ago.

Then the music seemed to come from farther and farther away, till it
ceased altogether, and once more Benny slept. And there in the solemn
wood we will leave him for awhile to the mercy and care that are
infinite.



CHAPTER XIX.

The Border Land.

  For since Thy hand hath led me here,
    And I have seen the border land,--
  Seen the dark river flowing near,
    Stood on its bank as now I stand,--
  There has been nothing to alarm
    My trembling soul; why should I fear?
  For since encircled by Thy arm,
    I never felt Thee half so near.


Joe Wrag was in great trouble when he heard of Benny's misfortune.
Granny was the first to make him acquainted with the fact that something
was wrong. Benny had been in the habit of returning earlier on a
Saturday evening since he had been with Mr. Lawrence than on any other
day of the week, and when that evening wore away and deepened into
night, and Benny did not come, granny got very much concerned, fearing
some accident had befallen him; and so she remained rocking herself in
her chair, and listening in vain for his footfall all through the night.
And when morning came she hurried away, old as she was, to Joe's house,
in the hope that he would be able to give her some information as to
Benny's whereabouts.

Joe was thunderstruck at sight of Betty so early on a Sunday morning,
and her eager question, "Dost a' knaw where the boy is, Joe?" did not
help to mend matters. For a few moments Joe's power of utterance seemed
to have left him altogether, then he stammered forth--

"Ain't he hum, Betty?"

"Nae, Joe; I's never seen 'im sin yester morn!"

Joe looked thoughtful, for he had no reply to this, and Betty sat down
in a chair, evidently exhausted.

After a while Betty got up to go. "I mun be a-goin'," she said, "he may
a-got hum by now."

Towards evening Joe called at Tempest Court, but nothing had been heard
of the wanderer. The night that followed was one of the longest Joe had
ever known, and as soon as he was released from his watch in the morning
he went at once to Mr. Lawrence's office.

"Is the maaster in?" he said, addressing one of the clerks.

"No, my good man," was the reply; "he will not be down for an hour yet.
Could you call again?"

"Mebbe you'll do as weel," said Joe, scratching his head. "Can yer tell
me wot's become o' the boy Benny?"

"Oh, yes," said the clerk, smiling complacently, "he's where he ought to
have been long ago."

"Where's that?" said Joe.

"In prison, sir!"

"In prison?" in a tone of bewilderment.

"Even so," with a bland smile.

"I can't say as 'ow I hunderstand," Joe stammered out.

"Very likely," said the clerk, "so I will inform you that Mr. Lawrence,
having his suspicions aroused, placed a five-pound note on his desk, and
then set a watch----"

"Well?" said Joe, eager yet fearing to hear the rest.

"Well," continued the clerk, "this young friend of yours, who seems to
have been an old hand at the work, was seen coolly to take the money.
But when charged with the theft, a few minutes after, he stoutly denied
all knowledge of the circumstance; but Mr. Lawrence was determined to
stand no nonsense, and had him at once marched off to the lock-up."

For a moment Joe looked at the clerk in silence, then, without a word,
walked out of the office. When he told granny, she was at first
indignant. "To think that she, a honest woman, 'ad been a-'arbouring a
thief all these months!" But Joe soon talked her into a better frame of
mind, and it was then that she promised him that if the prodigal ever
came back again she would not turn him away.

When Joe read in the paper on Wednesday morning that Benny was
acquitted, his delight knew no bounds. He accepted the fact as almost
proof positive that Benny was innocent, and went at once to tell granny
the news.

He found the old woman crying over Benny's letter, with the
eighteenpence lying in her lap. When Joe came in she handed him the
letter without a word. Joe blew his nose violently several times during
its perusal, then laid it down on the table, and walked to the door to
hide his emotion. It was several moments before he could command himself
sufficiently to speak, then he blurted out--

"The poor parsecuted bairn mun be found somehow, Betty, an' 'ere's off
to sairch. Good mornin', Betty."

And before the old woman could reply he was gone.

During the next three days Joe had but little sleep. He tramped the town
in every direction, in the hope that he might glean some tidings of the
poor lost lad; but his labour was in vain, and each evening when he
returned to his hut it was with a sadly diminished hope of ever finding
the boy again.

On the evening that Benny, hungry and forsaken, lay down in the wood to
sleep, Joe felt his heart drawn out in prayer in such a manner as he
had never before experienced. Nearly the whole of the night he spent
upon his knees. Now and then he got up and walked out into the silent
street, and gazed for a few moments up into the starlit sky. Then he
would return to his hut again and pray more fervently than ever. He had
returned from his search that evening utterly cast down, feeling that
the only resource left to him was prayer. He knew not whether the boy
was living or dead. He could hardly think the latter; and yet if he were
alive, who could tell what he was suffering? Who but God? To God then he
would go and plead for the outcast boy, and who should tell whether God
might not regard his prayer and send help and deliverance to the child?
Thus hour after hour he prayed on, and when the light of the morning
crept up into the eastern sky, he rose from his knees comforted.

Were Joe Wrag's prayers answered? No doubt they were. Not in the way,
perhaps, that Joe would have liked best, and yet in the best way for all
that. God does not always give us in answer to our prayers what _we_
think best, but what _He_ thinks best. To weary, worn-out Benny God gave
sleep, deep, dreamless, and refreshing, and in the morning he awoke
to the song of birds and to the rustle of a thousand leaves. The music
sounded very sweet to Benny's ears, but it was not the music of heaven,
as he had hoped it would be. He had waited there in the solemn wood for
the coming of the Lord, but He had not come. Heaven seemed farther away
from him than ever this morning, and earth was painfully real. He felt
himself too weak to stir at first, so he lay still, occasionally opening
his eyes to watch the slanting sunbeams play among the tangled foliage,
and light up the dewdrops that trembled on every leaf.

His head was hot and heavy, and his eyes ached when he kept them open
long, and the pangs of hunger were coming on again. What should he do?
He lay for a long time trying to think, but his thoughts whirled and
twisted like snowflakes in a storm.

"P'raps I kin get on a little furder if I tries," he said to himself at
length, and suiting the action to the words, he rose from his ferny bed
and staggered out of the wood. He had scarcely strength left to get over
the gate, but he managed it at length, and then fell down exhausted by
the roadside.

How long he lay there he never knew; but he was aroused at length by the
lumbering of some kind of vehicle coming towards him along the road, and
by the shrill whistling of the driver.

Nearer and nearer came the vehicle, and then stopped just opposite him.
Benny looked up and saw a shock-headed, overgrown lad, standing in what
seemed an empty cart, staring at him with a look of wonder in his great
round eyes.

Benny had reached a stage of exhaustion which made him indifferent to
almost everything, so he only blinked at the boy, and then dropped his
head again on the grass.

"Art a tired?" said the boy at length.

"Ay," said Benny, without opening his eyes.

"Wilt a 'ave a lift?"

"What's a lift?"

"A ride, then, if it's properer."

"Ay, I'll ride; but 'ow's I to get in?"

"Oh, aisy 'nough," said young Giles, jumping out of the cart and lifting
Benny in as if he had been an infant.

"Golly," said Benny, coming out with his once favourite expression,
"you're mighty strong!"

"Strong? You should see me lift a bag o' corn! Now, Dobbin," to the
horse. "Gee, meth-a-way," and the horse moved on at what seemed a
stereotyped pace.

"'Ave a turmut?" said the boy at length.

"What's a turmut?"

"Lor, now," laughed the boy, "you must be green not to know what a
turmut is." And he untied the mouth of one of several bags lying at
the bottom of the cart, and took out two, and by the aid of a large
clasp-knife had both peeled in a "jiffey."

Putting his teeth into one, he handed the other to Benny, who readily
followed his example, and thought he had never tasted anything more
delicious.

By the time our hero had finished his turnip they had reached a small
village, and Benny was able to get out of the cart unaided. Here were
houses at last. Perhaps he might get work here; he would try, at any
rate. And try he did; but it was discouraging work.

At many of the houses the door was slammed in his face in answer to his
inquiry. At a few places the person addressed condescended to ask Benny
where he came from, and when he replied "from Liverpool," he was told to
be off about his business, as "they wanted no thieves nor pickpockets in
their employ."

One kind-looking old gentleman asked Benny what he could do.

"Anything a'most," was the prompt reply.

"You're too clever by a long way," laughed the old man; "but let's
perticlerize a bit. Can you spud thistles?"

Benny looked bewildered. He knew nothing about "spuds" or "thistles," so
he shook his head in reply.

"Canst a whet a scythe?"

Another shake of the head.

"Take out arter the mowers?"

"No."

"Dibbel tates?"

"I don't know."

"Humph. Canst a milk?"

"I ken drink it, if that's wot you mean," said Benny.

"Ha! ha! Mary," raising his voice, "fotch the lad a mug o' milk." And in
a few moments a stout red-armed girl brought Benny a pint mug, brimful
of rich new milk.

"Ay, ay," said the old man, "I see thee canst do thy part in that
direction weel eno'. Have another?"

"No, thank you."

"Humph. I fear thee'rt no 'count in the country, lad."

"But I could larn," said Benny.

"Yes, yes, that's true; thee'rt a sharp boy. I shouldn't wonder if thee
couldn't get a job at t' next village."

"How far?" said Benny.

"Short o' two mile, I should say."

"Thank you." And once more Benny set off on the tramp. It was scarcely
noon, and the day was melting hot. Outside the village the sun's rays
beat down pitilessly on his head, and made him feel sick and giddy. All
the trees were on the wrong side of the road, and he looked in vain for
a shady spot along the dusty highway. Still on he tramped, with fast
failing strength. A little way before him he saw a farmhouse, with trees
growing around it. "If I can only reach that," he thought, "I'll rest
awhile." Nearer and nearer, but how strangely everything was swimming
around him, and what a curious mist was gathering before his eyes!

Ah, there is the sound of voices; a group of haymakers just inside the
gate getting their dinner in the shadow of a tree. Was help at hand? He
did not know. Gathering up all his strength, he staggered towards them,
stretched out his hand blindly, for the mist had deepened before his
eyes, then lifted his hands to his temples, as if struck with sudden
pain, reeled, and fell senseless to the ground.

In a moment a woman raised him from the ground, and supported his head
against her knee, while the men crowded round with wondering faces.
Then Farmer Fisher came up with the question, "What's to do?" and the
haymakers stood aside, that he might see for himself.

"The boy's dead," said the farmer, with just a little shake in his voice.

"No," said the woman, "he's not dead, his heart beats still."

"Go and call the missus, then, quick."

Then one of the men started for the farmhouse.

Mrs. Fisher was a gentle, kind-hearted woman at all times, especially
to children, and just now she was particularly so, for a month had not
elapsed since she had laid one of her own children, a boy of about
Benny's age, in the silent grave. And when she caught sight of Benny's
white suffering face, her heart went out to him instantly.

"Take him into the house, John," she said to her husband, the tears
starting in her eyes, "and send for the doctor at once."

So without further ado Benny was carried into the house, stripped of
his dirty and ragged attire, put into a warm bath, and then laid gently
in a clean soft bed, in a cool pleasant room. Once only he opened his
eyes, looked around him with a bewildered air, then relapsed again into
unconsciousness.

The doctor, who arrived toward evening, pronounced it a very bad case,
ordered port wine to be poured down his throat in small quantities
during the night, and promised to call again next day.

"Will he live?" was Mrs. Fisher's anxious question.

"Fear not," said the doctor: "want, exposure, and I fear also sunstroke,
have done their work. Whoever the little fellow belongs to, he's had a
hard time of it, and to such death should not be unwelcome."

During the next day Benny was conscious at brief intervals, but he lay
so perfectly still, with half-closed eyes, that they hardly knew at
times whether he was alive or dead. His face was as white as the pillow
on which he lay, and his breathing all but imperceptible. The doctor
shook his head when he came, but held out no hope of recovery.

So that summer Sabbath passed away, and Monday came and went, and
Tuesday followed in the track, and Wednesday dawned, and still Benny's
life trembled in the balance. The doctor said there was no perceptible
increase of strength, while the pulse, if anything, was weaker. Hence,
without some great change, he thought the boy would not live many hours
longer.

Outside the birds twittered in the trees, and the songs of the haymakers
floated on the still summer air; but within, in a darkened room, little
Benny to all appearance lay dying. He had reached the border land, and
was standing on the river's brink. On the other side of the stream
was the everlasting home, where his Nelly dwelt, and where hunger and
weariness and pain could never come. Why did he linger, when he wanted
so much to cross and be at rest for ever?

He had no fear, and to the onlookers it seemed easy dying. No sigh or
moan escaped his lips; he lay as still as the dead.

The day waned at length and darkened into night, and Mrs. Fisher and
one of the servants remained up to watch by the little invalid. It was
about midnight when they observed a change come over him. The brow
contracted as if in pain, the wasted fingers plucked at the clothes, and
the breathing became heavy and irregular.

Mrs. Fisher ran to her husband's room and summoned him at once to
Benny's bedside. John Fisher was a kind man, and needed no second
bidding. With gentle hand he wiped away the big drops that were
gathering on the little sufferer's brow; then turning to his wife, he
said,

"Do you think you had better stay, love? I think he is dying."

"No, no!" she said, "I cannot see him die." Then, after a pause, she
sobbed, "Let me know when it is over, John," and hurried from the room.



CHAPTER XX.

Life at the Farm.

  Source of my life's refreshing springs,
    Whose presence in my heart sustains me,
  Thy love appoints me pleasant things,
    Thy mercy orders all that pains me.

  Well may Thine own beloved, who see
    In all their lot their Father's pleasure,
  Bear loss of all they love, save Thee--
    Their living, everlasting treasure.
                            --Waring.


Mrs. Fisher waited anxiously in an adjoining room for the coming of her
husband to tell her that Benny was no more. She could not go back into
the sick-room, she dared not see the child die. It was only such a short
time ago she held her own dying Rob in her arms while he gasped out his
little life, and the wound in her heart was not healed yet: she fancied
it never would be. The sick child in the next room, that she had taken
to her heart, had opened it afresh, and she felt that to see the little
fellow struggling in the agonies of death would be more than her nerves
could bear. And so she waited while the moments dragged slowly along.

"How tenaciously the child clings to life!" she said to herself as she
paced restlessly up and down the room. Still her husband came not.

"Can he be fighting death all this while?" she said; "I hope the
little spirit will be released soon." Then she fell upon her knees and
prayed--prayed long and earnestly that, if it were the Lord's will, the
boy that had been thrown upon their care might have speedy and sweet
release from the burden of the flesh.

It seemed long since she had left the sick-room, and still the moments
travelled slowly on.

"It cannot be much longer," she said; then a step on the landing made
her look up anxiously, and her husband came quickly into the room.

"Come this way, Mary," he said, without waiting for her to speak.

"Is it all over?" she questioned, looking up into his face.

"No, I can't understand it at all: the lad seems better, though he's
evidently wrong in his head."

Without further remark, she went at once to the bedside, and laid her
hand gently upon his forehead. Benny opened his eyes slowly, and raised
them to her face, then tried to speak, but only a faint whisper escaped
his lips.

"What do you say, poor boy?" said Mrs. Fisher kindly, bending down her
ear to listen.

"May I see Nelly, please?" he whispered.

"Who is Nelly?" she replied.

"Nelly is my sister; may I not see her?" in the same faint whisper.

"Where is your sister, my boy?" said Mrs. Fisher, looking a little
perplexed.

"Nelly's in heaven," he said. "This is heaven, ain't it?"

"No, my boy, this is not heaven," she replied.

"Oh, I thought it wur," he said, closing his eyes with a look of pain.
And Mrs. Fisher's eyes became moist, as she saw the big tears stealing
out under the lashes, and rolling slowly down the pale wasted cheeks.

After a while Benny fell into a sound sleep, from which he did not awake
till morning. When the doctor came next day he rubbed his hands with
glee.

"Never had but one case before to equal it!" he said, "but it's
wonderful what children will pull through: just as you think they are
going right over the precipice, they turn round, and coolly walk back
into health."

"Do you think he will get better?" said Mrs. Fisher.

"More likely than not," was the reply: "the tide has turned, evidently.
He had reached the crisis when you thought he was dying last night, and
instead of kicking the beam, why, here he is ever so much better."

From that day Benny got better. Not rapidly; no, it was a slow coming
back to health; still, he did get better. Day by day he gathered
strength, though scarcely perceptible at times. The doctor rather
wondered at this, for he expected his recovery to be much more rapid.
But the secret lay in the fact that Benny did not want to get better.
And one day, about a week after the time of which we have spoken, he
positively refused to take his medicine.

"But it is to make you better," said Mrs. Fisher gently.

"But I dunna want to get better," said Benny; "I wants to go to heaven."

"But you should be willing to wait the Lord's time, Benny."

"I's waited so long," he said fretfully, "that I's tired of waitin'."

"But it's wrong to murmur at what is God's will, Benny."

"Are it?" he said. "I didn't know, but I's very tired."

"But you'll get rested after a while, if you'll be patient."

"Ah, then," he said, with a sigh, "I mun try, I s'pose."

But in spite of Benny's anxiety to die, health and strength came back to
him day by day, and one beautiful July Sabbath afternoon he was dressed,
for the first time, in a suit of dead Rob's clothes, and carried into
another room, and placed in an easy chair by the window, that he might
feast his eyes on the beautiful landscape that stretched out before
him. Benny submitted to the process without speaking a word, for he was
still very weak; but after he had recovered himself a little, he looked
curiously at the clothes in which he was enveloped, as if not at all
certain of his identity.

"I reckon I's not Benny Bates," he said at length.

"Oh, yes, you are," said Mrs. Fisher, who had been watching him with an
amused smile upon her face.

"Then," he said, looking up, "these is not my togs."

"No; but I think I'll give them to you, Benny."

"Whew!" lifting his eyebrows. Then he began to search carefully all the
pockets; that done, he lifted his white scared face to Mrs. Fisher, and
said,

"Where's the bob, please?"

"Where's what?"

"The shillin'."

"What shilling?"

"The one the angel gived me. Ain't yer seen it?"

"No; where was it?"

"In the linin' of my wesket."

"Oh, then, perhaps we can find it."

"Oh, yes, do, please; I wouldna lose that bob for a hunderd poun'."

"A hundred pounds is a lot of money, Benny."

"Don't care; don't you see? an angel gived it to me."

"An angel, Benny?"

"Ay, an angel, a real one; but if you'll find the bob, I'll tell yer all
'bout it."

After some searching the shilling was found, and Benny, as good as his
word, told Mrs. Fisher the story connected with it. In fact, he would,
now that the ice was broken, have told that day all the story of his
life, but Mrs. Fisher insisted that it would tire him too much, and that
she would hear it some other day.

So day after day as he sat by the window, with the soft summer breeze
fanning his brow, and with the songs of the birds in his ears, he
told the story that we have written. Told of his father's cruelty, of
Joe Wrag's friendship, and of his sister's love--told of his sorrow
and loss, his hunger and despair, and of the angel that came to him
in his hour of need--told of his success in Mr. Lawrence's office,
of his thirst for knowledge, and of the bright hopes he cherished
for the future. And he told her, too, of the charge of theft, of
his imprisonment and temptation, of his release and resolve, of his
fierce battle with hunger and want; and how, to be out of the reach of
temptation, he had wandered away into the country until, worn out with
hunger and fatigue, he lay down to die.

And while Mrs. Fisher listened, she felt thankful that she had been able
to befriend the homeless boy. Benny was winning his way to her motherly
heart in a wonderful manner, and was helping to fill the gap caused by
the death of little Rob. And could she have had her own way, she would
have adopted him as her own, and sent him to school when he was strong
enough, with Harry and George. But Benny's independent spirit would not
hear of it. He would stay at Scout Farm if he might be permitted to earn
his own living; but if they could not find employment for him he must
go out into the great world once more, and try over again to earn, by
some means, his daily bread. So it was settled at length that he should
stay, and learn to be a farmer; and then Benny grew strong rapidly, and
ere the sunny September days passed away, he was out in the breezy
fields helping to gather in the late harvest, and trying to make himself
useful in every possible way. He was willing, nay, anxious to learn, and
the work was by no means difficult. For the first few weeks he was very
tired when evening came, but the fresh air gave him an appetite, and the
work developed his muscles, and life once more became to him a joy.

He very soon got to know what to do without being told. He would tie up
the cattle in the evening as if he had been used to a farm all his life;
groom the horses as if he and they were old acquaintances; and feed the
calves with all the dispatch of an old hand at the work. Mr. Fisher was
delighted with him; "a handier little chap," he declared, "he had never
come across." And instead of being in the way, as Mrs. Fisher feared he
would be, he soon made himself necessary to them.

When winter came, with its long dreary evenings, he found a new source
of pleasure, and that was a night school. It was Mrs. Fisher--to whom he
had spoken of his thirst for knowledge--that persuaded him to attend.
She knew he would not only derive pleasure, but profit. Benny was
considerably puzzled at first as to what a "night school" was like; but
he soon discovered its purpose, and night after night, through wind and
rain, he plodded along the dark country lane to the neighbouring village
of Scoutleigh, eager to improve his mind and add to his small store of
knowledge. Never had a village schoolmaster a more diligent pupil than
he, and rarely one that improved more rapidly.

Nor did he forget in the summer that followed what he had learnt during
the winter. There were books in Mr. Fisher's house, to which he had
free access, for though on the farm he worked side by side with the
hired servants, in the house he was treated as one of the family; and
when the day's work was done, he found in his books his most congenial
companions. And so he grew in body and mind, and thanked God in his
heart for the haven he had found at last.

Time passed quickly at Scout Farm. There was always so much to be done
that he had little time to brood over the past, or sigh over "what might
have been." Occasionally he longed for the busy life of the town he had
left, but the feeling was only momentary. On the whole he was pleased
with the life he was living, and though he saw no prospect of ever
realizing the dreams that once he cherished, yet he tried to be content.
So the weeks passed away, and lengthened into months, and the months
lengthened into years, almost unconsciously to Benny. He found himself
growing into a man almost against his will.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six years passed away, and Benny had grown almost out of recognition. No
one would have thought that the tall, handsome young fellow that did
so large a share of the work at Scout Farm, was the pale and famished
child that dragged himself along the dusty highway six years before. He
used to laugh sometimes when reminded of the past, and say that he was
an example of what hard work, fresh air, and good food could accomplish.
Mr. Fisher was almost as proud of him as if he had been his own son,
and never seemed tired of declaring that "Ben Bates could swing a
scythe, shear a sheep, plough a furrow, build a corn-stack, or thatch a
hay-rick equal to any man for ten miles round." Nor was John Fisher the
only man that sang Benny's praises. The superintendent of the Methodist
Sunday-school at Scoutleigh averred that Benny was the most punctual,
diligent, and successful teacher he had.

Benny always declared, however, that he learnt more than he ever taught.
Up to the time that he commenced to teach, he had looked upon religion
as stern, cold duty, and as that only; a question simply of doing or not
doing. It is true that he heard occasionally sermons on the subject of
experimental religion, but he thought it was only a way the preachers
had of expressing themselves. He had no doubt that he was a Christian.
He had been trying to be one ever since the death of his little Nell;
he said his prayers regularly, and always tried to do his duty; and
he asked himself what more could he do. Yet as he studied the New
Testament carefully week by week, in order that he might instruct his
class of boys, he became slowly conscious of the fact that feelings and
experiences were hinted at in that Book of books that he was a stranger
to. What did he know about that "peace that passeth understanding," or
of "rejoicing with joy unspeakable"? Was his life "hid with Christ in
God," and was he certain what was meant by "holding communion with God
and fellowship with Christ"? He now began to pay more attention to the
sermons that were preached, and to the hymns that were sung. One Sunday
morning he stopped singing at the verse,

 "Jesus, Thine all-victorious love
    Shed in my heart abroad,
  Then shall my feet no longer rove,
    Rooted and fixed in God."

"What did it mean?" he asked himself, "this love shed abroad in the
heart, inspiring the life, beautifying the character? Was religion as
much a matter of love as of duty?" He heard nothing of the lesson that
was read; but when the congregation stood up to sing again he was all
attention. Slowly the words rang out, and filled the little sanctuary,

 "Give me the faith which can remove
    And sink the mountain to a plain;
  Give me the child-like praying love
    Which longs to build Thy house again;
  Thy love, let it my heart o'erpower,
    And all my simple soul devour.

 "Enlarge, inflame, and fill my heart
    With boundless charity divine!
  So shall I all my strength exert,
    And love them with a zeal like Thine
  And lead them to Thy open side,
    The sheep for whom the Shepherd died."

That hymn for the rest of the day became the burden of his prayer, and
for many days after, though when the answer came, or how, Benny never
knew. That it did come he had no doubt, for he discovered that religion
was no longer the cold formal thing he had once imagined it to be, but a
warm living something that filled his whole life. Duty now became a joy,
because love inspired it. Loving God, he loved His service and loved His
people; and at last he understood the words of the Master, "My meat is
to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work."

I do not know that any one saw any change in Benny's life, except
perhaps the superintendent of the school. He taught from henceforth
as if his whole heart and soul were in the work; duty was no longer
irksome, but a delight, and when some of the boys of his class were
raised to a higher one, he went out into the village and got other
boys to take their places. Thus in earnest Christian work he spent his
Sabbath days; and on the Monday morning he would start out into the
fields with a light heart, feeling all the happier and stronger for
doing the Master's work on the previous day.

For many months nothing had happened to disturb the quiet and peaceful
lives that were lived at Scout Farm. Harry and George were at college,
one studying to be a doctor, the other to be a solicitor. Winnie,
the baby--born since Benny came to the farm--had grown into a bonny
little creature, the pet of all the household; and Mr. and Mrs. Fisher
were as contented with their lot as two people could be, and wanted
no change of any kind. Benny was a little restless at times, but on
the whole was happy. But this quiet life could not be lived always,
and soon afterwards a circumstance transpired which was destined to
affect Benny's future in a way that he had no conception of. What that
circumstance was shall be told in another chapter.



CHAPTER XXI.

An Accident.

  The sea of fortune doth not ever flow,
    She draws her favours to the lowest ebb
  Her tides have equal time to come and go,
    Her loom doth weave the fine and coarsest web
  No joy so great, but runneth to an end,
  No hap so hard but may in time amend.
                                --Southwell.


Not far from Scout Farm were several gentlemen's residences, occupied
chiefly by Manchester merchants, who travelled to and from the city
morning and evening by rail. One of the largest of these residences, and
also the farthest away from Scoutleigh Road Station, was occupied by a
Mr. Munroe, who was reputed to be a man of great wealth, and also of
great liberality. In consequence of the distance of Mr. Munroe's house
from the station, his coachman used to drive him to Scoutleigh Road in
the morning and fetch him in the evening, sometimes taking Mrs. Munroe,
or one of the children, at the same time.

Mrs. Munroe was the only sister of Mr. Lawrence, of Liverpool, Benny's
former master, and, at the time to which we refer, Eva Lawrence was
spending a few weeks at Brooklands with her uncle and aunt. Little did
our hero think, as he sometimes looked across the valley at Mr. Munroe's
house, almost hidden by trees, that his "angel" was staying there. It
was doubtless well for him that he did not know. He would have been
impatient to look once more upon the face of the maiden that, next to
his sister Nelly, had been the brightest vision of his life. He still
kept the shilling that she had given him, and often when alone he would
take it out of his purse and look at it, and wonder what had become
of the little girl that befriended him in his hour of need, and would
almost long for one more sight of her angel face.

It was at such times as these that Benny grew restless, and pined
for the bustle of Liverpool streets, and for the sight of old faces,
that day by day were fading from his memory. Yet he never seriously
entertained the idea of going back. There were only Joe and granny, and
Mr. Lawrence and Eva, that he cared to see, but that they would care to
see him was very doubtful, and he could not go back to be looked at with
suspicion. And not only so: he believed that he was where God intended
him to be. He had a home, and a good one, among friends who believed in
his honesty, and treated him with kindness. And even yet, had he been
disposed to pay a visit to his old haunts, he had no time. He was fully
employed every day of the week, and every season of the year brought its
appointed work. The days were so short in winter that they had always
their hands full, and sometimes more than they could do. And spring
was always a busy time: the lambs had to be attended to; fences had to
be repaired; and so many "crops" had to be got in, that hay harvest
came upon them frequently before they were ready. Then huge fields of
turnips and mangolds and potatoes had to be hoed, and ere that was done
the fields were white unto the harvest. Then came sheep-shearing and
ploughing land for next year's wheat crop, and potato digging, and half
a dozen other things, that allowed them no time for idleness, and it was
well for Benny that it was so. He had no time to mope or to waste in
useless regrets.

One evening he had to pass Brooklands on his way to a neighbouring
farm. The day had been beautifully fine--a real June day, people said;
a few people complained that it had been too hot about noon, but as
the day declined a fresh breeze had sprung up, that made the evening
deliciously cool. Benny enjoyed few things more than a saunter across
the fields during a summer's evening. And this evening he was just in
the mood to enjoy the song of birds, and the scent of apple blossom and
new-mown hay. It wanted several hours yet of sundown, so he sauntered
on very leisurely, and paused when near Mr. Munroe's house, arrested by
the sound of laughter. Not far from where he stood three or four young
ladies were engaged in a game of archery, and as he could not be seen by
them, he waited awhile to watch them. He did not know that one of those
fair maidens was Eva Lawrence; how should he know? She was a little
girl when he saw her last, now she was just blooming into womanhood.
The beauty, of which her early life gave promise, was now more than
realized. But had Eva Lawrence been plain of feature, she would still
have been beautiful in the eyes of those who knew her well. Hers was
a beautiful life, and people did not wonder that it was mirrored in a
lovely face. It was a picture that would have pleased an artist's eye
on which Benny gazed, and their rippling laughter formed a pleasant
accompaniment to the rustling of the leaves and the music of the brook
that murmured down the glen. But as Benny gazed at the picture he only
saw one face, that of Eva Lawrence. He thought he had never seen the
face before, and yet it affected him strangely. It seemed to bring back
to him some half-forgotten dream. What was it that it reminded him of?
He could not tell; whatever it might be, it eluded his grasp. Like the
snatch of a forgotten song it came and went, leaving nothing definite
upon the mind.

An hour later he returned by another way across the glen or ravine
(adown which the brook babbled) by a narrow bridge with low parapets,
and turned a sudden corner down the lane towards Scout Farm. For a
moment he paused and remarked to himself, "This is a dangerous corner;
I wonder Mr. Munroe does not alter it; and that bridge too, it is
altogether too narrow. If I drove this way as often as he does, I would
pull down that antiquated structure, and build a good wide bridge with
a high wall on either side;" and, having given expression to an opinion
that he had expressed a hundred times before, he turned on his heel and
quietly pursued his way. He had not gone many yards, however, before he
heard a great hue and cry, and, looking down the lane, he saw that Mr.
Munroe's horse had taken fright, and was rushing towards him at headlong
speed. The coachman, who had been riding behind, had coolly dropped
himself down on the road, and stood staring after the flying carriage in
blank astonishment, and shouting at the top of his voice. Benny saw that
Mr. Munroe was trying in vain to check the mad gallop of the horse,
and he saw also that the young lady whose face had attracted him so
strangely before was sitting by his side, pale and motionless. Here and
there people rushed out from the fields into the road and held up their
hands or hoes, but always retreated after a few frantic gesticulations
in time for the affrighted steed to pass. Instantly Benny thought of
the sharp corner and the narrow bridge over the deep ravine. If the
road had been straight, the wisest course would have been to have given
the horse rein, and let it tire itself out. But as it was, the horse
must be stopped before it reached the bridge, or almost certain death
would be the fate of Mr. Munroe and his niece. He had little time to
think, but he knew that to attempt to stop the horse would be attended
with considerable risk to himself. If he failed to grasp the bridle the
horse and carriage would go over him, in all probability killing him on
the spot; but he had no time to debate the question, the startled horse
was full upon him. In an instant he dashed at the bridle and caught it,
the end of the shaft striking him on the arm at the same moment, almost
causing him to let go his hold, but he held tight. For a dozen yards the
horse dragged him along the road; then he succeeded in getting it on its
knees with its nose against a hedge, and Mr. Munroe and Eva alighted in
perfect safety. By this time, however, a number of people had gathered
round, the coachman amongst the rest, who at once took charge of the
horse, and Benny slunk away as quietly as possible, and made his way
along the road as fast as he was able. Mr. Monroe, however, seeing his
intentions, followed him at once.

"Come, come, my young friend," he said; "I cannot let you go without
thanking you for your noble act."

"Do not mention it, sir," said Benny, with an effort, turning pale at
the same time.

"I would be ungrateful indeed," said Mr. Munroe, "were I not to mention
it. No, I shall never forget that to your heroism my niece and myself
owe our lives."

"I am very thankful if I have been of service to you," said Benny; "but
I could not have acted otherwise, so please----"

But he did not finish the sentence; setting his teeth together, as if in
pain, he staggered towards a seat by the hedge.

Instantly Mr. Munroe sprang towards him, exclaiming, "You're hurt, I'm
sure you are; tell me what's the matter."

"My arm is broken, that is all," said Benny, with a poor attempt at a
smile; then everything began to spin around him in a very bewildering
manner, and he could never exactly recollect what happened after. He
always carried with him, however, a lively recollection of the process
of bone-setting, which he afterwards underwent, and of the sleepless
night that followed.

Next morning Mr. Munroe came to Scout Farm and sat with Benny for half
an hour, chatting about things in general, and before he left he thanked
him again in the warmest terms for his bravery, and made him promise
to visit Brooklands as soon as he was able, stating that Mrs. Munroe
was very anxious to see him, as were also his daughters and niece,
especially the latter, who wanted to thank him personally for saving her
life.

Benny blushed at first and begged to be excused, but Mr. Munroe would
not hear of it. So Benny reluctantly consented at last to endure the
martyrdom (to him) of being introduced to the fine ladies at the big
house, and in his heart wished he was well out of it all. He felt sure
that he should look silly and make a hole in his manners, for he had
never been used to grand people; and what would be the proper thing to
say when they thanked him he had not the remotest idea.

"Well, Ben Bates," he said to himself when Mr. Munroe had left the room,
"you're in for it now, and no mistake. Here's a pretty kettle of fish
for you, my lad, and you've to see to it that you don't go and make
a fool of yourself. A lot you know about etiquette and drawing-room
manners; and won't you do the graceful before the ladies! Oh, dear,
dear!"

And he laughed till the tears ran down his face, spite the pain in his
arm.

"I think I see you going through the introduction, my lad, trying to
do the thing proper as if you knew how, and only succeeding in making
yourself look silly. And won't the ladies giggle after you're gone!"

Then Benny looked serious, and after a long pause he went on again:

"Look here, Ben Bates: do you think you are a downright fool, or do you
think you have just a few grains of common sense? For, unless you're a
born natural, you'll put on no airs at the big house; but you'll just
be yourself, remember, and not ape anybody else; you profess a great
hatred of sham, then don't be a sham yourself, and make yourself look
ridiculous. Remember what you are, Ben Bates; and remember, too, that
you've got nothing to be ashamed of."

Then, after another pause:

"I wish I was well out of this job, notwithstanding. I hate to be
thanked. I wonder, by the bye, who that young lady is? How her face
reminds me of something, something in the old life, but what I cannot
make out. How strange everything seems! I fancy sometimes I must have
lived here always, and dreamed all the rest. But no, Nelly was real,
and that shilling was real. Ah! I wonder what's become of her." And a
far-away look came into his eyes, as if he were back again in the old
life of mingled joy and pain.

Meanwhile Mr. Munroe was out in the yard talking with Mr. Fisher.

"A fine young fellow that of yours, Mr. Fisher," was his first greeting.

"Yes," said the farmer; "I'd back him against any young man his age for
ten miles round."

"An adopted son of yours, I suppose?"

"Well, no, not exactly," replied Mr. Fisher.

"Beg pardon, I thought you had adopted him."

"Well, perhaps you are not far wrong either. You see, he came to us five
or six years agone, a poor little famished, wizened creature. It was a
sweltering hot day too, and he had walked all the way from Liverpool,
sleeping at nights by the roadside, and by the time he got here--or
rather, he didn't get here--our folks were making hay in the home close,
and he just got inside the gate, and dropped down in a fit, or something
of the sort. Well, he was completely done up; the doctor never thought
he would come round again, but he did, and you see what a fine fellow
he's grown to."

"Yes, indeed! And so he has lived with you ever since?"

"Ever since. My wife says she believes the Lord directed him here. Any
way, the boy was a great comfort to her, for we'd only just buried our
little Rob, and he seemed to fill up the gap a bit, you see."

"I suppose you find him very handy about the farm now, Mr. Fisher?"

"Handy? I tell you, there isn't his equal for miles around. He took to
the farm as natural as a duck takes to the water. In fact, the plucky
little dog said he wouldn't stay to be a burden to us, and he never has
been. In fact, if we came to square accounts, I fancy that I should find
that I was considerably in his debt."

"And you find him perfectly trustworthy?"

"He's as honest as the daylight, sir, and as good as gold. Why, I'd
trust him with my life, and so would the missus. She thinks a sight of
him, I can assure you."

"I do not wonder at it, Mr. Fisher; he's a brave young fellow, and
deserves notice and help--if he needed it."

"Brave? Well, you've said just right in that, Mr. Munroe; he's as brave
as a lion. I don't think the young dog knows what fear is. I expect
it'll be getting him into trouble some of these days. But then, bless
you, on the other hand, he's as gentle as a woman, and the very soul of
kindness. I believe the young scamp would give away the last copper he
had, if he saw some one he fancied wanted it more than himself."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Munroe, feeling rather amused at Mr. Fisher's
enthusiasm. "It is not often you see people possessing so many good
qualities."

"Good! Well, you've hit it again, the lad _is_ good; and yet, mark you,
he ain't none of the goody-goody sort either. Why, bless you, he's as
full of fun and frolic as an egg is full of meat. You should just see
the carryings on we have here when the lads are home from school. I
laugh sometimes fit to kill myself, and yet feel as mad as a sheep at
'em, for they give me no peace of my life."

"Well, we cannot expect the young folks to be as sedate and steady-going
as we older people, Mr. Fisher."

"That's what my wife says, sir; she says it's as natural for the lads
to play as it is for the kittens, and that it's quite as harmless, and
I don't think she's far wrong. In fact, I generally give in to her;
she's had a sight better education than ever I had, so she ought to know
better."

"Ah, speaking about education, Mr. Fisher, what sort of education has
this young man had?"

"Well, Mr. Munroe, I confess I'm no judge in matters of that sort. You
see, he was never at a day school a day in his life; but for all that he
seems to have a natural gift for learning. Our George says he's got on
wonderfully; and old Mr. Jones, that keeps the night school yonder at
Scoutleigh, says he can't teach him any more."

"Excuse me asking all these questions, Mr. Fisher, but I feel quite
interested in the young man. It's but natural I should, since I owe my
life to him; and I should like to do something for him, if I could see
how it's to be done."

"It's very kind of you, I'm sure, and I can assure you you'll not find
me stand in the lad's way. Fact is, I've thought many times of late that
he's too good--too well informed, and that kind of thing--to be a farm
labourer all his life, and he'd never get enough as a day labourer to
become a farmer on his own account."

"Just so; the same thought has occurred to me, but we'll see what can be
done. Good morning, Mr. Fisher."

"Good morning, sir, good morning."

And Mr. Fisher went his way to his farm, and Mr. Munroe to the station,
to catch the noon train to Manchester.

Benny kept indoors two whole days, and declared that they were two of
the longest days of his life. But on the third morning he was out in the
fields again with his arm in a sling. He could not work, so he took a
book with him and lay down by a sunny hedge, and read till dinner-time.
He would not be treated as an invalid.

"I'm all right but for my game arm," he said to Mrs. Fisher, when she
brought him some little delicacy that she had cooked for his special
benefit; "and I think I know some one that will enjoy it a great deal
more than I should," looking across to baby Winnie, who was eyeing the
dish with curious eyes. "At any rate, she shall have a share. Come here,
Winnie," he said, turning to the child, "come to Benny."

And the little bit of humanity slipped off her chair in what Benny would
have once characterized as "sca'se no time," and came toddling round the
table towards him, holding up her little fat dimpled hands, and with
eyes brimful of delight.

"Take us up, 'enny," said the little prattler; "Winnie 'oves 'oo very
much."

"Easier said than done, you young foxy," said Benny, laughing down upon
the child. "Come, mammy," turning to Mrs. Fisher, "lend us a helping
hand, and get this young soldier where she wants to be." And soon Benny
and baby were eating out of the same dish, and it would have been hard
to decide which enjoyed it most.

So day after day passed away, and Benny kept putting off the promised
visit to Brooklands. Mrs. Fisher was constantly reminding him of his
promise, and yet every day he found some fresh excuse for staying away.

One afternoon, however, about a fortnight after the accident, he
announced to Mrs. Fisher that he was going to pay his promised visit to
the lions that afternoon.

"That's right, Benny; though I don't think from your own experience that
you have any occasion to call the ladies lions," and Mrs. Fisher bent on
him a knowing look.

"Right you are, mammy; I believe they are mostly angels after all, and
perhaps those at Brooklands will be no exception to the rule."

"I'm sure they will be kind to you, Benny; so you had better be off and
get ready."

Half an hour later he came into the sitting-room to Mrs. Fisher, dressed
for his visit.

"Now, mammy," he said, "am I presentable?"

"Go away with you," she said, laughing, though casting at the same
time an admiring look at the manly young fellow that stood before her,
"you'll be as proud as a peacock soon."

"Right you are again. I feel the pride creeping up already. But now for
a sight of the angels, so good-bye."

And off he started to pay a visit that was to be fraught with vastly
more important issues than he had any conception of.



CHAPTER XXII.

Recognition.

 "That strain again; it had a dying fall:
  Oh, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south
  That breathes upon a bank of violets,
  Stealing and giving odour."--_Tempest_.


When our hero reached the bridge that spanned the narrow dell, he paused
for a moment and looked over the low parapet at the deep gully that had
been worn away by the action of the water, and shuddered as he thought
of what would have happened had he failed to grasp the bridle-rein. "I
expect this breakneck place will be remedied now," he said, "that a
couple of lives have come near being lost over it. If the horse had
not been stopped there could not have been the least possible chance of
their escape. Well, well, I'm thankful the affair ended in nothing worse
than a broken arm."

Passing through the lodge gates, he wended his way slowly along the
carriage drive towards the house. High above his head the leafy canopy
swayed gently in the summer breeze, making pleasant music, and here
and there an industrious bee droned dreamily on leaf and flower. From
distant fields the sheep-bells jingled gently, and mingled with the
whistling of a plough-boy riding home his tired team, while from a
neighbouring farmyard the patient cows lowed lazily while waiting to be
milked.

When Benny reached the door of the Munroe mansion, he felt strongly
tempted to turn and go back again; but concluding that such an action
would be exceedingly foolish, he seized the bell-handle, gave it a
vigorous pull, and waited.

"Is Mr. Munroe at home?" he inquired of the servant who opened the door.

"Yes; but he's engaged at present. Will you give me your name?"

"Bates. But never mind, you need not disturb him; another time will do
as well."

"I think the master has been expecting you to call," with a glance at
Benny's arm.

"Very likely. I said I would call some afternoon."

"I'm sure he will see you, then. Come this way, please, into the
library."

Benny followed without a word, and soon found himself surrounded on
every side with books.

"Oh, my!" he said, "I think I should enjoy spending a fortnight here.
I wonder how long it would take me to read all these books, and how
much longer to understand them? Ay, that's the rub--understanding and
remembering what one does read."

Then he ran his eye along shelf after shelf, reading only the titles.

"I expect I should feel like a boy in a sweet-shop, not knowing which
bottle to start with. Ah, Wordsworth!" as his eye caught the name. "I've
heard of him. I wonder what the inside is like?"

He must have found something very interesting, for when Mr. Munroe came
into the room half an hour later, Benny did not notice his entrance.
Mr. Munroe watched him with an amused smile on his face for about five
minutes, then said,

"I'm glad you've found something to take your fancy, Mr. Bates."

Benny started, and blushed to the roots of his hair. In the first place
he thought he was alone, and in the second place it was the first time
that he had ever been addressed as "mister."

"I beg pardon," he stammered out at length. "I did not know you were in
the room."

"Don't mention it. I'm glad to see that you are fond of books; and I'm
glad to see you here."

Benny blushed again, but did not reply.

"I was afraid you were not coming," went on Mr. Munroe; "but how is your
arm?"

"Getting on nicely, thank you; the doctor says it will soon be as right
as ever."

"I'm glad to hear it. It's a mercy we were not every one of us killed;
but I'm having a new bridge built. I've been _going_ to have it done for
the last ten years, but kept putting it off; however, they are going to
start with the job next week."

"I'm very glad to hear it," said Benny. "It's not safe as it is at
present."

"No, no; you're quite right there."

Then there was an awkward pause, and Benny began to feel uncomfortable.
Mr. Munroe was the first to speak.

"I wanted to see you here," he said, "to have a little conversation with
you about--about--yourself," bringing out the last word with a jerk.

Benny did not know what reply to make to this, so he said nothing.

"I understand you have not always lived in the country?" questioned Mr.
Munroe.

"No, sir; I lived in Liverpool till I was twelve or thirteen years of
age."

"And how do you like farming?"

"Very well, I think; but, really, I've scarcely thought about it."

"You are not uncomfortable, then?"

"Oh, no! far from it. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher took me in when I was
houseless, homeless, friendless, and all but dead, and ever since have
treated me with the utmost kindness. I have a better home now than I
ever had before in my life, and as for the work I do, I feel that it's
but poor compensation for the kindness bestowed upon me."

"You have no wish, then, to be anything different to what you are?"

"I did not say so, sir; but as I have no expectation of being other than
what I am, I try to be content."

"Ah, just so; and yet I am told you have paid considerable attention to
intellectual pursuits."

"I have tried to make the most of my opportunities for acquiring
knowledge. I'm fond of books--very; and knowledge I love for its own
sake."

"Well spoken, Mr. Bates. I like to hear a young man talk in that way.
You are a good penman, Mr. Jones tells me."

"He has paid me that compliment before, but I am scarcely a judge."

"You understand bookkeeping?"

"A little."

"Double entry?"

"Yes."

"Quick at accounts?"

"I should think not. I have scarcely had sufficient practice."

"I suppose if you stay on the farm there is no prospect of your rising
to anything higher than a day labourer?"

"Not much, I fear."

"Well, now, Mr. Bates, I may as well out with it first as last. I am
very much pleased with you; I am, indeed. I cannot forget that you saved
my life, and the life of my niece; and I am anxious to help you to
something better than being a farm labourer if you will let me. Almost
any one can do farm work, and I think you are deserving of something
better, because you have educated yourself for it. Now, I shall be
glad to take you into my city office, and give you a start in life. I
commenced as a clerk at the desk, and what I have accomplished there is
no reason why you may not. What do you say, now?"

"I hardly know what to say," said Benny. "I am very much obliged to you
for your kind offer, but I would like to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Fisher
about the matter before I come to a decision."

"You are quite right, Mr. Bates. Let me know this day week; and now let
us go into the drawing-room and see the ladies."

Benny followed Mr. Munroe like one in a dream up a broad flight of
stairs, and into a large and luxuriantly furnished room. Then commenced
the introduction which he had so much dreaded. He bowed to each one in
turn, Mr. Munroe mentioning the name of each person; but Benny never
heard a word he said, and was never quite certain whether he was bowing
to a lady or gentleman. It was over, however, at length, and he sat down
with a feeling of infinite relief, and took up a volume of Milton that
was lying on a table near him. Then Miss Munroe came forward with the
question--

"Are you fond of poetry, Mr. Bates?"

"Yes, very."

"You know Wordsworth, of course?"

"No. I ought to be ashamed to say so, but I do not."

And then followed a conversation about poets and authors of various
kinds, and Benny soon forgot his shyness, and chatted away with as much
freedom as if he had been at Scout Farm.

By-and-bye Eva Lawrence came forward shyly, and with a soft blush
tinging neck and face; and Miss Munroe rose and left her and Benny
together. It was growing dusk by this time, and she sat with her back to
the light, so that Benny could scarcely see her face.

"I am very grateful to you, Mr. Bates," she began in a low voice, "for
your bravery in stopping our horse the other night."

Benny started, for something in the voice reminded him again of other
days, and he did not reply for a moment; and Eva went on--

"Uncle tells me that if you had not stopped the horse, nothing could
have saved us;" and she shuddered slightly.

"I am very thankful, indeed, that I have been permitted to be of service
to you," began Benny.

Then Mrs. Munroe came forward, and the conversation drifted off into
matters in general, for which he was very thankful, and ended in Eva
being requested to sing.

"What are your favourite songs?" asked Mrs. Munroe.

"Well, I hardly know," said Benny, blushing. "I know so very few; but
the simpler they are the better they please me, as a rule."

"Could you mention one or two?"

"Yes; there is one called 'Love at Home,' which I like very much."

"Oh, that's one of your old songs, dear," said Mrs. Munroe, turning to
Eva. "You remember it, don't you?"

"Yes, quite well; but I don't care to sing it, aunt, unless Mr. Bates
very much wishes to hear it."

"I should like to hear it again very much," said Benny; "but don't sing
it if you would rather not."

"I will do my best, anyhow;" and she got up and went to the piano.

"Ring for lights, dear," said Mrs. Munroe, addressing her daughter; "it
is getting quite dark."

"No, no, aunt, please," said Eva; "I know it quite well without the
music, and I think the gloaming is the nicest part of the day;" and she
sat down and began to play over the air; then there was a long pause,
for Eva's thoughts had wandered away elsewhere.

"We are all attention, dear," said Mrs. Munroe.

"Excuse me," said Eva; "but I was thinking of something else. I will
tell you all about it directly, if you care to hear."

Then, clear and sweet, rang out the words,

 "There is beauty all around,
    When there's love at home."

And Benny felt thankful that the lights had not been brought, for in the
gloom he could hide his emotion. When the song was finished, Eva swung
herself round on the music-stool, and said,

"You will think me very silly, I have no doubt, but I never sing that
old song without thinking of what happened years ago."

"Dear me, how old you talk!" laughed her cousin.

"Well, Dot, I _am_ getting old; but never mind, I was only a little girl
then. Pa and I were returning from Chester, and when we landed from the
railway-boat, a pale hungry-looking lad came up to pa and asked him to
carry his bag. Well, pa had been delayed, and consequently he was in a
hurry, so he said 'No' to the boy in a stern voice, and pushed roughly
past, and I saw the boy turn away and begin to cry; so scarcely thinking
what I was doing, I went to the boy and asked him why he cried, and he
said he was hungry and cold, that he had no father or mother, and that
he had just buried his little sister, and nobody would employ him; so I
gave him a new shilling that pa had given me, and asked him if he was
generally on the landing-stage.

"'Yes,' he said; and his face brightened wonderfully at the sight of the
shilling, and an honest-looking face it was too; 'I'm mostly hereabouts.'

"Well," continued Eva, after a pause, "I thought no more about the lad
for several days, when one afternoon I was in the dining-room alone, and
I began to play and sing 'Love at Home.' When I had finished, I rose to
close the window, and there just outside was the very boy I had given
the shilling to, his eyes full of tears; but when he saw he was noticed
he shrank away, as if ashamed he had been caught listening."

"And so you conceived a romantic attachment to the lad?" chimed in Mr.
Munroe.

"Of course I did, uncle; but to be serious. Teacher had been telling us
that we ought to be little missionaries, etc, and I thought this was a
likely case to experiment on. So I got pa interested, and in the end the
boy was taken into his office, and a better boy pa said he never had. He
was honest, truthful, industrious, and seemed very anxious to learn."

Then there was another pause, and if Benny ever felt thankful for the
darkness, he did then. It was all clear to him now. This, then, was his
little angel, grown into a grand lady! and yet she had not forgotten the
poor street boy. He would like to have spoken, and put an end to further
revelations, but he dared not trust himself to speak. Then Eva went on
again:

"I am come to the most painful part of the story. This boy had been with
pa six months, when one Saturday afternoon he left him in charge of
the office, but he had scarcely got a hundred yards from the door when
he remembered that he had left a bank note on his desk, and instantly
turned back for it. Well, when he got into the office the note was
gone. Nobody had been in the office but the boy, and yet he denied ever
having seen it. Well, pa was quite in a way. He searched everywhere,
but it was not to be found. So the boy was apprehended on suspicion,
and taken to the police-station. I was in a great way too, for it was
through me that pa had employed the boy; still, I could not believe
that he was dishonest. At the trial he was given the benefit of the
doubt and dismissed, and has never been seen or heard of since. But the
strangest part of all is, about a month later pa wanted to look at the
Directory--a book he does not use very often--and the first thing on
which his eye fell as he opened the book was the missing bank-note. He
_was_ in a way when he came home, and we chatted about nothing else all
the evening, for he remembered then very distinctly how he had laid the
note on the open book, and before he went out had shut it up quickly,
and placed it on the shelf. What troubled pa so much was, the boy had
been robbed of his character, for the magistrates had little doubt of
his guilt, though there was no positive evidence; and when a lad's
character is gone his fortune is gone. All inquiries concerning him have
been fruitless. And pa says sometimes that he feels occasionally as if
he had driven the poor boy to destruction. So you see whenever I sing
that song it always brings back to my mind this painful story."

After the story was ended there was silence for a few moments. Benny
would liked to have spoken, but his heart was too full--to think that
the shadow was lifted from his life at last! He wished he could have
been alone for a few moments, that he might out of the fulness of his
heart have thanked God.

"What a pity," said Mrs. Munroe at length, "that the boy could not be
found."

Then Benny got up, and said in a voice tremulous with emotion, "I must
go now, please; but before I go I would like to say that I am the lost
boy."

"You!" they all said in chorus.

"Yes. I cannot say more now." And he sat down again, and hid his face in
his hands.

"How strange!" said Eva; "but I see it all now. I could not think who
you reminded me of; but you have strangely altered."

"Yes, I suppose I have," he said huskily; "and yet, perhaps, not more
than you have."

"How thankful pa will be!" she said, not heeding his last remark. "I
will write and tell him to-morrow."

"Well," said Mr. Munroe, speaking at length, "if this is not the
strangest ending to a story that I ever came across!"

"It's as good as a novel," said Miss Munroe. "I declare it would make a
capital tale."

"And your father is satisfied that I am honest now?" said Benny, going
towards Eva.

"Yes; but I don't think that he ever really believed you were dishonest."

"And you never doubted my honesty?"

"No, never."

That was all that passed between them.

When he had gone Mr. Munroe remarked, "A wonderful young man that; I
never in my life met with a more remarkable case. How the young fellow
has managed to bear up and fight the world as he has is beyond my
comprehension."

"And he has the bearing of a gentleman too," remarked Miss Munroe. "I
expected we were going to be highly amused at his behaviour and his
dialect, and so on; but really he speaks quite correctly."

"He always was a well-behaved boy," remarked Eva; "and during the time
he was in pa's office he told one of the clerks that he was very anxious
to speak correctly."

"He must have worked very hard, however," said Mr. Munroe; "and a lad
with such application, pluck, and determination is sure to get on. I
confess I shall watch his future career with great interest."

"But what surprises me most," said Mrs. Munroe, "is the sterling honesty
that seems always to have characterized him. As a rule, those street
Arabs have the crudest notions of right and wrong."

"He told me once," said Eva, "that he could just remember his mother,
who told him to be honest, and truthful, and good; but his little sister
Nelly, who died just before I met him, seems to have been his safeguard,
and but for her he said he felt certain he should have been a thief."

Meanwhile the subject of this conversation was making his way along the
silent lanes that lay between Brooklands and Scout Farm like one in a
dream. Could it be really true, he mused, that he had seen his angel
face to face, that he had listened again while she sang "Love at Home,"
and that he had heard from her own lips how the lost bank-note had been
found, and how that now no stain rested upon his name? What a wonderful
day it had been! Could it be possible that his long-buried hopes might
be realized at last?

In a lonely part of the road he paused and listened, but no sound broke
the stillness. Above him twinkled the silent stars; around him all
nature lay hushed and still.

"God is here," he said; and lifting up his face to the sky, and clasping
his hands together, he poured out his heart in thanksgiving.

"O God!" he said, "I thank Thee for all things; for the sorrow, and
pain, and loss, for the darkness through which I have wandered, and
for the burdens I have had to bear. Thou hast never forsaken me. Thou
hast always been good. I thank Thee for bringing me here, and for the
discipline of toil. And now that Thou hast lifted off the cloud that so
long has darkened my life, help me to praise Thee, and love Thee more
and more. I want to be good, and noble, and true. Help me, O Father, for
Thy mercy's sake."

Benny slept but little that night. In the long silent hours he lived all
his life over again, and wondered at the mercy of God.



CHAPTER XXIII.

The Question Settled.

  Life's withered leaves grow green again and fresh with childhood's spring.
  As I am welcomed back once more within its rainbow ring;
  The past, with all its gathered charms, beckons me back in joy,
  And loving hearts and open arms re-clasp me as a boy.
                                       --Massey.


Next morning Benny was unusually quiet, so much so that Mrs. Fisher
thought he was not well; but he insisted that nothing was the matter
with him, and she did not like to question him further. But when Mr.
Fisher came in to breakfast he began to rally Benny at once, and to ask
him how he got on with the grand folks on the previous evening.

"Very well, I think," Benny answered, simply; "they all seemed very
grateful for the little service I had been able to render them."

"And did you find the ladies lions, Benny?" inquired Mrs. Fisher.

"Indeed no," said Benny, colouring; "they all of them made me think more
of angels than of lions."

"Indeed?" said Mrs. Fisher, in a questioning tone.

"Yes, they treated me with the utmost kindness, every one of them; but,
now I think of it, the ladies always have done so," said Benny, with a
laugh.

"I should think so," interposed Mr. Fisher; "but Mr. Munroe spoke to me
about helping you in some way: did he say anything to you about it?"

"Yes; that was what he wanted to see me at his house for principally."

"Well, lad, out with it: did he make you an offer of some sort?"

"Yes, he made me a very kind offer indeed."

"Well, Ben, what was it like? You are precious slow this morning."

"Am I?"

"You are, indeed. He hasn't proposed suicide to you, has he?"

"Not quite. But I had better tell you all that passed between us."

"Of course you accepted his offer?" said Mr Fisher, when he had done.

"No, I did not."

"You didn't?"

"No; I said I would like to talk to you about it before coming to a
decision."

"You needn't fear, lad," said Mr. Fisher, with a little shake in his
voice, "that I will put a straw in your way. I shall be very sorry to
lose you, I confess, for you have been a great help to me, especially as
neither Harry nor George would take to farming, and I know you have been
a great comfort to the missus."

"That he has," said Mrs. Fisher, as if speaking to herself.

"But," continued Mr. Fisher, without heeding his wife's remark, "I have
thought for some time past that you might do better for yourself than
slaving on a farm all the days of your life; and now that you've got
the chance of bettering your condition, my advice is, accept it by all
means, and think yourself a lucky dog for getting such an offer."

"Oh, yes, Benny," said Mrs. Fisher, "I think you had better accept Mr.
Munroe's offer: such a chance does not often come twice in a lifetime;
and besides, you can still make this your home--that is, you will be
able to come on a Saturday night and stay until Monday morning."

"Of course you will, Ben; I never thought of that," said Mr. Fisher. "I
believe you have got into luck's way at last."

"But I have something more to tell you yet," said Benny, looking up with
a smile.

"More in the way of good luck?" said Mr. Fisher.

"Well, I don't think the word luck will apply exactly, and yet what I
have to tell you is to me very good news indeed."

"Well, lad, out with it: you are beating about the bush in tremendous
style this morning, and no mistake."

"Oh, you are so impatient!" laughed Benny; "and I declare you look a
great deal more curious than Mrs. Fisher does."

"Well, and what has that to do with it, you tantalizing young vagabond?"

"Oh, a great deal!" said Benny, laughing: "you always profess that
curiosity is a feminine weakness which you are a stranger to, and yet
here you are as curious and impatient as a schoolgirl!" and Benny
laughed again.

"Well, Ben," laughed Mr. Fisher, "you have me this time, I'll admit. I
am a bit curious; there's no denying it; so let us know what this piece
of good news is."

"You have heard me speak," said Benny, "of the little girl that gave me
my lucky shilling years ago?"

"The angel, you mean, Benny," said Mrs. Fisher, with a smile.

"Yes, that's who I mean," said Benny, blushing; "and I am not quite
certain that she is not an angel yet."

"Well, and what of her?" said Mr. Fisher.

"I daresay you will think it a strange story, but it seems she is a
niece of Mr. Munroe, and is staying at present at Brooklands. She was
with Mr. Munroe the night the horse took fright, and so without knowing
it I saved the life of the little girl that befriended me in the hour of
my greatest need. A little girl no longer, however, for she has grown
into a grand lady, and yet she seems as good and kind as ever."

"Well, I never!" said Mr. Fisher.

"And you recognized each other at once?" inquired his wife.

"No, that we didn't: she has grown out of recollection quite; and I
suppose I have also."

"Well, I should rather think you have," said Mr. Fisher, with a broad
grin; "you were a scarecrow when you found your way here, and no
mistake."

"But how did you find out who she was?" said Mrs. Fisher.

"By the merest accident. But you would never guess, so I will tell you
all about it." And he detailed the circumstances with which the reader
is familiar.

"Well, if I ever!" grunted Mr. Fisher.

"I'm so thankful, Benny," Mrs. Fisher remarked; "though the finding of
the note can make no difference in our regard for you, for we never
doubted your honesty for a moment."

"Thank you, mammy;" and he looked fondly up into the face of the good
woman who for so many years had been as a mother to him.

After breakfast Benny took a book and went out into the fields to
read, but somehow to-day the letters got hopelessly mixed, and all the
lines seemed to run into one. He did his best to fix his mind upon the
subject of the book, but in vain: before he had read a dozen words the
letters would fade away, and his thoughts would be somewhere else; and
not only his thoughts, but his eyes kept wandering in the direction of
Brooklands, and he found himself weaving all kinds of fancies. But in
every pattern stood out the face of one he had never forgotten either
in joy or pain. How grandly life was opening out before him again!
The mountain heights that had been so long in darkness were once more
bathed in light. The wilderness surely lay all behind him now. Ah! he
had thought so once before, and had found out that he had only just
commenced the journey across the dreary waste. Was it to be so again?
Would this glorious morning close in darkness? Were hopes always
delusive, and but the prelude of despair? He knew not; and yet he had
no fear. "The Lord," he said, "has always provided for me; I believe He
always will."

Then a lark rose up from its lowly nest near him, and went singing
upward through the sky, and as he listened to the full rich song
that floated down to him, he seemed to hear in it the promise of an
ever-faithful Friend--"And not one of them falls to the ground without
the notice of His eye.... Are ye not much better than they?"

Towards the close of the afternoon Benny found himself in the lane that
led down to the bridge that crossed the dell. He had no particular
object in view, only he loved a quiet stroll through the country lanes
in the quiet of the day, and he was useless on the farm till his arm
got better. Below in the valley the river rippled pleasantly over its
stony bed. To Benny's ears it sounded like a song, while his own fancy
supplied the words--

 "There is beauty all around
    When there's love at home."

On turning the sharp corner of which we have already spoken, he came
suddenly face to face with Eva Lawrence. Benny blushed scarlet; but Eva
held out her hand in a simple childish manner, and said frankly,

"I am pleased to see you----" (she was about to say "Benny," but checked
herself), and added, "I hope your arm is still improving."

"Yes, thank you; it will soon be as well as ever."

"I am very glad; but how strange, isn't it, that I should have found you
again?"

"Yes, very; but my life has been a strange one altogether."

"I suppose so. Do you remember telling me all about your life up to the
time I first saw you on the landing-stage?"

"Yes, I remember. Do you remember giving me the shilling? Of course you
do, for you mentioned it last night, but I wanted to tell you I have
that shilling yet."

And Benny took the shilling out of his purse and handed it to her.

"How funny!" said she, taking the coin in her hand; "and is this the
very same?"

"Yes; I have never had the heart to part with it, somehow, though I've
wanted bread since you gave it to me. I call it my lucky shilling."

"How strange!" she said, more to herself than to him. "Then you have
never forgotten us?"

"Forgotten you!" said Benny, "I should----" Then he checked himself,
and added, after a pause, "No, I could not easily forget those who have
befriended me."

By this time they had reached the bridge, and Eva sat down on the low
parapet, and Benny took a seat opposite her. For a while neither spoke,
then Eva looked up and said,

"Would you mind telling me about yourself since that dreadful evening
you had to leave pa's office?"

"If you care to hear it, though I fear it would be a very uninteresting
story."

"I should like to hear it very much, for I have often wondered what
could have become of you."

"I should not have kept silence all these years if I had thought any one
cared to know what had become of me, but I supposed that I should best
please those who had known me by keeping out of their sight."

"You were mistaken in that, I am sure; but never mind now, I am all
curiosity to hear your story."

Benny could not resist this request, so he gave her an outline of what
we have given in greater detail, making as little as possible, however,
of his sufferings and privations, and dwelling at length, and with much
feeling, on the kindness of his friends at the farm. Of his inner life
he said nothing. His religious experience seemed too deep for words, too
sacred for parade, and he had not framed an experience yet to use on
public occasions, and he preferred also that his actions, rather than
his words, should reveal his religious life.

Eva listened with great attention, and her quick imagination supplied
what she felt he had left out. For awhile there was silence after
Benny had told his story, save for the clear river that babbled down
underneath the bridge, for both were thinking of the old days that had
passed away for ever.

At length Eva arose and held out her hand, and Benny took the little
white fingers in his hard brown palm, and held them just for a moment.

"Good evening, Mr. Bates; I must go home now," she said.

"Good evening, Miss Lawrence." And Benny watched her glide away among
the shadows of the tall trees, in the direction of Brooklands, then
turned and walked slowly home.

The next morning, as he was leaving the house, he almost stumbled over
Mr. Lawrence, who on receipt of his daughter's letter had come over at
once.

"Mr. Lawrence!" said Benny, in a tone of surprise.

"Then you _are_ Benny, I suppose," he said, "as you recognize me, but I
should never have known you."

"Yes, I am Benny Bates, but you have not altered in the least; I should
have known you anywhere."

"Well, Benny," said Mr. Lawrence with much feeling, taking his hand,
"you cannot tell how thankful I am to see you alive and well." Then,
glancing at Benny's arm, which he still carried in a sling, he added, "I
beg pardon, I had forgotten your arm for a moment. I have to thank you
also for saving my daughter's life."

"Do not mention it, Mr. Lawrence; I have received abundant thanks
already."

"That may be, but I have much to say to you; can you spare time for a
walk?"

"Yes, with pleasure; I am able to do nothing, as you see, and so time
hangs rather heavy."

"Benny," said Mr. Lawrence, when they had gone some distance, "when I
found that missing bank-note, I resolved that, if ever I saw you again
or had the chance of speaking to you, I would ask your forgiveness for
the wrong I did you."

"Do not speak in that way, please," said Benny. "If you wronged me it
was not intentionally, so that I have nothing to forgive; if I had, it
should be freely granted."

"Thank you. And now, Benny, will you return to Liverpool again? Not to
be office boy," he said, glancing at Benny's tall and well-knit frame;
"I can find you something much better than that, and I should like to
make you some reparation for all you have suffered through me."

"Thank you, Mr. Lawrence," said Benny firmly; "but I could not come
simply to be tolerated because you fancied you had wronged me, and
wished to make amends."

Mr. Lawrence looked up in surprise.

"You will understand what I mean, I think," said Benny. "I am too old
and too big to be any longer an object of charity, but if you think I
am able to fill the place you want filled, and am worth the salary that
you are in the habit of paying, then I will consider your very kind
proposal."

"I understand what you mean now," said Mr. Lawrence, "and I must say I
admire your independence. I do not wish you to be an object of charity,
for Mr. Munroe tells me that he finds, through inquiries that he has
made, that you are a good penman, and quick at accounts, and if you
will come and take the vacant stool in my office, I shall be sincerely
obliged."

"Thank you; but do you know that Mr. Munroe has made me a similar offer?"

"Yes."

"Do you require an answer now?"

"To-morrow will do."

"Let it be to-morrow, then, please, and I will think about it in the
meanwhile."

Benny had decided the question, however, before he slept that night.
Manchester was a strange place, Liverpool was his home. He knew every
street for half a mile around the Custom House as well as he knew the
lanes around Scout Farm. He had spent his childhood there; his earliest,
ay, and his happiest recollections were associated with it. It had been
the scene of his greatest struggles and triumphs. It had witnessed his
deepest joy and his bitterest sorrow, and though he had left it in
disgrace and pain, he loved it still. There were a few people there he
had pined to see. It was Joe Wrag's home; it was Nelly's resting-place;
granny lived there, and his Sunday-school teacher, and Mr. Lawrence,
and--. But never mind, Liverpool was dear to him still, and in the very
spot from which he had been driven in disgrace he would start afresh.

Next morning he walked across to Brooklands, and asked to see Mr. Munroe.

"I have come," he said, as soon as that gentleman appeared, "to tell you
that I cannot accept your very kind offer."

"I guessed as much," said Mr. Munroe, with a smile, "when I heard Mr.
Lawrence had been after you. So Liverpool has more attractions for you
than Manchester, eh?"

"Yes, sir, Liverpool is my home, and Manchester would be strange to me;
but I am very much obliged to you for your kindness."

"I do not blame you, Mr. Bates; on the contrary, I think you have acted
wisely. Still, if at any time you should need a friend, you may reckon
upon me."

"Thank you, sir," said Benny, with a shake in his voice, "thank you very
much; and now, sir, could I see Mr. Lawrence?"

"Oh, yes, I will send him to you at once."

"Good morning, Benny," was Mr Lawrence's greeting; "and have you settled
the matter?"

"Yes, sir, I will accept your offer."

"That's right; I am glad to hear it. And now, when can you be ready?"

"In a week, sir."

"That will do; and in the meantime I will secure lodgings for you, and
make things as straight and pleasant against your arrival as I possibly
can."

"Thank you very much."

"Don't name it; but I will send you word when I have secured a
comfortable home for you, so that if you like to send on your luggage
beforehand, you may do so."

The next few days Benny was busy getting his things together, previous
to his departure from Scout Farm. Little Winnie followed him everywhere,
and wanted him to promise her that he would not "do away." He did not
think until he began to pack his things that the parting would cost him
so much, nor did he know till then how closely the little prattling
Winnie had twined herself around his heart.

"Benny does not 'ove his 'ittle Winnie, to do away," the child repeated
over and over again, with choking voice and brimming eyes.

"Benny's pet," he would say, taking her up in his arms and kissing away
her tears; "he loves you more than he can tell."

"Then Benny'll stay with Winnie, won't he?"

"Do you want Benny to stay very badly, eh, pet?"

"Oh, yes, Winnie 'oves 'oo werry much; don't do away, Benny."

"I'll come back again at Christmas, Winnie, and then we'll have rare
fun, and I'll bring you a new doll and heaps of oranges."

But the child would not be comforted.

At length the last morning of his stay arrived. It was a silent party
that sat down to breakfast, for the hearts of all were too full for
speech. Then the trap was brought round, and they all drove over to the
station together. The train was in time this morning, for which Benny
felt thankful. There was only time for a hurried good bye good-bye, an
extra kiss for Winnie, and the train started for the busy town where
Benny was to commence afresh the race of life.



CHAPTER XXIV.

The Reward of Well-doing.

  I have seen angels in the gloomy prison,
    In crowded halls, by the lone widow's hearth;
  And when they passed the fallen have uprisen,
    The giddy paused, the mourner's hope had birth.

       *       *       *       *       *

  And by his side there moved a form of beauty,
    Strewing sweet flowers along his path of life.
  And looking up with meek and love-lent duty:
    I call her angel, but he called her wife.


On reaching Liverpool, his first visit was to his sister's grave. He
would never have found it, were it not for a curious-shaped stone that
he had embedded in the sod ere he went away. As it was, he was a long
time before he could discover it among the hundreds of grass-grown
mounds lying all around it. It seemed to him that he had lived a long
life since he lay there that summer night, and resolved that he would
leave Liverpool behind him, and go out into the great world that lay
beyond to seek his fortune. "Ah, well!" he mused, "I have made no
fortune, but I have lived a life of peace, and God has taken care of me,
and now I have come back again no longer a child, though scarcely a man,
and I believe God will take care of me here." Kneeling by the little
grave, he offered up a silent prayer for help and protection. He thanked
God for his little sister that was safe from the world's temptation, and
prayed that when he should be laid down to sleep by her side, they might
meet by the far-off Jordan river, and part no more for ever.

He was in a very subdued frame of mind when he left the cemetery and
wended his way in the direction of Tempest Court. He could not help
wondering as he threaded his way through the busy streets whether granny
was still alive, but he certainly did not expect to find that Tempest
Court was no longer in existence. Such, however, was the case. The march
of improvement had swept away hundreds of tumble-down houses, in one
of which granny had dwelt for so many years. But she did not live to
see that day. In the little home in which she had lived so long she was
permitted to die; and so, when the "destroyer," as she would have called
it, came to Tempest Court, she was gone--gone home to the Father's
mansion, to the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

But Benny knew nothing of this, and so he gazed with a look of pain
at the heaps of broken bricks and mortar which men were busy carting
away, and thought what a grief it would be to granny. His next visit
was to St. George's Hall, and for a while he sat in the shadow of the
great portico to watch the hurrying crowds passing up and down. How
different it was from the silent country and the still, drowsy fields!
What a tremendous hurry everybody seemed to be in! Was it always so? He
had never noticed it in the old days: surely the great town must have
grown bigger and busier in the years he had been away from it. "But I
daresay I shall soon get used to it," he said to himself, as he rose
from his seat, and started this time for the landing-stage. Here he saw
no change. The mighty river was the same as in the old days, a scene of
life and beauty. But the children selling matches and the women crying
newspapers brought more vividly back to his mind than anything else the
days of his own childhood. In the cemetery it seemed a life-time since
he went away; here, on the stage, it seemed only yesterday since he was
a poor famished child, earning a precarious living as best he could. He
could hardly realize that he was a strong, well-dressed young man. Once
or twice the word "Perks" leaped to his lips as a shock-headed ragged
lad ran against him; and when a little girl came up to him with "Fusees,
sir?" the face of his dead little sister seemed to flash upon him for
a moment, and he started and turned pale, then handed the child some
coppers, and patted her on the head, telling her to be a good girl.

He now began to think it time to put in an appearance at Mr. Lawrence's
office. But he could not resist the temptation of a sail to Birkenhead
and back first. For years he had longed for the day when he would be
rich enough to afford such a luxury; that day had come at last, and the
wish should be gratified; and surely, as he floated across the broad
placid river and back again, no child ever felt half so delighted with a
new toy as did he.

Mr. Lawrence was pleased to see that our hero had arrived, and offered
him the option of a few days' holiday before he settled down to the
desk. But Benny said he would be quite ready for work on the following
morning; he only wanted to see Joe Wrag and granny, and he thought he
would be able to find them before the day closed, and he knew that he
should be happier at work than doing nothing.

Benny's next move was to make inquiries of the police as to what streets
were being repaired; and, having been furnished with a list, he waited
until half-past five, and then went in search of his old friend. But
Joe was not so easily found as he had imagined. He went from one street
to another until his list was exhausted; but all the watchmen were
strangers to him, and he began to fear that his old friend was either
dead, or that failing health and strength had compelled him to retire
from his occupation. Benny now began to consider what he was to do next,
for he had not the remotest idea in what part of the town Joe lived, if
indeed he were still living.

At length it occurred to him that very likely the watchmen knew each
other, and that if he were to inquire of one of them he might get
some idea of Joe's whereabouts. With Benny to think was to act very
frequently; so he walked up to an old man who was keeping watch in the
street in which he then found himself, and put the question at once.

"Do you know an old man by the name of Joe Wrag?"

"Oh, ay, very well."

"Then perhaps you could tell me where I might find him."

"In course I could. If you keep down Old Hall Street for haaf a mile,
you'll tumble over him, unless yer mind where yer goin'."

"Much obliged." And off Benny started with a very much lighter heart
than he had five minutes before. It was a warm July evening, and Benny
espied the old man long before he got to him, sitting on a block of
wood outside his hut, apparently buried in thought.

For a moment or two Benny stood before him without speaking, and Joe
seemed utterly unconscious of his presence. Six years seemed to have
passed very lightly over the old man's head. Benny could detect no
change in his features; he did not look a day older than he did the last
time he saw him.

At length Benny said, in a hesitating tone of voice, "Good evening, Mr.
Wrag."

Joe started, but scarcely lifted his eyes to the intruder; then
answered, after a pause,

"I'm none so much mister, as I knows on; I'm only plain Joe Wrag."

"This is a nice time of the year for you watchmen," said Benny, not
knowing exactly what to say.

"Yes, it's purty fair; we don't git bothered quite so much wi' the
youngsters as we do in the winter."

"And so the children bother you in the winter, do they?"

"Well, I don't know they bother me so much, arter all; only they like
the fire, yer see, when the weather's cold."

"Just so; you'll get to know a great many children, I should think?"

"Oh, ay, a goodish few."

"Did you ever know a lad called Benny Bates?"

"Ay, yes, poor lad, I should think I did," said Joe, with a sigh; "an'
his little sister too, purty little hangel; she's safe enough, thank
God. She's wi' the Lord in heaven, but where the poor lad is the Lord
only knows."

"Lost, then, is he?"

"Oh, ay, poor bairn, poor persecuted lad; falsely accused he wur, an' it
seemed to break his 'eart; he's never been heard of since."

"Do you think you would know him if he were to come back again?"

"Ay, I should know 'im among a thousand," said the old man, still
keeping his eyes on the ground.

"Then look at me, Joe, and say if you know me."

Instantly he rose to his feet, and, coming close to Benny, looked
straight in his face. Then raising his hands to heaven, he cried out, "O
Lord of mercy!" and fell upon Benny's neck and wept.

We will not tire the reader with repeating the conversation that passed
between Joe and Benny that night. Each had a hundred things to say to
each other, and each a hundred questions to ask. Darkness had crept
over the earth, and the great town was silent and still, ere Benny left
Joe's hut; and when at length he took his departure, Joe watched him
until he had disappeared in the gloom, then looking up into the now
star-lighted sky, he clasped his hands together, while the tears ran
down his weatherbeaten cheeks, and cried out, "Now, Lord, lettest Thou
Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."

Next day Benny settled down to work with a fixed determination to do his
duty, and to make his way in the world if it could be honestly done. The
same truthfulness and perseverance, and diligence and honesty that had
characterized him for so many years still marked his life, and raised
him month by month and year by year in the estimation of his employer
and in the estimation of all with whom he came in contact. According to
promise he spent his Christmas at Scout Farm, to the delight of little
Winnie and of all the other members of the household, and returned to
town feeling all the better for a week's rest.

When Benny had been in Liverpool about two years, a case that was tried
at the assizes created considerable interest. The prisoner was found
guilty of burglary and manslaughter, and sentenced to twenty-one years'
penal servitude. In reading an account of the trial, Benny was struck
with the names of the prisoner, John Cadger, _alias_ Peeler, _alias_
Perks. Could it be the Perks that he had known? So interested was he in
this question that he determined to find out if possible; and, after
some difficulty he was permitted to visit the prisoner in his cell,
previous to his removal to Dartmoor.

Benny's first glance at the shock head and sinister face convinced him
that his worst fears were realized. For a moment he was unable to speak,
then summoning up all his courage, he held out his hand, saying, "I'm
very sorry to see you here, Perks."

"Who are you?" snarled Perks, with a terrible oath.

"Do you not know me?" said Benny.

"No! I only know you b'longs to the gentry tribe that are always down on
poor chaps like us."

"You are mistaken there, Perks; I am Benny Bates."

"You!" he said in astonishment, eyeing him from head to foot. "Then you
must 'ave got mighty 'igh in the perfeshun. I could never dress like
that."

"I am not in the profession, as you call it," said Benny.

"Not in it?"

"No."

"Do you mean to say you've kep' honest all these years?"

"Yes, I have."

"An' kep' in Liverpool?"

"No." And Benny told him where he had been.

"Jist so; you'd a-been bound to take up the perfeshun if you 'ad kep'
here."

"I don't think so."

"I'm sure on it. Look 'ere: do you 'member that chat we 'ad that night
I skeered yer so? Oh, lor!" And Perks laughed till the tears ran down
his face. "Well, Ben, I tried bein' honest arter I got out o' quad that
time. I did for sure, jist by way of speriment; but lor! 't were no
use,--I was nearly starved, an' I 'ad to take up the bizness agin or
else die."

"But why did not you do as I did?"

"Never thought on it, and shouldn't a-'ad pluck enough to hacted it out
if I 'ad."

Then Benny talked seriously to Perks about his sin, and about the
everlasting future beyond the grave; told him also about a loving
Saviour, who was ready to forgive the vilest, and of the happy home He
had prepared for all.

Perks listened in silence to all Benny had to say, only remarking when
he had finished, "I wish I wur dead."

He confessed to Benny the justice of his sentence, though he would
insist upon it that society had made him what he was, and was to some
degree responsible for his wickedness.

To Benny the interview was a very painful one, and he felt it a relief
when he found himself once more outside the prison walls. They never met
again. In less than three years Perks was summoned to appear before a
higher tribunal, to answer for the deeds done in the body.

Benny had no sooner got settled in Liverpool than he sought out his
old Sunday school, and became a teacher there; and often he told to the
ragged and neglected children that he gathered around him the story of
his life, and pointed out a bright future that might be theirs if they
would be industrious, truthful, and honest. Once during each summer
he made it a point of taking his class to Eastham Woods, knowing from
his own experience what a joy it would be to the poor boys to breathe
the fresh air, listen to the song of birds, and run races on the mossy
sward. Benny was never idle. The one aim of his life was to do good, to
be "rich in good works;" and grandly he succeeded. His name in many a
home was like "ointment poured forth," and young and old blessed him for
his kindly words and kindlier deeds.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now what shall we more say? for tales must end while lives run on.
Years--I need not say how many--have passed away since Benny again
took up his abode in Liverpool. He is now partner with Mr. Lawrence,
in a business that has become more prosperous than ever. He lives in a
beautiful house of his own, and the angel that years ago brightened his
childhood now brightens his home; and sometimes on winter evenings he
gathers his children around his knee, and shows them a shilling still
bright and little worn, and tells them how their mother gave it to him
when she was a little girl, and he a poor, ragged, starving boy upon
the streets; tells them how, by being honest, truthful, and persevering,
he had worked his way through many difficulties, and how, by the
blessing and mercy of God, he had been kept until that day. And Ben, the
eldest lad, thinks how he will be brave and true like his father, and so
grow up to be an honourable man.

Here, then, we will end our story--a story that contains more truth than
fiction--and hope that the young people who may read it may learn the
lesson we have aimed to teach, and so be helped to the cultivation of
those virtues that will yield them in this world "a hundredfold more,
and in the world to come life everlasting."


THE END.





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Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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