Citation
The silver keys

Material Information

Title:
The silver keys a tale
Added title page title:
Ned Franks
Added title page title:
Sheer off
Creator:
A. L. O. E., 1821-1893
Miller, S ( Engraver )
Gall & Inglis ( Publisher )
Place of Publication:
London ;
Edinburgh
Publisher:
Gall & Inglis
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
225 p., [4] leaves of plates : ill. ; 17 cm.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Christian life -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Repentance -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Husband and wife -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Good and evil -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Friendship -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Anger -- Juvenile fiction ( lcsh )
Prize books (Provenance) -- 1872 ( rbprov )
Bldn -- 1872
Genre:
Prize books (Provenance) ( rbprov )
novel ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:
England -- London
Scotland -- Edinburgh
Target Audience:
juvenile ( marctarget )

Notes

General Note:
Date from prize inscription printed in colors.
General Note:
Sequel to "Ned Franks" and "Sheer off."
General Note:
Illustrations engraved S. Miller.
Funding:
Preservation and Access for American and British Children's Literature, 1870-1889 (NEH PA-50860-00).
Statement of Responsibility:
by A.L.O.E.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature in the Department of Special Collections and Area Studies, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Rights Management:
This item is presumed to be in the public domain. The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries respect the intellectual property rights of others and do not claim any copyright interest in this item. Users of this work have responsibility for determining copyright status prior to reusing, publishing or reproducing this item for purposes other than what is allowed by fair use or other copyright exemptions. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions may require permission of the copyright holder. The Smathers Libraries would like to learn more about this item and invite individuals or organizations to contact The Department of Special and Area Studies Collections (special@uflib.ufl.edu) with any additional information they can provide.
Resource Identifier:
026996961 ( ALEPH )
ALH9419 ( NOTIS )
58796172 ( OCLC )

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said Franks to himself.”— p. 39.











CO)



THE SILVER KEYS.

A Gale

BY

A. L. O. E,

AUTHORESS OF ‘‘ THE CLAREMONT TALES,” “‘ BRAID OF CORDS,”
‘NED FRANKS,” ‘‘ SHEER OFF,” ETC, .

GALL & INGLIS.

Hondo: Edinburgh :
30 PATERNOSTER ROW. 6 GEORGE STREET.



PREFACE.
4+

Sucu of the readers of this little work as may have
chanced to have seen “Ned Franks” and “Sheer
Off,” will perceive at once that the present story is
a continuation of them, though not necessarily to be
united with either, as each is complete in itself.
he same individual who is represented in the first
volume of the series as a godless termagant, and in
the second as a drunkard hardly rescued from the
vortex in which she was sinking into destruction,
appears in this, the third, as a penitent and a be-
liever, struggling, through trials and sore tempta-
tions, on a heavenward path. Such instances of the
triumphs of grace over a corrupt nature and evil
habits are, thank God! to be met with in life. Some
who will be, we believe, welcome and honoured
guests in the courts of heaven, will be gathered from
those who were once great wanderers on earth, and
who will be ready to own that they were unworthy
even of the portion of the dogs—the crumbs under
the Master's table.
A. L. O. Fi.



CONTENTS.

———-
CHAPTER PAGE
I. THE TWO FRIENDS. . . , , . . ; 7
II. SUNSHINE. . . . ; . . . . 21
III. HOME IN THE QUARRY. ; . ; . : . 30
IV. GOOD NEWS. . . . . . . . 37
V. REFLECTIONS. . : e : . . . ~ AD
VI. THE CLERK’S HOME. . ° : ; : : . 68
VII. THE CASTAWAYS. . : ‘ e : : . 61
VII. A FIRST MEETING. . : ° : : 0 . TA
IX. THE GREAT QUESTION. . : ; : , . il
X. SEEDS AND PEBBLES. ; ; ° ° . . 91
XI, NANCY’S VISIT. . ; : ° ; . , . 104
XII, EVENING VISITORS. . . . «. «~~ 118
XIII. BREAKING THE NEWS. . : . 126
XIV. THE CONSULTATION. . : . . ; . . 138
XV. AN OFFER DECLINED. : : , ; ; . 146
XVI. A STORM. . . : . . . , ; . 1d5
XVII. IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. . . ; . . . 162
XVII TRIBULATION. . . . . . ; . . 173
XIX. THE HUSBAND’S PRAYER. . . . . : . 188
XX. THE NIGHT WATCH. . . : : . : . 192
XXI. HOPES DISAPPOINTED. : : . : : » 203
XXII, A VICTORY. : . : ‘ : . ; . 214
XXIII. PASSING AWAY. : ; , : . . » 229
XXIV. A PERILOUS PASS. . . ‘ . . : . 236

XXV. CONCLUSION, . . ._ . ; . . 248






tHE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER TI.

The Pwo Friends,

“ONLY think of her not sending you the keys of the
cabinet!” exclaimed Nancy Sands, the clerk’s wife,
as she stood looking at a beautiful little piece of
furniture which her friend, Persis Franks, had re-
ceived about ten minutes before by the carrier’s
cart.

“Qh, the keys will come all in good time,” replied
Persis. ‘“ My aunt would not trust them to come
in the same way as the package, she sent them by a
private hand, and Ned has gone to the town to fetch
them. Father will soon be back, won’t he?” The
last words were addressed to a fine little boy, about
eighteen months old, whom she held in her arms, a
rosy-cheeked child, with yellow locks curling all
round his head like so many little golden cork-
SCrews.



8 THE SILVER KEYS.

“I's a bit tantalizing to get such a cabinet
and have to wait before having a peep at what's
in it,’ observed Nancy Sands. “I never saw
such a pretty thing in my life, though it is so old-
fashioned. That wood is ebony, ain't it? How
finely it is carved, and inlaid with bright mother-
o’-pearl! That cabinet must have cost a great deal
of money.”

“T daresay that it did when it was new,” said
Persis, who, after clearing away the matting in which
the package had been carefully wrapped, had seated
herself by her window, to watch with baby for the
first sight of his father coming up the road, “ That
cabinet has been for more than a hundred years in
the family, and has been now left to me as a legacy
by the aunt of my mother. The very first thing
which I can remember is being shown it when I
was a very little child. Perhaps you will say just
the same thing one day, my darling,” added the
mother, after her usual fashion drawing baby into
the conversation, though his share in it could not be
expected to go beyond a crow or a coo. “You'll
pull out every one of the little drawers, won’t you,
and jingle the silver keys?” The child’s chubby
face dimpled into a smile, and he clapped his soft
little hands. If he did not understand his mother’s
question, he understood well the loving tone and the



THE TWO FRIENDS. — 9

loving look with which it was asked, and made what
answer he could.

“You know, I suppose, what is in the cabinet,”
said Nancy.

“Tt must be nearly twenty years since I last
looked into those five small drawers,” replied Persis,
“for I have not been in Cornwall, where my old
relative lived, since I was quite a young child.
There was an old letter in one of the drawers. I
remember this, for I wondered at the time why a
sheet of paper, yellow with age, should be kept in
such a beauty of a box, instead of being used to light
the fire. It did not help me then to be told that it
was a bit of the handwriting of a good tinker who
had lived two hundred years ago. You would not
be much the wiser, my little Ned, if we talked to
you about the writings of Bunyan.”

“But no doubt there are other things in that
fine cabinet besides scraps of old letters,” observed
Nancy, who was not disposed to value autographs
much more than the child would do.

“Oh! yes, there are other things,” replied Persis;
“there are curious pieces of money, very old and so
much worn that you could scarcely make out what
had been stamped upon them; but I have a less
clear remembrance of these coins than I have of the
little bunch of silver keys on a silver ring which



10 THE SILVER KEYS.

opened the five drawers. The coins were old and
dull, the keys looked bright and new; little folk like
what is bright and pretty, don’t they, my Ned?”

“What! was there a bunch of keys to open one
cabinet?” inquired Nancy Sands.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Franks; “each one of those
five little drawers has a separate key; what opens
one will not open another.”

“ And all the keys are hung on one ring,” laughed
Nancy. “The man who made that cabinet must
have had a fancy for cutting out work for himself;
perhaps he sharpened a fresh knife for every slice
that he cut off the loaf of a morning. He madea
pretty job of the cabinet, however. The Queen her-
self might lock up her diamonds in it. How care-
fully it has been kept! There’s not an edge of the
carving broken, not a bit of the mother-o’-pearl
started from its place, and yet the cabinet, you tell
me, is more than a hundred years old.”

“It has always been preserved as a family trea-
sure,” said Persis, “My great-aunt used to dust it
with a silk handkerchief, and the only time in my
life when I received a slap from her hand, was when
I knocked the ebony cabinet with a ninepin. You
see there a little dint that marks the place which I
hit. Ah! Ned, my boy, we must keep a sharp look
after you, or those mischievous little fingers of yours



THE TWO FRIENDS. 11.

may leave, some of these days, deeper marks than
did your mother’s.”

“ He'd not get the slap, though, if he smashed the
whole cabinet to shivers, sent the silver keys through
the window, and the precious scrap of paper into the
fire,” laughed Nancy.

“His father would not lift a finger on baby for all
the cabinets that ever were made!” exclaimed Persis,
fondly stroking back from her boy’s fair forehead the
little cork-screw curls that clustered upon it.

“Ned Franks is not likely to hit his own child
when he never hits one of his schoolboys,” observed
the clerk’s wife; ‘‘and I am sure that to be drum-
ming learning into dunces from morning till night,
and managing a pack of frolicsome young cubs lke
our Colme children, must need the patience of a
saint. Iam often glad that my goodman was not
chosen schoolmaster instead of your husband,” con-
tinued Nancy; “you know that there was some
talk about it at the time, and I was as mad as a
March hare at Ned Franks being preferred to John
Sands.”

“T have often heard my Ned say that your hus-
band would have made a much more learned school-
master than himself,” observed Persis, “seeing that
Ned was but a sailor who had been brought up at a
village school.”



12 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Oh! as for learning, my John is full of it down
to his finger nails!” cried Nancy. “ He has learning
enough for a schoolmaster, and he has patience
enough besides, for if you stirred John with a hot
poker you couldn’t make him boil over.”

Persis could not help laughing a little at the wife’s
description of her staid, solemn husband, the clerk
of Colme; but she buried her face in baby’s soft
neck, and with kisses provoked his mirth in order
to hide her own.

“But you need something else besides learning
and patience if you're to teach village cubs, or keep
them in anything like order,” resumed Nancy Sands.
“Ned Franks has the knack of taming the wildest,
and make them go on what scent he will, just as a
huntsman trains his hounds; and that, too, without
a smack of the lash to make them quicken their
pace, or still their yelping.”

Persis raised her head with a smile; praise of the
husband was always sweet to the wife. “I believe
that one thing which makes Ned such a favourite
with children is his lively temper,” she observed
“my husband is always so cheerful.”

“Your husband always: is cheerful,” repeated
Nancy, rather gloomily, with an emphasis on the
word your; and she added with a sigh, “my poor
husband never had a chance of it,”



THE TWO FRIENDS, 13

“Oh! Mrs. Sands,” cried Persis quickly, “TI never
thought—I never meant to say ”



“No, no, child, you would not say it, even if you
thought it,” interrupted Nancy, with mingled kind-
liness and bitterness in her manner; “but I know
what the world thinks—and what it says too. You
always gave your husband a happy home; he had
always a smiling wife to welcome him when he came
from his teaching, and a room decked out as neat as
a noble’s, flowers in the window, and a nicely-cooked
dinner on a tablecloth white as snow; whilst I—I,”
—Nancy dropped her head on her chest, and the sigh
which finished off her sentence sounded almost like
a groan. .

“ But all is well in your home now, dear Nancy,”
said Persis. ‘J am sure that you have acted nobly,
for you must have had difficulties, great difficulties.”
She paused, for it is a delicate matter even to praise
a reformed drunkard, and such was the woman who
now sat beside the schoolmaster’s wife in her bright
little room.

“ Difficulties—ay, none but the like of me know
what difficulties,” muttered Mrs. Sands. ‘I’ve been
a brand, indeed, plucked from the burning; you and
your husband helped to pull me out. But though
the log may be saved, there will always be a mark
left on it where the fire has scorched. Say what



14 THE SILVER KEYS.

you will, Persis Franks, there will—there must be a
mighty difference to the end of our days between
you and me.” |

Certainly, as regarded outward appearance, there
could scarcely have been found in the village of
Colme greater contrasts than Persis Franks and
poor Nancy Sands. The schoolmaster’s wife was
always the picture of neatness, her dress might be of
the commonest print, but it was sure to look well,
for it fitted her well, and never showed a rent or a
stain. Her light brown hair, neatly braided, lay
smooth as satin over a brow that looked as if it
knew not how to frown. The tones of her voice
were sweet; and if Persis had ever need to speak a
reproof, they had more power in their softness than
the loudest chiding of a scold.

“Persis always reminds me of a pink-tipped daisy,
fresh and bright, with the sunshine upon it,’ had
been the description of her given by a boy to whom
she had shown motherly kindness, Ned Franks,
who from having passed his early years as a sailor,
was apt to employ sea terms, once said of his wife,
“She’s like the little missionary-ship that’s bound,
year after year, for Labrador; ‘Harmony’ is her
name, and she has the figure-head of an angel!”
What wonder was it that the husband of Persis
had a lighter heart, a more cheerful face, and a



THE TWO FRIENDS. 15

merrier laugh than any other man in the village of
Colme!

Nancy Sands, the clerk's wife, had a very different
appearance indeed from her friend. It was not
merely that Nancy's figure was rather low and thick-
set, or that her dress, though not dirty, was never tidy.
An accident which had maimed the right arm of the
poor woman gave a great excuse for the untidiness,
and her shape was no fault of her own. But there
was an expression of hardness, which might easily
be mistaken for ill-temper, upon Nancy’s face, which
made every one on first seeing her think, “I should
not care to have much to do with that woman.” There
were deep furrows over Nancy’s black, beetling brows,
that told how often those brows had been knitted into
a frown, Her nose was long, her chin projected,
and Nancy had a trick of clenching her teeth and
pressing her lips tightly together, which gave a dis-
acreeable look of dogged determination to her fea-
tures. When we add to this that Nancy had no taste
whatever_in dress, but would wear a pink or yellow
rose in her small bonnet over her thick black ill-
combed hair, and would put over an ill-made gown a
shawl half worn to rags, though she had a nice one,
her husband’s last wedding-day present, in her drawer
at home, I think that all must agree that the clerk’s
wife, Nancy Sands, looked a contrast indeed to Persis.



16 THE SILVER KEYS.

It may seem strange that two women who differed
so much from each other, should yet often be found
together. The village gossips did not care to hide
their wonder at the intimacy between the two.

“How Ned Franks lets that woman Nancy be so
much with his wife is what I can’t make out,” Bell
Stone, the carpenter’s widow, would mutter to
herself, if ever she saw the stout figure of Mrs. Sands
going up to the flower-covered porch of the village
schoolhouse.

“The Franks are such decent folk themselves that
I wonder how they can take up with a woman that
was a drunkard,” observed Mullins, the butcher, one
day to his wife, as they sat at their noonday meal.

“ Nancy was a drunkard once, but she’s reformed ;
at least so folk say,’ was the reply. _

“ Fiddle-stick and nonsense!” cried the butcher,
who had himself no objection to a glass or two of
gin, especially upon club-nights. “I’ve no faith in
taking the pledge, and all that there humbug. No
one, no woman at least, ever gets rid of the habit
of drinking ; once a drunkard, always a drunkard !”
and the oracular butcher having thus pronounced a
decided opinion, buried his unshaven lip in a pot of
foaming porter with great satisfaction.

Mullins was by no means the only person in
Colme who had comfortably settled that there was



THE TWO FRIENDS. 17

no use in Nancy’s trying to break loose from the
bonds of her besetting sin. Mrs, Fuddles, the land-
lady of the “Chequers,” unwilling to lose one of
her most frequent customers, had often declared her
conviction that Nancy Sands’ reformation would and
could last but for a very short time.

“Tl have her back as the days shorten and the
weather gets cold,” said the landlady of the public-
house down near the mill. “Nancy will never stand
biding at home with her old raven of a husband,
when we've the fiddle and the dance and the gay
lights here. She’ll like the sound of singing and
popping of corks better a deal than his croaking !”

The days grew short, the evenings grew dark, but
Nancy Sands did not appear at the “ Chequers.”

“Shell be seen here at Christmas-time, or my
name is not Judy Fuddles,” said the landlady.

Nancy was seen at Christmas-time in the church,
kneeling by the side of Persis; she was seen at the
vicars clothing-club meeting; she was seen with
her husband, the clerk, at the feast which Sir
Claudius Leyton gave at the Hall; but she disap-
pointed the expectations of Mrs, Fuddles, she was
not seen at the “ Chequers.”

“John Sands seems at last to have found out the
way to manage his wife,” observed one of her cus-
tomers to the mortified Mrs. Fuddles,

B



18 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Manage his wife!” echoed the landlady in shrill
tones of scorn; “Sands can no more manage her
than I could stop the miller’s wheel yonder with a
cracked wine-glass! He’s a poor raven, she’s a
kite or a hawk; if he so much as ruffled a feather
she'd peck out his eyes! No, it’s those canting
Franks as have got hold of the woman, just to
curry favour with Sir Claudius and the old vicar.”

And if the Franks did hold out a helping hand to
a poor tempted neighbour, struggling to get out of
the mire of a hateful vice, did it make them less
worthy of the respect of those who knew how
blameless their own walk through life had been ?
Were their honesty and sobriety less pleasing to
their Maker because they obeyed His command to
despise no man, and did not forget the apostle’s
exhortation, “ Brethren, of a man be overtaken in a
fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in
the spirit of meekness ; considering thyself lest thou
also be tempted.”* Ned was well pleased that his
Persis should, as he said, “ take poor Nancy in tow 3”
he was well pleased that the clerk’s wife, when her
husband was busy, should “drop in for a cup of tea.”
Persis had a delicate way of making Nancy always
feel herself to be welcome. Mrs. Franks did not
mind accepting from her poor maimed neighbour

* Gal. vi. 1.



THE TWO FRIENDS. 19

such little kindnesses as Nancy was able to offer,
nor did she refrain from stooping to ask for them.
Would Nancy kindly watch little Ned while his
parents went together to church? Would Nancy, who
knew so well all about washing, give Persis a hint
how to “get up” the pretty frilled dress which
Mrs. Curtis had brought? Could Nancy oblige her
neighbour with her nice recipe for making strong
soup? Such little requests as these made the clerk’s
wife feel herself at home in the schoolmaster’s
dwelling ; it gratified her to make some return for.
the constant kindness which she met there. Nancy’s
happiest hours were spent in the schoolhouse; she
was proud to call Persis and Ned her friends, and
she loved their boy with a love only less than that of
his parents. Without these peaceful hours which
brought her within the influence of a Christian
woman’s example, it may be feared that Nancy
would have fallen back into the slough from which
she had so painfully struggled. She required no
help in money, for her husband’s salary maintained
them both; what Nancy needed was the encourag-
ing word, the kindly welcome, the feeling that there
were some besides her long-suffering husband who
hoped for her, and cared for her; and this Nancy
found in the home of the Franks.

And were not her friends in thus being pitiful



20 THE SILVER KEYS.

and courteous towards a once greatly erring woman,
doing God’s work as truly as when Persis nursed a
sick neighbour, or Franks laboured hard at repairing
an almshouse? Yes, this was real work, though it
made no show; it was good work, though it-earned
no praise. It would have been well if Bell Stone,
Tom Mullins and the rest, who were ever raking up
the memory of sins repented of, forsaken, and for-
given, had remembered instead that charity “hopeth
all things.” The Pharisee in the parable had been
far more blessed if, instead of thanking God that he
was not as the publican, he had turned to the poor
‘sinner who stood smiting himself on the breast, and
had whispered, “ Hope in the Lord, for with the
Lord there 1s mercy and with him is plenteous
redemption,”





SUNSHINE, 21

CHAPTER IT.

Sunshine,

THE conversation which had taken such a painful
turn was happily interrupted by baby Ned, who,
leaning over his mother’s shoulder, had been flatten-
ing his chubby face against the window-pane on the
look-out for his father’s return. Suddenly, a current
of quicksilver seemed to run through the frame of
the child, little feet, hands, head, were in a dance of
joyous excitement, and the inarticulate cry of delight
told as plainly as words could have done that his
father was in sight. ‘The babe, in his eagerness to
meet him, was ready to spring through the window,
so that his mother could scarcely hold him. In two
minutes more the firm elastic step of Ned Franks
was heard on the staircase, and his wife, as she rose to
meet him, thought of the lines in the good old song,
‘* His very foot has music in’t,
As he comes up the stair.”’

It was a pleasant sight to see that meeting between
the father and his first-born, as little Ned, with out-
stretched arms, sprang into the embrace of his
parent. The sailor-schoolmaster had, some years



a2 THE SILVER KEYS.

previously, lost his left arm by an accident, and it
had been replaced by a hook below the joint. of the
elbow. Many men thus maimed would have found
dandling a child to be a difficult, perhaps a danger-
ous task ; but Franks was so clever in the manage-
ment of his hook, that both he and every one else
had almost forgotten that 1t was not a hand. Persis
had long ago lost the fear which she had at first felt
when she saw the maimed father dancing aloft his
tiny babe. She was rather proud of Ned’s skill in
handling their child, and so, sooth to say, was Ned
himself. He had not the least difficulty now in
raising the boy on high to the full length of his own
arm and hook, the little fellow kicking and crowing
with delight, with his curly pate almost touching
the ceiling.

“Well now, Mr. Franks, where are the silver
keys?” inquired Nancy Sands, whose hard features
had softened while she watched the baby’s glee, but
whose curiosity made her a little impatient to see
the contents of the ebony cabinet.

“Ah! to be sure—this boy is putting everything
else out of my head,” cried Franks, shifting little Ned
to his shoulder, where the child amused himself by
pulling his father’s locks, which were as curly and a
good deal thicker than his own. “ Why, Persis, that
is a cabinet fit for Windsor Castle!’ Franks exclaimed, :



SUNSHINE, 23

as, holding the boy firmly by his hook, he plunged
his right hand into his pocket to draw out the keys.
“ But how’s this; I can’t find them,” added the
schoolmaster of Colme, after a search, thorough, but
vain; “J am certain that I put the bunch here,
but it is as certain that it is not here now. Take
the child, Persis, my dear, I must have a ee in the
other pocket.”

But no hunting could bring out the keys.. Persis
took the little delay occasioned by their loss with
much more patience than did her husband, who had
come home heated from a rapid walk on a summer
afternoon, and who was not a little provoked with
himself for losing his wife’s silver keys.

“T daresay that you’ve dropt them when pull-
ing something else out of your DOREY, ” suggested
Nancy.

“T’ve not pulled anythine—but yes, yes,” con-
tinued Franks, correcting himself, “I did pull out
my purse to give a sixpenny bit to a little girl whom
I met on the bridge.”

“TI thought that it was a rule not to give to
beggars,” said Nancy.

“Oh! but all rules have exceptions you know,”
answered Franks, “This beggar was a woe-begone
little creature, with one of her feet looking through
the end of her shoe ; and she told me such a pitiful



24 THE SILVER KEYS.

tale of her mother being dead, and her father out of
work, and her granddad sick and like to die, that I
really could not help giving.”

“ Had the girl a squint?” asked Nancy quickly.

“Not exactly a squint,” replied Ned, “but her
right eye goes a little too far on the right tack, and
the other on the left, so that one does not exactly
make out which eye looks at one, if either, or neither,
or both. The girl is otherwise rather pretty, and in
spite of the hole in her shoes does not look just like

a common beggar.”
“T know her, I know her,” said Nancy Sands in

her dogged, determined manner, “you had _ better
have tossed your sixpence into the sea, than have
given it to little Dell Thoms. If her father be out
of work—which I doubt—it’s because Hugh likes
to get money in any way rather than by honest
labour. Hugh Thoms is the greatest ruffian unhung.
He has been at least twice in prison; once for
poaching, once for nigh killing a man in a prize-
fight, for he is as strong and as fierce as a bear,
He was once tried for a burglary too, but got off
scot-free—more’s the pity; the lawyers got him off
somehow, but every one thought that the man was
guilty of the housebreaking, and a great deal more
besides.”
“T pity the child of such a father,” said Franks,



SUNSHINE, 25

“Is it true that she has no mother?” asked
Persis.

“Poor Delilah died some years ago,” answered
Nancy; “folk say that Hugh shortened her life by
a kick which he gave her. Then he handed over
his wretched little child to some showman going
about the country, who was to make a dancing-girl
of her, trick her out in gauze and tinsel, teach her
to jump through hoops, run along ropes, and twirl
round and round like a tee-totum.”

“ Poor little thing!” murmured Persis.

“The old man, her grandfather, did all that he
could to prevent her going, I’ve heard,” continued
Nancy, “but he wasted his breath, for Hugh never
cared a straw for the wishes of his father. But the
old man had his will after all, though not in the
way he'd have chosen, for Dell sprained herself in
some difficult jump, and so the playman could make
no more gain by her, and returned her upon her
father’s hands like a spoilt bit of goods.”

“Perhaps that was well for the poor little girl,”
observed Persis.

‘May be, if she had had anything like a decent
home to go back to,’ said Nancy. “I fancy that
Dell lives with her grandfather, at least he had a
cottage somewhere by the quarry, scarce half-a-mile
from the bridge.”



26 THE SILVER KEYS.

“ What sort of man is the elder Thoms 2?” inquired
Franks, |

“T never heard any harm of him, nor any good
neither,” answered Nancy. “I’ve a notion that he’s
paralysed, or bedridden, or something of the sort.
He never could take care of the child; no doubt she
grows up like a weed.”

“TY think that I can tell now why I lost the keys,”
said Franks, wiping his heated brow. “My con-
science told me to go with that child to her home,
and see if what she said about her granddad were
true, and may be speak a few words of comfort to
the poor old man if it were so. But I was in such
a precious hurry to get home with the keys, that I
pulled out my sixpenny piece as a sop to my con-
science. I have no doubt that I pulled out the keys
with it, and as little doubt that Dell picked them
up, for I chanced to look round as I crossed the
bridge, to have another look at the girl, and I
saw her stooping to pick up something from the
road.”

“She was an ungrateful monkey not to run after
you with your keys,” remarked Nancy.

“What can one expect from a child brought up
as she has been,” observed Persis, pressing her boy
closer to her heart, and thinking what a different
father his was from poor little Dell’s, “But, Ned,



SUNSHINE. 27

where are you going?” she added abruptly, as her
husband took up the cap which he had laid down
on the table, and putting it over his curly head,
seemed about to quit the room. .

“Tam going to get back what I have lost in such a
lubberly way,” said the sailor-schoolmaster, opening
the door.

“Oh! stop, do stop, you are heated and tired,”
cried his wife. “The bridge must be nearly two
miles off, the cabinet will wait quietly enough.”

“Ay, and if I were made of wood like the
cabinet, so would IJ,” interrupted Franks playfully ;
“but as you see, [am not. I and my scholars will
not have another half-holiday till Saturday comes
round again, and as for keeping wifie waiting a
whole week for her keys, ’d not do it if the old
bridge were ten miles off instead of two.” And
nodding a goodbye to the baby, who, with out-
stretched arms and inarticulate sounds, seemed to
entreat him to stay, Ned Franks quitted the room.

Lightly the sailor-schoolmaster retraced his steps
along the road, he was not the kind of man to be
put out by a trifle. Persis might well say that her
husband was always cheerful. There are some
persons, who, however they may be loaded with
blessings, never seem to know that they are so.
They are always on the look-out for the smallest



28 THE SILVER KEYS.

cloud in the sky; and if they cannot find troubles,
they make them. There is a wide difference, though
one often overlooked, between having blessings and
being blessed; much resembling that between having
food, without or with an appetite to enjoy it. Ned
Franks was not a thankless receiver of the bounties
of Providence. He was not only rich in home joys,
but was thoroughly conscious of being so. Franks
thought himself ten times happier than he had
expected to be, and a hundred times happier than he
had ever deserved to be, and he enjoyed his blessings
with a heart that overflowed with thankfulness to-
wards the Great Giver of all.

There are other persons, often very well-meaning
Christians, who appear afraid to be happy; who
deem it to be scarcely consistent with piety to look
upon earth as anything better than a valley of tears,
and who fear to offend a jealous God by enjoying
what He bestows. Such was not Franks’ view of
religion. With him it was as naturally connected
with joy, as is sunshine with light. He regarded
his Creator as a merciful, reconciled Father, and felt
much the same simple, trustful, joyous delight in a
sense of His presence as Ned’s little child might feel
in his own. Franks realised that he had been brought
nigh, very nigh, to God by the Saviour’s death on
the cross, therefore there was no fear in his love,



SUNSHINE. 29

The schoolmaster might have taken for his motto
through life, “I will run in the way of Thy com-
mandments when Thou hast enlarged my heart.” *
Ned was by nature ardent and impetuous, and must
have been “a running Christian,” if a Christian at
all. He could not serve, love, or rejoice in a languid
half-hearted way. And so the light of the humble
schoolmaster of Colme shone very brightly indeed,
and served not only to guide but to attract those
who beheld it. The children whom he taught, the
neighbours whom he conversed with, were drawn
towards the religion of a man whose religion
evidently helped to make him so happy.

“Does it not just cheer one up to hear Ned
Franks leading the children in his favourite hymn,”
observed Nancy Sands one day to her husband, the
clerk—

‘* Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say,— rejoice !”
“T shall never hear those lines or that tune with-
out thinking of Him; [ve a notion that when he is
not singing it aloud, he’s singing it still in his
heart.”

* See the exquisite chapter on this verse in the Rev. P. B.
Powers’ *‘ I witus ” of the Psalms.



30 THE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER III.

Home in the Quarry,

WITHIN half-an-hour Ned Franks had reached the
grey one-arched stone bridge on which he had met
little Dell.

“Which way shall I steer now?” thought the
sailor; “yonder lies the town of B , straight
ahead, but Nancy said something about a quarry,
and I’m not likely to find one in the midst of the
houses, though some of the houses, no doubt, were
built of stones found in the quarry. The sun, hot
as it is, has not dried up all the rain that fell in the
forenoon, may be [ll find some trace of footsteps to
guide me,”

As Franks said this to himself, he looked over
the low parapet of the bridge, towards a rough path,
so little marked that it was apparently not much
used. This path led first downwards, towards the
stream which flowed under the bridge, and then to
the left, through low-lying fields, in a direction
opposite to that in which lay the town at the dis-
tance of about half-a-mile. There was much clay in
the soil in these parts, so that the rough pathway





HOME IN THE QUARRY. ol

would retain prints of footsteps, at any rate after
being moistened by rain. Franks turned down from
the bridge, and descended towards a row of pollard
willows which at this place bordered the stream.

“Here are footprints in the clay, sure enouch,”
remarked Franks, “and they must be Dell’s, for I
can see traces where the little foot came through
the old shoe. What a slim little foot itis! Im on
the right tack now; I’ve but to follow this path, and
lll soon find the cottage I’m bound for.”

It was not quite so easy to do so as Franks had
expected. The path did not run by the stream, nor
continue long to lead through the fields; it struck
away into a very wild stony district of land, too
barren for cultivation, and in which not a dwelling
was to be seen. The ground was quite new to
Franks, for though he had often walked from Colme
to the town, he had never before had any cause to
turn aside from the straight highroad which con-
nected the places. The path which he now followed
could soon scarcely be traced, for the quarry to
which it led had long ago been almost exhausted,
and there being a brick-field nearer to B—— no
stone had been carried away for building purposes
for many a year.

“I can’t have steered right after all,” thought
Franks, pausing to look around him; “this path





32 THE SILVER KEYS.

seems to lead to nothing, and if any folk live in this
wild barren place it must be under ground, for I
cant see before me the sign of a cottage. Ah!
there yonder, just over that clump of furze, there’s
something that looks like smoke from a chimney,
though the chimney itself is not to be seen. Tl
bear down in that direction.”

Ned had not gone far over the rough broken
ground, when he came rather suddenly on the edge
of an old quarry, from which had been taken all the
stone which had been used in building the church
of B But it must have been fifty years at
least since blocks had been quarried, or the noise of
blasting been heard in that place. Stonecrop and
other plants of the kind that love a rocky home, had
nestled undisturbed in many a corner and cleft
where once the pickaxe had struck. Rough masses
of stone lay here and there, half-covered with moss
and lichen. Franks looked down on the dwelling
from which rose the smoke which had euided him
to the place. The cottage, or rather hut, had been
formed of rough-hewn stones and rubbish, rudely
built up against the side of the pit. The dwelling
had probably been used to shelter the quarrymen
when at work down in the pit; and a well, which
was but afew yards from the building, iad doubt-
less been made for their convenience, The hut had





HOME IN THE QUARRY. 30

been so rudely constructed of the material close at
hand,and was now so weather-stained and discoloured
with lichen, that it looked rather like a part of the
quarry itself, than a habitation of men.

“There can be no doubt that I have found the
right spot, for yonder is the child herself, carrying
in a jug of water from the well,” said Franks to
himself; “and glad Pll be to have a draught of it
after my cruise in the heat of the sun. Here, my
little lass!” he called out to the child, who, startled
by his voice, looked up, and then, instead of obeying
his call, darted into the stone-built building.

“She has gone like one of the wild conies into its
rocky hole,” observed Franks ; “butit’s easy enough
to catch her there, as there can be no back outlet
from that burrow.”

Springing down what could scarcely be called a
path, zig-zagging down the steep side of the quarry,
the former sailor soon found himself at the open
door of what looked as much like a cave as a
cottage. - The door itself was of oak, and as Franks
observed, had not only a latch, but a strong iron
bolt.

Ned tapped at the door, and a feeble voice from
within bade him enter. He had to bend his tall
form as he did so, for the doorway was low. The
first impression given by the appearance of the

C



34 THE SILVER KEYS.

inside of the dwelling was that of poverty and dis-
comfort. Being built down in a pit, and against its
side, there could, of course, be no free circulation of
air in the hut, and on that hot day the place felt
stifling, so that Franks, heated with his quick walk,
thought that he could hardly bear to remain within
for ten minutes. ‘The cottage was untidy and dirty,
and this was enough to make it seem a wretched
place to Franks, who, on board a man-of-war, and
afterwards in his own home, had been accustomed
to have everything around him perfectly neat and
spotlessly clean. The bed, in which lay an old man
with long grey hair and beard, looked as if it had
not been made for weeks, and all sorts of scraps and
rubbish littered the stony floor.

But the quick glance of Franks soon showed him
that though there might be dirt and discomfort
in the hut of old Thoms, there was certainly no
pressing want of the necessaries of life. Half a side
of bacon was suspended from a hook in the ceiling,
and from the iron pot on the fire came a savoury
scent which mixed with, though it could not over-
power, other less pleasant odours. Over the fire-
place appeared a gun and a bludgeon, a powder-flask,
and some pipes with smoke-blackened bowls. There
had been no attempt to ornament any part of the
cottage, except on one side, which was partly papered



HOME IN THE QUARRY. oO

with what seemed to be coarse prints of prize-
fighters, and pictures of scenes of murder. Franks
could, however, scarcely make out their subjects,
through the smoke and dust which had gathered
upon them.

“This is a miserable place,” had been Franks’
first thought when he entered the hut; “this is a
disreputable place,” was his second reflection.

“I hope that you won’t mind a stranger’s coming,”
said the sailor-schoolmaster, courteously raising his
cap, and addressing the old man, who looked some-
what surprised to see him. “I think that your
little lass here may have picked up a bunch of keys
that Pve lost;” Ned turned as he spoke towards
Dell, who looked frightened, and seemed inclined to
shrink behind the door. “Have you found the
keys?” he inquired of the child.

“No, [ve not,” replied Dell, shrinking back a
step, her peculiar eyes appearing to look for a place
of escape, at once to*the right hand and the left.

“Don’t you be a-telling lies,” said the bearded old
man from the bed; “you knows as well as I does
that the keys be ahind yon pewter pot on the table,”

Dell showed no sign of shame at being detected
in falsehood, but watched the stranger as he stepped
forward and possessed himself of the bright silver
keys.



36 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Tam sorry, my child, that you should have said
what was untrue,” said Franks, gravely but kindly.

“She knows no better, sir; how should she when
there’s no one to larn her,” said the old bed-ridden
man. “You be the first un as has come in through
that door since her mother was carried out to be
buried,—save Hugh and his pals, on course,” he
added.

“You seem to be ill, my friend,” said Franks,
going up to the bedside.

“T be paralysed, sir,’ was the reply; “I han't
been off this here bed for many a year, and I can’t
so much as turn on it without help.” ‘The poor old
man ended with a groan.

“And does no one ever come to see and cheer
you?” asked Ned.

“Never a one,” answered Thoms. “I’m mighty
glad to see you; for it’s weary work lying in this
here dark hole year after year, and never hearing
so much as a ‘bless you.’”

Franks thought that it must be wearisome indeed
to lie buried alive in that stifling den, with no
society but that of Dell and her worthless father.
The place was so solitary and so unattractive that
it was little matter for surprise that no respectable
person should visit the hut in the quarry.



GOOD NEWS. 37

CHAPTER IV.

Good flows,

Nep FRANKS was one soon to make friends, espe-
cially with the young; no child could be for many
minutes under the influence of his cheery voice and
pleasant smile without feeling attracted towards
him. Little Dell soon, at Ned’s request, brought
him water to drink; and while the visitor, seated
on a three-legged stool near the bed, talked with
her grandtather, Dell stood leaning against the
rough wall, watching him with curious attention, as
if he were a strange creature of a different species
from any that she had yet met with in her short
sad life. Ned found the mind of old Thoms per-
fectly clear as far as his knowledge went, but he
Was a very ignorant man. The poor paralytic was
evidently so glad to have any visitor to talk to, that
Ned had not the heart to leave him to his lonely
misery without speaking to him a few words of
kindness and comfort that might rest with cheering
effect on the memory of the much afflicted old man.
Intent on his errand of kindness, Ned soon half
forgot the closeness and heat of the hut.



38 | THE SILVER KEYS.

“You never see a clergyman here, I suppose?”
inquired Franks, after listening for a while to old
Thoms’ description of his illness, the deadness of
his lower limbs, the length of time that had passed
since he had been able so much as to put a foot to
the ground.

~“Tt’s not like as a parson would ever come here,
I take it,” replied the paralytic, with a glance at the
gun and the bludgeon over the fireplace. Franks
noticed that Dell looked inclined to titter, as if the
visitor had asked the oddest of questions.

“Used you to go to church when you were
strong and hearty?” inquired the sailor, desirous to
find out whether there were any previous knowledge
of religion on which he could work.

“Go to church,’ repeated old Thoms, with a
dreamy look in his dim eyes, as if he were recalling
a time so long past as to be almost beyond the
reach of memory; “oh! ay, sir, many and many a
year ago, afore I’d a erey hair in my head, I'd a
master who made all his men go to church, and
then I went reg’lar. I never missed a Sunday, that
I knows of, without being at church.”

“And do you remember anything of what you
heard there?” said Franks in a kindly tone, that
made it impossible to take offence at the question.

“How could I; it’s not like I should after all



GOOD NEWS. 39

these long years. I mind me that the parson spoke
fine, but T’se never was larned; I didn’t make out
his meaning then, and all he said went out of my
head long long ago,” replied Thoms. “But I do
believe there be a great God above, though Hugh
don't,” continued the old man, speaking slowly, and
looking earnestly at his visitor; “and while I lies
here I often tries to say to myself, ‘Our Father,
only I can never get further than, ‘which art in
Heaven.’ May be, sir, you knows it all from
beginning to end.”

“Then,” thought Franks, “Satan has not carried
off all the good seed which fell on the ignorant
mind of this poor fellow, there were one or two
grains left to spring up. My friend,” said Ned
aloud, “do you believe also that there is a heaven
for souls after death 2”

“Yes, sure, there be that place for the good, and
other place for the bad,” replied Thoms.

“And may I ask how you hope to get to heaven?”
said Franks, anxious to find out whether the sick
man had any clear idea of the only means of salva-
tion.

A puzzled uneasy expression came over the
wrinkled face. ‘Thoms did not at once reply to the
question. Dell, who had been listening wonderingly
to a conversation so unlike any which she ever



40 THE SILVER KEYS.

before had heard, seated herself on the floor opposite
Franks, clasping her knees with her hands, and
silently watching his countenance.

At last the old man’s answer came slowly forth—
“T be not good enough for the one place, sir, and
not bad enough for t’other. Ain’t there some
middle place for poor unlarned folk like me?”

The question was earnestly, anxiously put, and
Franks felt how solemn a thing it is to deal with
an immortal soul, especially a soul that was
evidently drawing near to eternity, with scarcely
the faintest gleam of spiritual light. “Such ques-
tions as these, my friend,” said Franks, “are best
answered out of God’s own Word. Would you like
me to read a little to you now?”

“Sure, sir, ’d be glad to hear ye read,” was the
answer.

“Have you a Bible here?” inquired Franks,
glancing around the dirty untidy hut, with but slight
hope of finding a copy of the Scriptures within it.

“Yes, there be one somewhere about. Dell, get
the Bible,” said the old man, glancing up at a shelf
as he spoke. But on that shelf, amidst dusty old
crockery, bottles, and rags, nothing like a book was
to be seen.

Dell pointed downwards. “There be an old book
under the leg of the bed,” said the child,



GOOD NEWS. Al

“Who put it there?” asked the old man angrily,

“TI put it there, cause the lez was broken. The
book warn’t of use to nobody,” was the careless
reply.

Franks went down on his knees, and with some
difficulty drew out the Bible, replacing it by a piece
of firewood which he found lying near. The holy
volume was covered with dust, had lost one of its
side-boards and many of its leaves. After removing,
as best he could, the dust from the book, Franks
resumed his seat with the observation, “If you
knew what a treasure this Bible holds, you would
not leave it so long neglected.”

“T be but an unlarned man, I never could read
but a little,” said Thoms; “I'd just spell out a word
here and there, and there was never no one to ex-
plain what it meant to a poor fellow like me.”

“To the poor the Gospel has been preached from
the first,” observed Franks; “it seems as if to them
it should be specially dear. Do you know, my
friend, what the word GosPeL means?”

“JT can't say as I does,” replied Thoms, :

“Gospel means good tidings—good news.’ The
Gospel is a message from God to make glad the
hearts of us poor sinners. If you were to receive a
letter from the Queen, telling you that she was
coming herself some day to take you from this dark



42 THE SILVER KEYS.

cottage to live with her in her royal palace, with
every comfort and pleasure that heart could wish,
would you not care so much as to read her letter,
would you throw it aside into any corner, and Ict
it be covered with dust?”—Franks glanced as he
spoke at the torn soiled Bible which he held in his

hand.
Dell opened her eyes wide at the new and strange

question ; and Thoms replied, “Sure, sir, even Hugh
would set great store by a letter from the Queen;
he’d maybe have it framed and hung on the wall;
and [ll be bound ’twould be read till all of us
knew it by heart.”

“But the Queen wouldn't be sending a letter to
folk like we,’ muttered Dell, “or want to have us
anywhere near her.”

“The King of kings has sent such a letter, to
invite to His home the poorest of us all,” said
Franks; and reverentially opening the holy volume,
he read aloud the single verse, God so loved the
world that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but
have everlasting life. “This is the Gospel message,”
said Franks, looking up from the page, “these are
the glad tidings which made angels sing Glory to
God in the highest,-and on earth peace, goodwill
towards men. Is it not strange that we, to whom



GOOD NEWS. | 48

the message is sent, should often not care even to
hear it?”

“T don’t make out what message there be for me,”
said the poor man sadly. “I might have larned
about these things when I was young, but now I’m
— old—my life’s nigh over. I'll soon die, and be put

underground.” / | |

“Your soul will not die!” cried Franks; “the
body must sleep awhile in the dust; but the soul
—the immortal soul, the part which hopes, believes,
and loves—death has no power over that. The
Gospel tells us the way by which our souls may live
in peace and joy and glory for millions and millions
of years, more years than there are blades of grass
on the earth, or water-drops in the sea! Surely the
Gospel which shows this way to us sinners is good
news indeed !” .

“ And what is this way?” asked Thoms, with the
simple earnestness of a child.

Franks, in such plain language as he would have
used in speaking to a child, then told of Him who
is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He told
the desolate old man of a Friend who cared for
him, loved him, and was able and willing to
wash away all his sins, and to take him to joy
never-ending, The visitor then read from the Bible
a few more verses, very few, for the mind of old



AA THE SILVER KEYS.

Thoms could scarcely receive more than one idea at
a time. |

“Gospel—good news—good news!” murmured
the old man in a low tone to himself, as Franks
closed the Bible and rose to depart. The paralytic
seemed seeking to press down the words into his
own memory, that memory which could with
difficulty retain any new impression. Then, looking
up again with an anxious wistful gaze into the
kindly face of Ned Franks, he said, “Oh! sir, come
again, and come soon; my time is short, and P’ve no
one to tell me of these things but you!”

“Tam afraid that I cannot promise to come very
soon, replied Franks; “I am schoolmaster at
Colme, and it is not on every day in the week that I
have time to come so far for a visit.”

“But you will come again—you will come again,”
repeated the paralytic in a feeble pleading voice;
“T won't trouble any one long. It’s a blessed word
that as you spoke, Gospel—good news—good news.
Dell, you mind me of it if I forget it.”

Franks bent down, pressed the withered trem-
bling hand which lay on the ragged quilt of the
bed, and promised not to be long of returning. He
then patted Dell kindly on the shoulder, bade her
take good care of her grandfather, and told her that
he would bring her, when he came, a nice piece of



REFLECTIONS. 45

his wife's home-made cake. The child’s pinched
features lighted up with an expression of pleasure
which was strange to them; it was not so much
that the visitor's promise pleased her, as that his
gentle tone and kindly manner were opening to a
new sensation of joy a heart which was withering
for lack of those human affections which are to the
young as dew to the tender herb.

Franks drew a long gasping breath as he passed
through the low doorway into the open air, from
the hot close atmosphere of the cottage, heavy with
the scent of stale tobacco and gin, an atmosphere
which no pure breeze of heaven ever freshened.
He could scarcely breathe freely till he had ascended
the steep side of the quarry and regained the
upper ground.

CHAPTER V.

Reflections,

“ YES, it is clear enough to me why I dropped these
keys,” thought Franks, as he rapidly retraced his
steps towards his home; “it was no mere chance
that brought me to this place. The Master knew



46 THE SILVER KEYS.

that there was a poor thirsting soul down in that
pit, and sent His servant to carry a drop of cold
water to the ignorant and afflicted.”

After passing the bridge, Franks somewhat slack-
ened his pace, for he was now tired. As he pursued
his way along the high road to Colme, his mind
turned again to the subject of the keys; he regarded
them now as a kind of emblem or type.

“That poor old Thoms has the treasure of a Bible
in his possession, within reach of his hand; he has
probably had it from his boyhood, but it has been
to him as a locked-up treasure, he has lacked a key
to open to him the meaning even of the simplest
words. The holy Book has been a shut-up posses-
sion, like the beautiful cabinet left to my wife; it is
before him, it 1s his own, he wants to know what is
in it, but the silver keys are missing. And if the
Lord has put it into the power even of a man such
as myself, with little knowledge and skill, to open
out the meaning of some part of Scripture, the
simplest part indeed, but that which holds a price-
less treasure, shall I keep back the keys? Shall I
leave a poor ignorant brother to die poor, when his
soul might be satisfied with such riches?” The
heart as well as the conscience of Franks answered
“No” to the question.

_ Then came counting the cost. “It will take up



REFLECTIONS. 47

more time than I can well spare if I go on this
cruise often,” thought the schoolmaster of Colme.
“ My Saturday afternoons, and the hours on Sunday
between church services, are pretty nearly all the
time that I can call my own, and these I always
give to home enjoyment. I need them to freshen
me up after the wear and tear of the week. It
would be something of a sacrifice to go off to that
hot close den in the quarry, instead of sitting with
Persis under the hawthorn, listening to her singing,
or having a romp with our boy. Yes, it would be
something of a sacrifice both to my wife and to me.
But one can’t go always on the right course with a
pleasant breeze filling one’s sails; if we go only
where inclination blows us, we are certain to strike
on arock. ‘The religion that never makes a man do
something that he dislikes, or give up something
which he values, call it by what name we may, is
not the religion of the Cross. As for my Visiting
poor ‘Thoms, I must talk to my wifie about it,”

As Franks, near the end of his walk, came opposite
to the church of Colme, he saw the figure of Nancy
nands coming out of the vestry door. The clerk’s
wife had for the last three months been given the
occupation of keeping the church clean and neat, an
occupation in which the reclaimed drunkard took
great pride and pleasure, though her maimed ondi-



48 THE SILVER KEYS.

tion obliged her to do her work very slowly indeed.
Half a day’s labour now did not accomplish more
than a single hour’s would have done when Nancy
was noted as the strongest and most active woman
in Colme. But Mrs. Sands had abundant time to
give to her work, and what to others might have
been tedious, was a pleasant employment to her.

“Stop a bit, Mr. Franks, till I lock this door,”
cried Nancy, as she caught sight of Ned; “I'll walk
to the schoolhouse with you, for I must be present
when the cabinet’s opened, and I see that you've
found the bunch of bright keys. I’ve just been
finishing dusting the cushions for Sunday,” Nancy
continued, as she walked on by the schoolmaster’s
side; “I was all the morning in the church, as I
always am on Saturdays; on most of the other week-
days I do a bit of the cleaning besides.”

“ You seem to spend half your time in the church;
and I never saw it look nicer than since you’ve had
care of it, Nancy,” said Franks,

The clerk’s wife flushed with pleasure, and she
swung to and fro, like a pendulum, the great iron
key which she carried hooked on her finger.

“There is some difference in size between your
key and these,’ observed Franks with a smile, hold-
ing up his small glittering bunch, dangling from
their bright silver ring. Oe



REFLECTIONS. 49

“T would not exchange the plain iron church
key for any keys of silver or of gold,” replied
Nancy, who felt a great increase of personal dignity
from having it entrusted to her care. “No one but
John and myself has a right to touch it, and I would
not give it up to a stranger,—no, not for a ten-pound
note. Oh! Mr. Franks, it was a happy day for me
when Mrs. Curtis told me that the vicar would let
me have the cleaning of the church! Iam sure that
but for her I should never have been chosen for the
work.”

Franks had no doubt whatever on the subject.
He knew that the vicar had needed a good deal of
his wife’s mild persuasion before consenting to em-
ploy Nancy Sands, unfitted as she was by her acci--
dent for much work, and degraded as she had once
been by a habit of indulging in strong drink. Franks
himself had been consulted by the clergyman as to
Nancy’s fitness for the trust, and his hearty testimony
as to the sincerity of her reformation had chiefly
induced the vicar to comply with Mrs. Curtis’ earn-
est request. }

“If Mrs. Sands is really now sober and steady, I
am satisfied,” had been the vicar’s remark; “as for
her being maimed,” he had added, with a smile to
the sailor-schoolmaster, who laboured under a similar
disadvantage, “you have shown us that there are

D



50 THE SILVER KEYS.

some who, strong in good will and a brave heart, can
do more work with one hand than others can manage
with two.”

“T'll not soon forget that day,” continued Nancy
to Franks. “I was sitting in my little parlour all
alone (for John was attending a funeral) and sad—
for I had only dismal thoughts to keep me company
while he was away. I so missed the work I’d been
used to! I thought on the days when the lines in
my yard had been covered with linens and muslins
white as the snow, and dresses of pretty bright colours
between, waving gently to and fro as the drying wind
moved them. I could not wash now, I could earn
nothing now, I could not so much as darn my poor
John’s stockings, all I could do was to tidy his home,
but that, of course, brought in not a penny. As I
was sitting all alone, as I said, who should come but
Mrs. Curtis, looking as if she brought some good
news, and shared herself in the pleasure they would
give. Scarce had she sat down by the fire when she
said, ‘Nancy Sands, how beautifully neat your room
looks, and I see that you have flowers now in the
window.’

“ answered I; and I think that I sighed, for-my heart
was heavy enough,

“Do you think that, now that Mrs. Doyle is going



REFLECTIONS, 51

away, you could take her place in cleaning up the
church?’ asked the lady.

“Didn't I jump at the offer?” continued Nancy,
smiling at the recollection. “Id have been glad to
have done work in the church for nothing, I would,
for was not the getting such work a sign that the
parson could trust me? Last year he’d as soon have
given charge of the key to a fool or a felon as to
poor John’s wife.”

Nancy sighed as she uttered the last sentence,
remembering the humiliating, degrading state from
which she lately had risen.

“Mr. Curtis has never had reason to regret having
trusted you,” observed Franks.

“And never shall!” exclaimed Nancy, with vehe-
mence; “I'll shame all the spiteful wretches as said
that he would. There’s Bell Stone—maybe she had
hoped for the place herself—it’s like enough—such
bitter, cruel things she said! She declared that if I
had care of the church, folk would be able to write
their names with their fingers on the dust on the
hymn-books, and that after a visit to the ‘Chequers’
(a place I never go near) I’d forget to lock the
church door, or I’d lose the key, and that it was
well that Mr. Curtis keeps the church plate at the.
vicarage. Ah! she said all that—and worse,—the
backbiting, spiteful ’—~





52, THE SILVER KEYS.

“Softly, softly, my friend,” said Ned Franks, as
Nancy’s voice and temper were rising; “ whatever
others may say or do against us, are we not, as
Christians, bound to forgive as we have been
forgiven?” -

“Tt is not easy to forget though,” muttered Nancy,
who was warm and passionate by nature.

“It is by no means easy,” replied Franks; “indeed
without God’s help it is impossible. But I often
think of those words of Hezekiah, Thow hast cast
all my sins behind Thy back; that means, I should
think, that though God cannot actually lose remem-
brance of anything that has happened since the
beginning, He yet puts, as it were, our sins where
He never looks at them more, behind His back, not
before His eyes. They are to Him as if they had
never been. This is the way in which our God
forgives, and, as we may say, forgets; and this is
the way in which we must also forgive; we must
try to put our wrongs out of sight, we must cast
them behind us.”

“As you did, Ned Franks, as you did, or I should
never have been here this day!” exclaimed Nancy,
who had owed her preservation from death by drown-
ing to the man now at her side, whom in her evil
days she had hated, abused, and slandered. The
remembrance of her own sin had the natural effect



THE CLERK’S HOME, 53

of making Nancy less severe on that of another—
charity is closely linked with humility, and in a
spirit softened even towards Bell Stone, the clerk’s
wife entered the schoolmaster’s dwelling.

CHAPTER VI.

The lerk’s Home,

THE ebony cabinet was duly opened with the silver
keys, baby Ned showing as lively an interest in the
matter as did his parents. Nancy, who was present
when the little drawers were unlocked, one after
another, described their contents to her husband as
the Sands sat together at supper in the evening.

The clerk’s home is not so pretty as that of Ned
Franks, though now it is as clean, and almost as
comfortable. A large almanack on one wall, and a
map on the other, both framed in black, and rather
yellow from age, are seen instead of coloured pictures
on Scriptural subjects, with which Franks has adorned
his bright little parlour.

The clerk, John Sands, himself might almost be
described as parchment framed in black. There is
no colour at all about him. His thick closely-



54 THE SILVER KEYS.

cropped hair is as black as the fur of a beaver, and,
at a distance, looks like a cap of such heavy material,
surmounting a pale, but now placid face. Sands
has none of the brightness, the almost boyish joyous-
ness of Ned Franks. A laugh would sound as
strange from the lips of the clerk as a grumble
from those of the sailor-schoolmaster. John gravely,
soberly, and steadily performs all his duties, always,
however, appearing most at home when assisting at
atuneral service. Yet John Sands is now happy,
as far as a naturally sombre disposition allows him
to be so. Not a day passes without the clerk’s
silently thanking God from the depth of a grateful
heart, for the wondrous change in his wife. He
had loved her long and faithfully in her youth, she
had been the only woman whom John had ever cared
for, and he had never ceased to love her even when
she had been most unworthy of his affection. If
John Sands had been weighed it would have been
found that the clerk had gained several pounds of
flesh during the last six months of domestic comfort
and peace ; and were it possible to weigh the spirits,
how much lighter would have been found the heart
of the once much-enduring man!

John’s manner towards his wife is very unlike that
of Ned towards Persis, for it always conveys an
impression that the meek quiet clerk is a little



THE CLERK’S HOME. 55

afraid of his wife; but there is a great deal more of
true faithful love between the strangely-matched
couple than the world gives them credit for feeling,
and much more of real happiness in their home than
even those who know them best would readily believe.

“Yes, John, I was at the opening of the ebony
cabinet,” said Nancy, as she held out her plate for a
second slice of cheese, “and so was Mrs. Curtis,
who chanced’ to come in with a box of ninepinsg for
baby Ned.”

“And were the contents of much value?” asked
the clerk, in the slow measured accents with which
he spoke in private conversation as well as in lead-
ing the responses in church.

“Well, I suppose of value to their owner, but of
very little value to any one else,” was Nancy’s reply.
“T had expected to see jewels, old-fashioned silver
spoons and forks, and that sort of thing, but there
was nothing of the sort, and (save one coin, battered
and bent) not a bit of gold in one of the five little
drawers. There were packets of family letters, neatly
tied up with narrow ribbon, and about a dozen tiny
parcels of hair, all labelled with names and dates,
Persis kissed two of these with tears in her eyes;
belikes they were treasures to her.”

“Perhaps the hair of her father and mother,”
said the clerk.



56 THE SILVER KEYS.

“What took Franks’ fancy most of all was a little
picture no bigger than a crown-picce, a likeness of

)

Persis’ great-grandmother,” continued Nancy. “A
pretty old-fashioned picture it is, and, barring the
way of dressing the hair, as like to Persis herself as
any picture could be. You should have seen Franks’
delight when, on his showing it to baby Ned, the
child kissed it and said ‘Mamma,’ nigh the only
word he can say, for he’s slow with his tongue,
though quick in everything else. Mrs. Curtis, too,
was a good deal taken with the picture, and spoke
about family likenesses, after her own way of finding
out some lesson to be learned from everything under
the sun.”

“What did she say ?” asked the clerk.

“When I observed how strange it is that features
should go down from generation to generation, so
that a child often has a likeness to some relation
who died a hundred years ago, Mrs, Curtis spoke
about Christians bearing the likeness of One whom
they never have seen, a likeness, indeed, dim and
blurred here, but which will be plainly seen in
another world, when the spivits of the just are made
perfect. Then Franks, who knows his Bible so well,
quoted the verse, When He shall appear we shall be
like Him, for we shall see Him as He 1s.”

Sands silently nodded his head.



THE CLERK’S HOME. "

“There were a good many pieces of old niohey,
Which the lady called coins,” continued Nancy.
“They were all of copper but one, and that one
Mrs. Curtis looked at for a long time, trying to
puzzle out the letters that had been stamped
upon it hundreds or thousands of years ago.
She said that they were very curious, but to me
they'd no more meaning than if they’d been the
scratchings of a hen in the sand. I’d rather any
day have a good bright sovereign with Queen
Victoria's head upon it, than an old bent bit of a
coin like that.”

“But the learned might not be of your mind, my
dear,” said the clerk.

“What the lady and the Franks looked at longest
was an old old letter which had been written by
Bunyan,’ Nancy went on.

“What! by the author of the ‘ Pilgrim’ s Progress’ ?”
sald the clerk.

“So said Persis Franks,” answered Nancy. “The
letter had been written ages ago to some relation of
her own, who had been kind to Bunyan’s poor blind
child while her father was in prison. There was
not much in the letter but thanks and a blessing,
but I could see that it was more valued by Mrs.
Curtis and the Franks than if that yellow bit of
paper had been a bank-note.”



58 THE SILVER KEYS.

John nodded his head, as if to say, “I anomie SO
have valued it too.”

“Perhaps Mrs. Curtis saw that I wondered a bit
at a short letter like that being thought so much
of,” continued Nancy, “for she spoke to me about
St. Paul’s likening the early Christians to epistles or
letters of Christ, written by the Spirit of God.”

“That text is in the third chapter of Second
Corinthians,” said John, who had a fine memory for
chapter and verse.

“The lady said that this is a honebt which
should both humble and cheer God’s people: humble
them, because of how little worth is the piece of
paper on which a letter is written; cheer, because
what an honour it is that the world should be able’
to read in their lives a message from Christ their
Master !”

“T wish that I had heard Mrs, Curtis,” said John.

“T wish that you had,” Nancy rejoined, “for you
would have made out the lady’s meaning, and
remembered her words much better than I can.
Mrs. Curtis said, I know, that in every true Chris-
tian’s conduct we should read clearly these two
Scripture texts, Zhe love of Christ constraineth ; and
The path of the just is as the shining light, that
shineth more and more unto the perfect day. I
could not help looking at Persis Franks and her



THE CLERK’S HOME. 59

husband, for, thought I, ‘The dullest eyes can read
those words written on you both,’”

There was again John’s silent nod of assent.

“But, thought I,” continued Nancy, her strong
features working with emotion as she spoke, “if J
am an epistle of Christ, if there’s any Bible verse
written in my life, it is this, He welleth not. the
death of a sinner.” |

“My dear, you judge yourself too hardly,” said
her husband tenderly.

“And on your life, John,” a Nancy with
a trembling lip, as she looked full into the face of
her husband, “on your life has been written, Let
patience have its perfect work, for there’s not
another man in the world that would have had the
patience with me that you had!”

“You have strange thoughts, my dear,” observed
John, who was much touched by the words of his
wite. ,
“TT have plenty of time for thinking,’ replied
Nancy; “éven when I’m busy in cleaning the church.
When I dust your desk, John, says I to myself,
‘How many and many a Sunday my poor John has
stood here, and given out the hymns, and said
‘Amen’ to the prayers with a heart heavy and
sore, afraid to think where his wife might be at the
moment.’”

2)



60 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Let's forget all that,” said her husband.

“And now,’ continued Nancy, disregarding the
interruption, “now, thinks I, here am J, almost as
much a bit of the church as the clerk himself, for
don’t we keep the key between us?” -Nancy
glanced almost proudly at the iron key hung up on
the wall. “If the Queen herself were to wish to
see the church, is not we as would let her in 2”

There was the faintest possible approach to a
smile on the lips of the clerk of Colme.

“T often repeat to myself,’ said Nancy, “that
verse which seems just to suit me, J would rather
be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to
dwell in the tents of wickedness. It’s a great honour
to have one’s work in the church, though it be but
to wash or sweep it. The vicar serves his Master
there, standing up and speaking aloud from his
pulpit ; and you too serve in your way; and a poor
sinner like me can serve too, John, but quietly,
silently, when no one is by, and often down on my
knees.”

“My dear * began John Sands, but whatever
he might have intended to say to his wife he did not
say; he gave a little husky cough, rose, and walked
to the window.





THE CASTAWAYS, Ok

CHAPTER VII.

Fhe Castaways,

WILE John Sands and his wife were holding the
preceding conversation in their little room, Persis and
her husband were talking together in theirs, while
baby (as little Ned was still called) lay fast asleep
on a sofa beside them. That sofa, simple and almost
rude as it was in construction, was the masterpiece
of Franks’ ingenuity, and was universally acknow-
ledged to be a wonderful specimen of art, considering
that it had been made by a carpenter, self-taught,
who had only one arm and a hook to work with.
All the stuffing and lining part had been accom-
plished by the clever fingers of Persis. No velvet-
cushioned, exquisitely-carved sofa at the Great Ex-
hibition had been so much admired or prized as
this homely piece of furniture, with its green chintz
cover dotted with rosebuds, on which little Ned lay
asleep. |

Ned Franks, in his own animated way, described
to his wife his visit to the hut in the quarry. Persis
listened with interest, while her fingers rapidly



62 THE SILVER KEYS.

plied the knitting-needles, with which she was
making little socks for her boy.

But when Franks came to his promise of soon
revisiting old Thoms, and spoke of his intention
to go as often as he could, the pleasant face of
Persis became very grave, and laying down her
knitting on her lap, she spoke almost in a tone of
vexation,

“ How can you possibly go such a distance often,
and to such a place?” said the wife. “You do not
know all that Nancy told me, after you had left us,
of that fearful man, Hugh Thoms. There may
really be danger in visiting the lonely cottage where
he lives.”

Ned Franks laughed at his wife’s serious tone.
“You talk of danger to an old blue-jacket who was
in the Crimean war,” cried he, |

“Qh! you may laugh and make mirth of such
matters, 1t is just like you to do go, but I see no
fun at all!” exclaimed Persis. “I don’t want my
husband to keep company with ruffianly prize-
fighters, or poachers, or burglars discharged from
the gaol.”

“Lest I should be snared into boxing or house-
breaking myself?” asked Ned gaily.

“You know well what I mean,” said Persis, “ You
are maimed, you have only one hand.”



THE CASTAWAYS. | 63

“And a hook!” interrupted her husband, play-
fully holding it up to her view.

“And yet,” continued Persis, who was not at all
disposed to jest, “I do believe that you would
volunteer to lead a forlorn hope any day, quite
forgetting that you are now a husband we father,
and have no right to throw your life away.”

The blue eyes of Ned Franks sparkled with fun.
“It is not a very desperate adventure,” said he, “ to
encounter a bedridden old man and a child; it
scarcely needs the courage of a Quixote. Even
should I happen to meet this Hugh Thoms, I think
that the chances are that I should survive the meet-
ing!” and Ned laughed so merrily at his wife’s
needless alarm, that Persis raised her finger with a
warning glance at the sleeping child, lest his father’s
mirth should awaken him.

Persis was quick to perceive that she had tried
to approach her husband on the wrong tack when
she had tried to influence him by the motive
of fear. She instantly shifted sail and altered her
course.

“T really cannot spare you, Ned, during the little
time which we have always hitherto spent so hap-
pily together,” said Persis, laying her hand lovingly
on the arm of her husband. “TI always look forward
with such pleasure to the Saturday half-holiday, and



64 THE SILVER KEYS.

the sweet peaceful hours on Sunday. And baby
too, would miss you sadly,” continued the mother ;
“he cried after you to-day when you left so sud-
denly ; I could scarcely get him quiet again. I
cannot think why you should like to be such a
truant from home.”

“JT do not like it all,” said Ned; “there is no
place in the world like home to me.”

“TI never wish to hinder you in good works,”
continued Persis, whose conscience was perhaps
pricking her a little; “I did not seek to prevent
your working to mend the old almshouses, nor have
I grudged the time which you have given to visiting
the sick and dying in the parish. But these Thoms
do not belong to the parish, they live so far off, that
to look after them is clearly no duty of yours.
B is much nearer to the quarry than is Colme.
Why do none of the people of the town visit the
bedridden man 2”

“YT cannot just say why, but the simple fact is
that they do not,” replied Ned Franks. “And as
for the sick man not being of our parish, all the
world is the Lord’s parish, and whither He pleases
to send His servants, that’s the place where they
ought to go to.”

“How can you tell that the Lord sends you to
this horrid quarry?” asked Persis, resuming her





THE CASTAWAYS. 65

knitting, and plying the needles very fast, as if she
were troubled.

Franks saw that his wife was vexed and he could
not bear to vex her, so his voice was more than
usually gentle and tender as he replied. “'There’s a
proverb, wifie, that ‘ circumstances are the voice of
Providence, which means, as I read it, that when-
ever the Lord gives us an opportunity of doing good
to some fellow-creature, it is almost the same as if
we could hear His voice bidding us do it. My
dropping your silver keys was the circumstance
which led me to visit a man of whom, till to-day, I
had never heard even the name. I was welcomed,
I was wanted, I was prayed to return; a door of
usefulness was, as it were, plainly opened before me.”

“Yet still,” began Persis, but she stopped short;
she was afraid of abusing her influence over her
husband, and yet, uneasy on his account, could not
give a cheerful consent to his continuing to visit the
hut in the quarry.

“T will tell you ofa circumstance which occurred
when I was a jack-tar, on board the ‘Sylph, sailing
between the Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope,”
said Franks; “the affair read me a lesson then, and
I cannot forget it now. We had been becalmed for
weeks, till our water ran low, and we had been put.
on hali-rations of food, so that when a breeze sprang

E



66 THE SILVER KEYS.

up at last,all hands were eager enough to hoist sail,and
make speed for the land. There was another cause
for our impatience to get quickly to port. A French
vessel, the ‘Cadmus,’ had started at the same time
as ourselves, with a cargo of just the same kind of
goods as we carried. Now of course it was a matter
of some importance which of the two vessels should
make the quickest run, and take goods first into the
market; and besides this, there was a great feeling
of emulation between the French and the English
crews, and there had been a sad amount of betting
before starting as to which of the two vessels would
drop anchor first in the bay. When we were be-
calmed, what vexed us more than short rations or
want of water was the fear that the ‘Cadmus,
might get in before us, unless, as we hoped with all
our hearts, the French craft was in the same strait
as ourselves. You may fancy, wifie, how we crowded
canvas, when the day before we reached port, just at
morning's dawn, we came in sight of the ‘ Cadmus,’
She was a-head of us, to be sure, but we gained fast
upon her, for the ‘Sylph’ was the better sailer of
the two, or at least was handled better. There’s no
race sO exciting as a race at sea. We were resolved
not to be beaten by the Frenchman. ‘There was not
one of us, I believe, that would not have given
a month's pay for the pleasure of passing the



THE CASTAWAYS. 67

‘Cadmus, and the captain was just as eager as
any.”

‘‘T suppose that the captain had a greater interest
than any one else in the ‘ Sylph’s’ winning the race,”
observed Persis, “as you have told me before that he
was part-owner of the cargo.”

“Yes; and being a married man, he was of course
anxious to make the most of his share,” said Franks.
‘Just about noon, as we were getting near enough to
the ‘Cadmus’ to let those on board of her hear the
ring of a good British cheer, the man on the look-out
sang out that he saw some object lying low on the
water, far away to the south, and that it looked to
him like a raft. The captain’s glass was soon
turned in that direction, and he made out that there
was a raft, or something of the sort, and some white
thing above it, as if hung up as a signal.”

“Some poor shipwrecked creatures were there in
distress, | suppose,” observed Persis, pausing in her
knitting at this point in the story.

“So thought our captain,” said Franks.

“Then surely you went to their help,” cried
Persis ; “no one could doubt what to do.”

“It is easy for you to say that, wifie, you who
were never racing a Frenchman into port, all sails
set, wind fair, and the vessel a-head looming larger
and larger every minute, for we could almost



68 THE SILVER KEYS.

distinguish the faces of the men on the deck of the
“Cadmus.” When there was the first word spoken
of tacking about, you should have heard the uproar
on board of the ‘ Sylph,’ specially from those who
had betted that we would reach the port first.
Some were sure that there was no raft at all, only
some floating log or bit of a wreck; others declared
that the object seen to the south was but a cata-
maran with niggers on it, and even if they were
hanging out a signal of distress, what Huropean would
go out of his way for the sake of woolly-headed
niggers! It was our business, they cried, to get
into port, and not to go cruising about picking up
waifs on the sea. I never saw the ship’s company
so near mutinying as when the captain told the man
at the wheel to put the helm about, and steer for
the south,”

“ Bless him for it!” exclaimed Persis,

“The crew did not bless him, Pm afraid,” said
Franks with a smile, “when they heard from the
deck of the ‘Cadmus’ what the Frenchman meant
for a cheer, for our rivals in the race were mightily
pleased to see us losing way by bearing off from the
straight course. It drove our mates half wild to hear
that derisive shout coming across the blue waters,”

«And did you find any one on the raft?” asked
Persis with interest.



THE CASTAWAYS. 69

“Yes; a Portuguese man and boy,” replied Franks,
“They had escaped from a burning vessel, and had
been lying on the water for three days and nights
without food or a drop of fresh water. You never
saw such mere skeletons of human beings as were
these poor foreigners when we got them up the side
of the ‘Sylph.’ They could not have held out for
one day more.” |

“Qh! how thankful you must have been that you
had gone to their rescue!” exclaimed Persis Franks.

“T do not think that any one was sorry, not even
those who had clamoured the loudest against turning
back,” said Ned. “The boy soon revived, and lived
to join our crew, and be a favourite with us all; but
the man, poor fellow! was too far gone. He was a
Portuguese merchant, and not accustomed to hard-
ships at sea. He did not live to see the next morn-
ing. He had carried off a bag of dollars from the
burning ship; no doubt he would gladly have
exchanged them next day for a handful of pease, or
a cup of fresh water. Before the merchant died he
gave the money bag as a token of gratitude to our
captain, who, generous-hearted as he was, divided
the dollars amongst our crew.”

“Then, even as regards this life, you were no
losers from going out of your way to save these poor
strangers,” said Persis.



70 THE SILVER KEYS.

“ Losers—no indeed !” exclaimed Ned with great
animation, “for you’ve not heard the end of my story.
We won the race after all, and dropped our anchor
in the bay three minutes before the Frenchman!
Did we not treat him with a cheer!” Franks laughed
so merrily at the remembrance of that triumph, that
if the baby did not awake, it showed that little
Ned was one who could sleep through a tempest.

But in a few moments the mirth that had shone
in the laughing eyes of the former sailor, changed
to a thoughtful earnest expression, as he went on to
explain what had been his object in relating his story.

“ Now, Persis, to my mind a poor ignorant man
like Thoms, going down to his grave without the
knowledge of the only sure means of salvation, yet
hungering and thirsting, as it were, for truth, is like
the poor Portuguese castaway dying on the billows,
Is it for us who are scudding before a pleasant
breeze with a safe port in view, is it for us to say
‘What matters it to me if he perish ?’”

Persis rested her head on her husband’s shoulder,
and a tear wet his rough jacket. “I have been very
selfish—very sinful,” she murmured.

‘I would not let any one else say so, wifie,” was
the loving reply; and a second tear, just ready to
drop, was kissed away before it had time to fall,

There was silence for a few monients, and then



THE CASTAWAYS. V1

raising her head, Persis observed, “I believe that
they who are willing to go to Heaven themselves
without helping any other poor sinner to reach it,
are never likely to arrive there at all. They cannot
have the spirit of their Master. Dear Ned, I will
try from henceforth to be your helper and not your
hinderer in deeds of mercy. I have just been think-
ing,” Persis continued more cheerfully, “that we
might make some little offering to the Lord out of
the contents of my ebony cabinet.”

“There is not much in it that could be turned to
use in the way of charity,’ said Franks; “no one
but yourself would place value on locks of hair or
family letters.”

“There is one gold coin,” observed Persis ; “a coin
that has lain idle and useless for hundreds, perhaps
for thousands of years. It is old, worn, and bent,
but still it is of gold, and that always fetches its
price. ‘The little piece of money might perhaps
bring fifteen. shillings.”

“Hardly so much,” said Franks ; “remember how
thin it is, and how light.” He rose, went up to the
cabinet, and opened one of the drawers from the
lock of which the bunch of keys was hanging. Ned
took out the golden coin and balanced it on his
finger. “Ido not think that this weighs more than
hali-a-sovereign,’ said he,



72, THE SILVER KEYS.

“ But half-a-sovereign would feed a poor family for
a week,” observed Persis. “I should like to turn the
little old bit of gold into loaves of bread.”

Franks gave one of his pleasant smiles. “Suppose
that you quietly drop it to-morrow into the poor-box
in church,” said he. “ Mr. Curtis will know better
than we how to get the best price for the coin.”

“Yes,” replied Persis; “and I love best to take
my little alms to church, for there one most feels as
if laying the offering—the tiny offering—at the feet of
the Lord. What are you thinking of, Ned 2” Persis
continued, looking up inquiringly into the face of her
husband, on which passing feelings were mirrored
so clearly that she saw that the coin on which his
eyes were fixed, was suggesting some interesting
train of ideas to his mind.

“YT was thinking that my poor old man in the
quarry might resemble this coin,” replied Franks.
“He has had many a hard rub, he has been soiled
and worn out, as it were, by the world’s hard use,
till one can hardly make out that our King’s likeness
has ever been stamped upon him. Then of late
years poor Thoms has been shut up in darkness,
as was this coin, useless to all, perhaps valued by
none.”

“ Like the lost piece of silver in the parable,” said
Persis.



THE CASTAWAYS. 73

“But his soul is precious still,’ continued Franks;
“and who knows whether, by God’s blessing, this
poor ignorant old man may not be brought to
the Lord at last, and be found in His treasure-
house at the end, as gold that has been tried in the
fire ?” |

The idea rested pleasantly on the mind of Persis.
She turned it into a prayer when, on the following
day, on entering the church to attend morning
service, she, without being noticed by any one,
dropped her little piece of gold through the slit in the
poor-box. Little did Persis imagine what painful
consequences were to follow the performance of so
simple and pious an act.






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74 THE SILVER KEYS.

CHAPTER VIII.
A Pirst Weoting,

Ow the Sunday afternoon Ned Franks started to pay
his promised visit to the hut in the quarry, not for-
getting to take with him a good slice of his wife’s
home-made cake for Dell.

“What silver key shall I take with me to-day 2”
thought Franks; “what word of Scripture shall I
try to open out to that poor old man? Ah, it were
well if I could but give him a glimpse of what is
meant by ‘Salvation,’ that word which expresses in
itself safety and peace and Heaven! Would that
old Thoms belonged to our parish; our good vicar
would know how to make these matters clear to his
mind; I scarce know how to fit the key rightly into
the lock,—but I can but do my best.”

_ Silently praying as he walked that he might be
led to speak God’s words and not his own, Franks
went on his way till he reached the bridge. He
then, as before, turned off from the high road into
the path leading down towards the stream bordered
by willows, then bending his course to the left, soon
entered upon the wild barren tract of stony ground



A FIRST MEETING. 75

in which lay the quarry. As he did so Franks saw
two men coming towards him from the direction of
Thoms’ cottage. The one individual was short and
slim, and formed a remarkable contrast to his com-
panion, who was a singularly powerfully-built man.
As the two men came tramping heavily over the
rough ground, their figures seen clearly against the
background of the blue sky, Franks thought that he
had never beheld a form that gave such an impres-
sion of bull-dog strength as that of the larger man,
with his thick neck, broad chest, and powerful
limbs,

“There is something of the bull-dog in the face
too,” thought Ned, when the men came near enough
for him to distinguish their features. All the lower
part of that face projected, the mouth was wide, the
lips looked bloated, and when they unclosed in
' speaking, the huge teeth beneath them showed like
the fangs of a wolf.

“This must be Hugh Thoms himself,” thought
Ned; “he looks just the sort of fellow whom one
could fancy standing with doubled fists, stripped to
the waist, in a prize-ring ; and an ugly customer he
would prove to any one who should square up to
hiin there.”

And Hugh, for it was he, looked “an ugly
customer” to be met with on a lonely waste, where



76 THE SILVER KEYS.

not a dwelling was in sight, “ruffian” was so plainly
stamped on the whole appearance of the man. Hugh
and his comrade came straight towards Franks ;
the former swinging to and fro as he stalked
onwards a heavy bludgeon which he held-in his
orasp.

— “ Holloa! I say, where be you going?” was Hugh’s
rough greeting to Franks, as they drew near to each
other. The deep strong voice from the ruffian’s
powerful chest sounded like the growl of a bull-dog
ere he spring at the throat of his foe.

“To see a sick old man yonder,” was the reply.

“Tf you mean my dad, he don’t want you or the
like of you,” growled Hugh.

“Tf I find such to be the case, I shan’t trouble
him long,” said Ned Franks, steadily meeting the
insolent stare of the bully, and walking briskly
forward as he did so. Contrary to Ned’s expectation ~
Hugh made no reply, nor did he attempt to stop the
schoolmaster, though Ned passed so near him as to
be within reach of the swing of the bludgeon.
Franks strode on for some twenty paces, and then
halting, turned to look behind him. Hugh did the
same thing at the same moment, so that again the
one-armed schoolmaster and the ruffian stood facing
each other with the gaze of suspicion. Each, how-
ever, soon turned on his heel and pursued his way.



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“*Halloa! I say, where be you going?’ was Hugh’s rough greeting to
Franks, as they drew near to each other.”——p. 76.





A FIRST MEETING, V7

Franks, after a rapid walk, found himself again at
the edge of the quarry, beside a moss-mantled
fragment of paling which he had noticed as a land-
mark upon his previous visit. He descended the
rough side of the excavation to the stone-built hut
which nestled in the hollow.

“Did you meet my father?” cried little Dell,
in a quick, alarmed tone, as she started up from
a crouching position outside the door, which .
had been left wide open on account of the stifling
heat.

“T suppose that was he whom I met not ten
minutes ago,” replied Ned; “a large, strong-looking
man.”

“So strong—oh! so strong!” exclaimed Dell, more
in a tone of fear than of admiration; “father can
take a pewter pot in his hand and crush it—so!”
Lhe child squeezed her fingers together, clenching
her teeth hard as she did so, to express the irre-
sistible force of the crush.

“Such-a gripe trom the hand of Hugh,” thought
Franks, “ would not be pleasant on one’s throat,”
“T spose Wriggle-in Jack was with father?” said
Dell. : |

“There was a man with your father, but I did
not know that he bore so queer a name,” replied
Ned. “ What sort of a fellow is he?”



78 THE SILVER KEYS,

Dell made no reply to the question, unless a
nervous twitch of her pinched features could be
taken as areply. Ned then noticed that one of the
child’s eyes was bloodshot, and that the flesh around
it was bruised as if by a recent blow. Indignation
and pity mingled in the sailor-schoolmaster’s breast,
but he asked Dell no more questions. It was not
well that she should speak to a stranger of the
brutality of a parent. Silently Ned Franks followed
the child into the hut.

Franks found the place in the same condition as
on the preceding day, save that now the smell of gin
and tobacco was more overpowering, as if pipes had
been smoked, and drams had been drunk but a short
time before his entrance. On the table also were
dirty plates, knives, forks, and a dish in which lay
fragments of half-raw beef-steak, beside an empty
black bottle.

The visitor went up to the bed of the sick old
man.

“Qh! sir, I be so glad to see you!” faltered poor
Thoms, as Franks, after pressiug the sufferer’s
wrinkled hand, sat down by the side of the bed,

“Have you brought me cake, as you said you
would?” asked Dell, touching the sleeve of Ned’s
jacket, with a manner half timid, half confiding. He
was pleased to hear so child-like a question from the



A FIRST MEETING. 79

miserable little creature to whom the unnatural kind
of lite which she led had given a look of cunning
and premature age.

‘Oh! I’ve not forgotten my promise,” said Franks,
and he pulled from his deep pocket a large piece of
cake wrapped in paper. “It is my wife’s own making,
and so must be good, my girl.” | |

“T wish I was your girl,” muttered Dell, as she
sat down on the floor near Franks’ feet to eat the
dainty which he had brought. She did not do so
with the eagerness of hunger, but picked out and
ate the raisins one by one, and crumbled the cake
in her soiled little hands. It was not food that she
wanted,

Franks now spoke to the old man about his health,
and attempted to make his position in bed more easy.
It was not long, however, before the sailor-school-
master proceeded to follow out what had been the
principal object of his visit. |

“T am glad to see the Bible on your bed,’ he
observed. - “ Have you been reading it, my friend?”

“T’ve been a-trying; but the place be so dark, and
my old eyes be but dim,” was the poor man’s reply.
“Then, sir, I be so unlarned,—I never could but
spell out a word here and there.”

Franks took up the Bible, not in the least sur-
prised that, in a lying posture, and in that dark



SQ THE SILVER KEYS.

corner of his dark abode, poor Thoms had not suc-
ceeded in his attempt to read. The light came in
only from one side of the hut, more through the
open door than the dust-covered window, and even
on that side the light was but dull. No direct rays
of the sun could ever reach the hut, from its position
down in the quarry. But Ned’s sight was acute,
and he held the book so as to let as much light as
possible fall on the page, so that he had no difficulty
in reading.

“Do you remember anything of what you heard
yesterday?” asked Franks, addressing his question
to Dell.

“Good news,” answered the child at once; and
from his bed her grandfather feebly echoed the
words, “ Good news;” adding “that’s been a-running
in my head whiles I lay awake half the night, and
it cheered me.”

Franks thought of “songs in the night.” Such
songs might be given to a suffering, ignorant old
man even in such a den of misery as this,

“Shall I read to you a little more, and try to
explain more clearly how the Gospel is good news
to sinners like you and me?” asked Franks,

By a movement of his grey head old Thoms signi-
fied his assent. Ned, by resting the book on hig
knee, and holding it steady by means of his hook,



THE GREAT QUESTION, Sl

whilst with his right hand he turned over the leaves,
soon found the place which he sought, the sixteenth
chapter of Acts.

“TI am going to read of two men who were thrown
into prison,” said he.

The attention of Dell was immediately fixed.
There was a sad interest and attraction to the child
of Hugh Thoms in a story about a prison.

CHAPTER IX.

The Great Atestion,

NED FRANKS, especially when engaged in reading
the Bible aloud, always threw his whole soul into
what he was doing. His was no formal, listless
performance of a solemn task; no one ever heard him
drone over-a chapter with unvarying tone. If there
were a fault in his manner of reading, it was that
of throwing into it too much of his natural anima-
tion and warmth. Some critics might object to the
strong emphasis, the abrupt pause, the tones now
deepened into solemnity, now raised as in earnest
pleading, which varied the village schoolmaster’s
v



82 THE SILVER KEYS.

reading; but they never failed to command the
attention of those who listened.

“ John Sands, worthy man, always reads as if he
meant to lull you to sleep,” Mrs. Stone had one day
observed to her sister-in-law, Mrs. White. “ But
Ned Franks reads as if he would take you by the
arin, as it were, and shake you hard to awaken you.”

“ And the two look so different too!” cried Mrs.
White’s son, who was one of Ned’s scholars, “ Mr.
Sands would no more lift up his eyes from his book
than the hour-hand would start up from the face of
yon clock over which it is creeping so slowly; but
our master don’t seem to want eyes for his reading
at all. He’s always looking right into the face of
some one, and if you happen to be that some one,”
added the boy, laughing, “ you feel as if Mr. Franks
were reading you right through instead of his book.”

Thus when Ned read of Paul and Silas in prison,
and then paused, with his finger on the page, to
speak of their position in the Philippian dungeon,
their bleeding backs, their confined ankles, their
pain, their danger, and yet the peace in their hearts
and the praise on their tongues, it seemed as if he
were describing what he himself had seen. Dell
listened with lips apart, and in profound silence, till
Franks had read of the answer to prayer which the
Almighty sent in the midnight earthquake, and then



THE GREAT QUESTION. 83

the child interrupted the reading with the question,
“ Karthquake—what can that be?”

“A violent trembling of the solid earth,” replied
Franks, “T felt the shock of a severe one when I
was a sailor, and chanced to be on shore in one of
the West India islands. Never can I forget that
earthquake,—the low, rumbling sound like thunder,
the rocking to and fro of the buildings, the heaving
of the ground upon which I stood, till I expected it
every moment to open and swallow me up! Then
what an awful crash was that when a large building
—a solid stone building-—suddenly fell, burying
several poor creatures under its ruins!”

“ What makes earthquakes come?” inquired Dell,
looking halt frightened as well as curious.

“ Fire under the earth,” was the reply; “ fire which
sometimes bursts forth from burning mountains,
which throw forth clouds of smoke with flames and
ashes and torrents of melted stone, which have been
known even to bury a city!”

“There must be an awful great furnace some-
where,’ observed the old man from the bed,—“ an
awful great furnace to shake the firm earth, set
mountains on fire, and melt the very stones that
are in ’em,” |

“ Many of the learned tell us that the whole inside
of our world is one huge furnace,’ said Ned Franks,



84 THE SILVER KEYS.

“a furnace that always is glowing. They tell us
that we but stand, as it were, upon a crust that
divides us from the fire beneath us. We are sure,
for so it is written in the Bible, that not just here
and there, but in every place there will at last be a
terrible shaking, that the whole world will be wrapt
in flame, and the elements melted with fervent
heat !”

“God have mercy upon us!” ejaculated Thoms,
fear instinctively taking the form of prayer. “ But
sure, sir, you don’t believe all that ?”

“ As firmly as I believe that the clouds are above
us,” replied Franks.

“But you hope as how that dreadful day mayn’t
come in your time,” observed Thoms.

“Tt would be idle to hope that,” said Franks;
“for whether I be living on earth when it comes, or
whether its coming be delayed till long after my
body has been laid underground, I shall certainly
see that great day. The dead shall arise from their
graves—you and I shall arise—to meet our Judge.”

Earnestness and solemnity were in the tones of
Franks’ voice, yet his face had not lost its expres-
sion of serenity and peace. The old man gazed on
him with anxious eyes, and then said, “It is awful
to think on such things! Don’t they make you
afeard ?”



TEâ„¢ GREAT QUESTION, 85

“No,” replied his visitor. “I look forward with
hope and joy to that day. I fear neither earthquake
nor flame, nor the anger of God, which is more
terrible than all, for, thanks be to Christ my Lord,
I believe that I am a saved sinner.”

“But what must I do to be saved 2?” cried Thoms.

“That is the very question which was put to Paul
and Silas by the Philippian jailor,” replied Franks,
and he read on to the end of the 30th verse of the
chapter before him. Franks then paused to make,
as he was wont, a few observations on what he had
been reading.

“WHAP Must I DO TO BE SAVED? that is the
most solemn, the most important question ever put
by mortal man! Had the Scripture account stopped
here, how we should have longed with exceeding
desire to know what answer was given to that ques-
tion by God’s own holy apostle !”

“But what did St. Paul say, sir, what did he
say ?” asked the old man with nervous impatience.

Franks in reply read aloud, slowly and reverently,
those all-important words which contain, as it were,
the very essence of Gospel truth, “ BELIEVE ON THE
LorpD JESUS CHRIST, AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED.”

“Does that mean saved from the earthquake,
saved from the fire?” asked Dell, looking anxiously
up into the face of the reader.



86 THE SILVER KEYS.

“It means saved from them and from all else the
thought of which may make us poor sinners afraid
of the Day of Judgment,” replied Franks. “They
who truly believe need not tremble though earth and
heaven should shake, the sun be turned into dark-
ness, and the moon into blood, and the whole earth
be wrapt in flames !”

“Why, where could they flee!” cried Dell, and the
feeble voice of her grandfather echoed, “ Where
could they flee ?”

Franks turned over the pages of the Bible till he
came to the passage which he sought in the First
Kpistle to the Thessalonians, and he read it aloud as
one whose hope is indeed like an anchor sure and
stedtast. Lhe Lord Himself shall descend from
Heaven with a shout, and the vorce of the archangel,
and with the trump of God; and the dead in
Christ shall rose first. Then we which are alive
and remain shall be caught up together with them
wm the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so
shall we be for ever with the Lord !

“T see, I see,’ murmured Thoms; “the good will
be caught up out of the way of the earthquake, out
of the reach of the fire.”

“Caught up to glory and joy,” cried Franks:
“caught up to live and rejoice and reign for ever
and ever!” The countenance of the believer beamed



THE GREAT QUESTION, 87

with that “hope of salvation” which is a foretaste
of heaven upon earth, as he added, “ Well might
St. Paul bid us comfort one another with these
words !”

But there was no reflection of joy upon the
wrinkled face of the paralytic old man. “It is any-
thing but a comfort,” said he, “to think of that
awful trumpet sounding, and the earth shaking and
blazing and melting, and the Judge coming down
from the sky, unless we be quite sure and certain
that we ourselves will be amongst them as will be
caught up and saved. No doubt you may be very
good, sir, and so may feel easy about it, but I’m not
clear tnat when all the saints and church-goers such
as you be, are caught up in the air, poor old Adam
Thoms mayn’t be left behind.”

“ My friend, I am but a poor sinner myself,” said
Franks ; “the only hope that I have to gladden my
heart when I look forward to the Day of Judgment,
is the hope of salvation through the blood of the
Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Who for us men and our salvation came down
from Heaven,” murmured the old man slowly, like
one who is striving to recall some almost forgotten
tune heard long long ago, of which a few notes have
lingered on memory still, “I mind me that we
used to repeat them words after the parson in



88 THE SILVER KEYS.

church, in the old old time. Does salvation mean
being saved at that terrible day 2”

“Tt means that, and a great deal more,” replied
Franks. “Salvation means being saved from the
power of sin here, and from its punishment here-
after; it means having all our guilt washed away;
it means being delivered from the just anger of God,
and made His dear children for ever. This, this is
salvation.”

“TI should be glad, mighty glad, to make sure of
salvation,” said poor Thoms, with a simple earnest-
ness which touched his visitor’s heart. “But how
am I to get it?” Toa mind so ignorant as that of
the old man, it was needful to explain line upon
line.

Franks’ reply was simply to repeat again St. Paul’s
answer to the jailor.

“But how am I to know that I do really believe?”
inquired Thoms. “ve met with folks in my day
who said they believed every word in the Bible from
beginning to end, but they were no better than other
folk for all that. Would such go to heaven at the
last.”

“Many, I fear, profess to believe who are not in
earnest, replied Franks; “or they cling go tightly
to their sins that they throw away, for the sake of
those sins, even their hope of salvation.”



THE GREAT QUESTION. 89

The old man did not understand the last sentence
spoken by Franks; Adam Thoms’ mind could
scarcely take in more than one idea at a time, though
that idea it would hold very firmly. “Oh, sir, do
you think that the Lord will save me, even me?” he
asked, clasping his withered hands, and fixing an
anxious gaze on his visitor’s face.

Franks felt what a solemn, what an awful responsi-
bility is theirs who deal with souls awakening to a
consciousness of their own immortality and the
terrors of coming judgment, rose from the schoolmaster’s heart before he replied,
“ My friend, if the Lord Jesus were to enter this
cottage at this very moment, what would you do 2”

An awe-struck expression came over the sick
man’s pallid features. “I a’most think I could
crawl out of bed somehow,” was his reply, “or if I
could not—for I ha’n’t left it for years—I’d just lie
here, and I'd say, ‘ Lord! save me, any way, any how,
only save me!’” ‘Tears rolled down the old man’s
wrinkled cheeks as he spoke. :

“The Lord is indeed here, He is with us at this
moment!” cried Franks, realising that wondrous
Presence as truly in that close stifling den, as he
had ever done even in church; “shall we not pray
to Him now?”

Franks knelt down on the stony floor, and Dell



90 THE SILVER KEYS.

imitated his posture with wondering awe, she had
never bent her little knees in worship before, and
strange to the child did it seem to hear words
addressed to a Being whom she could not behold.
It was the first time that the sound of -prayer
had arisen in the home of the godless Hugh
Thoms.

“Oh ! Lord, have mercy upon us!” began Franks,
and to his surprise from the old man came the
response, “And grant us Thy salvation;” the once
familiar words, heard so often in church many years
ago, coming back again on memory. Franks’
prayer was short, but very fervent, and old Thoms’
hearty “Amen,” went warm to his heart at the
close.

That Sabbath-day was one which Franks remem-
bered with pleasure to the end of his life. Such
days, we may believe, will be remembered with
delight through eternity’s myriad ages. Peaceful
and profitable were the Christian’s hours spent in
the house of prayer, sweet and happy those which he
passed in his home; but none bore on them more of
the radiance of Heaven’s own light than that in
which Franks gave to a poor mortal drawing near to
the grave, a glimpse of the treasures of comfort con-
tained in the word SALVATION !



SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 91

CHAPTER X,
Seeds and Pebbles,

MONDAY morning always commenced a course of
hard work for Franks. From not having ever been
regularly trained as a teacher, he had a good deal
of lee-way to make up, as he called it, to get up
with those who had had greater advantages of
education. Ned had been made a schoolmaster
before the days of School Boards, or he would
certainly have failed in satisfying a Government
inspector. but whatever the sailor did, he did it
with all his might, and his energy and steadiness
commanded no small degree of success. The vicar
once, when rallied on having made a schoolmaster
of a jack-tar, observed, that though Franks could
not set a- hard sum in fractions, he always set a
good example. “I'd rather have my village lads,”
said the vicar, “turn out honest God-fearing men
like their master, than be able to calculate to a
nicety how many cube inches there are in the
moon.” |
But Franks himself felt the necessity of acquiring



92 THE SILVER KEYS.

more knowledge when placed as he was in the
position of having to impart it to others. Thus
part of every week-day evening was regularly de-
voted to study; Franks learned in order that he
might more skilfully teach.

The sound of the cuckoo-clock striking twelve at
mid-day, and then the hum below, clatter of benches,
and trampling of feet, followed by the noise of
children’s voices from the road, were always wel-
come to Persis, whose little sitting-room was just
above that in which Ned taught his young pupils.
The house was old-fashioned in construction, and
the schoolroom would have been as much improved
by being more lofty, as the master by being more
learned ; but to increase Franks’ knowledge was an
easier matter than to raise the timbers of the ceiling.

“ Baby shall hear the pretty bird ery, ‘Cuckoo,’
and call to father to come to his Neddy,” said
Persis, as she lifted up her curly-headed boy to
enjoy what was to the child a never-failing source
of amusement, seeing the toy-bird come out to pro-
claim the hour of noon. The clock had been a gift
from the Sands, a token of gratitude from the
reformed drunkard and her husband, and the
present received under such circumstances was
greatly valued by the Franks. Nancy’s hard fea-
tures never relaxed into a pleasanter look than when



SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 93

She saw baby Ned clapping his dimpled hands as
the bird clapped his painted wings; and even
sombre John had been trapped into a smile on sud-
denly hearing little Ned’s rosebud lips try to mimic
the note of the cuckoo.

There was rather a longer delay than usual in
Franks’ obeying the cuckoo’s call on the Monday
following his visit to the quarry. Little Ned, who
expected his daily ride on his father’s shoulder, was
watching the door with impatience when it opened
at last, and Franks ushered into the room the vicar’s
wife, and her nephew Sir Claudius Leyton, who was
at once curate of Colme, and lord of the manor,
Baby Ned, young as he was, was intelligent enough
to be aware that the ride must be a pleasure put off
for a while, and from his mother’s arms stared with
his bright blue eyes at the guests,—half shy, yet
pleased at the notice which was always taken of him
by the lady.

Mrs. Curtis, after a kindly greeting to the oie
and a kiss-to the golden-haired child, took the seat
placed for her by Franks, and a the object
of her visit.

“The description which I gave to my nephew of
your ancient gold coin has made him very anxious
to have a sight of so rare a curiosity,” said the lady.
“I could scarcely persuade him to delay his visit.



94 THE SILVER KEYS.

Mrs. Franks, till the hour when your husband
would be disengaged from the school.” _

“T have had all my life a great fancy for collect-
ing rare coins,’ observed the young baronet;
“though till last year, when I came to the Hall, I
had little opportunity of indulging the fancy.”

Persis glanced at her husband, as if to ask him to
answer for her,—for knowing that the coin was in
her possession no longer, she felt a little difficulty
in replying to a request for permission to see it.

“My wife would most gladly have shown the
coin to Sir Claudius,” said Franks ; “but the fact is
that she has parted with it already.”

The young baronet almost started at the an-
nouncement ; he flushed and bit his lip, betraying
an amount of vexation and disappointment which
surprised Ned Franks, for they seemed to the sailor-
schoolmaster so disproportioned to their cause,
Why should a man of rank and fortune, and a
clergyman besides, care so much for the sight of a
little bent bit of gold! Perhaps Sir Claudius saw
the look of surprise, for he hastened to make an
explanation.

“Tf the coin was a thing which Mrs, Franks was
contented to part with,” he said, “I am very sorry
that I had not had the refusal of it. The fact is
that I have found in the Hall a very fine collection



SEEDS AND PEBBLES, 95

of coins, which pleased me more than did anything
else in the house. The collection is nearly perfect,
but not quite; one link in a long chain was
wanting, your coin would just have supplied that
link,—and I should most gladly have given ten
guineas for its possession.”

Again Persis exchanged glances with her husband,
and the smile of pleasure which rose to her lips.
was reflected on his. |

“If such be the case, sir, there is no harm done,”
sald the sailor-schoolmaster gaily; “the coin has
not been dropped into the sea, nor melted in the
fire, it is safe enough at the bottom of the poor-box
in our church.”

The exclamation of joy which burst from Sir
Claudius, his excitement of pleasure at the news,
amused Ned Franks. How difficult it often is for
one man to understand the hobby of another!
Franks had felt the delight of winning souls, and he
had felt the joy of family affection; he could also—
from having experienced it—enter into the pleasure
brought by success after any kind of hard labour.
But why the hope of possessing a complete set of
old coins should make any one so happy as it
seemed to make Sir Claudius, was a riddle to the
simple-minded man. Bits of money of no use
except to be looked at, seemed to Franks to be little



96 THE SILVER KEYS.

better than toys, and he was astonished to think
that any person should be willing to give ten
guineas for one small coin. Franks did not con-
sider how great may be the value of coins as
throwing light on history, for, as the reader- knows,
he was not a scientific man.

~“T only valued the little piece at half-a-guinea,”
said the schoolmaster of Colme, “for I did not
know that it was worth a penny more than its
simple weight of gold would bring. I’m glad to
find that I was mistaken.”

Mrs. Curtis then spoke. “We must consult the
vicar about this matter,’ said she. “If Mrs. Franks
dropped her offering into the poor-box, thinking
that it was worth but half-a-cuinea, and now finds
that she can sell it for ten guineas—” the lady
hesitated a little as she added, “ perhaps Mr. Curtis
may think it but fair and right that the nine and a-
half guineas should be returned to the former
owner of the coin.” .

Again Persis exchanged glances with her husband,
and well he understood the eager little shake of her
head, and the request spoken only by her eyes, that
he would speak for her, and say what he knew that
she would wish him to say.

“No, no, madam,” cried Franks; “what my wife
gave she gave with all her heart, and [ll answer for



SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 97

it that Persis would not take back a sixpence
of the money were it a hundred guineas instead
of ten.”

“Not even for the sake of your child?” asked
Mrs. Curtis, addressing herself to Persis,

Persis smiled, shook her head, and pressed her
lips on her child’s rosy cheek. She thought, though
she did not say aloud what she thought, “ There is
something better than gold that I covet for my
darling. The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich,
and He addeth no sorrow with it.”

“Then really we may regard this liberal offering
of yours aS an answer to prayer,” said the vicar’s
wite, “for cases of great distress are in the parish
at present, and never has Mr. Curtis found the
church contributions more wretchedly low than he
has for the last two months. The last time that
the poor-box was opened there were in it but a few
coppers.” |

Again Persis and Ned looked at each other, and
this time with a little surprise. They thought that
they had the best reasons for knowing that for once
the vicar’s wife had not kept to the strict truth.
It was the first time that they had ever found the
lady speak in a careless, exaggerating way.

“You know,” continued Mrs. Curtis, “that the
poor-box is opened once a month in the presence
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said Franks to himself.”— p. 39.








CO)



THE SILVER KEYS.

A Gale

BY

A. L. O. E,

AUTHORESS OF ‘‘ THE CLAREMONT TALES,” “‘ BRAID OF CORDS,”
‘NED FRANKS,” ‘‘ SHEER OFF,” ETC, .

GALL & INGLIS.

Hondo: Edinburgh :
30 PATERNOSTER ROW. 6 GEORGE STREET.
PREFACE.
4+

Sucu of the readers of this little work as may have
chanced to have seen “Ned Franks” and “Sheer
Off,” will perceive at once that the present story is
a continuation of them, though not necessarily to be
united with either, as each is complete in itself.
he same individual who is represented in the first
volume of the series as a godless termagant, and in
the second as a drunkard hardly rescued from the
vortex in which she was sinking into destruction,
appears in this, the third, as a penitent and a be-
liever, struggling, through trials and sore tempta-
tions, on a heavenward path. Such instances of the
triumphs of grace over a corrupt nature and evil
habits are, thank God! to be met with in life. Some
who will be, we believe, welcome and honoured
guests in the courts of heaven, will be gathered from
those who were once great wanderers on earth, and
who will be ready to own that they were unworthy
even of the portion of the dogs—the crumbs under
the Master's table.
A. L. O. Fi.
CONTENTS.

———-
CHAPTER PAGE
I. THE TWO FRIENDS. . . , , . . ; 7
II. SUNSHINE. . . . ; . . . . 21
III. HOME IN THE QUARRY. ; . ; . : . 30
IV. GOOD NEWS. . . . . . . . 37
V. REFLECTIONS. . : e : . . . ~ AD
VI. THE CLERK’S HOME. . ° : ; : : . 68
VII. THE CASTAWAYS. . : ‘ e : : . 61
VII. A FIRST MEETING. . : ° : : 0 . TA
IX. THE GREAT QUESTION. . : ; : , . il
X. SEEDS AND PEBBLES. ; ; ° ° . . 91
XI, NANCY’S VISIT. . ; : ° ; . , . 104
XII, EVENING VISITORS. . . . «. «~~ 118
XIII. BREAKING THE NEWS. . : . 126
XIV. THE CONSULTATION. . : . . ; . . 138
XV. AN OFFER DECLINED. : : , ; ; . 146
XVI. A STORM. . . : . . . , ; . 1d5
XVII. IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. . . ; . . . 162
XVII TRIBULATION. . . . . . ; . . 173
XIX. THE HUSBAND’S PRAYER. . . . . : . 188
XX. THE NIGHT WATCH. . . : : . : . 192
XXI. HOPES DISAPPOINTED. : : . : : » 203
XXII, A VICTORY. : . : ‘ : . ; . 214
XXIII. PASSING AWAY. : ; , : . . » 229
XXIV. A PERILOUS PASS. . . ‘ . . : . 236

XXV. CONCLUSION, . . ._ . ; . . 248
tHE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER TI.

The Pwo Friends,

“ONLY think of her not sending you the keys of the
cabinet!” exclaimed Nancy Sands, the clerk’s wife,
as she stood looking at a beautiful little piece of
furniture which her friend, Persis Franks, had re-
ceived about ten minutes before by the carrier’s
cart.

“Qh, the keys will come all in good time,” replied
Persis. ‘“ My aunt would not trust them to come
in the same way as the package, she sent them by a
private hand, and Ned has gone to the town to fetch
them. Father will soon be back, won’t he?” The
last words were addressed to a fine little boy, about
eighteen months old, whom she held in her arms, a
rosy-cheeked child, with yellow locks curling all
round his head like so many little golden cork-
SCrews.
8 THE SILVER KEYS.

“I's a bit tantalizing to get such a cabinet
and have to wait before having a peep at what's
in it,’ observed Nancy Sands. “I never saw
such a pretty thing in my life, though it is so old-
fashioned. That wood is ebony, ain't it? How
finely it is carved, and inlaid with bright mother-
o’-pearl! That cabinet must have cost a great deal
of money.”

“T daresay that it did when it was new,” said
Persis, who, after clearing away the matting in which
the package had been carefully wrapped, had seated
herself by her window, to watch with baby for the
first sight of his father coming up the road, “ That
cabinet has been for more than a hundred years in
the family, and has been now left to me as a legacy
by the aunt of my mother. The very first thing
which I can remember is being shown it when I
was a very little child. Perhaps you will say just
the same thing one day, my darling,” added the
mother, after her usual fashion drawing baby into
the conversation, though his share in it could not be
expected to go beyond a crow or a coo. “You'll
pull out every one of the little drawers, won’t you,
and jingle the silver keys?” The child’s chubby
face dimpled into a smile, and he clapped his soft
little hands. If he did not understand his mother’s
question, he understood well the loving tone and the
THE TWO FRIENDS. — 9

loving look with which it was asked, and made what
answer he could.

“You know, I suppose, what is in the cabinet,”
said Nancy.

“Tt must be nearly twenty years since I last
looked into those five small drawers,” replied Persis,
“for I have not been in Cornwall, where my old
relative lived, since I was quite a young child.
There was an old letter in one of the drawers. I
remember this, for I wondered at the time why a
sheet of paper, yellow with age, should be kept in
such a beauty of a box, instead of being used to light
the fire. It did not help me then to be told that it
was a bit of the handwriting of a good tinker who
had lived two hundred years ago. You would not
be much the wiser, my little Ned, if we talked to
you about the writings of Bunyan.”

“But no doubt there are other things in that
fine cabinet besides scraps of old letters,” observed
Nancy, who was not disposed to value autographs
much more than the child would do.

“Oh! yes, there are other things,” replied Persis;
“there are curious pieces of money, very old and so
much worn that you could scarcely make out what
had been stamped upon them; but I have a less
clear remembrance of these coins than I have of the
little bunch of silver keys on a silver ring which
10 THE SILVER KEYS.

opened the five drawers. The coins were old and
dull, the keys looked bright and new; little folk like
what is bright and pretty, don’t they, my Ned?”

“What! was there a bunch of keys to open one
cabinet?” inquired Nancy Sands.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Franks; “each one of those
five little drawers has a separate key; what opens
one will not open another.”

“ And all the keys are hung on one ring,” laughed
Nancy. “The man who made that cabinet must
have had a fancy for cutting out work for himself;
perhaps he sharpened a fresh knife for every slice
that he cut off the loaf of a morning. He madea
pretty job of the cabinet, however. The Queen her-
self might lock up her diamonds in it. How care-
fully it has been kept! There’s not an edge of the
carving broken, not a bit of the mother-o’-pearl
started from its place, and yet the cabinet, you tell
me, is more than a hundred years old.”

“It has always been preserved as a family trea-
sure,” said Persis, “My great-aunt used to dust it
with a silk handkerchief, and the only time in my
life when I received a slap from her hand, was when
I knocked the ebony cabinet with a ninepin. You
see there a little dint that marks the place which I
hit. Ah! Ned, my boy, we must keep a sharp look
after you, or those mischievous little fingers of yours
THE TWO FRIENDS. 11.

may leave, some of these days, deeper marks than
did your mother’s.”

“ He'd not get the slap, though, if he smashed the
whole cabinet to shivers, sent the silver keys through
the window, and the precious scrap of paper into the
fire,” laughed Nancy.

“His father would not lift a finger on baby for all
the cabinets that ever were made!” exclaimed Persis,
fondly stroking back from her boy’s fair forehead the
little cork-screw curls that clustered upon it.

“Ned Franks is not likely to hit his own child
when he never hits one of his schoolboys,” observed
the clerk’s wife; ‘‘and I am sure that to be drum-
ming learning into dunces from morning till night,
and managing a pack of frolicsome young cubs lke
our Colme children, must need the patience of a
saint. Iam often glad that my goodman was not
chosen schoolmaster instead of your husband,” con-
tinued Nancy; “you know that there was some
talk about it at the time, and I was as mad as a
March hare at Ned Franks being preferred to John
Sands.”

“T have often heard my Ned say that your hus-
band would have made a much more learned school-
master than himself,” observed Persis, “seeing that
Ned was but a sailor who had been brought up at a
village school.”
12 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Oh! as for learning, my John is full of it down
to his finger nails!” cried Nancy. “ He has learning
enough for a schoolmaster, and he has patience
enough besides, for if you stirred John with a hot
poker you couldn’t make him boil over.”

Persis could not help laughing a little at the wife’s
description of her staid, solemn husband, the clerk
of Colme; but she buried her face in baby’s soft
neck, and with kisses provoked his mirth in order
to hide her own.

“But you need something else besides learning
and patience if you're to teach village cubs, or keep
them in anything like order,” resumed Nancy Sands.
“Ned Franks has the knack of taming the wildest,
and make them go on what scent he will, just as a
huntsman trains his hounds; and that, too, without
a smack of the lash to make them quicken their
pace, or still their yelping.”

Persis raised her head with a smile; praise of the
husband was always sweet to the wife. “I believe
that one thing which makes Ned such a favourite
with children is his lively temper,” she observed
“my husband is always so cheerful.”

“Your husband always: is cheerful,” repeated
Nancy, rather gloomily, with an emphasis on the
word your; and she added with a sigh, “my poor
husband never had a chance of it,”
THE TWO FRIENDS, 13

“Oh! Mrs. Sands,” cried Persis quickly, “TI never
thought—I never meant to say ”



“No, no, child, you would not say it, even if you
thought it,” interrupted Nancy, with mingled kind-
liness and bitterness in her manner; “but I know
what the world thinks—and what it says too. You
always gave your husband a happy home; he had
always a smiling wife to welcome him when he came
from his teaching, and a room decked out as neat as
a noble’s, flowers in the window, and a nicely-cooked
dinner on a tablecloth white as snow; whilst I—I,”
—Nancy dropped her head on her chest, and the sigh
which finished off her sentence sounded almost like
a groan. .

“ But all is well in your home now, dear Nancy,”
said Persis. ‘J am sure that you have acted nobly,
for you must have had difficulties, great difficulties.”
She paused, for it is a delicate matter even to praise
a reformed drunkard, and such was the woman who
now sat beside the schoolmaster’s wife in her bright
little room.

“ Difficulties—ay, none but the like of me know
what difficulties,” muttered Mrs. Sands. ‘I’ve been
a brand, indeed, plucked from the burning; you and
your husband helped to pull me out. But though
the log may be saved, there will always be a mark
left on it where the fire has scorched. Say what
14 THE SILVER KEYS.

you will, Persis Franks, there will—there must be a
mighty difference to the end of our days between
you and me.” |

Certainly, as regarded outward appearance, there
could scarcely have been found in the village of
Colme greater contrasts than Persis Franks and
poor Nancy Sands. The schoolmaster’s wife was
always the picture of neatness, her dress might be of
the commonest print, but it was sure to look well,
for it fitted her well, and never showed a rent or a
stain. Her light brown hair, neatly braided, lay
smooth as satin over a brow that looked as if it
knew not how to frown. The tones of her voice
were sweet; and if Persis had ever need to speak a
reproof, they had more power in their softness than
the loudest chiding of a scold.

“Persis always reminds me of a pink-tipped daisy,
fresh and bright, with the sunshine upon it,’ had
been the description of her given by a boy to whom
she had shown motherly kindness, Ned Franks,
who from having passed his early years as a sailor,
was apt to employ sea terms, once said of his wife,
“She’s like the little missionary-ship that’s bound,
year after year, for Labrador; ‘Harmony’ is her
name, and she has the figure-head of an angel!”
What wonder was it that the husband of Persis
had a lighter heart, a more cheerful face, and a
THE TWO FRIENDS. 15

merrier laugh than any other man in the village of
Colme!

Nancy Sands, the clerk's wife, had a very different
appearance indeed from her friend. It was not
merely that Nancy's figure was rather low and thick-
set, or that her dress, though not dirty, was never tidy.
An accident which had maimed the right arm of the
poor woman gave a great excuse for the untidiness,
and her shape was no fault of her own. But there
was an expression of hardness, which might easily
be mistaken for ill-temper, upon Nancy’s face, which
made every one on first seeing her think, “I should
not care to have much to do with that woman.” There
were deep furrows over Nancy’s black, beetling brows,
that told how often those brows had been knitted into
a frown, Her nose was long, her chin projected,
and Nancy had a trick of clenching her teeth and
pressing her lips tightly together, which gave a dis-
acreeable look of dogged determination to her fea-
tures. When we add to this that Nancy had no taste
whatever_in dress, but would wear a pink or yellow
rose in her small bonnet over her thick black ill-
combed hair, and would put over an ill-made gown a
shawl half worn to rags, though she had a nice one,
her husband’s last wedding-day present, in her drawer
at home, I think that all must agree that the clerk’s
wife, Nancy Sands, looked a contrast indeed to Persis.
16 THE SILVER KEYS.

It may seem strange that two women who differed
so much from each other, should yet often be found
together. The village gossips did not care to hide
their wonder at the intimacy between the two.

“How Ned Franks lets that woman Nancy be so
much with his wife is what I can’t make out,” Bell
Stone, the carpenter’s widow, would mutter to
herself, if ever she saw the stout figure of Mrs. Sands
going up to the flower-covered porch of the village
schoolhouse.

“The Franks are such decent folk themselves that
I wonder how they can take up with a woman that
was a drunkard,” observed Mullins, the butcher, one
day to his wife, as they sat at their noonday meal.

“ Nancy was a drunkard once, but she’s reformed ;
at least so folk say,’ was the reply. _

“ Fiddle-stick and nonsense!” cried the butcher,
who had himself no objection to a glass or two of
gin, especially upon club-nights. “I’ve no faith in
taking the pledge, and all that there humbug. No
one, no woman at least, ever gets rid of the habit
of drinking ; once a drunkard, always a drunkard !”
and the oracular butcher having thus pronounced a
decided opinion, buried his unshaven lip in a pot of
foaming porter with great satisfaction.

Mullins was by no means the only person in
Colme who had comfortably settled that there was
THE TWO FRIENDS. 17

no use in Nancy’s trying to break loose from the
bonds of her besetting sin. Mrs, Fuddles, the land-
lady of the “Chequers,” unwilling to lose one of
her most frequent customers, had often declared her
conviction that Nancy Sands’ reformation would and
could last but for a very short time.

“Tl have her back as the days shorten and the
weather gets cold,” said the landlady of the public-
house down near the mill. “Nancy will never stand
biding at home with her old raven of a husband,
when we've the fiddle and the dance and the gay
lights here. She’ll like the sound of singing and
popping of corks better a deal than his croaking !”

The days grew short, the evenings grew dark, but
Nancy Sands did not appear at the “ Chequers.”

“Shell be seen here at Christmas-time, or my
name is not Judy Fuddles,” said the landlady.

Nancy was seen at Christmas-time in the church,
kneeling by the side of Persis; she was seen at the
vicars clothing-club meeting; she was seen with
her husband, the clerk, at the feast which Sir
Claudius Leyton gave at the Hall; but she disap-
pointed the expectations of Mrs, Fuddles, she was
not seen at the “ Chequers.”

“John Sands seems at last to have found out the
way to manage his wife,” observed one of her cus-
tomers to the mortified Mrs. Fuddles,

B
18 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Manage his wife!” echoed the landlady in shrill
tones of scorn; “Sands can no more manage her
than I could stop the miller’s wheel yonder with a
cracked wine-glass! He’s a poor raven, she’s a
kite or a hawk; if he so much as ruffled a feather
she'd peck out his eyes! No, it’s those canting
Franks as have got hold of the woman, just to
curry favour with Sir Claudius and the old vicar.”

And if the Franks did hold out a helping hand to
a poor tempted neighbour, struggling to get out of
the mire of a hateful vice, did it make them less
worthy of the respect of those who knew how
blameless their own walk through life had been ?
Were their honesty and sobriety less pleasing to
their Maker because they obeyed His command to
despise no man, and did not forget the apostle’s
exhortation, “ Brethren, of a man be overtaken in a
fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in
the spirit of meekness ; considering thyself lest thou
also be tempted.”* Ned was well pleased that his
Persis should, as he said, “ take poor Nancy in tow 3”
he was well pleased that the clerk’s wife, when her
husband was busy, should “drop in for a cup of tea.”
Persis had a delicate way of making Nancy always
feel herself to be welcome. Mrs. Franks did not
mind accepting from her poor maimed neighbour

* Gal. vi. 1.
THE TWO FRIENDS. 19

such little kindnesses as Nancy was able to offer,
nor did she refrain from stooping to ask for them.
Would Nancy kindly watch little Ned while his
parents went together to church? Would Nancy, who
knew so well all about washing, give Persis a hint
how to “get up” the pretty frilled dress which
Mrs. Curtis had brought? Could Nancy oblige her
neighbour with her nice recipe for making strong
soup? Such little requests as these made the clerk’s
wife feel herself at home in the schoolmaster’s
dwelling ; it gratified her to make some return for.
the constant kindness which she met there. Nancy’s
happiest hours were spent in the schoolhouse; she
was proud to call Persis and Ned her friends, and
she loved their boy with a love only less than that of
his parents. Without these peaceful hours which
brought her within the influence of a Christian
woman’s example, it may be feared that Nancy
would have fallen back into the slough from which
she had so painfully struggled. She required no
help in money, for her husband’s salary maintained
them both; what Nancy needed was the encourag-
ing word, the kindly welcome, the feeling that there
were some besides her long-suffering husband who
hoped for her, and cared for her; and this Nancy
found in the home of the Franks.

And were not her friends in thus being pitiful
20 THE SILVER KEYS.

and courteous towards a once greatly erring woman,
doing God’s work as truly as when Persis nursed a
sick neighbour, or Franks laboured hard at repairing
an almshouse? Yes, this was real work, though it
made no show; it was good work, though it-earned
no praise. It would have been well if Bell Stone,
Tom Mullins and the rest, who were ever raking up
the memory of sins repented of, forsaken, and for-
given, had remembered instead that charity “hopeth
all things.” The Pharisee in the parable had been
far more blessed if, instead of thanking God that he
was not as the publican, he had turned to the poor
‘sinner who stood smiting himself on the breast, and
had whispered, “ Hope in the Lord, for with the
Lord there 1s mercy and with him is plenteous
redemption,”


SUNSHINE, 21

CHAPTER IT.

Sunshine,

THE conversation which had taken such a painful
turn was happily interrupted by baby Ned, who,
leaning over his mother’s shoulder, had been flatten-
ing his chubby face against the window-pane on the
look-out for his father’s return. Suddenly, a current
of quicksilver seemed to run through the frame of
the child, little feet, hands, head, were in a dance of
joyous excitement, and the inarticulate cry of delight
told as plainly as words could have done that his
father was in sight. ‘The babe, in his eagerness to
meet him, was ready to spring through the window,
so that his mother could scarcely hold him. In two
minutes more the firm elastic step of Ned Franks
was heard on the staircase, and his wife, as she rose to
meet him, thought of the lines in the good old song,
‘* His very foot has music in’t,
As he comes up the stair.”’

It was a pleasant sight to see that meeting between
the father and his first-born, as little Ned, with out-
stretched arms, sprang into the embrace of his
parent. The sailor-schoolmaster had, some years
a2 THE SILVER KEYS.

previously, lost his left arm by an accident, and it
had been replaced by a hook below the joint. of the
elbow. Many men thus maimed would have found
dandling a child to be a difficult, perhaps a danger-
ous task ; but Franks was so clever in the manage-
ment of his hook, that both he and every one else
had almost forgotten that 1t was not a hand. Persis
had long ago lost the fear which she had at first felt
when she saw the maimed father dancing aloft his
tiny babe. She was rather proud of Ned’s skill in
handling their child, and so, sooth to say, was Ned
himself. He had not the least difficulty now in
raising the boy on high to the full length of his own
arm and hook, the little fellow kicking and crowing
with delight, with his curly pate almost touching
the ceiling.

“Well now, Mr. Franks, where are the silver
keys?” inquired Nancy Sands, whose hard features
had softened while she watched the baby’s glee, but
whose curiosity made her a little impatient to see
the contents of the ebony cabinet.

“Ah! to be sure—this boy is putting everything
else out of my head,” cried Franks, shifting little Ned
to his shoulder, where the child amused himself by
pulling his father’s locks, which were as curly and a
good deal thicker than his own. “ Why, Persis, that
is a cabinet fit for Windsor Castle!’ Franks exclaimed, :
SUNSHINE, 23

as, holding the boy firmly by his hook, he plunged
his right hand into his pocket to draw out the keys.
“ But how’s this; I can’t find them,” added the
schoolmaster of Colme, after a search, thorough, but
vain; “J am certain that I put the bunch here,
but it is as certain that it is not here now. Take
the child, Persis, my dear, I must have a ee in the
other pocket.”

But no hunting could bring out the keys.. Persis
took the little delay occasioned by their loss with
much more patience than did her husband, who had
come home heated from a rapid walk on a summer
afternoon, and who was not a little provoked with
himself for losing his wife’s silver keys.

“T daresay that you’ve dropt them when pull-
ing something else out of your DOREY, ” suggested
Nancy.

“T’ve not pulled anythine—but yes, yes,” con-
tinued Franks, correcting himself, “I did pull out
my purse to give a sixpenny bit to a little girl whom
I met on the bridge.”

“TI thought that it was a rule not to give to
beggars,” said Nancy.

“Oh! but all rules have exceptions you know,”
answered Franks, “This beggar was a woe-begone
little creature, with one of her feet looking through
the end of her shoe ; and she told me such a pitiful
24 THE SILVER KEYS.

tale of her mother being dead, and her father out of
work, and her granddad sick and like to die, that I
really could not help giving.”

“ Had the girl a squint?” asked Nancy quickly.

“Not exactly a squint,” replied Ned, “but her
right eye goes a little too far on the right tack, and
the other on the left, so that one does not exactly
make out which eye looks at one, if either, or neither,
or both. The girl is otherwise rather pretty, and in
spite of the hole in her shoes does not look just like

a common beggar.”
“T know her, I know her,” said Nancy Sands in

her dogged, determined manner, “you had _ better
have tossed your sixpence into the sea, than have
given it to little Dell Thoms. If her father be out
of work—which I doubt—it’s because Hugh likes
to get money in any way rather than by honest
labour. Hugh Thoms is the greatest ruffian unhung.
He has been at least twice in prison; once for
poaching, once for nigh killing a man in a prize-
fight, for he is as strong and as fierce as a bear,
He was once tried for a burglary too, but got off
scot-free—more’s the pity; the lawyers got him off
somehow, but every one thought that the man was
guilty of the housebreaking, and a great deal more
besides.”
“T pity the child of such a father,” said Franks,
SUNSHINE, 25

“Is it true that she has no mother?” asked
Persis.

“Poor Delilah died some years ago,” answered
Nancy; “folk say that Hugh shortened her life by
a kick which he gave her. Then he handed over
his wretched little child to some showman going
about the country, who was to make a dancing-girl
of her, trick her out in gauze and tinsel, teach her
to jump through hoops, run along ropes, and twirl
round and round like a tee-totum.”

“ Poor little thing!” murmured Persis.

“The old man, her grandfather, did all that he
could to prevent her going, I’ve heard,” continued
Nancy, “but he wasted his breath, for Hugh never
cared a straw for the wishes of his father. But the
old man had his will after all, though not in the
way he'd have chosen, for Dell sprained herself in
some difficult jump, and so the playman could make
no more gain by her, and returned her upon her
father’s hands like a spoilt bit of goods.”

“Perhaps that was well for the poor little girl,”
observed Persis.

‘May be, if she had had anything like a decent
home to go back to,’ said Nancy. “I fancy that
Dell lives with her grandfather, at least he had a
cottage somewhere by the quarry, scarce half-a-mile
from the bridge.”
26 THE SILVER KEYS.

“ What sort of man is the elder Thoms 2?” inquired
Franks, |

“T never heard any harm of him, nor any good
neither,” answered Nancy. “I’ve a notion that he’s
paralysed, or bedridden, or something of the sort.
He never could take care of the child; no doubt she
grows up like a weed.”

“TY think that I can tell now why I lost the keys,”
said Franks, wiping his heated brow. “My con-
science told me to go with that child to her home,
and see if what she said about her granddad were
true, and may be speak a few words of comfort to
the poor old man if it were so. But I was in such
a precious hurry to get home with the keys, that I
pulled out my sixpenny piece as a sop to my con-
science. I have no doubt that I pulled out the keys
with it, and as little doubt that Dell picked them
up, for I chanced to look round as I crossed the
bridge, to have another look at the girl, and I
saw her stooping to pick up something from the
road.”

“She was an ungrateful monkey not to run after
you with your keys,” remarked Nancy.

“What can one expect from a child brought up
as she has been,” observed Persis, pressing her boy
closer to her heart, and thinking what a different
father his was from poor little Dell’s, “But, Ned,
SUNSHINE. 27

where are you going?” she added abruptly, as her
husband took up the cap which he had laid down
on the table, and putting it over his curly head,
seemed about to quit the room. .

“Tam going to get back what I have lost in such a
lubberly way,” said the sailor-schoolmaster, opening
the door.

“Oh! stop, do stop, you are heated and tired,”
cried his wife. “The bridge must be nearly two
miles off, the cabinet will wait quietly enough.”

“Ay, and if I were made of wood like the
cabinet, so would IJ,” interrupted Franks playfully ;
“but as you see, [am not. I and my scholars will
not have another half-holiday till Saturday comes
round again, and as for keeping wifie waiting a
whole week for her keys, ’d not do it if the old
bridge were ten miles off instead of two.” And
nodding a goodbye to the baby, who, with out-
stretched arms and inarticulate sounds, seemed to
entreat him to stay, Ned Franks quitted the room.

Lightly the sailor-schoolmaster retraced his steps
along the road, he was not the kind of man to be
put out by a trifle. Persis might well say that her
husband was always cheerful. There are some
persons, who, however they may be loaded with
blessings, never seem to know that they are so.
They are always on the look-out for the smallest
28 THE SILVER KEYS.

cloud in the sky; and if they cannot find troubles,
they make them. There is a wide difference, though
one often overlooked, between having blessings and
being blessed; much resembling that between having
food, without or with an appetite to enjoy it. Ned
Franks was not a thankless receiver of the bounties
of Providence. He was not only rich in home joys,
but was thoroughly conscious of being so. Franks
thought himself ten times happier than he had
expected to be, and a hundred times happier than he
had ever deserved to be, and he enjoyed his blessings
with a heart that overflowed with thankfulness to-
wards the Great Giver of all.

There are other persons, often very well-meaning
Christians, who appear afraid to be happy; who
deem it to be scarcely consistent with piety to look
upon earth as anything better than a valley of tears,
and who fear to offend a jealous God by enjoying
what He bestows. Such was not Franks’ view of
religion. With him it was as naturally connected
with joy, as is sunshine with light. He regarded
his Creator as a merciful, reconciled Father, and felt
much the same simple, trustful, joyous delight in a
sense of His presence as Ned’s little child might feel
in his own. Franks realised that he had been brought
nigh, very nigh, to God by the Saviour’s death on
the cross, therefore there was no fear in his love,
SUNSHINE. 29

The schoolmaster might have taken for his motto
through life, “I will run in the way of Thy com-
mandments when Thou hast enlarged my heart.” *
Ned was by nature ardent and impetuous, and must
have been “a running Christian,” if a Christian at
all. He could not serve, love, or rejoice in a languid
half-hearted way. And so the light of the humble
schoolmaster of Colme shone very brightly indeed,
and served not only to guide but to attract those
who beheld it. The children whom he taught, the
neighbours whom he conversed with, were drawn
towards the religion of a man whose religion
evidently helped to make him so happy.

“Does it not just cheer one up to hear Ned
Franks leading the children in his favourite hymn,”
observed Nancy Sands one day to her husband, the
clerk—

‘* Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say,— rejoice !”
“T shall never hear those lines or that tune with-
out thinking of Him; [ve a notion that when he is
not singing it aloud, he’s singing it still in his
heart.”

* See the exquisite chapter on this verse in the Rev. P. B.
Powers’ *‘ I witus ” of the Psalms.
30 THE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER III.

Home in the Quarry,

WITHIN half-an-hour Ned Franks had reached the
grey one-arched stone bridge on which he had met
little Dell.

“Which way shall I steer now?” thought the
sailor; “yonder lies the town of B , straight
ahead, but Nancy said something about a quarry,
and I’m not likely to find one in the midst of the
houses, though some of the houses, no doubt, were
built of stones found in the quarry. The sun, hot
as it is, has not dried up all the rain that fell in the
forenoon, may be [ll find some trace of footsteps to
guide me,”

As Franks said this to himself, he looked over
the low parapet of the bridge, towards a rough path,
so little marked that it was apparently not much
used. This path led first downwards, towards the
stream which flowed under the bridge, and then to
the left, through low-lying fields, in a direction
opposite to that in which lay the town at the dis-
tance of about half-a-mile. There was much clay in
the soil in these parts, so that the rough pathway


HOME IN THE QUARRY. ol

would retain prints of footsteps, at any rate after
being moistened by rain. Franks turned down from
the bridge, and descended towards a row of pollard
willows which at this place bordered the stream.

“Here are footprints in the clay, sure enouch,”
remarked Franks, “and they must be Dell’s, for I
can see traces where the little foot came through
the old shoe. What a slim little foot itis! Im on
the right tack now; I’ve but to follow this path, and
lll soon find the cottage I’m bound for.”

It was not quite so easy to do so as Franks had
expected. The path did not run by the stream, nor
continue long to lead through the fields; it struck
away into a very wild stony district of land, too
barren for cultivation, and in which not a dwelling
was to be seen. The ground was quite new to
Franks, for though he had often walked from Colme
to the town, he had never before had any cause to
turn aside from the straight highroad which con-
nected the places. The path which he now followed
could soon scarcely be traced, for the quarry to
which it led had long ago been almost exhausted,
and there being a brick-field nearer to B—— no
stone had been carried away for building purposes
for many a year.

“I can’t have steered right after all,” thought
Franks, pausing to look around him; “this path


32 THE SILVER KEYS.

seems to lead to nothing, and if any folk live in this
wild barren place it must be under ground, for I
cant see before me the sign of a cottage. Ah!
there yonder, just over that clump of furze, there’s
something that looks like smoke from a chimney,
though the chimney itself is not to be seen. Tl
bear down in that direction.”

Ned had not gone far over the rough broken
ground, when he came rather suddenly on the edge
of an old quarry, from which had been taken all the
stone which had been used in building the church
of B But it must have been fifty years at
least since blocks had been quarried, or the noise of
blasting been heard in that place. Stonecrop and
other plants of the kind that love a rocky home, had
nestled undisturbed in many a corner and cleft
where once the pickaxe had struck. Rough masses
of stone lay here and there, half-covered with moss
and lichen. Franks looked down on the dwelling
from which rose the smoke which had euided him
to the place. The cottage, or rather hut, had been
formed of rough-hewn stones and rubbish, rudely
built up against the side of the pit. The dwelling
had probably been used to shelter the quarrymen
when at work down in the pit; and a well, which
was but afew yards from the building, iad doubt-
less been made for their convenience, The hut had


HOME IN THE QUARRY. 30

been so rudely constructed of the material close at
hand,and was now so weather-stained and discoloured
with lichen, that it looked rather like a part of the
quarry itself, than a habitation of men.

“There can be no doubt that I have found the
right spot, for yonder is the child herself, carrying
in a jug of water from the well,” said Franks to
himself; “and glad Pll be to have a draught of it
after my cruise in the heat of the sun. Here, my
little lass!” he called out to the child, who, startled
by his voice, looked up, and then, instead of obeying
his call, darted into the stone-built building.

“She has gone like one of the wild conies into its
rocky hole,” observed Franks ; “butit’s easy enough
to catch her there, as there can be no back outlet
from that burrow.”

Springing down what could scarcely be called a
path, zig-zagging down the steep side of the quarry,
the former sailor soon found himself at the open
door of what looked as much like a cave as a
cottage. - The door itself was of oak, and as Franks
observed, had not only a latch, but a strong iron
bolt.

Ned tapped at the door, and a feeble voice from
within bade him enter. He had to bend his tall
form as he did so, for the doorway was low. The
first impression given by the appearance of the

C
34 THE SILVER KEYS.

inside of the dwelling was that of poverty and dis-
comfort. Being built down in a pit, and against its
side, there could, of course, be no free circulation of
air in the hut, and on that hot day the place felt
stifling, so that Franks, heated with his quick walk,
thought that he could hardly bear to remain within
for ten minutes. ‘The cottage was untidy and dirty,
and this was enough to make it seem a wretched
place to Franks, who, on board a man-of-war, and
afterwards in his own home, had been accustomed
to have everything around him perfectly neat and
spotlessly clean. The bed, in which lay an old man
with long grey hair and beard, looked as if it had
not been made for weeks, and all sorts of scraps and
rubbish littered the stony floor.

But the quick glance of Franks soon showed him
that though there might be dirt and discomfort
in the hut of old Thoms, there was certainly no
pressing want of the necessaries of life. Half a side
of bacon was suspended from a hook in the ceiling,
and from the iron pot on the fire came a savoury
scent which mixed with, though it could not over-
power, other less pleasant odours. Over the fire-
place appeared a gun and a bludgeon, a powder-flask,
and some pipes with smoke-blackened bowls. There
had been no attempt to ornament any part of the
cottage, except on one side, which was partly papered
HOME IN THE QUARRY. oO

with what seemed to be coarse prints of prize-
fighters, and pictures of scenes of murder. Franks
could, however, scarcely make out their subjects,
through the smoke and dust which had gathered
upon them.

“This is a miserable place,” had been Franks’
first thought when he entered the hut; “this is a
disreputable place,” was his second reflection.

“I hope that you won’t mind a stranger’s coming,”
said the sailor-schoolmaster, courteously raising his
cap, and addressing the old man, who looked some-
what surprised to see him. “I think that your
little lass here may have picked up a bunch of keys
that Pve lost;” Ned turned as he spoke towards
Dell, who looked frightened, and seemed inclined to
shrink behind the door. “Have you found the
keys?” he inquired of the child.

“No, [ve not,” replied Dell, shrinking back a
step, her peculiar eyes appearing to look for a place
of escape, at once to*the right hand and the left.

“Don’t you be a-telling lies,” said the bearded old
man from the bed; “you knows as well as I does
that the keys be ahind yon pewter pot on the table,”

Dell showed no sign of shame at being detected
in falsehood, but watched the stranger as he stepped
forward and possessed himself of the bright silver
keys.
36 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Tam sorry, my child, that you should have said
what was untrue,” said Franks, gravely but kindly.

“She knows no better, sir; how should she when
there’s no one to larn her,” said the old bed-ridden
man. “You be the first un as has come in through
that door since her mother was carried out to be
buried,—save Hugh and his pals, on course,” he
added.

“You seem to be ill, my friend,” said Franks,
going up to the bedside.

“T be paralysed, sir,’ was the reply; “I han't
been off this here bed for many a year, and I can’t
so much as turn on it without help.” ‘The poor old
man ended with a groan.

“And does no one ever come to see and cheer
you?” asked Ned.

“Never a one,” answered Thoms. “I’m mighty
glad to see you; for it’s weary work lying in this
here dark hole year after year, and never hearing
so much as a ‘bless you.’”

Franks thought that it must be wearisome indeed
to lie buried alive in that stifling den, with no
society but that of Dell and her worthless father.
The place was so solitary and so unattractive that
it was little matter for surprise that no respectable
person should visit the hut in the quarry.
GOOD NEWS. 37

CHAPTER IV.

Good flows,

Nep FRANKS was one soon to make friends, espe-
cially with the young; no child could be for many
minutes under the influence of his cheery voice and
pleasant smile without feeling attracted towards
him. Little Dell soon, at Ned’s request, brought
him water to drink; and while the visitor, seated
on a three-legged stool near the bed, talked with
her grandtather, Dell stood leaning against the
rough wall, watching him with curious attention, as
if he were a strange creature of a different species
from any that she had yet met with in her short
sad life. Ned found the mind of old Thoms per-
fectly clear as far as his knowledge went, but he
Was a very ignorant man. The poor paralytic was
evidently so glad to have any visitor to talk to, that
Ned had not the heart to leave him to his lonely
misery without speaking to him a few words of
kindness and comfort that might rest with cheering
effect on the memory of the much afflicted old man.
Intent on his errand of kindness, Ned soon half
forgot the closeness and heat of the hut.
38 | THE SILVER KEYS.

“You never see a clergyman here, I suppose?”
inquired Franks, after listening for a while to old
Thoms’ description of his illness, the deadness of
his lower limbs, the length of time that had passed
since he had been able so much as to put a foot to
the ground.

~“Tt’s not like as a parson would ever come here,
I take it,” replied the paralytic, with a glance at the
gun and the bludgeon over the fireplace. Franks
noticed that Dell looked inclined to titter, as if the
visitor had asked the oddest of questions.

“Used you to go to church when you were
strong and hearty?” inquired the sailor, desirous to
find out whether there were any previous knowledge
of religion on which he could work.

“Go to church,’ repeated old Thoms, with a
dreamy look in his dim eyes, as if he were recalling
a time so long past as to be almost beyond the
reach of memory; “oh! ay, sir, many and many a
year ago, afore I’d a erey hair in my head, I'd a
master who made all his men go to church, and
then I went reg’lar. I never missed a Sunday, that
I knows of, without being at church.”

“And do you remember anything of what you
heard there?” said Franks in a kindly tone, that
made it impossible to take offence at the question.

“How could I; it’s not like I should after all
GOOD NEWS. 39

these long years. I mind me that the parson spoke
fine, but T’se never was larned; I didn’t make out
his meaning then, and all he said went out of my
head long long ago,” replied Thoms. “But I do
believe there be a great God above, though Hugh
don't,” continued the old man, speaking slowly, and
looking earnestly at his visitor; “and while I lies
here I often tries to say to myself, ‘Our Father,
only I can never get further than, ‘which art in
Heaven.’ May be, sir, you knows it all from
beginning to end.”

“Then,” thought Franks, “Satan has not carried
off all the good seed which fell on the ignorant
mind of this poor fellow, there were one or two
grains left to spring up. My friend,” said Ned
aloud, “do you believe also that there is a heaven
for souls after death 2”

“Yes, sure, there be that place for the good, and
other place for the bad,” replied Thoms.

“And may I ask how you hope to get to heaven?”
said Franks, anxious to find out whether the sick
man had any clear idea of the only means of salva-
tion.

A puzzled uneasy expression came over the
wrinkled face. ‘Thoms did not at once reply to the
question. Dell, who had been listening wonderingly
to a conversation so unlike any which she ever
40 THE SILVER KEYS.

before had heard, seated herself on the floor opposite
Franks, clasping her knees with her hands, and
silently watching his countenance.

At last the old man’s answer came slowly forth—
“T be not good enough for the one place, sir, and
not bad enough for t’other. Ain’t there some
middle place for poor unlarned folk like me?”

The question was earnestly, anxiously put, and
Franks felt how solemn a thing it is to deal with
an immortal soul, especially a soul that was
evidently drawing near to eternity, with scarcely
the faintest gleam of spiritual light. “Such ques-
tions as these, my friend,” said Franks, “are best
answered out of God’s own Word. Would you like
me to read a little to you now?”

“Sure, sir, ’d be glad to hear ye read,” was the
answer.

“Have you a Bible here?” inquired Franks,
glancing around the dirty untidy hut, with but slight
hope of finding a copy of the Scriptures within it.

“Yes, there be one somewhere about. Dell, get
the Bible,” said the old man, glancing up at a shelf
as he spoke. But on that shelf, amidst dusty old
crockery, bottles, and rags, nothing like a book was
to be seen.

Dell pointed downwards. “There be an old book
under the leg of the bed,” said the child,
GOOD NEWS. Al

“Who put it there?” asked the old man angrily,

“TI put it there, cause the lez was broken. The
book warn’t of use to nobody,” was the careless
reply.

Franks went down on his knees, and with some
difficulty drew out the Bible, replacing it by a piece
of firewood which he found lying near. The holy
volume was covered with dust, had lost one of its
side-boards and many of its leaves. After removing,
as best he could, the dust from the book, Franks
resumed his seat with the observation, “If you
knew what a treasure this Bible holds, you would
not leave it so long neglected.”

“T be but an unlarned man, I never could read
but a little,” said Thoms; “I'd just spell out a word
here and there, and there was never no one to ex-
plain what it meant to a poor fellow like me.”

“To the poor the Gospel has been preached from
the first,” observed Franks; “it seems as if to them
it should be specially dear. Do you know, my
friend, what the word GosPeL means?”

“JT can't say as I does,” replied Thoms, :

“Gospel means good tidings—good news.’ The
Gospel is a message from God to make glad the
hearts of us poor sinners. If you were to receive a
letter from the Queen, telling you that she was
coming herself some day to take you from this dark
42 THE SILVER KEYS.

cottage to live with her in her royal palace, with
every comfort and pleasure that heart could wish,
would you not care so much as to read her letter,
would you throw it aside into any corner, and Ict
it be covered with dust?”—Franks glanced as he
spoke at the torn soiled Bible which he held in his

hand.
Dell opened her eyes wide at the new and strange

question ; and Thoms replied, “Sure, sir, even Hugh
would set great store by a letter from the Queen;
he’d maybe have it framed and hung on the wall;
and [ll be bound ’twould be read till all of us
knew it by heart.”

“But the Queen wouldn't be sending a letter to
folk like we,’ muttered Dell, “or want to have us
anywhere near her.”

“The King of kings has sent such a letter, to
invite to His home the poorest of us all,” said
Franks; and reverentially opening the holy volume,
he read aloud the single verse, God so loved the
world that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but
have everlasting life. “This is the Gospel message,”
said Franks, looking up from the page, “these are
the glad tidings which made angels sing Glory to
God in the highest,-and on earth peace, goodwill
towards men. Is it not strange that we, to whom
GOOD NEWS. | 48

the message is sent, should often not care even to
hear it?”

“T don’t make out what message there be for me,”
said the poor man sadly. “I might have larned
about these things when I was young, but now I’m
— old—my life’s nigh over. I'll soon die, and be put

underground.” / | |

“Your soul will not die!” cried Franks; “the
body must sleep awhile in the dust; but the soul
—the immortal soul, the part which hopes, believes,
and loves—death has no power over that. The
Gospel tells us the way by which our souls may live
in peace and joy and glory for millions and millions
of years, more years than there are blades of grass
on the earth, or water-drops in the sea! Surely the
Gospel which shows this way to us sinners is good
news indeed !” .

“ And what is this way?” asked Thoms, with the
simple earnestness of a child.

Franks, in such plain language as he would have
used in speaking to a child, then told of Him who
is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He told
the desolate old man of a Friend who cared for
him, loved him, and was able and willing to
wash away all his sins, and to take him to joy
never-ending, The visitor then read from the Bible
a few more verses, very few, for the mind of old
AA THE SILVER KEYS.

Thoms could scarcely receive more than one idea at
a time. |

“Gospel—good news—good news!” murmured
the old man in a low tone to himself, as Franks
closed the Bible and rose to depart. The paralytic
seemed seeking to press down the words into his
own memory, that memory which could with
difficulty retain any new impression. Then, looking
up again with an anxious wistful gaze into the
kindly face of Ned Franks, he said, “Oh! sir, come
again, and come soon; my time is short, and P’ve no
one to tell me of these things but you!”

“Tam afraid that I cannot promise to come very
soon, replied Franks; “I am schoolmaster at
Colme, and it is not on every day in the week that I
have time to come so far for a visit.”

“But you will come again—you will come again,”
repeated the paralytic in a feeble pleading voice;
“T won't trouble any one long. It’s a blessed word
that as you spoke, Gospel—good news—good news.
Dell, you mind me of it if I forget it.”

Franks bent down, pressed the withered trem-
bling hand which lay on the ragged quilt of the
bed, and promised not to be long of returning. He
then patted Dell kindly on the shoulder, bade her
take good care of her grandfather, and told her that
he would bring her, when he came, a nice piece of
REFLECTIONS. 45

his wife's home-made cake. The child’s pinched
features lighted up with an expression of pleasure
which was strange to them; it was not so much
that the visitor's promise pleased her, as that his
gentle tone and kindly manner were opening to a
new sensation of joy a heart which was withering
for lack of those human affections which are to the
young as dew to the tender herb.

Franks drew a long gasping breath as he passed
through the low doorway into the open air, from
the hot close atmosphere of the cottage, heavy with
the scent of stale tobacco and gin, an atmosphere
which no pure breeze of heaven ever freshened.
He could scarcely breathe freely till he had ascended
the steep side of the quarry and regained the
upper ground.

CHAPTER V.

Reflections,

“ YES, it is clear enough to me why I dropped these
keys,” thought Franks, as he rapidly retraced his
steps towards his home; “it was no mere chance
that brought me to this place. The Master knew
46 THE SILVER KEYS.

that there was a poor thirsting soul down in that
pit, and sent His servant to carry a drop of cold
water to the ignorant and afflicted.”

After passing the bridge, Franks somewhat slack-
ened his pace, for he was now tired. As he pursued
his way along the high road to Colme, his mind
turned again to the subject of the keys; he regarded
them now as a kind of emblem or type.

“That poor old Thoms has the treasure of a Bible
in his possession, within reach of his hand; he has
probably had it from his boyhood, but it has been
to him as a locked-up treasure, he has lacked a key
to open to him the meaning even of the simplest
words. The holy Book has been a shut-up posses-
sion, like the beautiful cabinet left to my wife; it is
before him, it 1s his own, he wants to know what is
in it, but the silver keys are missing. And if the
Lord has put it into the power even of a man such
as myself, with little knowledge and skill, to open
out the meaning of some part of Scripture, the
simplest part indeed, but that which holds a price-
less treasure, shall I keep back the keys? Shall I
leave a poor ignorant brother to die poor, when his
soul might be satisfied with such riches?” The
heart as well as the conscience of Franks answered
“No” to the question.

_ Then came counting the cost. “It will take up
REFLECTIONS. 47

more time than I can well spare if I go on this
cruise often,” thought the schoolmaster of Colme.
“ My Saturday afternoons, and the hours on Sunday
between church services, are pretty nearly all the
time that I can call my own, and these I always
give to home enjoyment. I need them to freshen
me up after the wear and tear of the week. It
would be something of a sacrifice to go off to that
hot close den in the quarry, instead of sitting with
Persis under the hawthorn, listening to her singing,
or having a romp with our boy. Yes, it would be
something of a sacrifice both to my wife and to me.
But one can’t go always on the right course with a
pleasant breeze filling one’s sails; if we go only
where inclination blows us, we are certain to strike
on arock. ‘The religion that never makes a man do
something that he dislikes, or give up something
which he values, call it by what name we may, is
not the religion of the Cross. As for my Visiting
poor ‘Thoms, I must talk to my wifie about it,”

As Franks, near the end of his walk, came opposite
to the church of Colme, he saw the figure of Nancy
nands coming out of the vestry door. The clerk’s
wife had for the last three months been given the
occupation of keeping the church clean and neat, an
occupation in which the reclaimed drunkard took
great pride and pleasure, though her maimed ondi-
48 THE SILVER KEYS.

tion obliged her to do her work very slowly indeed.
Half a day’s labour now did not accomplish more
than a single hour’s would have done when Nancy
was noted as the strongest and most active woman
in Colme. But Mrs. Sands had abundant time to
give to her work, and what to others might have
been tedious, was a pleasant employment to her.

“Stop a bit, Mr. Franks, till I lock this door,”
cried Nancy, as she caught sight of Ned; “I'll walk
to the schoolhouse with you, for I must be present
when the cabinet’s opened, and I see that you've
found the bunch of bright keys. I’ve just been
finishing dusting the cushions for Sunday,” Nancy
continued, as she walked on by the schoolmaster’s
side; “I was all the morning in the church, as I
always am on Saturdays; on most of the other week-
days I do a bit of the cleaning besides.”

“ You seem to spend half your time in the church;
and I never saw it look nicer than since you’ve had
care of it, Nancy,” said Franks,

The clerk’s wife flushed with pleasure, and she
swung to and fro, like a pendulum, the great iron
key which she carried hooked on her finger.

“There is some difference in size between your
key and these,’ observed Franks with a smile, hold-
ing up his small glittering bunch, dangling from
their bright silver ring. Oe
REFLECTIONS. 49

“T would not exchange the plain iron church
key for any keys of silver or of gold,” replied
Nancy, who felt a great increase of personal dignity
from having it entrusted to her care. “No one but
John and myself has a right to touch it, and I would
not give it up to a stranger,—no, not for a ten-pound
note. Oh! Mr. Franks, it was a happy day for me
when Mrs. Curtis told me that the vicar would let
me have the cleaning of the church! Iam sure that
but for her I should never have been chosen for the
work.”

Franks had no doubt whatever on the subject.
He knew that the vicar had needed a good deal of
his wife’s mild persuasion before consenting to em-
ploy Nancy Sands, unfitted as she was by her acci--
dent for much work, and degraded as she had once
been by a habit of indulging in strong drink. Franks
himself had been consulted by the clergyman as to
Nancy’s fitness for the trust, and his hearty testimony
as to the sincerity of her reformation had chiefly
induced the vicar to comply with Mrs. Curtis’ earn-
est request. }

“If Mrs. Sands is really now sober and steady, I
am satisfied,” had been the vicar’s remark; “as for
her being maimed,” he had added, with a smile to
the sailor-schoolmaster, who laboured under a similar
disadvantage, “you have shown us that there are

D
50 THE SILVER KEYS.

some who, strong in good will and a brave heart, can
do more work with one hand than others can manage
with two.”

“T'll not soon forget that day,” continued Nancy
to Franks. “I was sitting in my little parlour all
alone (for John was attending a funeral) and sad—
for I had only dismal thoughts to keep me company
while he was away. I so missed the work I’d been
used to! I thought on the days when the lines in
my yard had been covered with linens and muslins
white as the snow, and dresses of pretty bright colours
between, waving gently to and fro as the drying wind
moved them. I could not wash now, I could earn
nothing now, I could not so much as darn my poor
John’s stockings, all I could do was to tidy his home,
but that, of course, brought in not a penny. As I
was sitting all alone, as I said, who should come but
Mrs. Curtis, looking as if she brought some good
news, and shared herself in the pleasure they would
give. Scarce had she sat down by the fire when she
said, ‘Nancy Sands, how beautifully neat your room
looks, and I see that you have flowers now in the
window.’

“ answered I; and I think that I sighed, for-my heart
was heavy enough,

“Do you think that, now that Mrs. Doyle is going
REFLECTIONS, 51

away, you could take her place in cleaning up the
church?’ asked the lady.

“Didn't I jump at the offer?” continued Nancy,
smiling at the recollection. “Id have been glad to
have done work in the church for nothing, I would,
for was not the getting such work a sign that the
parson could trust me? Last year he’d as soon have
given charge of the key to a fool or a felon as to
poor John’s wife.”

Nancy sighed as she uttered the last sentence,
remembering the humiliating, degrading state from
which she lately had risen.

“Mr. Curtis has never had reason to regret having
trusted you,” observed Franks.

“And never shall!” exclaimed Nancy, with vehe-
mence; “I'll shame all the spiteful wretches as said
that he would. There’s Bell Stone—maybe she had
hoped for the place herself—it’s like enough—such
bitter, cruel things she said! She declared that if I
had care of the church, folk would be able to write
their names with their fingers on the dust on the
hymn-books, and that after a visit to the ‘Chequers’
(a place I never go near) I’d forget to lock the
church door, or I’d lose the key, and that it was
well that Mr. Curtis keeps the church plate at the.
vicarage. Ah! she said all that—and worse,—the
backbiting, spiteful ’—~


52, THE SILVER KEYS.

“Softly, softly, my friend,” said Ned Franks, as
Nancy’s voice and temper were rising; “ whatever
others may say or do against us, are we not, as
Christians, bound to forgive as we have been
forgiven?” -

“Tt is not easy to forget though,” muttered Nancy,
who was warm and passionate by nature.

“It is by no means easy,” replied Franks; “indeed
without God’s help it is impossible. But I often
think of those words of Hezekiah, Thow hast cast
all my sins behind Thy back; that means, I should
think, that though God cannot actually lose remem-
brance of anything that has happened since the
beginning, He yet puts, as it were, our sins where
He never looks at them more, behind His back, not
before His eyes. They are to Him as if they had
never been. This is the way in which our God
forgives, and, as we may say, forgets; and this is
the way in which we must also forgive; we must
try to put our wrongs out of sight, we must cast
them behind us.”

“As you did, Ned Franks, as you did, or I should
never have been here this day!” exclaimed Nancy,
who had owed her preservation from death by drown-
ing to the man now at her side, whom in her evil
days she had hated, abused, and slandered. The
remembrance of her own sin had the natural effect
THE CLERK’S HOME, 53

of making Nancy less severe on that of another—
charity is closely linked with humility, and in a
spirit softened even towards Bell Stone, the clerk’s
wife entered the schoolmaster’s dwelling.

CHAPTER VI.

The lerk’s Home,

THE ebony cabinet was duly opened with the silver
keys, baby Ned showing as lively an interest in the
matter as did his parents. Nancy, who was present
when the little drawers were unlocked, one after
another, described their contents to her husband as
the Sands sat together at supper in the evening.

The clerk’s home is not so pretty as that of Ned
Franks, though now it is as clean, and almost as
comfortable. A large almanack on one wall, and a
map on the other, both framed in black, and rather
yellow from age, are seen instead of coloured pictures
on Scriptural subjects, with which Franks has adorned
his bright little parlour.

The clerk, John Sands, himself might almost be
described as parchment framed in black. There is
no colour at all about him. His thick closely-
54 THE SILVER KEYS.

cropped hair is as black as the fur of a beaver, and,
at a distance, looks like a cap of such heavy material,
surmounting a pale, but now placid face. Sands
has none of the brightness, the almost boyish joyous-
ness of Ned Franks. A laugh would sound as
strange from the lips of the clerk as a grumble
from those of the sailor-schoolmaster. John gravely,
soberly, and steadily performs all his duties, always,
however, appearing most at home when assisting at
atuneral service. Yet John Sands is now happy,
as far as a naturally sombre disposition allows him
to be so. Not a day passes without the clerk’s
silently thanking God from the depth of a grateful
heart, for the wondrous change in his wife. He
had loved her long and faithfully in her youth, she
had been the only woman whom John had ever cared
for, and he had never ceased to love her even when
she had been most unworthy of his affection. If
John Sands had been weighed it would have been
found that the clerk had gained several pounds of
flesh during the last six months of domestic comfort
and peace ; and were it possible to weigh the spirits,
how much lighter would have been found the heart
of the once much-enduring man!

John’s manner towards his wife is very unlike that
of Ned towards Persis, for it always conveys an
impression that the meek quiet clerk is a little
THE CLERK’S HOME. 55

afraid of his wife; but there is a great deal more of
true faithful love between the strangely-matched
couple than the world gives them credit for feeling,
and much more of real happiness in their home than
even those who know them best would readily believe.

“Yes, John, I was at the opening of the ebony
cabinet,” said Nancy, as she held out her plate for a
second slice of cheese, “and so was Mrs. Curtis,
who chanced’ to come in with a box of ninepinsg for
baby Ned.”

“And were the contents of much value?” asked
the clerk, in the slow measured accents with which
he spoke in private conversation as well as in lead-
ing the responses in church.

“Well, I suppose of value to their owner, but of
very little value to any one else,” was Nancy’s reply.
“T had expected to see jewels, old-fashioned silver
spoons and forks, and that sort of thing, but there
was nothing of the sort, and (save one coin, battered
and bent) not a bit of gold in one of the five little
drawers. There were packets of family letters, neatly
tied up with narrow ribbon, and about a dozen tiny
parcels of hair, all labelled with names and dates,
Persis kissed two of these with tears in her eyes;
belikes they were treasures to her.”

“Perhaps the hair of her father and mother,”
said the clerk.
56 THE SILVER KEYS.

“What took Franks’ fancy most of all was a little
picture no bigger than a crown-picce, a likeness of

)

Persis’ great-grandmother,” continued Nancy. “A
pretty old-fashioned picture it is, and, barring the
way of dressing the hair, as like to Persis herself as
any picture could be. You should have seen Franks’
delight when, on his showing it to baby Ned, the
child kissed it and said ‘Mamma,’ nigh the only
word he can say, for he’s slow with his tongue,
though quick in everything else. Mrs. Curtis, too,
was a good deal taken with the picture, and spoke
about family likenesses, after her own way of finding
out some lesson to be learned from everything under
the sun.”

“What did she say ?” asked the clerk.

“When I observed how strange it is that features
should go down from generation to generation, so
that a child often has a likeness to some relation
who died a hundred years ago, Mrs, Curtis spoke
about Christians bearing the likeness of One whom
they never have seen, a likeness, indeed, dim and
blurred here, but which will be plainly seen in
another world, when the spivits of the just are made
perfect. Then Franks, who knows his Bible so well,
quoted the verse, When He shall appear we shall be
like Him, for we shall see Him as He 1s.”

Sands silently nodded his head.
THE CLERK’S HOME. "

“There were a good many pieces of old niohey,
Which the lady called coins,” continued Nancy.
“They were all of copper but one, and that one
Mrs. Curtis looked at for a long time, trying to
puzzle out the letters that had been stamped
upon it hundreds or thousands of years ago.
She said that they were very curious, but to me
they'd no more meaning than if they’d been the
scratchings of a hen in the sand. I’d rather any
day have a good bright sovereign with Queen
Victoria's head upon it, than an old bent bit of a
coin like that.”

“But the learned might not be of your mind, my
dear,” said the clerk.

“What the lady and the Franks looked at longest
was an old old letter which had been written by
Bunyan,’ Nancy went on.

“What! by the author of the ‘ Pilgrim’ s Progress’ ?”
sald the clerk.

“So said Persis Franks,” answered Nancy. “The
letter had been written ages ago to some relation of
her own, who had been kind to Bunyan’s poor blind
child while her father was in prison. There was
not much in the letter but thanks and a blessing,
but I could see that it was more valued by Mrs.
Curtis and the Franks than if that yellow bit of
paper had been a bank-note.”
58 THE SILVER KEYS.

John nodded his head, as if to say, “I anomie SO
have valued it too.”

“Perhaps Mrs. Curtis saw that I wondered a bit
at a short letter like that being thought so much
of,” continued Nancy, “for she spoke to me about
St. Paul’s likening the early Christians to epistles or
letters of Christ, written by the Spirit of God.”

“That text is in the third chapter of Second
Corinthians,” said John, who had a fine memory for
chapter and verse.

“The lady said that this is a honebt which
should both humble and cheer God’s people: humble
them, because of how little worth is the piece of
paper on which a letter is written; cheer, because
what an honour it is that the world should be able’
to read in their lives a message from Christ their
Master !”

“T wish that I had heard Mrs, Curtis,” said John.

“T wish that you had,” Nancy rejoined, “for you
would have made out the lady’s meaning, and
remembered her words much better than I can.
Mrs. Curtis said, I know, that in every true Chris-
tian’s conduct we should read clearly these two
Scripture texts, Zhe love of Christ constraineth ; and
The path of the just is as the shining light, that
shineth more and more unto the perfect day. I
could not help looking at Persis Franks and her
THE CLERK’S HOME. 59

husband, for, thought I, ‘The dullest eyes can read
those words written on you both,’”

There was again John’s silent nod of assent.

“But, thought I,” continued Nancy, her strong
features working with emotion as she spoke, “if J
am an epistle of Christ, if there’s any Bible verse
written in my life, it is this, He welleth not. the
death of a sinner.” |

“My dear, you judge yourself too hardly,” said
her husband tenderly.

“And on your life, John,” a Nancy with
a trembling lip, as she looked full into the face of
her husband, “on your life has been written, Let
patience have its perfect work, for there’s not
another man in the world that would have had the
patience with me that you had!”

“You have strange thoughts, my dear,” observed
John, who was much touched by the words of his
wite. ,
“TT have plenty of time for thinking,’ replied
Nancy; “éven when I’m busy in cleaning the church.
When I dust your desk, John, says I to myself,
‘How many and many a Sunday my poor John has
stood here, and given out the hymns, and said
‘Amen’ to the prayers with a heart heavy and
sore, afraid to think where his wife might be at the
moment.’”

2)
60 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Let's forget all that,” said her husband.

“And now,’ continued Nancy, disregarding the
interruption, “now, thinks I, here am J, almost as
much a bit of the church as the clerk himself, for
don’t we keep the key between us?” -Nancy
glanced almost proudly at the iron key hung up on
the wall. “If the Queen herself were to wish to
see the church, is not we as would let her in 2”

There was the faintest possible approach to a
smile on the lips of the clerk of Colme.

“T often repeat to myself,’ said Nancy, “that
verse which seems just to suit me, J would rather
be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to
dwell in the tents of wickedness. It’s a great honour
to have one’s work in the church, though it be but
to wash or sweep it. The vicar serves his Master
there, standing up and speaking aloud from his
pulpit ; and you too serve in your way; and a poor
sinner like me can serve too, John, but quietly,
silently, when no one is by, and often down on my
knees.”

“My dear * began John Sands, but whatever
he might have intended to say to his wife he did not
say; he gave a little husky cough, rose, and walked
to the window.


THE CASTAWAYS, Ok

CHAPTER VII.

Fhe Castaways,

WILE John Sands and his wife were holding the
preceding conversation in their little room, Persis and
her husband were talking together in theirs, while
baby (as little Ned was still called) lay fast asleep
on a sofa beside them. That sofa, simple and almost
rude as it was in construction, was the masterpiece
of Franks’ ingenuity, and was universally acknow-
ledged to be a wonderful specimen of art, considering
that it had been made by a carpenter, self-taught,
who had only one arm and a hook to work with.
All the stuffing and lining part had been accom-
plished by the clever fingers of Persis. No velvet-
cushioned, exquisitely-carved sofa at the Great Ex-
hibition had been so much admired or prized as
this homely piece of furniture, with its green chintz
cover dotted with rosebuds, on which little Ned lay
asleep. |

Ned Franks, in his own animated way, described
to his wife his visit to the hut in the quarry. Persis
listened with interest, while her fingers rapidly
62 THE SILVER KEYS.

plied the knitting-needles, with which she was
making little socks for her boy.

But when Franks came to his promise of soon
revisiting old Thoms, and spoke of his intention
to go as often as he could, the pleasant face of
Persis became very grave, and laying down her
knitting on her lap, she spoke almost in a tone of
vexation,

“ How can you possibly go such a distance often,
and to such a place?” said the wife. “You do not
know all that Nancy told me, after you had left us,
of that fearful man, Hugh Thoms. There may
really be danger in visiting the lonely cottage where
he lives.”

Ned Franks laughed at his wife’s serious tone.
“You talk of danger to an old blue-jacket who was
in the Crimean war,” cried he, |

“Qh! you may laugh and make mirth of such
matters, 1t is just like you to do go, but I see no
fun at all!” exclaimed Persis. “I don’t want my
husband to keep company with ruffianly prize-
fighters, or poachers, or burglars discharged from
the gaol.”

“Lest I should be snared into boxing or house-
breaking myself?” asked Ned gaily.

“You know well what I mean,” said Persis, “ You
are maimed, you have only one hand.”
THE CASTAWAYS. | 63

“And a hook!” interrupted her husband, play-
fully holding it up to her view.

“And yet,” continued Persis, who was not at all
disposed to jest, “I do believe that you would
volunteer to lead a forlorn hope any day, quite
forgetting that you are now a husband we father,
and have no right to throw your life away.”

The blue eyes of Ned Franks sparkled with fun.
“It is not a very desperate adventure,” said he, “ to
encounter a bedridden old man and a child; it
scarcely needs the courage of a Quixote. Even
should I happen to meet this Hugh Thoms, I think
that the chances are that I should survive the meet-
ing!” and Ned laughed so merrily at his wife’s
needless alarm, that Persis raised her finger with a
warning glance at the sleeping child, lest his father’s
mirth should awaken him.

Persis was quick to perceive that she had tried
to approach her husband on the wrong tack when
she had tried to influence him by the motive
of fear. She instantly shifted sail and altered her
course.

“T really cannot spare you, Ned, during the little
time which we have always hitherto spent so hap-
pily together,” said Persis, laying her hand lovingly
on the arm of her husband. “TI always look forward
with such pleasure to the Saturday half-holiday, and
64 THE SILVER KEYS.

the sweet peaceful hours on Sunday. And baby
too, would miss you sadly,” continued the mother ;
“he cried after you to-day when you left so sud-
denly ; I could scarcely get him quiet again. I
cannot think why you should like to be such a
truant from home.”

“JT do not like it all,” said Ned; “there is no
place in the world like home to me.”

“TI never wish to hinder you in good works,”
continued Persis, whose conscience was perhaps
pricking her a little; “I did not seek to prevent
your working to mend the old almshouses, nor have
I grudged the time which you have given to visiting
the sick and dying in the parish. But these Thoms
do not belong to the parish, they live so far off, that
to look after them is clearly no duty of yours.
B is much nearer to the quarry than is Colme.
Why do none of the people of the town visit the
bedridden man 2”

“YT cannot just say why, but the simple fact is
that they do not,” replied Ned Franks. “And as
for the sick man not being of our parish, all the
world is the Lord’s parish, and whither He pleases
to send His servants, that’s the place where they
ought to go to.”

“How can you tell that the Lord sends you to
this horrid quarry?” asked Persis, resuming her


THE CASTAWAYS. 65

knitting, and plying the needles very fast, as if she
were troubled.

Franks saw that his wife was vexed and he could
not bear to vex her, so his voice was more than
usually gentle and tender as he replied. “'There’s a
proverb, wifie, that ‘ circumstances are the voice of
Providence, which means, as I read it, that when-
ever the Lord gives us an opportunity of doing good
to some fellow-creature, it is almost the same as if
we could hear His voice bidding us do it. My
dropping your silver keys was the circumstance
which led me to visit a man of whom, till to-day, I
had never heard even the name. I was welcomed,
I was wanted, I was prayed to return; a door of
usefulness was, as it were, plainly opened before me.”

“Yet still,” began Persis, but she stopped short;
she was afraid of abusing her influence over her
husband, and yet, uneasy on his account, could not
give a cheerful consent to his continuing to visit the
hut in the quarry.

“T will tell you ofa circumstance which occurred
when I was a jack-tar, on board the ‘Sylph, sailing
between the Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope,”
said Franks; “the affair read me a lesson then, and
I cannot forget it now. We had been becalmed for
weeks, till our water ran low, and we had been put.
on hali-rations of food, so that when a breeze sprang

E
66 THE SILVER KEYS.

up at last,all hands were eager enough to hoist sail,and
make speed for the land. There was another cause
for our impatience to get quickly to port. A French
vessel, the ‘Cadmus,’ had started at the same time
as ourselves, with a cargo of just the same kind of
goods as we carried. Now of course it was a matter
of some importance which of the two vessels should
make the quickest run, and take goods first into the
market; and besides this, there was a great feeling
of emulation between the French and the English
crews, and there had been a sad amount of betting
before starting as to which of the two vessels would
drop anchor first in the bay. When we were be-
calmed, what vexed us more than short rations or
want of water was the fear that the ‘Cadmus,
might get in before us, unless, as we hoped with all
our hearts, the French craft was in the same strait
as ourselves. You may fancy, wifie, how we crowded
canvas, when the day before we reached port, just at
morning's dawn, we came in sight of the ‘ Cadmus,’
She was a-head of us, to be sure, but we gained fast
upon her, for the ‘Sylph’ was the better sailer of
the two, or at least was handled better. There’s no
race sO exciting as a race at sea. We were resolved
not to be beaten by the Frenchman. ‘There was not
one of us, I believe, that would not have given
a month's pay for the pleasure of passing the
THE CASTAWAYS. 67

‘Cadmus, and the captain was just as eager as
any.”

‘‘T suppose that the captain had a greater interest
than any one else in the ‘ Sylph’s’ winning the race,”
observed Persis, “as you have told me before that he
was part-owner of the cargo.”

“Yes; and being a married man, he was of course
anxious to make the most of his share,” said Franks.
‘Just about noon, as we were getting near enough to
the ‘Cadmus’ to let those on board of her hear the
ring of a good British cheer, the man on the look-out
sang out that he saw some object lying low on the
water, far away to the south, and that it looked to
him like a raft. The captain’s glass was soon
turned in that direction, and he made out that there
was a raft, or something of the sort, and some white
thing above it, as if hung up as a signal.”

“Some poor shipwrecked creatures were there in
distress, | suppose,” observed Persis, pausing in her
knitting at this point in the story.

“So thought our captain,” said Franks.

“Then surely you went to their help,” cried
Persis ; “no one could doubt what to do.”

“It is easy for you to say that, wifie, you who
were never racing a Frenchman into port, all sails
set, wind fair, and the vessel a-head looming larger
and larger every minute, for we could almost
68 THE SILVER KEYS.

distinguish the faces of the men on the deck of the
“Cadmus.” When there was the first word spoken
of tacking about, you should have heard the uproar
on board of the ‘ Sylph,’ specially from those who
had betted that we would reach the port first.
Some were sure that there was no raft at all, only
some floating log or bit of a wreck; others declared
that the object seen to the south was but a cata-
maran with niggers on it, and even if they were
hanging out a signal of distress, what Huropean would
go out of his way for the sake of woolly-headed
niggers! It was our business, they cried, to get
into port, and not to go cruising about picking up
waifs on the sea. I never saw the ship’s company
so near mutinying as when the captain told the man
at the wheel to put the helm about, and steer for
the south,”

“ Bless him for it!” exclaimed Persis,

“The crew did not bless him, Pm afraid,” said
Franks with a smile, “when they heard from the
deck of the ‘Cadmus’ what the Frenchman meant
for a cheer, for our rivals in the race were mightily
pleased to see us losing way by bearing off from the
straight course. It drove our mates half wild to hear
that derisive shout coming across the blue waters,”

«And did you find any one on the raft?” asked
Persis with interest.
THE CASTAWAYS. 69

“Yes; a Portuguese man and boy,” replied Franks,
“They had escaped from a burning vessel, and had
been lying on the water for three days and nights
without food or a drop of fresh water. You never
saw such mere skeletons of human beings as were
these poor foreigners when we got them up the side
of the ‘Sylph.’ They could not have held out for
one day more.” |

“Qh! how thankful you must have been that you
had gone to their rescue!” exclaimed Persis Franks.

“T do not think that any one was sorry, not even
those who had clamoured the loudest against turning
back,” said Ned. “The boy soon revived, and lived
to join our crew, and be a favourite with us all; but
the man, poor fellow! was too far gone. He was a
Portuguese merchant, and not accustomed to hard-
ships at sea. He did not live to see the next morn-
ing. He had carried off a bag of dollars from the
burning ship; no doubt he would gladly have
exchanged them next day for a handful of pease, or
a cup of fresh water. Before the merchant died he
gave the money bag as a token of gratitude to our
captain, who, generous-hearted as he was, divided
the dollars amongst our crew.”

“Then, even as regards this life, you were no
losers from going out of your way to save these poor
strangers,” said Persis.
70 THE SILVER KEYS.

“ Losers—no indeed !” exclaimed Ned with great
animation, “for you’ve not heard the end of my story.
We won the race after all, and dropped our anchor
in the bay three minutes before the Frenchman!
Did we not treat him with a cheer!” Franks laughed
so merrily at the remembrance of that triumph, that
if the baby did not awake, it showed that little
Ned was one who could sleep through a tempest.

But in a few moments the mirth that had shone
in the laughing eyes of the former sailor, changed
to a thoughtful earnest expression, as he went on to
explain what had been his object in relating his story.

“ Now, Persis, to my mind a poor ignorant man
like Thoms, going down to his grave without the
knowledge of the only sure means of salvation, yet
hungering and thirsting, as it were, for truth, is like
the poor Portuguese castaway dying on the billows,
Is it for us who are scudding before a pleasant
breeze with a safe port in view, is it for us to say
‘What matters it to me if he perish ?’”

Persis rested her head on her husband’s shoulder,
and a tear wet his rough jacket. “I have been very
selfish—very sinful,” she murmured.

‘I would not let any one else say so, wifie,” was
the loving reply; and a second tear, just ready to
drop, was kissed away before it had time to fall,

There was silence for a few monients, and then
THE CASTAWAYS. V1

raising her head, Persis observed, “I believe that
they who are willing to go to Heaven themselves
without helping any other poor sinner to reach it,
are never likely to arrive there at all. They cannot
have the spirit of their Master. Dear Ned, I will
try from henceforth to be your helper and not your
hinderer in deeds of mercy. I have just been think-
ing,” Persis continued more cheerfully, “that we
might make some little offering to the Lord out of
the contents of my ebony cabinet.”

“There is not much in it that could be turned to
use in the way of charity,’ said Franks; “no one
but yourself would place value on locks of hair or
family letters.”

“There is one gold coin,” observed Persis ; “a coin
that has lain idle and useless for hundreds, perhaps
for thousands of years. It is old, worn, and bent,
but still it is of gold, and that always fetches its
price. ‘The little piece of money might perhaps
bring fifteen. shillings.”

“Hardly so much,” said Franks ; “remember how
thin it is, and how light.” He rose, went up to the
cabinet, and opened one of the drawers from the
lock of which the bunch of keys was hanging. Ned
took out the golden coin and balanced it on his
finger. “Ido not think that this weighs more than
hali-a-sovereign,’ said he,
72, THE SILVER KEYS.

“ But half-a-sovereign would feed a poor family for
a week,” observed Persis. “I should like to turn the
little old bit of gold into loaves of bread.”

Franks gave one of his pleasant smiles. “Suppose
that you quietly drop it to-morrow into the poor-box
in church,” said he. “ Mr. Curtis will know better
than we how to get the best price for the coin.”

“Yes,” replied Persis; “and I love best to take
my little alms to church, for there one most feels as
if laying the offering—the tiny offering—at the feet of
the Lord. What are you thinking of, Ned 2” Persis
continued, looking up inquiringly into the face of her
husband, on which passing feelings were mirrored
so clearly that she saw that the coin on which his
eyes were fixed, was suggesting some interesting
train of ideas to his mind.

“YT was thinking that my poor old man in the
quarry might resemble this coin,” replied Franks.
“He has had many a hard rub, he has been soiled
and worn out, as it were, by the world’s hard use,
till one can hardly make out that our King’s likeness
has ever been stamped upon him. Then of late
years poor Thoms has been shut up in darkness,
as was this coin, useless to all, perhaps valued by
none.”

“ Like the lost piece of silver in the parable,” said
Persis.
THE CASTAWAYS. 73

“But his soul is precious still,’ continued Franks;
“and who knows whether, by God’s blessing, this
poor ignorant old man may not be brought to
the Lord at last, and be found in His treasure-
house at the end, as gold that has been tried in the
fire ?” |

The idea rested pleasantly on the mind of Persis.
She turned it into a prayer when, on the following
day, on entering the church to attend morning
service, she, without being noticed by any one,
dropped her little piece of gold through the slit in the
poor-box. Little did Persis imagine what painful
consequences were to follow the performance of so
simple and pious an act.






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74 THE SILVER KEYS.

CHAPTER VIII.
A Pirst Weoting,

Ow the Sunday afternoon Ned Franks started to pay
his promised visit to the hut in the quarry, not for-
getting to take with him a good slice of his wife’s
home-made cake for Dell.

“What silver key shall I take with me to-day 2”
thought Franks; “what word of Scripture shall I
try to open out to that poor old man? Ah, it were
well if I could but give him a glimpse of what is
meant by ‘Salvation,’ that word which expresses in
itself safety and peace and Heaven! Would that
old Thoms belonged to our parish; our good vicar
would know how to make these matters clear to his
mind; I scarce know how to fit the key rightly into
the lock,—but I can but do my best.”

_ Silently praying as he walked that he might be
led to speak God’s words and not his own, Franks
went on his way till he reached the bridge. He
then, as before, turned off from the high road into
the path leading down towards the stream bordered
by willows, then bending his course to the left, soon
entered upon the wild barren tract of stony ground
A FIRST MEETING. 75

in which lay the quarry. As he did so Franks saw
two men coming towards him from the direction of
Thoms’ cottage. The one individual was short and
slim, and formed a remarkable contrast to his com-
panion, who was a singularly powerfully-built man.
As the two men came tramping heavily over the
rough ground, their figures seen clearly against the
background of the blue sky, Franks thought that he
had never beheld a form that gave such an impres-
sion of bull-dog strength as that of the larger man,
with his thick neck, broad chest, and powerful
limbs,

“There is something of the bull-dog in the face
too,” thought Ned, when the men came near enough
for him to distinguish their features. All the lower
part of that face projected, the mouth was wide, the
lips looked bloated, and when they unclosed in
' speaking, the huge teeth beneath them showed like
the fangs of a wolf.

“This must be Hugh Thoms himself,” thought
Ned; “he looks just the sort of fellow whom one
could fancy standing with doubled fists, stripped to
the waist, in a prize-ring ; and an ugly customer he
would prove to any one who should square up to
hiin there.”

And Hugh, for it was he, looked “an ugly
customer” to be met with on a lonely waste, where
76 THE SILVER KEYS.

not a dwelling was in sight, “ruffian” was so plainly
stamped on the whole appearance of the man. Hugh
and his comrade came straight towards Franks ;
the former swinging to and fro as he stalked
onwards a heavy bludgeon which he held-in his
orasp.

— “ Holloa! I say, where be you going?” was Hugh’s
rough greeting to Franks, as they drew near to each
other. The deep strong voice from the ruffian’s
powerful chest sounded like the growl of a bull-dog
ere he spring at the throat of his foe.

“To see a sick old man yonder,” was the reply.

“Tf you mean my dad, he don’t want you or the
like of you,” growled Hugh.

“Tf I find such to be the case, I shan’t trouble
him long,” said Ned Franks, steadily meeting the
insolent stare of the bully, and walking briskly
forward as he did so. Contrary to Ned’s expectation ~
Hugh made no reply, nor did he attempt to stop the
schoolmaster, though Ned passed so near him as to
be within reach of the swing of the bludgeon.
Franks strode on for some twenty paces, and then
halting, turned to look behind him. Hugh did the
same thing at the same moment, so that again the
one-armed schoolmaster and the ruffian stood facing
each other with the gaze of suspicion. Each, how-
ever, soon turned on his heel and pursued his way.
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“*Halloa! I say, where be you going?’ was Hugh’s rough greeting to
Franks, as they drew near to each other.”——p. 76.


A FIRST MEETING, V7

Franks, after a rapid walk, found himself again at
the edge of the quarry, beside a moss-mantled
fragment of paling which he had noticed as a land-
mark upon his previous visit. He descended the
rough side of the excavation to the stone-built hut
which nestled in the hollow.

“Did you meet my father?” cried little Dell,
in a quick, alarmed tone, as she started up from
a crouching position outside the door, which .
had been left wide open on account of the stifling
heat.

“T suppose that was he whom I met not ten
minutes ago,” replied Ned; “a large, strong-looking
man.”

“So strong—oh! so strong!” exclaimed Dell, more
in a tone of fear than of admiration; “father can
take a pewter pot in his hand and crush it—so!”
Lhe child squeezed her fingers together, clenching
her teeth hard as she did so, to express the irre-
sistible force of the crush.

“Such-a gripe trom the hand of Hugh,” thought
Franks, “ would not be pleasant on one’s throat,”
“T spose Wriggle-in Jack was with father?” said
Dell. : |

“There was a man with your father, but I did
not know that he bore so queer a name,” replied
Ned. “ What sort of a fellow is he?”
78 THE SILVER KEYS,

Dell made no reply to the question, unless a
nervous twitch of her pinched features could be
taken as areply. Ned then noticed that one of the
child’s eyes was bloodshot, and that the flesh around
it was bruised as if by a recent blow. Indignation
and pity mingled in the sailor-schoolmaster’s breast,
but he asked Dell no more questions. It was not
well that she should speak to a stranger of the
brutality of a parent. Silently Ned Franks followed
the child into the hut.

Franks found the place in the same condition as
on the preceding day, save that now the smell of gin
and tobacco was more overpowering, as if pipes had
been smoked, and drams had been drunk but a short
time before his entrance. On the table also were
dirty plates, knives, forks, and a dish in which lay
fragments of half-raw beef-steak, beside an empty
black bottle.

The visitor went up to the bed of the sick old
man.

“Qh! sir, I be so glad to see you!” faltered poor
Thoms, as Franks, after pressiug the sufferer’s
wrinkled hand, sat down by the side of the bed,

“Have you brought me cake, as you said you
would?” asked Dell, touching the sleeve of Ned’s
jacket, with a manner half timid, half confiding. He
was pleased to hear so child-like a question from the
A FIRST MEETING. 79

miserable little creature to whom the unnatural kind
of lite which she led had given a look of cunning
and premature age.

‘Oh! I’ve not forgotten my promise,” said Franks,
and he pulled from his deep pocket a large piece of
cake wrapped in paper. “It is my wife’s own making,
and so must be good, my girl.” | |

“T wish I was your girl,” muttered Dell, as she
sat down on the floor near Franks’ feet to eat the
dainty which he had brought. She did not do so
with the eagerness of hunger, but picked out and
ate the raisins one by one, and crumbled the cake
in her soiled little hands. It was not food that she
wanted,

Franks now spoke to the old man about his health,
and attempted to make his position in bed more easy.
It was not long, however, before the sailor-school-
master proceeded to follow out what had been the
principal object of his visit. |

“T am glad to see the Bible on your bed,’ he
observed. - “ Have you been reading it, my friend?”

“T’ve been a-trying; but the place be so dark, and
my old eyes be but dim,” was the poor man’s reply.
“Then, sir, I be so unlarned,—I never could but
spell out a word here and there.”

Franks took up the Bible, not in the least sur-
prised that, in a lying posture, and in that dark
SQ THE SILVER KEYS.

corner of his dark abode, poor Thoms had not suc-
ceeded in his attempt to read. The light came in
only from one side of the hut, more through the
open door than the dust-covered window, and even
on that side the light was but dull. No direct rays
of the sun could ever reach the hut, from its position
down in the quarry. But Ned’s sight was acute,
and he held the book so as to let as much light as
possible fall on the page, so that he had no difficulty
in reading.

“Do you remember anything of what you heard
yesterday?” asked Franks, addressing his question
to Dell.

“Good news,” answered the child at once; and
from his bed her grandfather feebly echoed the
words, “ Good news;” adding “that’s been a-running
in my head whiles I lay awake half the night, and
it cheered me.”

Franks thought of “songs in the night.” Such
songs might be given to a suffering, ignorant old
man even in such a den of misery as this,

“Shall I read to you a little more, and try to
explain more clearly how the Gospel is good news
to sinners like you and me?” asked Franks,

By a movement of his grey head old Thoms signi-
fied his assent. Ned, by resting the book on hig
knee, and holding it steady by means of his hook,
THE GREAT QUESTION, Sl

whilst with his right hand he turned over the leaves,
soon found the place which he sought, the sixteenth
chapter of Acts.

“TI am going to read of two men who were thrown
into prison,” said he.

The attention of Dell was immediately fixed.
There was a sad interest and attraction to the child
of Hugh Thoms in a story about a prison.

CHAPTER IX.

The Great Atestion,

NED FRANKS, especially when engaged in reading
the Bible aloud, always threw his whole soul into
what he was doing. His was no formal, listless
performance of a solemn task; no one ever heard him
drone over-a chapter with unvarying tone. If there
were a fault in his manner of reading, it was that
of throwing into it too much of his natural anima-
tion and warmth. Some critics might object to the
strong emphasis, the abrupt pause, the tones now
deepened into solemnity, now raised as in earnest
pleading, which varied the village schoolmaster’s
v
82 THE SILVER KEYS.

reading; but they never failed to command the
attention of those who listened.

“ John Sands, worthy man, always reads as if he
meant to lull you to sleep,” Mrs. Stone had one day
observed to her sister-in-law, Mrs. White. “ But
Ned Franks reads as if he would take you by the
arin, as it were, and shake you hard to awaken you.”

“ And the two look so different too!” cried Mrs.
White’s son, who was one of Ned’s scholars, “ Mr.
Sands would no more lift up his eyes from his book
than the hour-hand would start up from the face of
yon clock over which it is creeping so slowly; but
our master don’t seem to want eyes for his reading
at all. He’s always looking right into the face of
some one, and if you happen to be that some one,”
added the boy, laughing, “ you feel as if Mr. Franks
were reading you right through instead of his book.”

Thus when Ned read of Paul and Silas in prison,
and then paused, with his finger on the page, to
speak of their position in the Philippian dungeon,
their bleeding backs, their confined ankles, their
pain, their danger, and yet the peace in their hearts
and the praise on their tongues, it seemed as if he
were describing what he himself had seen. Dell
listened with lips apart, and in profound silence, till
Franks had read of the answer to prayer which the
Almighty sent in the midnight earthquake, and then
THE GREAT QUESTION. 83

the child interrupted the reading with the question,
“ Karthquake—what can that be?”

“A violent trembling of the solid earth,” replied
Franks, “T felt the shock of a severe one when I
was a sailor, and chanced to be on shore in one of
the West India islands. Never can I forget that
earthquake,—the low, rumbling sound like thunder,
the rocking to and fro of the buildings, the heaving
of the ground upon which I stood, till I expected it
every moment to open and swallow me up! Then
what an awful crash was that when a large building
—a solid stone building-—suddenly fell, burying
several poor creatures under its ruins!”

“ What makes earthquakes come?” inquired Dell,
looking halt frightened as well as curious.

“ Fire under the earth,” was the reply; “ fire which
sometimes bursts forth from burning mountains,
which throw forth clouds of smoke with flames and
ashes and torrents of melted stone, which have been
known even to bury a city!”

“There must be an awful great furnace some-
where,’ observed the old man from the bed,—“ an
awful great furnace to shake the firm earth, set
mountains on fire, and melt the very stones that
are in ’em,” |

“ Many of the learned tell us that the whole inside
of our world is one huge furnace,’ said Ned Franks,
84 THE SILVER KEYS.

“a furnace that always is glowing. They tell us
that we but stand, as it were, upon a crust that
divides us from the fire beneath us. We are sure,
for so it is written in the Bible, that not just here
and there, but in every place there will at last be a
terrible shaking, that the whole world will be wrapt
in flame, and the elements melted with fervent
heat !”

“God have mercy upon us!” ejaculated Thoms,
fear instinctively taking the form of prayer. “ But
sure, sir, you don’t believe all that ?”

“ As firmly as I believe that the clouds are above
us,” replied Franks.

“But you hope as how that dreadful day mayn’t
come in your time,” observed Thoms.

“Tt would be idle to hope that,” said Franks;
“for whether I be living on earth when it comes, or
whether its coming be delayed till long after my
body has been laid underground, I shall certainly
see that great day. The dead shall arise from their
graves—you and I shall arise—to meet our Judge.”

Earnestness and solemnity were in the tones of
Franks’ voice, yet his face had not lost its expres-
sion of serenity and peace. The old man gazed on
him with anxious eyes, and then said, “It is awful
to think on such things! Don’t they make you
afeard ?”
TEâ„¢ GREAT QUESTION, 85

“No,” replied his visitor. “I look forward with
hope and joy to that day. I fear neither earthquake
nor flame, nor the anger of God, which is more
terrible than all, for, thanks be to Christ my Lord,
I believe that I am a saved sinner.”

“But what must I do to be saved 2?” cried Thoms.

“That is the very question which was put to Paul
and Silas by the Philippian jailor,” replied Franks,
and he read on to the end of the 30th verse of the
chapter before him. Franks then paused to make,
as he was wont, a few observations on what he had
been reading.

“WHAP Must I DO TO BE SAVED? that is the
most solemn, the most important question ever put
by mortal man! Had the Scripture account stopped
here, how we should have longed with exceeding
desire to know what answer was given to that ques-
tion by God’s own holy apostle !”

“But what did St. Paul say, sir, what did he
say ?” asked the old man with nervous impatience.

Franks in reply read aloud, slowly and reverently,
those all-important words which contain, as it were,
the very essence of Gospel truth, “ BELIEVE ON THE
LorpD JESUS CHRIST, AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED.”

“Does that mean saved from the earthquake,
saved from the fire?” asked Dell, looking anxiously
up into the face of the reader.
86 THE SILVER KEYS.

“It means saved from them and from all else the
thought of which may make us poor sinners afraid
of the Day of Judgment,” replied Franks. “They
who truly believe need not tremble though earth and
heaven should shake, the sun be turned into dark-
ness, and the moon into blood, and the whole earth
be wrapt in flames !”

“Why, where could they flee!” cried Dell, and the
feeble voice of her grandfather echoed, “ Where
could they flee ?”

Franks turned over the pages of the Bible till he
came to the passage which he sought in the First
Kpistle to the Thessalonians, and he read it aloud as
one whose hope is indeed like an anchor sure and
stedtast. Lhe Lord Himself shall descend from
Heaven with a shout, and the vorce of the archangel,
and with the trump of God; and the dead in
Christ shall rose first. Then we which are alive
and remain shall be caught up together with them
wm the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so
shall we be for ever with the Lord !

“T see, I see,’ murmured Thoms; “the good will
be caught up out of the way of the earthquake, out
of the reach of the fire.”

“Caught up to glory and joy,” cried Franks:
“caught up to live and rejoice and reign for ever
and ever!” The countenance of the believer beamed
THE GREAT QUESTION, 87

with that “hope of salvation” which is a foretaste
of heaven upon earth, as he added, “ Well might
St. Paul bid us comfort one another with these
words !”

But there was no reflection of joy upon the
wrinkled face of the paralytic old man. “It is any-
thing but a comfort,” said he, “to think of that
awful trumpet sounding, and the earth shaking and
blazing and melting, and the Judge coming down
from the sky, unless we be quite sure and certain
that we ourselves will be amongst them as will be
caught up and saved. No doubt you may be very
good, sir, and so may feel easy about it, but I’m not
clear tnat when all the saints and church-goers such
as you be, are caught up in the air, poor old Adam
Thoms mayn’t be left behind.”

“ My friend, I am but a poor sinner myself,” said
Franks ; “the only hope that I have to gladden my
heart when I look forward to the Day of Judgment,
is the hope of salvation through the blood of the
Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Who for us men and our salvation came down
from Heaven,” murmured the old man slowly, like
one who is striving to recall some almost forgotten
tune heard long long ago, of which a few notes have
lingered on memory still, “I mind me that we
used to repeat them words after the parson in
88 THE SILVER KEYS.

church, in the old old time. Does salvation mean
being saved at that terrible day 2”

“Tt means that, and a great deal more,” replied
Franks. “Salvation means being saved from the
power of sin here, and from its punishment here-
after; it means having all our guilt washed away;
it means being delivered from the just anger of God,
and made His dear children for ever. This, this is
salvation.”

“TI should be glad, mighty glad, to make sure of
salvation,” said poor Thoms, with a simple earnest-
ness which touched his visitor’s heart. “But how
am I to get it?” Toa mind so ignorant as that of
the old man, it was needful to explain line upon
line.

Franks’ reply was simply to repeat again St. Paul’s
answer to the jailor.

“But how am I to know that I do really believe?”
inquired Thoms. “ve met with folks in my day
who said they believed every word in the Bible from
beginning to end, but they were no better than other
folk for all that. Would such go to heaven at the
last.”

“Many, I fear, profess to believe who are not in
earnest, replied Franks; “or they cling go tightly
to their sins that they throw away, for the sake of
those sins, even their hope of salvation.”
THE GREAT QUESTION. 89

The old man did not understand the last sentence
spoken by Franks; Adam Thoms’ mind could
scarcely take in more than one idea at a time, though
that idea it would hold very firmly. “Oh, sir, do
you think that the Lord will save me, even me?” he
asked, clasping his withered hands, and fixing an
anxious gaze on his visitor’s face.

Franks felt what a solemn, what an awful responsi-
bility is theirs who deal with souls awakening to a
consciousness of their own immortality and the
terrors of coming judgment, rose from the schoolmaster’s heart before he replied,
“ My friend, if the Lord Jesus were to enter this
cottage at this very moment, what would you do 2”

An awe-struck expression came over the sick
man’s pallid features. “I a’most think I could
crawl out of bed somehow,” was his reply, “or if I
could not—for I ha’n’t left it for years—I’d just lie
here, and I'd say, ‘ Lord! save me, any way, any how,
only save me!’” ‘Tears rolled down the old man’s
wrinkled cheeks as he spoke. :

“The Lord is indeed here, He is with us at this
moment!” cried Franks, realising that wondrous
Presence as truly in that close stifling den, as he
had ever done even in church; “shall we not pray
to Him now?”

Franks knelt down on the stony floor, and Dell
90 THE SILVER KEYS.

imitated his posture with wondering awe, she had
never bent her little knees in worship before, and
strange to the child did it seem to hear words
addressed to a Being whom she could not behold.
It was the first time that the sound of -prayer
had arisen in the home of the godless Hugh
Thoms.

“Oh ! Lord, have mercy upon us!” began Franks,
and to his surprise from the old man came the
response, “And grant us Thy salvation;” the once
familiar words, heard so often in church many years
ago, coming back again on memory. Franks’
prayer was short, but very fervent, and old Thoms’
hearty “Amen,” went warm to his heart at the
close.

That Sabbath-day was one which Franks remem-
bered with pleasure to the end of his life. Such
days, we may believe, will be remembered with
delight through eternity’s myriad ages. Peaceful
and profitable were the Christian’s hours spent in
the house of prayer, sweet and happy those which he
passed in his home; but none bore on them more of
the radiance of Heaven’s own light than that in
which Franks gave to a poor mortal drawing near to
the grave, a glimpse of the treasures of comfort con-
tained in the word SALVATION !
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 91

CHAPTER X,
Seeds and Pebbles,

MONDAY morning always commenced a course of
hard work for Franks. From not having ever been
regularly trained as a teacher, he had a good deal
of lee-way to make up, as he called it, to get up
with those who had had greater advantages of
education. Ned had been made a schoolmaster
before the days of School Boards, or he would
certainly have failed in satisfying a Government
inspector. but whatever the sailor did, he did it
with all his might, and his energy and steadiness
commanded no small degree of success. The vicar
once, when rallied on having made a schoolmaster
of a jack-tar, observed, that though Franks could
not set a- hard sum in fractions, he always set a
good example. “I'd rather have my village lads,”
said the vicar, “turn out honest God-fearing men
like their master, than be able to calculate to a
nicety how many cube inches there are in the
moon.” |
But Franks himself felt the necessity of acquiring
92 THE SILVER KEYS.

more knowledge when placed as he was in the
position of having to impart it to others. Thus
part of every week-day evening was regularly de-
voted to study; Franks learned in order that he
might more skilfully teach.

The sound of the cuckoo-clock striking twelve at
mid-day, and then the hum below, clatter of benches,
and trampling of feet, followed by the noise of
children’s voices from the road, were always wel-
come to Persis, whose little sitting-room was just
above that in which Ned taught his young pupils.
The house was old-fashioned in construction, and
the schoolroom would have been as much improved
by being more lofty, as the master by being more
learned ; but to increase Franks’ knowledge was an
easier matter than to raise the timbers of the ceiling.

“ Baby shall hear the pretty bird ery, ‘Cuckoo,’
and call to father to come to his Neddy,” said
Persis, as she lifted up her curly-headed boy to
enjoy what was to the child a never-failing source
of amusement, seeing the toy-bird come out to pro-
claim the hour of noon. The clock had been a gift
from the Sands, a token of gratitude from the
reformed drunkard and her husband, and the
present received under such circumstances was
greatly valued by the Franks. Nancy’s hard fea-
tures never relaxed into a pleasanter look than when
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 93

She saw baby Ned clapping his dimpled hands as
the bird clapped his painted wings; and even
sombre John had been trapped into a smile on sud-
denly hearing little Ned’s rosebud lips try to mimic
the note of the cuckoo.

There was rather a longer delay than usual in
Franks’ obeying the cuckoo’s call on the Monday
following his visit to the quarry. Little Ned, who
expected his daily ride on his father’s shoulder, was
watching the door with impatience when it opened
at last, and Franks ushered into the room the vicar’s
wife, and her nephew Sir Claudius Leyton, who was
at once curate of Colme, and lord of the manor,
Baby Ned, young as he was, was intelligent enough
to be aware that the ride must be a pleasure put off
for a while, and from his mother’s arms stared with
his bright blue eyes at the guests,—half shy, yet
pleased at the notice which was always taken of him
by the lady.

Mrs. Curtis, after a kindly greeting to the oie
and a kiss-to the golden-haired child, took the seat
placed for her by Franks, and a the object
of her visit.

“The description which I gave to my nephew of
your ancient gold coin has made him very anxious
to have a sight of so rare a curiosity,” said the lady.
“I could scarcely persuade him to delay his visit.
94 THE SILVER KEYS.

Mrs. Franks, till the hour when your husband
would be disengaged from the school.” _

“T have had all my life a great fancy for collect-
ing rare coins,’ observed the young baronet;
“though till last year, when I came to the Hall, I
had little opportunity of indulging the fancy.”

Persis glanced at her husband, as if to ask him to
answer for her,—for knowing that the coin was in
her possession no longer, she felt a little difficulty
in replying to a request for permission to see it.

“My wife would most gladly have shown the
coin to Sir Claudius,” said Franks ; “but the fact is
that she has parted with it already.”

The young baronet almost started at the an-
nouncement ; he flushed and bit his lip, betraying
an amount of vexation and disappointment which
surprised Ned Franks, for they seemed to the sailor-
schoolmaster so disproportioned to their cause,
Why should a man of rank and fortune, and a
clergyman besides, care so much for the sight of a
little bent bit of gold! Perhaps Sir Claudius saw
the look of surprise, for he hastened to make an
explanation.

“Tf the coin was a thing which Mrs, Franks was
contented to part with,” he said, “I am very sorry
that I had not had the refusal of it. The fact is
that I have found in the Hall a very fine collection
SEEDS AND PEBBLES, 95

of coins, which pleased me more than did anything
else in the house. The collection is nearly perfect,
but not quite; one link in a long chain was
wanting, your coin would just have supplied that
link,—and I should most gladly have given ten
guineas for its possession.”

Again Persis exchanged glances with her husband,
and the smile of pleasure which rose to her lips.
was reflected on his. |

“If such be the case, sir, there is no harm done,”
sald the sailor-schoolmaster gaily; “the coin has
not been dropped into the sea, nor melted in the
fire, it is safe enough at the bottom of the poor-box
in our church.”

The exclamation of joy which burst from Sir
Claudius, his excitement of pleasure at the news,
amused Ned Franks. How difficult it often is for
one man to understand the hobby of another!
Franks had felt the delight of winning souls, and he
had felt the joy of family affection; he could also—
from having experienced it—enter into the pleasure
brought by success after any kind of hard labour.
But why the hope of possessing a complete set of
old coins should make any one so happy as it
seemed to make Sir Claudius, was a riddle to the
simple-minded man. Bits of money of no use
except to be looked at, seemed to Franks to be little
96 THE SILVER KEYS.

better than toys, and he was astonished to think
that any person should be willing to give ten
guineas for one small coin. Franks did not con-
sider how great may be the value of coins as
throwing light on history, for, as the reader- knows,
he was not a scientific man.

~“T only valued the little piece at half-a-guinea,”
said the schoolmaster of Colme, “for I did not
know that it was worth a penny more than its
simple weight of gold would bring. I’m glad to
find that I was mistaken.”

Mrs. Curtis then spoke. “We must consult the
vicar about this matter,’ said she. “If Mrs. Franks
dropped her offering into the poor-box, thinking
that it was worth but half-a-cuinea, and now finds
that she can sell it for ten guineas—” the lady
hesitated a little as she added, “ perhaps Mr. Curtis
may think it but fair and right that the nine and a-
half guineas should be returned to the former
owner of the coin.” .

Again Persis exchanged glances with her husband,
and well he understood the eager little shake of her
head, and the request spoken only by her eyes, that
he would speak for her, and say what he knew that
she would wish him to say.

“No, no, madam,” cried Franks; “what my wife
gave she gave with all her heart, and [ll answer for
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 97

it that Persis would not take back a sixpence
of the money were it a hundred guineas instead
of ten.”

“Not even for the sake of your child?” asked
Mrs. Curtis, addressing herself to Persis,

Persis smiled, shook her head, and pressed her
lips on her child’s rosy cheek. She thought, though
she did not say aloud what she thought, “ There is
something better than gold that I covet for my
darling. The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich,
and He addeth no sorrow with it.”

“Then really we may regard this liberal offering
of yours aS an answer to prayer,” said the vicar’s
wite, “for cases of great distress are in the parish
at present, and never has Mr. Curtis found the
church contributions more wretchedly low than he
has for the last two months. The last time that
the poor-box was opened there were in it but a few
coppers.” |

Again Persis and Ned looked at each other, and
this time with a little surprise. They thought that
they had the best reasons for knowing that for once
the vicar’s wife had not kept to the strict truth.
It was the first time that they had ever found the
lady speak in a careless, exaggerating way.

“You know,” continued Mrs. Curtis, “that the
poor-box is opened once a month in the presence
: G
98 THE SILVER KEYS.

of the vicar and the two churchwardens. Next

93



month they will find in it

“Pardon me for interrupting you, my dear aunt,”
said Sir Claudius Leyton, blushing as he spoke;
“but I am a little too impatient for a sight of the
coin to wait for nearly three weeks. As both Mr.
Lane and Mr. Bell, the churchwardens, live near,
and would be glad, I am sure, to oblige me, I can
see no objection to their coming over to the church
this very evening, that the poor-box may be opened
without delay. As its contents (I mean the coin)
will instantly be changed into ten guineas, the
amount of the collection will make it worth while
for the churchwardens to take this small extra
trouble.”

“Not a bad thought,” said Mrs. Curtis, with a
smile at her nephew’s impatience; “the vicar will
be well-pleased to have at once the alms so liberally
given. If you, Claudius, will arrange with the
churchwardens to be at the church door at seven
this evening, the vicar and myself will meet them,
Tl go on to the Sands now, and ask one of them to
bring the church key at that hour to let the vicar
and churchwardens in. It is now the only key of
the church, as the vicar’s was broken some months
ago, and he has not yet replaced it.”

The lady and her nephew now took leave of the
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 99

Franks, Joyous as one who grasps a prize, Claudius,
in expectation already the owner of the coveted coin,
followed his aunt down the stairs. Ned accom-
panied Mrs. Curtis and the baronet to the outer
door of the schoolhouse, and then, bounding up
three steps at a time, returned to the little sitting-
room, merry as any light-hearted boy. Franks
caught up little Ned with his hand and hook, and
tossed him up three times “as high as the moon”
(which means almost as high as the ceiling), to give
vent to his own glee, then, after a hearty smacking
kiss to the child, set him down on the floor to play
with his ninepins.

“T say, Persis,” cried Franks, “who would have
thought of my little wifie dropping ten guineas
at once into the poor-box!” It was her turn then
to be kissed. “Are you not pleased?” asked the
husband.

“Thankful and astonished !” was the reply.

“ Not more astonished than I am,” cried Franks,
“T can’t conceive how Sir Claudius can be such a
—well, well,” said Ned, interrupting himself in
what might not have been a very polite remark;
“the ten guineas will at any rate do good, though I
don’t see that the coin itself will do more than one
of those ninepins (there’s a clever chap, Ned, set
them all in a row, and mind there’s not one of them
100 THE SILVER KEYS.

wanting). What are you thinking of, wifie, you
look as if you were turning over something seriously
in that little head.”

“T was thinking how strangely small offerings
sometimes seem to grow, as if they were seeds and
had life in them,” observed Persis.

“Perhaps they have life in them, and really
are like seeds,” said Franks more gravely, as he
seated himself near his wife. “The Bible speaks
about sowing plenteously and reaping plenteously,
the harvest must be a vast increase on the seed-
corn.”

‘Ts not that harvest in another world?” asked
Persis.

“Sometimes in this world too; at least so it seems
to me,” replied Franks. “There be some folk who
appear all their lives to be sowing pebbles; nothing
springs up to live after them when they are gone;
they eat, drink, work, or amuse themselves; they
die, and soon in the very home where they dwelt it
is as if they had never been. Then there are others
with whom it is just the reverse. Their hand drops
the tiniest seed, and it has life and growth, the
world can see the increase. Look at John Bunyan,
for instance, he writes a book while in prison;
thousands and tens of thousands of books have been
written since, some by men more clever than he, but
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 101

which of them are so like a forest-tree, spreading its
branches to north, south, east, and west, as the book
of the old tinker, Bunyan ?”

Persis smiled as she observed, “ Certainly Bunyan
did not sow pebbles.”

“Then theres John Pounds, the cobbler,” con-
tinued Franks, with increasing animation; “he was
planting a living seed when he set up the first
Sunday-school, and ran after a ragged urchin to
coax him to attend it by the bribe of a warm potato !
Pounds little guessed that his small seed would
spring up to bear fruit in thousands of parishes in
this land, and even in lands far away.”

“ Doubtless what the good man sowed was watered
by his prayers,” observed Persis.

“Oh! yes, we must expect all seeds to be as life-
less as pebbles without that,’ said Franks, glancing
at the little child playing at his feet, and thinking
how many earnest prayers had been offered for him.
“Then,” he continued, resuming the subject, “re-
member the widow’s mite, the very tiniest seed, one
might think, that ever charity dropped in the
ground, Quickened by the Master’s blessing, who
can say what multitudes of good works have sprung
from the record of what that poor woman gave?
Almshouses, hospitals, churches, may have risen
through successive ages from the little seed sown in
102 THE SILVER KEYS.

Jerusalem, ‘The widow’s mite stands like a land-
mark to the present day; the tiny seed which she
dropped has become a magnificent tree.”

“ And one that will never die,’ observed Persis.

“Even your coin, so long useless as any.pebble
could have been,” continued Franks, “as soon as it
was dropped into the poor-box, took to growing.
How soon your mite swelled out into ten guineas !”

“Qh! do not call it a mite!” exclaimed Persis.

Ned looked at her in a little surprise. “Do you
think the gold coin too good for the name?” he
inquired.

“Oh! no, the name is too good—far too good—for
the coin!” cried Persis. “Nothing is worthy of
being called after the widow’s offering but that
which is really a sacrifice, as was hers. The coin
which cost us nothing, which we never have missed
or required, it would be presumptuous indeed to
speak of it as our ‘mite.’”

Franks smiled to himself to think how few shared
the scruples of his wife, and how often the wealthy,
with “the pride that apes humility,” speak of their
“mite,” when they offer something to the Giver of
all their blessings, from the remnant left of their
gold, after every possible want has been supplied,
every extravagant fancy gratified !

“It was no sacrifice at all to me to give up that
SEEDS AND PEBBLES. 103

coin,” continued Persis, “ but it is a little sacrifice to
let you go to your old man in the quarry.”

“Qh! do you remember, wifie, how we compared
him to your coin,” cried Franks, with animation ;
“mayhap the poor fellow will turn out like the old
bent bit of gold, something of much more account
than we in our ignorance thought. There’s not the
most learned amongst us as can tell how precious
in the Master’s sight is any soul that He has
purchased.”

Little Ned here. interrupted the conversation
between his parents. The child was tired of playing
by himself, and stretched out his chubby hands to |
be taken up by his father.

“Just give the little man a turn in the fresh
open air,” said Persis to her husband; “you will
both then have a better appetite for the dinner,
which it is time that I now should prepare.”

Franks did not wait to be asked twice, for a romp
with his boy was his heart’s delight. As Persis
went about her homely occupation of cooking, she
could hear, rising from the green opposite to her
dwelling, the gleeful laughter of the child blending
with the deeper tones, but not less joyous mirth, of
the father. The heart of Persis was singing its own
quiet song of joy as she stirred the savoury contents
of her stew-pan, and thought of the peace and
104 THE SILVER KEYS.

plenty, the love and content which made her own
bright little home like an Eden on earth.

CHAPTER XI.
fancey'’s Pisit,

“T po not think that all England holds a happier
couple than we are,” observed Persis that evening
to Franks, after she had laid little Ned down ‘to
sleep on the sofa, on which the child always had his
first slumber for the night beside his parents, till
they themselves retired to rest.

“We certainly have few troubles,” said Franks,
who was sitting by the window with a book in his
hand, looking out on the sunset, “and we have hap-
pily no time to spare for making troubles for our-
selves out of nothing. The proverb says that
idleness is the mother of mischief; depend on’t, he
is not her only child; peevishness, discontent, and
misery belong to her family too.”

Certainly idleness was not the besetting sin of
Ned Franks. The book which he had been study-
ing hard before he raised his eyes from it to look on
the crimson clouds, was a dry volume of arithmetic,
NANCY'S VISIT. 105

Franks taught boys and girls all the day, and in the
evening he taught their master.

“Ah! there they all go towards the church, to
open the poor-box, no doubt,’ Franks observed,
looking down on the road which divided the green
from the schoolhouse. “ There is our dear grey-
headed old vicar, and Mrs. Curtis, and the young
curate; [ can scarcely think of him yet as Sir
Claudius, or fancy him lord of the manor, he is such
a contrast to the sporting baronet, who so suddenly
died last year.”

“A contrast indeed,” echoed Persis, who had
seated herself near her sleeping boy, and taken up
her knitting.

“And there is honest John Sands,” continued
Ned, “walking after the clergymen in his solemn
manner, as if he were following a hearse, and carry-
ing the large iron key of the church.”

“How much poor Nancy thinks of that key!”
observed Peris.

“As much, Pll be bound, as the Queen’s Lord
Chancellor does of the Great Seal,’ said Ned
Franks. “I’ve heard that the good woman sleeps
with it under her pillow. I wonder that Nancy is
not one of the party to see the opening of the poor-
box, for there are Widow Stone and Mullins’ lad as
well as our two churchwardens. I suppose that
106 THE SILVER KEYS.

the story of the wonderful coin has got abroad in
the village, and that some folk expect to find in the
box something as curious as a tooth of the great
sea-serpent.”

“No doubt Nancy would have been there, for it is
her pride and delight to open the church door for
the vicar,” said Persis; “but she has gone to spend
the day with a friend in the town. Nancy told me
that she meant to do so when we met yesterday on
returning from evening service.”

“To and from B
Nancy, at least since her accident,’ observed Franks,



is a good long walk for

“But she has recovered wonderfully, and is a strong
and active woman still.”

The walk taken by the clerk’s wife had been a
longer one than Franks supposed, for Nancy had
had another object in view besides her visit to her
friend. When she had reached the half-way point,
the bridge over the willow-bordered stream, Nancy
had turned from the road, and had proceeded along
the path which Franks had described as leading
to the quarry. The account which he had given
to her, as they walked together from church, of
old Thoms and his wretched abode, had touched
a cord of sympathy in the kindly heart of Nancy.

“Tl take the old man a fresh pillow-case,”
thought the clerk’s wife, “and let him at least rest
NANCY'S VISIT, 107

his grey head upon something that’s clean. I may
show the girl too how to set about putting things a
little to rights. I can’t read and teach like Ned
Franks, but I can give a few homely hints about
making a cottage look less like a pig-sty. And if
the old man be down-hearted because of his sins
—Franks says they are much on his mind,—I’ll tell
himn—who can tell better than I can—that the worst
need never despair of God’s mercy, for it came even
to me !”

Nancy had not told even her husband where she
was going, not so much lest he should object to her
visiting so disreputable a place, for John seldom
objected to anything that his wife chose to do, but
tor fear that in his affectionate care of her, he should
follow her to the quarry.

“Tl not let my John go within half-a-mile of
that wolf's den,” said the clerk’s wife to herself as
she started on her long walk; “there’s no saying what
might happen if he chanced to meet that ruffian,
Hugh Thoms. Not that my goodman is likely to
pick quarrels, or bandy words or blows with any
one, fighting was never in his line, but I mind me
of the fable of the brass pitcher and the earthen, and
[ll not be the one to set them two clashing and
crashing and smashing together!” Nancy was well
aware that her husband would have as much chance
108 THE SILVER KEYS.

of success in a struggle with Hugh, as a tame raven
might have in conflict with a fierce dragon.

Mrs. Sands was a woman of stout heart, and yet
she was by no means sorry not to find Hugh at home
when she reached his father’s cottage. Happily for
the peace of poor old Adam and Dell, the drinking,
swearing, savage-tempered Hugh did not spend much
of his time in the hut in the quarry.

Nancy was one of those persons who set about
whatever they have resolved to do with little regard
for the prejudices, or what they call the fancies, of
others. It is enough to such that they themselves
have a clear notion of what is right, they do not
trouble themselves with considering that there is a
way of doing even a kindness which gives offence
instead of pleasure. Mrs. Sands did not think it
needful to knock for admission into the hut; as the
door was ajar, she pushed it wider open and entered
the dwelling, where her unexpected appearance caused
some surprise. Dell, who was scraping the juice
from the bottom of a dish with her dirty little fore-
finger, for want of better occupation, turned round
with a startled look and stared at the intruder.

“Well, this 2s a stifling den, and a dirty one

too!” exclaimed Nancy, glancing around her in dis-
gust; “one would not suppose that any one lived here

who had the use of ten fingers,—but you, poor child,
NANCY'S VISIT. 109

have never been taught anything but how to stand
on your tiptoes, and whirl round like a teetotum!”

Dell did not look particularly pleased by this
description of her education; but Nancy Sands,
advancing towards the bed, from which the old
paralytic surveyed her in helpless wonder, at once
set about her kindly offices in her own energetic
way.

“ Here, child,” she cried to Dell, “I haven’t much
time to spare, but I must make your poor grand-
father a little more comfortable. Just help me to
pull the pillow from under his head.” This was not
old Thoms’ idea of comfort, and he seemed inclined
feebly to resist the removal of the pillow. “Don’t
stand staring there, child, with your mouth wide
open, as if you expected me to chuck a cherry into
it,” continued Nancy; “and you, old man, don’t look
frightened, as if [ meant to murder ye. I’m only
wanting to change the pillow-case, this of yours
might have been taken from a dust-hole, or used to
clean up the grate. I’ve brought a clean one, don’t
ye see?” and, as changing a pillow-case was a feat
which a maimed woman could not perform by her-
self, Nancy again, and more angrily, bade Dell stir
herself and come and help her.

“One would think that you had no hands, child,”
cried Nancy, as Dell awkwardly and unwillingly
110 THE SILVER KEYS.

obeyed. “ When I was of your age I should have
been ashamed to have had my father’s cottage in
this state; P’'d have swept, and scrubbed, and cleaned
it, and made it fit for a Christian to live in. It’s a
sad thing for any one to lie sick in such a-place,”
_added Nancy, with the rough pity which she really
felt for the paralytic man and the motherless girl,
“it would be a deal better both for you and your
poor granddad to be moved into the workhouse.”

But at the last word the patience of Adam Thoms
quitefailed him, and the astonishment at the stranger’s
intrusion and the command which she assumed in
his home, which had hitherto kept him silent, gave
place to a burst of anger.

“What business have you to talk of the work-
house to them as have a father and son to support
em!” he cried; “ Hugh can earn four-and-twenty
shillings a-week at a brewery whenever he chooses
to work.”

“Ah! I forgot,” said Nancy, shaking down the
pillow into its case, “I forgot that your son is an
able-bodied man.”

“ Able-bodied indeed!” echoed old Thoms, with
increasing irritation; “Hugh could lift two hundred-
weight as easily as you could pull up a daisy, and
if he heard you talk of the workhouse ”

“He'd smash your skull in,” chimed in Dell, with


NANCY'S VISIT. 111

a pantomimic gesture. “Father don’t want folk
coming a-prying here. He was mighty angered last
night about the kind man who reads us the Bible;
but I hid the Bible, and told father as the man had
only come to look at the quarry.”

“You told him a lie, then,” said Nancy, sternly.

Dell’s only reply was a saucy grimace at the
stranger. She then ran out of the cottage, and in
two minutes Nancy heard the girl’s shrill call from
the top of the quarry, “ Youd better be off sharp,—
IT sees father a-comin’!”

Nancy had plenty of spirit, but, as she muttered
to herself, she did not “ care to have anything to do
with a fellow like that, who was as likely as not to be
in liquor.” With a hasty good-bye to the old man,
who was so little grateful either for her visit or her
oift, Mrs. Sands quitted the cottage. It was rather
difficult for Nancy to scramble up the steep side of
the quarry by what could scarcely be called a path,
but she made every effort to do so quickly, being un-
willing, as she said to herself, “to be caught down
in that pit like a rat in a hole.”

When Nancy had gained the level of the waste
ground above the quarry, panting and flushed by
her exertions to reach it, in vain she looked around
for any sign of the approach of Hugh Thoms. There
was no human figure in sight but that of Dell, who
112 THE SILVER KEYS.

stood with impudent mirth in her wild eyes, laugh-
ing, but not with a laugh like a child’s, at having
taken in and frightened the stranger.

Nancy's temper was always a hot one, and now it
blazed up into anger, but Dell did not stop +o feel
its effects. Without any need of keeping to a path,
the little creature swung herself over the edge of
the quarry, and monkey-like made her way to the
bottom, from whence Nancy again heard her wild
mocking laugh.

“There is no use in trying to do good to such
creatures!” muttered Nancy indignantly, as she
turned from the quarry to regain the road to the
town. “I wonder that Ned Franks troubles himself
to come here. He might as well preach to the loose
stones in the quarry as to hearers like those down
in the pit.”

And yet these were the very same who had listened
in attentive silence to the message of good news
brought by the schoolmaster of Colme, who had
thought over his words in his absence, and were
looking forward to his return! |

Tact and tenderness are required, as well as energy
and good will, in doing acts of kindness. The human
heart must not be expected to unclose at once, even
to a would-be benefactor. The attempt to wrench
open a locked box is likely not only to injure the
EVENING VISITORS. 1138

box but to hurt the rough hand that makes that
attempt. Considerate sympathy is the key to the
human heart, and Nancy Sands, well-intentioned as
she was, had not yet found it.

CHAPTER XII.

Kuening tisitors,

“IT is time to light the candle,” observed Persis;
“it 1s too dark now even to see to knit by.”

“ But not to talk by,” said her husband, who had
for the last twenty minutes given up straining his
eyes over his arithmetic book. “This twilight hour,
the ‘gloaming’ as it is called in Scotland, is to me
the most delightful in the whole twenty-four on such
a summer evening as this. I like to watch the stars
coming out one by one; they remind me of the time
when I was afloat on the wide ocean. Those stars
were then to me like companions, and many a thought
they put into my mind. The waves around were so
restless, the stars above me so calm; the world
seemed ever changing—the stars are the same from
generation to generation. Why, Adam himself must

H
114 THE SILVER KEYS.

have looked up from Eden at those very stars which
are twinkling now over our English home!”

“And when our blessed Lord passed nights as
well as days in the dreary wilderness, the only
cheering object on which His holy eyes could have
rested must have been those quiet stars in the sky,”
observed Persis.

“Making the Lord think, perhaps, of the time
when, through His grace, His faithful people should
shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they
that turn many to righteousness as the stars for
ever and ever,’ said Franks,

Persis enjoyed the twilight hour as much as did
her husband, and delayed as long as she could light-
ing the candle, which she had placed ready on the
table. Just as she had applied the lighted match,
a rap at the outer door was heard, and then the
click of the latch; for no key was ever turned, or
bolt drawn, to secure the entrance of that peaceful
dwelling.

“IT know you're at home,—may I come up ?”
cried a woman’s voice from below.

“Certainly,” answered Franks. “It is Mrs.
Stone’s voice,” he observed to his wife; “what can
bring her here at this hour 2”

Persis did not say, though she could not help the
thought arising in her mind, “Perhaps some piece
EVENING VISITORS. 115

of ill-natured gossip.” For Bell Stone, though the
highly-respectable widow of a highly-respectable
man, herself a regular attendant at church, and one
who prided herself on never having harmed anybody
in her life, was one of those busybodies who go from
house to house, carrying tales and spreading reports,
and who thus often, sometimes unintentionally, bear
false witness against their neighbours.

“It’s too bad to disturb you so late,” said the
widow, after she had entered the room and shaken
hands with Persis; “but I really could not go to
rest without hearing all the truth of the matter from
you, who must know more than any one else about
it.” Mrs. Stone seated herself, loosened the strings
of her bonnet and the pin of her shawl, with the air
of one who intends to enjoy a good long gossip.

“What matter?” asked husband and wife at once.

“Why, didn’t you, Mrs. Franks, drop yesterday
into the poor-box in church a very wonderful,
curious, valuable coin?” inquired the widow. |

“T dropped a little coin,” said Persis, shortly, as
she took up the sock which she was knitting.

“And my wife does not care to hear anything
more about it,’ added Franks, who disliked the
inquisitive manner of his unwelcome visitor.

“Qh! but she can’t help hearing more, and a
great deal more about it,” cried Bell. “Don't you
116 THE SILVER KEYS.

know that Sir Claudius wanted to buy the coin, and
went with the vicar and churchwardens to open the
poor-box an hour or two ago 2”

“Very well, they opened the box, and took out
the coin, and there was an end of it,” said Franks,
who did not care to continue the subject.

“No, there’s the oddity of the thing,” returned
Bell Stone; “I was in the church at the time, so I
know all that happened. You’ve not heard the end
of the business. The churchwardens opened the
box, but they did not take out your coin, for never
a coin was there, save three poor halfpenny bits.”

An exclamation of surprise burst from the lips of
both the Franks; Mrs. Stone turned her sharp
brown eyes from the one to the other, evidently
relishing the mystery of the affair.

“What can have become of the coin ?” cried Ned.

Mrs. Stone gave sundry slight nods of the head
and winks of the eyes, and looked like one who
knows a good deal more than she chooses to say.
At last she came out with the observation, “ Mrs.
Curtis and the vicar, good kind souls, made a great
mistake from the first.”

“What do you mean ?” asked Franks: the winks
and nods and mysterious hints of Bell Stone annoyed
him; he liked people to speak out their minds
plainly, as he himself always did.


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‘‘The churchwardens opened the box, but they did not take out your coin

for never a coin was there
EVENING VISITORS. 117

“Why it was a great mistake,” said Mrs. Stone,
lowering her voice, “ever to have given the cleaning
of the church to that strange creature, Nancy Sands.”

Ned Franks started to his feet, and an angry
flush was on his sunburnt cheek, as he exclaimed,
“Do you mean to hint that Mrs. Sands had any-
thing to do with the loss of the coin? There’s not
a more honest woman in Colme than she !”

“Oh! dear, Mr. Franks, you need not flare up
like that, I meant no offence,” said Bell Stone, a
little hurt by his manner. “I know that you and
your wife always stand up for Nancy, and I can’t
conceive why, unless it be that you once dragged her
out of a mill-pond, and don’t like to feel now that
you risked your life for rubbish. Every one knows
how Sands’ wife came to tumble into that mill-
pond.” |

“Mrs. Stone, is it not better to let bygones be
bygones?” said Persis, in a mild pleading tone.
“Poor Nancy is a changed woman now.”

Bell gave another little nod, and a little shrug of
the shoulders besides, and observed, “It’s all very
well to say so, and very good of you to think so;
but can you manage to explain how your coin got
out of the poot-box? No one has a key to the
church but the Sands.”

Persis bit her lip, and laid down her knitting.
118 THE SILVER KEYS.

Franks, with a look of perplexity, passed his hand
through his thick curly hair.

“John Sands has borne a blameless character for
many years in the responsible post of clerk of
Colme,” said the sailor-schoolmaster, after a few
moments of silence,

“No one denies that—no one doubts it,’ replied
the carpenter's widow; “my poor dear Ben used to
say that John was a quiet, harmless, hen-pecked
sort of a body, who could not say bo to a goose, far
less say no to his vixen wife.” |

“Mrs. Stone!” expostulated Persis, with reproof in
her tone and glance. |

“Ah! well,” said Bell Stone, rising from her seat,
and retying her bonnet-strings, “if you wish to
think Nancy a saint and a dove, Pm the last person
to wish to shake you out of your opinion; yet,” she
added with a provoking smile, as she moved to the
door, “though no one knows as well as yourself how
the coin got into the box, it may puzzle you, with
all your charity, to tell how it got out of it again.”

Mrs. Stone left the schoolhouse with the intention
of going somewhere else to gossip about the “dread-
ful shocking affair,” which afforded her mean un-
generous spirit so much secret gratification. A wish
actually arose in the mind of the highly-respectable
widow to go for once to the “Chequers,” where the
EVENING VISITORS. 119

story ot Nancy’s pilfering (for her neighbour con-
demned her unheard) would be “nuts” to Mrs,
Fuddles and her friends. Bell Stone had no sooner
passed through the outer door of the schoolhouse
than she was very sorry that she had left it so soon,
for Sir Claudius walked up to the porch at the
moment, having evidently come, as she herself had
done, to talk to the Franks on the subject of the
lost coin. |

“Td have given anything to be present and hear
what the baronet is going to say,” thought Bell
Stone, as she dropped a curtsey, and passed on.
“Nothing would bring Sir Claudius to the school-
house at this time of night but to talk over this
shocking conduct of Nancy. He always looks ag
much afraid of intruding as if he were a poor lad
coming to beg a favour, instead of being the lord of
the manor, whom every one in Colme is proud to
welcome. Dearie me! I wish that I had dropped
something in Persis’ room, just to give me a good
excuse for going back.”

A visit from Sir Claudius Leyton to the school-
house after dark was not only an unusual, but quite
an unprecedented occurrence, and the moment that
he entered their dwelling the Franks were, like Bell
Stone, sure that the baronet had come to speak
about the coin, Sir Claudius was of a very shy and
120 THE SILVER KEYS.

sensitive nature; though more than five-and-twenty
years of age he had not lost either the fresh fair
appearance or the bashfulness of youth; and the
baronet blushed like a girl as he made his apologies
to Mrs. Franks for disturbing her at an hour so
late.

“But you have perhaps heard already, Mrs.
Franks,” said the young man, looking down as he
spoke, “of this unpleasant, painful affair; I allude
to the disappearance of the coin which you put
yesterday into the box placed to receive alms in our
church.”

“T have heard of it, sir,’ replied Persis in a low
tone of voice. Sir Claudius glanced up, first at her,
then at her husband, as if silently to ask whether
either of them had any suggestion to offer, whether
they could in any way account for the loss of the
coin ; but there was such a profound silence in the
room that the breathing of the sleeping child could
be heard.

“Few occurrences have ever distressed me more,”
- said Sir Claudius, who was the first to speak; “I
do not mean, of course, from the mere loss of a
coin, however valuable, that would be a selfish con-
sideration, but from the stigma, the slur which its
disappearance casts on the character of one from
whom I had hoped better things,”
EVENING VISITORS. 121

“You speak of Mrs. Sands, I suppose, sir,” said
Franks.

The young baronet inclined his head in assent.

“T cannot believe that she robbed the poor-box,”
said Franks.

“T will never believe it!” ejaculated Persis,

“T would give a hundred pounds not to believe |
it,’ exclaimed Sir Claudius. These three at least
did not belong to the class of persons who can draw
amusement from the sorrows or sins of others, as
flies draw nourishment from decay and corruption.

“ Mioht I ask, sir, what Mrs. Curtis and the vicar
think of this matter ?”’ inquired Franks.

“They also are surprised, perplexed, and dis-
tressed,” was the curate’s reply. “What makes
the affair yet more painful is that we have noticed
that on the two preceding occasions when we have
opened the poor-box, the collections have fallen
short, very far short, of their usual amount;
indeed, only a few pence have been found. I fear
from this circumstance that we must conclude that
whosoever has now robbed the poor-box, has not
done so for the first time. Such a deficiency never
occurred when Mrs. Doyle had. charge of the clean-
ing of the church.”

Persis sighed heavily, arose and went to the sofa,
partly to replace the covering which little Ned had
122 THE SILVER KEYS.

tossed aside in his sleep, but more to give herself an
opportunity of wiping away the tears which had
risen in her eyes. No one uttered a word until she
had returned to her seat. Then the baronet spoke
again, ;
“The churchwardens have been asked to come
to-morrow at sunset to the vicarage, in order to
consult with Mr. Curtis as to what steps should be
taken to clear this painful mystery. We will in
the meantime, as quietly as possible, make what
inquiries we can. I bear the vicar’s particular
request, Mr. Franks, that you and your wife will
come to his house to-morrow to meet the church-
wardens.”

“Oh! no, no, why should we come?” exclaimed
Persis, ready to burst into tears.

“Because it is indispensable that we should have
your evidence as to the fact of the coin having ever
been in the poor-box at all,” said Sir Claudius,

Persis trembled with nervous agitation. “It
would be like giving evidence against poor Nancy,”
she cried; “I hope, oh! I do hope, that the vicar
will excuse me from coming. Cannot the whole
matter be quietly dropped ?”

Sir Claudius shook his head gravely but kindly.
“You must see,’ he observed, “that both for the
sake of the poor who have been so cruelly robbed,
EVENING VISITORS. 123

and even for that of Mrs. Sands, who must be given
an opportunity of clearing herself from suspicion,
this matter. must be sifted to the bottom. I trust,
therefore, that you will not decline attending,
reluctant as I am to ask you to do that which so
evidently causes you pain.”

“My wife will attend, sir,” said Franks. “But
might | not suggest that before any other measures
are taken, the church should be thoroughly searched,
in order that it may be ascertained whether there be
no way by which a robber might enter, even though
the church door should be carefully locked?”

“ Let me request you to undertake such a search
yourself, Mr. Franks,” said Sir Claudius; “there is
no one who would conduct it with more intelligence.”

“More goodwill, sir, at any rate,” cried Franks.

Sir Claudius now took his leave of the Franks.
As soon as he had quitted the room, Persis, who
had been struggling to command her feelings while
he was present, gave way to them, and burst into
tears. -“Oh! I wish with all my heart that I had
never dropped that coin into the poor-box!” she
exclaimed to her husband, when he returned from
showing the visitor out of the house; “I never
before repented so sorely of doing anything that was
not a sin!”

Franks put his arm round his wife, and drew her
124 THE SILVER KEYs.

close towards him, so that her head rested on his
breast. “You must not repent, my Persis,” he
said, “of doing what is right, whatever the con-
sequences be. Is it not well that a course of most
wicked church-robbing and poor-robbing -should
be stopped, whoever it be that dares to commit so
horrible a crime ?”

“Not Nancy—you don’t think that it could
possibly be Nancy?” asked Persis, raising her
head, and looking uneasily into the face of her
husband. |

Franks reflected for a moment, and then deli-
berately answered, “No. I believe that poor Nancy
is really a converted woman, and therefore utterly
incapable of committing such a fearful sin as this,
Besides it is not in this direction that her temptation
lies.”

“But appearances are sadly against her,” said
Persis. ‘‘ Nancy has few friends in Colme but our-
selves, and I fear that her temper has made some
enemies. Most of her neighbours, perhaps the
vicar himself, may think her guilty, and she may,
though perfectly innocent, not be able to prove that
she is so. Oh, Ned! what a trial this will be to a
high-spirited woman like Nancy !”

“A terrible trial to any one,” said Ned Franks,
who had himself experienced the misery of being
EVENING VISITORS. 125

falsely accused, and unable for a time to clear his
character from unjust suspicions.

“How will Nancy bear it!” exclaimed Persis
Franks,

“My fear is,” began her husband, but he stopped
short, unwilling to make Persis a sharer of his fear.
But the same thought which disturbed him. was
uppermost in the mind of his wife. Persis laid
both her hands on her husband’s, and pressed it
nervously as she said, “ You fear, as I do, that the
shame, the wretchedness of being suspected of a
crime, may drive Nancy again to drinking!”

“Let us pray that grace may be given to our
poor friend in the time of her trouble and sore
temptation,” said Ned; and husband and wife
knelt down together, and pleaded for one who was
greatly to need their prayers.


126 THE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER XIIL
— «€Breahing the Hews,

THE countenance of John Sands was naturally of so
grave and sombre a cast, that painful emotions did
not usually make any sensible change in its solemn
expression.

“Tf you put soot into an inkbottle you cannot
make it any the blacker; if you told John Sands
that he was to be hanged you could not make him
look any the sadder,” had been a favourite joke of
Bell Stone’s late husband, the jovial carpenter ; but
this remark had been made in the days when the
poor clerk had had, in his wife’s intemperate habits,
a daily. heavy cross to bear.

When the poor-box had been opened in church
and found to be almost empty, no one present had
appeared less excited than the clerk. Though he
readily understood in how painful a position the
disappearance of the coin placed those who had had
charge of the church, John Sands made no remark,
and gave little sign of having overheard such as were
made by others. After seeing the clergyman and
churchwardens out of the building, John turned the
BREAKING THE NEWS.. 127

great iron key in the lock as quietly and deliberately
as if they had been attending some baptism or
marriage in which he had been merely officially con-
cerned, But the outward calm, which some might
mistake for stolidity, covered an amount of shame,
anguish, and fear which might, had they been known,
- have won hearty pity even from Mullins or Bell
Stone. Sands felt, as he afterwards expressed it, as
if his heart were being lanced with a penknife.

Not that John Sands for an instant doubted the
innocence of his Nancy; his love was far too loyal
for that, he would as soon have believed himself
guilty of what he considered of all crimes the most
heinous, that of robbing a church. But the poor
clerk could see no way of proving the innocence of
his wife. As he returned to his lonely home (for
Nancy had not yet come back from the town) John’s
miseries concentrated themselves into the question,
“How shall I ever tell Nancy of this?” The first
difficulty almost shut out from John’s view all the
others -that lay beyond it. Sands sat along time
with his elbows on his knees, and his thin well-
shaven chin resting on his palms, trying to answer
the question; and he at last. came to the rather
cowardly resolution of putting off making the
dreadful disclosure. “I won’t tell the poor dear
soul anything about this till the morning,” said
128 THE SILVER KEYS.

John to himself; “she'll come home so tired
to-night.”

And very much tired was Nancy when she came
home in the twilight, and wearily she threw herself
into a chair opposite to that from which her husband
had risen to reccive her.

“Well, I declare, I’m dead beat!” cried Nancy, as
she cast off her shawl, and threw back her gaudily-
trimmed bonnet, so that it only hung by the strings.
“It’s a long walk in hot weather like this. And
youve not got any supper ready, though there’s
pickled salmon in the cupboard, and there’s not so
much asa kettle set on the fire to refresh me with
a drop of good tea! Why, John, my man, what have
you been dreaming about!” exclaimed Nancy, with
a little impatience of manner.

John silently set about repairing his omissions in
his slow methodical way, putting on the kettle,
spreading the table rather by feeling than by sight,
and last of all setting a match to the candle, for on
that evening he felt a dislike to the light. Nancy
was too much wearied to offer to help her husband,
but she talked to him, as slowly, like a black shadow,
he moved about the room.

“My friend would not let me start till late, she
said I'd find it cooler walking after sunset. I was
tiréd enough when I came in sight of the half-way
BREAKING THE NEWS. 129

house, the ‘Horse and Groom,’ and go thirsty!” cried
Nancy. “ Mary Briggs had had tea very early ; and
what with the heat and the weariness, it seemed to
me as if I'd not tasted a drop since morning.
Would you believe it, John,” added Nancy, “I felt
a dreadful longing to go into the —— and quench
my thirst.”

John had his back towards his wife at the time
that she said this, for he was taking something out

of the cupboard; he almost let the plate slip from
_ his nervous fingers. The fear which had clouded the
minds of the Franks fell like a heavy pall on the
soul of the husband. “She will have something
worse than thirst to make her long for the drink,”
thought poor John, |

“It was not so much my pledge as kept me from
turning in,” observed Nancy, “as the thought of you,
John, and of the church. [ve vowed to myself that
you shall never again be ashamed of your wife, or
the vicar repent having trusted me with the great
iron key.”

Sands laid the plate of salmon upon the table with
a low groan, which he could not suppress,

“What ails you, John?” asked his wife with
rough kindliness; “I am afraid that you have one of
your headaches.”

“T have no headache,” replied Sands, turning

I
130 THE SILVER KEYS.

away to get the candle and match-box: he could
not have added “and no heartache either.”

“What an odd woman that Bell Stone is!” ex-
claimed Nancy, after a short interval of silence,
during which John lighted the candle. “She was
on the other side of the road just as I was passing
the schoolhouse; she stood still, watching meas a
terrier watches a rabbit-hole, and then took the
trouble of crossing the road on purpose to meet me.
‘Good evening,’ said I, not wishing to be stopped for
a gossip with the widow, ‘I must get home as fast as
I can, for it’s late, and I’ve had a long walk to
B——, ‘What have you got for it?’ asked she, in
a strange kind of tone, as if there was a deal of mean-
ing in the question, and that not a pleasant meaning.
I did not care to make out Bell’s meaning, but I
thought of a visit which I’d paid to the wretched
Thoms on my way to town, and a pillow-case which
I'd given ’em, so I replied at random, ‘Not so much
asa Thank you, and passed on. You should have
seen how astonished Bell looked at my words, she
was so near me that I could see her face, though the
twilight had almost faded away. If Widow Stone
had puzzled me with her question, I guess that I
puzzled her with my answer ;” and Nancy leant
back in her chair, and laughed loudly and long.
Poor John had never been less inclined to join in
BREAKING THE NEWS. 131

her mirth. Having finished the little preparations
for the meal, he went and sat down in front of the
fire, with his elbows resting again on his knees, and
his eyes gloomily fixed on the kettle as if he had a
stern duty to perform in watching the first symptom

of its boiling. :

“Why do you sit there, John, instead of beginning
supper?” asked Nancy, who, having had out her
laugh, now turned her chair round to the table, well
disposed to do justice to the good cheer,

“Tam cold,” answered John Sands,

“ Cold, on a stifling evening like this!” exclaimed
Nancy in surprise ; “you cannot be well, you must
have taken a chill ;” and, hastily rising, she went up
to her husband and laid her hand upon his. “Sure
enough you are cold as ice, and trembling as if you’d
the ague! Tl go off to B for the doctor at
once.” All Nancy’s weariness was forgotten in her
anxiety for the health of her husband. |

“I’m as well as ever I was in my life,” cried John,
speaking more rapidly and decidedly than was his
wont, for he was afraid lest his impulsive energetic
wite should be off in a minute, although the night
had closed in. “It is not illness that makes me
— chilly,” he added in a faltering voice.

“Then something has happened, something serious.
Is anything the matter with Franks’ child?” asked


132 THE SILVER KEYS.

Nancy anxiously, for the little one was dear to her
heart. :

“No one is ill that I know of,” answered the
clerk, stretching out his thin tremulous hands towards
the warmth of the fire.

“ What as the matter then, for nonthlon 2 orlevous
has happened, I am certain of that!” cried his wife.
“You look as if you had a fit of the ague. I will
not touch a morsel of supper until I have known all.
Have you lost or broken the church-key ?” asked
Nancy, who was rapidly turning over in her mind
all the possible misfortunes which might have oc-
curred during her absence.

John Sands shook his head sadly. He saw that
it was no longer possible to preserve silence; the
disclosure which he dreaded, as he might have
dreaded a surgical operation, must be made. John
inwardly prayed that his poor wife might be
strengthened to bear it.

“Sit down, my dear, and you shall hear all,” he
nervously said. Nancy resumed her seat, after
drawing it nearer to that of her husband. Sands
coughed twice, as if to clear his voice, before he
began.

“You remember the strange coin which Mrs,
Franks found in her cabinet? She put it yesterday
into the poor-box in church.”
BREAKING THE NEWS. 133

“It was just like Persis to put it in,” interrupted
Nancy ; “ but not like her to gay that she had done
so.”

“She said it because Sir Claudius Leyton wanted
to buy the coin from the Franks, and offered them
ten guineas for it.”

“Just like him !” ejaculated Nancy ; “ what queer
fancies some gentlefolk take into their heads!
However it’s safer to throw away money on coins
than on gambling and cock-fighting, like the last
lord of the manor.”

“So Sir Claudius and the churchwardens went to
the church to open the box, and take out the coin,”
continued John Sands.

“And you let them in, of course, for they could
not get in without you, seeing there’s now but one
key,” observed Nancy. “Well, what happened
after they had opened the box, and taken out the
coin 2” |

“They opened the poor-box, but—but they could
not find the coin!” said John Sands, bending
down closer towards the fire, and chafing his
hands.

“Not find the coin!” echoed Nancy in surprise.
“If Persis put it in they must have found it, seeing
that it is not a thing as could melt, or fly out of the
slit in the lid !”
134 THE SILVER KEYS.

“They could not find it; it was not there; we
all looked; we all searched—in vain!” murmured
John.

Happily at that moment the kettle began to fizz
and boil over. The necessity for rising and lifting it
from the fire was a real relief to John, and the brief
pause gave Nancy time for reflection.

“ How could the coin have disappeared?” she asked
thoughtfully, when her husband had put the steam-
ing kettle on the hob.

There was no reply from John Sands.

“No one can get into the church without our
knowledge, as we've the only key to the door since
the parson broke his; and I’m sure we’ve watched
that key night and day, it has not been for one
minute out of either your sight or mine. I could
stake my life on it,’ continued Nancy, striking the
table; “not a soul has entered that church on week-
days without you or me being there !”

still John made no reply.

“They don’t suspect me of having touched the
coin!” asked Nancy abruptly ; the remembrance of
Bell Stone’s mysterious question and insulting stare
suddenly flashing across her mind.

“ My dear—of course—the disappearance of the
coin is—awkward—for us,’ stammered forth the
unhappy clerk.
BREAKING THE NEWS. 135

Nancy started up from her seat, and hurried to the
wall on which, during the day, hung the large iron
key, which she took every night to her bedroom. “T’ll
go to the church this instant,” she cried ; “I'll have
a hunt for the coin; Tl be bound that I'll find it.”

“Oh! no, my dear, not at this hour, it would not
look well after what has occurred, pray, pray put the
key back on its nail,” expostulated John, who had also
risen from his chair; he was in nervous alarm as to
what his impetuous wife might be going to do.
“ Indeed the coin is not in the church, we all searched
for it—searched for it thoroughly; Mr. Curtis, Sir
Claudius—myself.”

“What can have become of it,” exclaimed Nancy,
turning round and confronting her husband, with the
key still in her hand.

“One above only knows!” faltered John.

“Yes, One above knows, and will make all clear,”
said Nancy, with a firmness which surprised and
relieved her husband. She replaced the key on the
nail, and resumed her seat at the table. “Don’t be
downhearted, my John, my dear John, there’s a great
Judge who will make my innocence plain before
all the world, for He knows that I’d sooner take
one of them live coals out of the fire with my
bare hand, than so much as a farthing out of the
church box !”
136 THE SILVER KEYS.

There was a nobleness about the woman as she
said this, with her hand extended, an expression
of conscious innocence and lofty faith on her fea-
tures, that gave her a dignity which no one had ever
seen in Nancy before. Her husband looked at her
with love and admiration which might go far to
counterbalance even the scorn of the rest of the world.

“T will go over to the schoolhouse to-night and
ask the Franks,” began Nancy,—“ but no,” she
added, interrupting herself, “it will be better to
sleep over this business before I trust myself to
speak about it to any one but yourself. The coin
will turn up, I’m certain that it will, don’t let us
make ourselves wretched about it. And now, John,
will you fill the teapot, my mouth is as dry as if I’d
been grilling all day over a fiery furnace.”

Sands made the tea, and Nancy drank cupful
after cupful with feverish eagerness, as if her thirst
would never be quenched, but neither husband nor
wife cared to eat much of the supper. They were
more than usually tender towards each other, the tie
between them being drawn closer by trouble, and
their evening prayer together was more fervent than
perhaps it had ever been before.

But though Nancy Sands had borne the first
shock of bad news thus bravely, the after effect of
them on her mind was great. That night she had
BREAKING THE NEWS. 137

little sleep, and was full of feverish tossings to and
fro, as she turned over and over again in her excited
brain how the coin could possibly have been taken
out of the box. Even when Nancy at last dropped
asleep the subject haunted her in her dreams. Now
it was the church key, now the bent coin, for which
she was hunting in every likely and unlikely place,
but hunting in vain. At last she dreamed that she
was shaking a pillow-case, when out dropped some-
thing (she scarcely knew what, for there was nothing
but confusion that night in her dreams) which was
caught by Dell, whose strange eyes looked more wild
and unnatural than ever, and the sound of whose
mocking laugh startled poor Nancy from sleep. She |
woke with a heavy oppression on her mind, that
consciousness that something painful has occurred,
or is likely to occur, which sometimes clouds the
spirit before the eyes are opened to the light of the
dawn.


138 THE SILVER KEYS,

CHAPTER XIV.

Phe Consultation,

ON the evening of that day the two clergymen and
the churchwardens of Colme sat together in consul-
tation in the study of Mr. Curtis, The vicar’s wife
was seated by the window, a deeply-interested
listener to the conversation, in which she occasionally
joined, her reputation for quickness of perception
and knowledge of character giving her opinion weight
in parish concerns, especially with her husband.
Any one entering the room without being apprised
of the cause of the meeting would have seen at a
olance that the subject discussed was of an unpleasant
nature. The grey-haired vicar was leaning back on
his arm-chair, grave and sad, as if parish cares
burdened his soul. The expression of the young
baronet’s face betrayed perplexity and vexation. The
hard features of Bat Bell, the miller, were rigid and
stern, as if in his mind justice prevailed over mercy ;
while Mr. Lane, a country squire, who was the other
churchwarden, looked animated and almost indig-
nant, like one who sees clearly before him the only
right course to be pursued, and who is surprised


THE CONSULTATION. 139

that any one else should entertain a doubt on the
subject.

“The whole affair is as clear as daylight!” ex-
claimed Mr, Lane, bending forward and speaking in
rather a raised tone of voice. “This wretched
woman, Nancy Sands, has taken advantage of her
office of church-cleaner to rob the poor-box, and
that not merely once, but it is to be feared ever since
she has had anything to do with the place. Franks,
as you tell me, sir,’—Mr. Lane was addressing him-
self to the vicar—* has thoroughly examined every
window in the church to ascertain if it be possible that
an entrance to the building could be gained through
one of them, and his search has had no result but
that of proving that the sacrilegious robber must
have come in by the door, that door of which the
Sands alone have the key. We find that the clerk’s
wite went yesterday to B



, under the plea of
going to visit a certain Mrs. Briggs, but, we can
scarcely doubt, to dispose of the plundered coin,
which she would not, of course, be able to pass as a
mere half-sovereign.” |

“T have been to every pawnbroker and jeweller
in the place this morning,” said Sir Claudius Leyton,
“but all deny having seen anything of a person
answering the description of Mrs. Sands. She had
evidently not offered a coin for sale.”
140 THE SILVER KEYS.

“That remains to be proved, Sir Claudius,” ob-
served Mr. Lane; “and let me recall to you the
very suspicious circumstance which you yourself
have brought to light by your visit to Mrs. Briggs.
It appears that Nancy Sands arrived at that person’s
house a whole hour later than can be accounted for
by the time necessarily taken up by walking from
Colme to the town.”

“But Nancy, as I mentioned just now,” said Mrs.
Curtis, who had had an interview with the clerk’s
wife, “accounts for her detention by a visit which
she paid on her way to B



to a family called
Thoms, who live in a cottage in the quarry.”

Mr. Lane shrugged his shoulders, “The lamest
of excuses,” he replied with a smile of scorn; “nay,
in itself a confirmation of the suspicions entertained
against her. What should take Mrs. Sands to visit
these Thoms, most disreputable people, whom it ap-
pears that she had never visited before ? She went to
them, she tells you, because she had heard that they
are dirty and wretched, and she wanted to do them
a kindness! Really, dear Mrs. Curtis,” the squire
continued with a bitter little laugh, “that story of
the pillow-case is the mest absurd that I ever heard
in my life ; it does little credit to Mrs. Sands’ powers
of invention.”

“Nancy certainly did take a _ pillow-case to
THE CONSULTATION. 141

the hut in the quarry,” said Mrs. Curtis quietly,
though she was annoyed at the sarcastic manner of
the churchwarden. “I went there to-day, and saw
her name marked on the linen—the only clean
article of linen in the place.”

“No doubt Nancy Sands may have been there and
left pillow-case, bolster, and bedding too,” cried Mr.
Lane, still with an appearance of mirth, in which
no one else joined ; “ but that her real errand was one
of charity I am not quite benevolent enough to sup-
pose. Nc,” he continued more sternly ; “Tf believe
that we would be perfectly justified in getting a
warrant to have Mrs. Sands’ house searched for
stolen property, and herself brought up before a
magistrate on a charge of sacrilege and theft.”

There was a murmur of “ No, no,” from all others
present except Bat Bell, and he only dryly ob-
served, “There would be no use in searching
Sands’ house, for [ am as much convinced as you
are, sir, that the coin was taken away yesterday
from it-by Nancy; and as for having the woman up
before a magistrate :

“Not to be thought of, not to be thought of,” -
muttered the vicar. |

“Such a disgrace would break poor Sands’ heart,
and drive his wife mad!” cried Mrs. Curtis.

“Really, my dear madam, justice must be admin-


142 THE SILVER KEYS.

istered without respect of persons,’ observed Mr.
Lane, tapping the table with his fingers to express
his impatience at what he deemed the weakness of
partiality. “If no notice is to be taken of an ag-
gravated offence—if the Sands are to retain posses-
sion of the church key after what has occurred, I,
for one, shall certainly avoid ever putting a penny
into the poor-box.”

“And so shall I,” chimed in the miller, the loss
of whose contributions, however, would have made
no alarming difference in the amount of the alms
received.

Mr. Curtis passed his hand across his forehead ;
he felt a serious difficulty before him. He believed,
or almost believed, that the unhappy Nancy had
yielded to temptation, yet he was anxious to allow
her the benefit of a doubt, and avoid the open scan-
dal of giving her up to justice. The vicar felt great
_ compassion for Nancy’s husband, who had for many
years blamelessly performed the duties belonging to
his office as clerk, and who must, if Nancy were con-
demned, share her ruin and disgrace, though no one
who knew him would ever suppose him to be a
sharer in her guilt.

Mrs, Curtis and her nephew conversed together
- for some moments in a low tone of voice, while Mr.
Lane and the miller continued to back each other in
THE CONSULTATION, 143

pressing the harsher course of action upon the re-
luctant vicar. Mrs, Curtis then addressed her hus-
band.

“May not a compromise be made?” said the
lady, speaking for Sir Claudius, who seldom, if he
could avoid it, spoke for himself. “My nephew has
to-day sent off advertisements regarding the lost coin
to be inserted both in the Times and in the county
papers. As he has offered for its recovery a reward
greater in amount than the value of the mere gold
of which the coin is composed, we may hope that
whoever may possess it may be induced to restore
it, and that we may be able to trace how and through
whom it came into his hands.”

“Tt’s likely enough that light would be thrown
on the matter if we once could finger the coin itself,”
observed the miller,

“But the result of the advertising cannot be
known for some days to come,” said the other
churchwarden ; “and while we are waiting for it, is
this Nancy Sands (or her husband, it is all the same
thing) to retain the key of the church ?”

“Sir Claudius proposes as a temporary arrange-
ment, to engage poor Sands to catalogue his library,”
resumed the lady, “while some substitute performs
his duties as clerk, should any occasion arise during
the course of the week in which a clerk’s services
144 THE SILVER KEYS,

would be needed. This will stave off the difficulty
at least until Sunday; and before the end of the
week the mystery may be cleared up, and the in-
nocence of Nancy be proved and acknowledged.”

Mr. Lane thought to himself, “How impossible it
is to convince a woman against her will!” but he
only twisted his red whisker, and observed, “It will
be yet more needful to find a substitute for Sands’
wife, as, whether there be or be not wedding or
christening in church this week, there is sure to
be dust. I suppose that Sir Claudius has no inten-
tion to invite Nancy up to the Hall to catalogue
his collection of coins?” added the gentleman in a
satirical tone.

Only Bat Bell, the miller, grimly smiled at the ill-
timed jest.

“Nancy Sands must for the present give up the
chureh-cleaning to some person of undoubted re-
spectability,” replied Mr. Curtis; “there can be no
question about this ; the key must be left no longer
in charge of any one open to suspicion. The car-
penter’s wife, Mrs. Stone, would be just the person
to employ,” added the vicar, after a moment of re-
flection.

A" present assented; though Bell was no favour-
ite with Mrs, Curtis, the lady felt that in the widow
a competent person liad been selected, one who had
THE CONSULTATION, 145

leisure for work, and whose respectability had never
been questioned.

“One point only remains to be decided,” observed
the vicar, to whom the proposed temporary arrange-
ment was a relief; “who is to act as clerk should a
clerk be required while poor Sands is engaged at the
Hall ?” |

Every one thought of the same individual, and
Mr. Lane acted as spokesman for all when he said,
“Could not Ned Franks manage for a time to play
clerk as well as schoolmaster ?”

“No one could fill the office better than he,” re-
plied the vicar, who had often secretly wished that
the bright intelligent Franks were in the place of
his sombre clerk, whose gloomy appearance and
monotonous voice were better known than liked by
either clergyman or congregation ; “I will speak to
Franks on the subject.” |

“Both Franks and his wife have been waiting
here for some time,’ observed Mrs. Curtis ; “ they
came by appointment.” |

“Oh! I remember,” said the vicar; “ Persis is re-
quired to give evidence as to the fact upon which
the whole of this painful business rests; the fact
that the coin was put into the poor-box.”

“Mrs. Franks is very unwilling to be brought
forward at all in the affair,” observed Mrs. Curtis.

K
146 THE SILVER KEYS.

“She will be quite reconciled to the unpleasant-
ness, no doubt,” remarked Mr. Lane, “ when she finds
her husband receiving a double salary as school-
master and clerk; for this temporary arrangement
is likely, I am persuaded, to prove permanent.
Unless Mrs. Sands’ character is cleared her husband
cannot continue in office, and the man who has
acted for him is likely to become his successor.”

While Mr. Lane was making this observation
Mrs, Curtis rang the bell; and on the servant’s
answering it, the vicar desired that Mr. Franks and
his wife might be shown into the study.

CHAPTER XV.
An Offer Peclined,

WHEN Persis entered the room, followed by her hus-
band, she looked as if she were the person occupying
the painful position of one accused, for her face was
pale, and bore traces of tears, her eyes were bent on
the floor, and she trembled as she curtsied to her
pastor, and then, at his desire, took a seat. Franks
preferred remaining on his feet, and he stood near
his wife, as if to support her, resting his hand on
AN OFFER DECLINED. 147

the back of her chair. This day had been one of the
most painful which had ever been passed by Persis.
Poor Nancy, after a search for the coin in church,
especially in the parts where the Franks had been
seated—a search which, of course, had been fruitless
—had hurried off to the schoolhouse, and had paid
a visit to Persis which had greatly tried her friend.
Nancy was a woman of warm, impulsive nature;
her feelings were not much under the control of her
reason, and she still but imperfectly bridled her
tongue. Mrs. Sands had almost succeeded in per-
suading herself that because the coin had not been
found in the box, and could not, as she maintained,
have been taken out of the box, it never had been
in the box at all. Persis, she argued, must have
made some mistake; she must have dreamed that
she had done what she had in fact never done; she
would find the coin somewhere—probably in its old
place in the cabinet—and be bitterly sorry, so thought
Nancy, for the worry which its supposed disappear-
ance had caused. Full of this idea Nancy had
entered the little sitting-room of Persis, and an
interview had followed which had been exciting and
distressing to both parties concerned. Persis was
perfectly willing to ransack every drawer in her —
cabinet in order to satisfy Nancy, and she did so,
opening even every little packet containing hair, in ©
148 THE SILVER KEYS,

order to show that in none did the small bent coin
lie concealed; but it was impossible to persuade
Mrs. Franks, against the evidence of her senses, that
she had never taken it with her to church, nor
dropped it into the box. Persis could not promise
that she would not say, when questioned on the sub-
ject, that she had put the gold piece through the slit
in the lid. Thus Nancy’s last hope gave way, and,
in the anguish of her disappointment she upbraided
Persis as being wanting in friendship, humanity,
and justice, nay, she almost cast a doubt on the
truthfulness of Franks’ wife, and quitted her presence
in anger.

There had speedily come a revulsion in the feelings
of Nancy ; her anger was quickly turned on herself.
She remembered all that she had owed to the friend-
ship of the Franks; she remembered how unworthy
she had been of that friendship. Stung by self-
reproach Nancy had hastened back to the school-
house, this time to Weep passionately and entreat
the forgiveness of Persis.

The second interview had been more trying to
Mrs. Franks even than the first, and it occurred at
an unfortunate time. Little Ned, almost for the
first time in his life, had had a very restless night,
keeping his parents awake for hours. Persis had
had great difficulty in lulling the child off into that
AN OFFER DECLINED. 149

noon-day sleep which, as she hoped, would repair to
the little one the effects of the night’s broken rest.
Searcely had the baby dropped asleep, when Mrs,
Sands’ sudden second visit had startled him from
his slumber, and the child’s fretful cries had mingled
with the sound of Nancy’s violent sobs. The sym-
pathies of children are quickly aroused, and little
Ned had been frightened by the sight of Nancy’s
agitation and his mother’s sorrow, though he was
much too young to understand anything of their
cause, Nancy’s self-reproach and affection distressed
the tender spirit of Persis more than her unreasonable
anger had done, and when the long interview ended
at last, Persis sat down and burst into tears. She
had had little leisure, however, for the indulgence of
her emotions, for the dinner had to be prepared, and
that under circumstances of difficulty, for little Ned
would not rest quiet for one minute out of the arms
of his mother. He did not care for his toys, would
scarcely look at his ninepins, and was more fretful
and miserable than his mother had ever known him
to be before. As Persis pursued her needful occu-
pation, interrupted by her frequent attempts to
soothe or amuse her boy, she dreaded lest she should
for the third time on that day hear Nancy’s step on
the stairs, but still more did she dread keeping her
evening appointment.
150 THE SILVER KEYS.

The time which the Franks had spent in waiting
at the vicarage before they were summoned to the
study, had appeared terribly long to Persis. She
Was very impatient to get back to her ailing child,
whom she had left under the care of a neighbour ;
and she was exceedingly reluctant to give any evi-
dence that might be used against Nancy. It was
no wonder that the gentle, tender-hearted woman
should tremble and look downcast when summoned
into the presence of the clergymen and the church-
wardens.

“IT am sorry that you should have been kept
waiting, Mrs. Franks,” said the vicar, with kindly
politeness. “May we now request you to confirm
the statement which you made last night to Sir
Claudius as to your having dropped an antique coin
into the poor-box last Sunday 2”

“The whole case turns on this point,” observed
Mr. Lane. “ You may be called upon, Mrs. Franks,
to give evidence on oath before a court of justice.”

“Qh! I trust that I may be spared that!” faltered
Persis in a tone that betrayed such distress that Ned
intuitively moved his hand from the back of his
wife’s chair to her shoulder, that the kindly pressure
might support and encourage his trembling partner.

“I hope, sir, that nothing of the kind may be
asked of my wife,’ said Franks to the vicar,
AN OFFER DECLINED. 151

“We do not wish to push matters to extremities,
far from it,” was the reply of Mr. Curtis; “Sir
Claudius has no intention, under any circumstances,
of commencing a prosecution. He is advertising in
several papers, and offering a large reward for the
recovery of the coin, and we hope to find that John
Sands, at least, has had nothing to do with its mys-
terious disappearance.”

“May I venture, sir, to express my conviction
that Nancy Sands has had nothing to do with it
either?” said the schoolmaster of Colme.

Bat Bell gave a short dry cough; Mr. Curtis
shook his head sadly; and Mr. Lane said, “On what
can you ground such a conviction, which I must say
that I for one would find it very difficult to main-
tain 2”

“On my wife's knowledge, and my own, of the
character of Mrs. Sands,” was the reply of Ned
Franks.

“She has borne a very indifferent character—at
least, till of late,” observed Mr. Lane, with a smile.

“Nancy Sands was drunk, as all the world knows,
when she fell into my pond last year,” said Bat, the
miller. |

“And even now her looks are against her,” re-
marked Mr, Lane.

This could not be denied even by Nancy’s best
152 THE SILVER KEYS.

friends, Indulgence in drinking and in any violent
passion is wont to leave traces behind, even when
the evil itself is subdued. Nor did Nancy’s taste
for gaudy colours add to the respectability of her
appearance.

“Let us keep to the question before us,” said the
vicar of Colme. “Do you, Mrs. Franks, in the pre-
sence of the churchwardens, confirm your statement
that you put an old gold coin into the poor-box on
Sunday ?”

“T did do so,” said Persis faintly. ‘“ Would that
I had not!” she added to herself, but not in an
audible voice.

“This evidence is sufficient for our present pur-
pose,” observed the vicar. “I wish you to know,”
he continued, “that we have decided upon a course
which, while it shields poor Sands from the disgrace
of dismissal from his situation as clerk, and leaves
time for further evidence to be produced, will place
the care of the church for the present in other hands.
Sir Claudius is going to offer Sands responsible em-
ployment at the Hall, and, meanwhile, another person
will, if needed, act as his substitute here, while a
respectable widow has charge of cleaning the church.
The office of clerk will be temporarily held; but if
farther investigation do not clear away the suspicions
which rest upon Nancy, I think that her husband
AN OFFER DECLINED. 153

will scarcely be able to resume its duties. In this
case, the present substitute for Sands will become
his permanent successor. Mr. Franks, by a little
arrangement regarding hours, we think that you
could manage to combine the light duties of clerk
with those of schoolmaster, and there is no one to
whom I would entrust them with more confidence
than yourself. You will therefore, I hope, act now
in the place of Sands, with the probability of being
ere long confirmed in the office of clerk.”

“Impossible!” exclaimed Franks quickly; and
then, conscious that he had spoken too impulsively,
he apologised to the vicar for having done so.

“T beg your pardon, sir, for answering so hastily,
and I am very grateful for the kind offer which you
have made me. I should gladly accept the office of
clerk, either for a shorter or longer time, if I could
do so without seeming to push poor Sands out of
his place. It would not be my fault that he lost it,
but still I could not bear to take advantage of his
trouble; above all,” continued the sailor-school-
master, “because that trouble has come through my
wife’s unfortunate gift of that coin.”

“Franks, you carry your fine notions too far,’
said Bat Bell, the miller, whose regard for the feelings
of a friend in disgrace, would never have stood in
the way of his profit. But Mr. Curtis understood
154 THE SILVER KEYS.

and honoured the delicacy of sentiment which made
Franks at once decline an offer which, under other
circumstances, he would gladly have accepted.

“ Perhaps you are right,” said the vicar. “TI shall
ask Mrs. Stone’s brother, Stephen White, to be ready
should there be any need for a clerk’s attendance
during the remainder of this week, while Sands is
engaged at the Hall. In the meantime no pains or
expense shall be spared to bring the truth to light,
and if the result should be the clearing of the char-
acters of both poor Sands and his wife from suspi-
cion, no one in Colme will more heartily rejoice
than myself.”

“Was I too hasty in refusing to act instead of
Sands, wifie?” asked Franks of Persis, as they
returned homewards in the dusk of the twilight.

“You spoke my thoughts as well as your own,”
was the wife’s reply. “I could not have looked poor
Nancy in the face had you, even for a day, had the
charge of the great church key. But let us walk
faster, dear Ned; our boy is not well, and will miss
us sadly ; I long to be back with my child.”


A STORM, 155

CHAPTER XVI
A Storm,

At another time John Sands would have been
pleased at the opportunity given him of passing
long days in the library of the Hall amongst old
and curious books; the employment so considerately
provided for him by Sir Claudius would have grati-
fied the clerk, since it implied trust in his honesty,
and an acknowledgment of his learning. But
Sands felt on the present occasion that the baronet’s
sudden wish to have a catalogue made of his books,
and the arrangement to provide a substitute should
the clerk’s services be required during his absence,
were connected with the affair of the coin. Had
Sands entertained any doubt of such being the case,
it would soon have been removed by the words of
his wite.

“They want to let you down easy,” muttered
Nancy gloomily, as on the Wednesday morning her
husband prepared to start for the Hall. Sands had
been summoned thither by a note from Sir Claudius
explaining his wishes in regard to the catalogue to
156 THE SILVER KEYS,

be made of his books. “‘ Stephen White has
agreed to act as your substitute in case of the ser-
vices of a clerk being required before Sunday,”
continued Nancy, reading aloud from the note
which her husband had placed in her _hand.
“Stephen White indeed! a glazier!” Nancy added
with contempt. “Let him stick to his window-
mending and pipe laying! He is no more fit to act
as Clerk than I as parson! If there was a marriage
Stephen would get the prayer-book open at the
burial service! How could he keep a register with
his scrawl which no one can read! I can’t bear to
think of his blots being seen in the book which
you've kept so neat these many long years! No, no,
there's something in the wind, or Sir Claudius
wouldn’t want to tie you up the whole day long at
the Hall. If there was a baptism or a burial, or
some one wished to look at the old monuments of
the Bartons, the books would not run away from
the library while you were doing your regular work
and fingering your fee. There's no such mighty
hurry, I take it, for clapping them into a catalogue,
like newly caught birds intoacage! No, no, there’s
some mischief brewing against you. That Stephen
_ White is creeping in as your substitute in hopes of
stopping as your successor !”

John Sands only sighed in reply, and placing his
A STORM. 157

broad-brimmed hat over his closely-cropped hair,
with a foreboding heart set out for the Hall.

Nancy watched his departure, fecling uneasy and
restless. She was not to see her husband again till
the evening, and to remain alone so long with no
companion but her own bitter thoughts, seemed to
her almost intolerable. |

“Td go over to the schoolhouse,” muttered the
elerk’s wife to herself, “but I doubt whether I’d be
welcome to Persis. She had enough, and more than
enough, of my company yesterday. Even little
Ned took to whining and howling and would not
come near me, as if the very baby knew that his old
friend was under a cloud. I never knew the child
so fretful before. I’m not in heart to pay a visit to
any of my neighbours; every one in Colme is
thinking of the lost coin, and wondering whether
I’m carrying it about in my pocket. I don’t care
to work in my garden, I don’t care to tidy my
house. Tl just step over to the church and dust
the monuments a little. It quiets my mind to be
in that place where no one disturbs me with noise
or gossip, and where I can quietly think over the
sermons and prayers that I’ve heard. Yes, yes, Pll
go to the church.” |

Nancy took down the large iron key from the
nail on which she carefully placed it every morning
158 THE SILVER KEYS.

after bringing it from her bedroom, where it was
kept during the night. Mrs. Sands then opened
the door of her dwelling, and was just going out
with the church key dangling from her middle
finger (such was her usual mode of carrying her
emblem of office), when she saw Bell Stone coming
towards her, Nancy stopped short on the threshold,
for the widow was the person of all others whom
she was least disposed to meet. As the widow was
evidently coming up to the cottage, Nancy could
not pass her without showing actual rudeness, but
the clerk’s wife remained in the doorway, resolved
not to invite her neighbour in if she could possibly
avoid so doing.

“Ah! it’s lucky I am just in time to catch you,”
cried Mrs. Stone, glancing at the church key sus-
pended from Nancy’s finger. There was something
in the widow’s manner of uttering these words that
made Mrs. Sands feel that an insult was intended.

“What have you come for?” asked Nancy
bluntly, her face by no means expressing welcome.

“T’ve come for that church key,” said Bell.

1?)

“YT wish you may get it!” exclaimed Nancy, as
indignant as if she had been asked for the wedding-
ring on her finger.

“You are likely to have your wish, Mrs, Sands,”

said her neighbour with provoking calmness, “ Per-
A STORM. 159

haps you don’t know that I’m to have the cleaning
of the church, and that my brother Stephen is
chosen to act as clerk. It goes to reason that we
must have the big key.”

Nancy ground her teeth in anger and mortifica-
tion, and then said in as temperate a tone as she
could command, “The vicar hirnself first gave this
key into my hand, only the vicar can take it away.”

“Of course, of course,” cried Bell Stone; “you
don’t suppose that either Stephen or I have ap-
pointed ourselves to our new places.” She pulled a
note, or rather a portion of a note out of her pocket.
“You know Mr. Curtis’ handwriting no doubt,
and know the crest stamp on the paper that he
uses ;” Béll held out the half-sheet near enough for
Nancy to be able to read its contents. They were
brief, simply containing a request to Mrs. Stone to
undertake to clean the church for a time, and
naming the amount of payment which she would
receive for her trouble. Bell had torn off the second
half of the sheet, because there was in it a post-
script, telling her that Mrs. Curtis herself was going
to arrange with Mrs. Sands regarding the key;
which postscript had been written to prevent the
widow's taking any steps to procure it. Mrs. Stone
perfectly understood the wishes of the vicar, but she
could not forego the gratification of herself seeing
160 THE SILVER KEYS.

“how Nancy would look when told to give up the

9

key.” Bell was so eager to enjoy this ungenerous
triumph over one in whose reformation she had
always refused to believe, that she hurried off to her
neighbour's cottage, determined to get there- before
Mrs. Curtis should have leisure to do so. ‘I
know that she has her sewing-class to-day,” said
Mrs. Stone to herself; “she cannot go out before
eleven o'clock.”

Terrible were the workings in Nancy’s mind, and
dark grew her face as she looked on that little piece
of note-paper on which she recognised the vicar’s
handwriting. It convinced her that she had been
condemned without trial, punished without mercy,
disoraced—openly disgraced—in the sight of all the
village of Colme! It was not to be expected that a
woman of Nancy’s warm temperament, writhing
under a blow which inflicted on her the sharpest
anguish, should weigh calmly the difficulties which
had been experienced by the vicar in dealing with a
case like her own. Conscious as she was of her
own innocence, though unable to prove it, Nancy
deemed it gross injustice and cruelty if any one
should treat her as though she were guilty of a
crime which her soul abhorred. She knitted her
black brows, and clenched her teeth; a violent
flush crimsoned even her forehead ; a more cautious
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“Her only reply to the demand for the key was flinging it with violence at
the face of the woman whose insolence was driving her wild.” —p, 161.
A STORM, 161

woman than Bell Stone would have avoided further
stirring up one who had “dangerous” written on
her face. ?

“You see that you had better give up the church
key peaceably at once,’ pursued her tormentor, “and
let me and my brother slip quietly into our new
places. It’s bad’ enough for you to have all the
village talking about the emptying of the poor-box,
but it would be worse if the parson and the church-
wardens should have the detectives down from
London.”

This was going too far for Nancy’s endurance ;
as the smart of vinegar poured into an open wound
was the taunt to the yet imperfectly disciplined
spirit of Nancy. Her only reply to the demand
for the key was flinging it with violence at the face
of the woman whose insolence was driving her wild.
Bell Stone shrieked with alarm and pain, for the
iron key had struck her face, inflicting a slight
wound, and causing the blood to flow. The widow
turned and fled towards the village, from which the
cottage of Nancy, which stood alone, was divided
by the distance of a few hundred yards.


162 THE SILVER KEYS.

CHAPTER XVII.

in the Bnemy’s Grasp,

WHILE these pages were being penned a fearful scene
oceurred which illustrates but too well the state
of Nancy’s mind in this her hour of great spiritual
peril. A lion-tamer who had obtained great mastery
by his courage, strength, and powers of reason over
his collection of savage beasts, was one day, when
slightly in liquor, bitten by one of his lions. The
man struck it with his sword, but the other wild
beasts rushed on their master; he might have coped
with one of them, but against all even his giant,
strength was as weakness. In the presence of a horri-
fied audience, who had no power to aid the wretched
man, the lion-tamer was overborne, worried, torn by
the savage brutes who had been wont to crouch in
submission before him!

Nancy Sands, under strong religious convictions,
had become a repentant converted woman. She had,
by the help of the grace which she sought for by
prayer, obtained such a mastery over her long-
indulged evil habits, as had made her appear in the
IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. 163

eyes of those who knew her best, a moral heroine.
Lhe reformed drunkard had to a great extent sub-
dued her lions, and was perhaps secretly a little
proud of her triumph. Suddenly a temptation had,
like a wild beast, sprung upon her at an unguarded
moment. That temptation was instantly followed
by others; every evil passion which she had struggled
to subdue appeared to be let loose against the
unhappy woman at once. Nancy’s heart, which a
few days before had been calm, thankful, and happy,
seemed to be at once transformed into a cage full of
savage wild beasts. On fierce anger towards a
fellow-creature followed terrible doubts of the justice
and wisdom even of her Maker, and a refusal to
submit to His will. Where unbelief and a rebellious
spirit hold in deadly gripe their prostrate prey, what
resistance can be offered to the Enemy whatever
other form of temptation may be assumed by him
who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he
may devour!

Nancy quitted her home before the sound of Bell
Stone’s shriek of terror had died away in her ears.
Sands’ wife strode onwards with dogged desperate
resolution. She was not going towards the school-
house, her back was turned to the church, she was
hastening in the direction of that place which had
been to her once as the very gate of destruction.
164 THE SILVER KEYS.

Nancy had on her a thirst which she deemed that
but one thing could slake, a misery in her soul which
but one thing could drown ; why should she struggle
any longer against the intense desire to drink, and
drink deeply, for Nancy knew what would-be the
certain result of her breaking her pledge, and letting
her lips once more be moistened with spirits.

“T’ve done what I could—I can’t resist longer—
now I'll give up the battle!” muttered the despairing
woman to herself. “Man forsakes me—God forsakes
me; I am unjustly accused of sacrilege and theft,
and the accusation is believed by those who should
have known me better! My occupation is lost, my
character is lost, nothing remains for me but the
one wretched pleasure which I am going to purchase
at the price of my soul!” A groan of anguish burst
from the lips of the wretched Nancy. She had
learned to love better things, she had learned to
hope—to strive—to triumph; she could not fall
back into the slough from which she had been
raised without a sense of misery and self-degradation!
And yet on she walked towards the “ Chequers,” for
she was passing the cottage of Bell Stone, and the
sight of it acted like a goad.

Nancy turned down the well-known lane which
in former days she had trodden so often, though she
had avoided it since she had signed the pledge. A
IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. 165

wooded dell lay before her, at the bottom of which
flowed the stream which turned the wheel of the
mull of Bat Bell. What cause had Nancy Sands to
remember that spot! How vividly memory brought
back to her mind the horrors of drowning, and the
agonies caused by the injuries which she had received
from that wheel, injuries of which she would feel the
effects to the end of her life. There was warning in
the sound of the clanking wheel, as its whirling
revolutions churned the waters into foam! By a
rapid train of thought there came back to the mind
of Nancy the image of Ned Franks as he had sprung
into the mill-pond to save her from what would
have been death to the soul as well as to the body.
And then there rose before her memory a sad
patient face, that of her husband, as it had watched
her so tenderly as she lay in her pain day after day
in the hospital ward.

Tears rose into the eyes of the wife of John Sands,
but she turned away her gaze from the mill-pond
with a muttered, “I’d better have been left to drown
there like a dog; Ihad not then added hypocrisy
and backsliding to my other sins!” Nancy looked
gloomily at the “ Chequers,’ which was almost
opposite to the mill, and passed on more rapidly
towards the alehouse.

“Why, here comes Nancy, the teetotaller, at last!”
166 THE SILVER KEYS.

exclaimed Mrs. Fuddles, the landlady, as she caught
a glimpse through the window of a once familiar
customer. “She’s coming as fast as her feet can
carry her.”

“ Faster than they'll carry her away again, I'll be
bound!” laughed Mullins, the butcher, who had just
drunk off his pint of foaming porter.

Mrs. Fuddles bustled towards the door to meet
the unhappy woman of whom she called herself a
friend, and to entice her in with words of welcome,
should Nancy show any mark of hesitation about
breaking her pledge. The landlady was, however,
not quite so eager to receive the clerk’s wife as she
would have been a few days before. The story of the
stolen coin had been much talked over by the visitors
at the “ Chequers,’ and Mrs. Fuddles, like most of
her guests, had declared her conviction that Nancy
Sands was the thief. The landlady therefore had
gome doubts as to whether it might be consistent
with the respectability of her house for it to become
the haunt of a person suspected of stealing. She
even gave a passing thought to the safety of her
glasses and spoons.

Nancy had just reached the threshold of the
“ Chequers,’ when a sudden grasp on her arm from
behind made her start. She glanced angrily round
and beheld Ned Franks. The schoolmaster was
IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. 167

flushed and panting, for he had run fast to overtake
her. He had been hurrying towards the town, when,
catching a sight of the unhappy Nancy, and guessing
but too well whither she was bound, Ned had turned
out of his way to overtake her, and dashed down the
path to the dell.

“Come back!” gasped the panting Franks ; 1t was
all that he had breath then to utter.

Nancy roughly shook herself from his hold.
“Leave me to myself,’ exclaimed the desperate
woman; “I want neither your help nor your pity.”

“We want yours—Nancy—our boy is ill—I fear
dying !” was the gasped forth reply.

Nancy started, and, looking again into the face of
the speaker, read there such anxiety and grief as
instantly roused her warm sympathy, and made her
share the alarm of the parent, for dearly she loved
little Ned.

“What ails the darling?” exclaimed Nancy.

Franks was scarcely able to reply. The inquisitive
looks and exclamations of Mrs. Fuddles annoyed
him; he turned and began rapidly to retrace his steps
to regain the highroad. There was no need for
him to again ask Nancy to come back, for she was
at his side as he walked, anxiously repeating her
question.

“Croup—a fearful attack—I’m on my way to
168 THE SILVER KEYS.



B for the doctor,” replied poor Franks, not slack-
ening his pace though the path was uphill, so that
Nancy could scarcely keep up with his strides. “I
left my boy in a hot bath—his mother knows what to
do—all is in God’s hands—but it is a satisfaction to
see a doctor.” There was that in the father’s tone
which showed a fear that the case was one beyond
the help of man.

“Why should you go to the town,—why leave
poor Persis in her trouble, when I can run for the
doctor?” exclaimed Nancy Sands, in the sore trial of
her friends for the moment forgetting her own.

“You will—will you ?” exclaimed Franks eagerly.

{??

“ll run as if for my life!” cried Nancy.

‘‘ Bless you—friend in need!” murmured the
father. These were the only words which passed
between the two, for they were walking so fast up
the lane that they had little time or breath for con-
versation before they regained the highroad, where
they must follow opposite directions.

Nancy was off at once for the town. The rapidity
of her motions was a relief to her mind; it seemed
to take away for a time the anguish of thought,
Even when breathlessness forced Mrs. Sands to
slacken her pace, and her mind again was busy with
thought, the suffering and the danger of the innocent
child filled it almost to the exclusion of the more
IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. 169

bitter and dangerous subject which had so lately
engrossed it.

And it was with a calmer spirit, though with
anxiety not less intense, that poor Ned rapidly strode
back to the home over which so dark a shadow had
suddenly fallen. He had seen his child, the boy who
was to him as the apple of his eye, in agonies from
which his fond parents had no power to relieve him;
Franks knew that his darling’s life hung but by a
thread, and that it was very doubtful whether he
might not find that during his own brief absence
that thread had been broken. Yet the incident
which had just occurred was to Franks asa gleam
of light in the midst of darkness. It had cost the
father a struggle with himself ere he turned out of
his way to overtake Nancy and try to rescue her once
more from the grasp of the soul-destroyer; how
could Franks think of her, care for her, turn aside
for her at such a moment? But the struggle had
been bravely made, and had brought an instant
reward. Ned was thankful to be able to return at
once to his wife and his boy; he had saved time
by apparently losing it; and he felt persuaded that
poor Nancy would not only hasten with her utmost
speed to the town, but that on her return to the
village she would come straight to the schoolhouse
for tidings of the child, instead of turning aside to
170 THE SILVER KEYS.

the “Chequers.” The tempted one was saved—at
least for a time; once again was the Enemy baffled;
and out of the evil which had befallen the Franks,
Ned trusted and prayed that some good niight
result to the soul of his friend as well as his own.

Nancy was to meet with some difficulty in her
quest for Dr. Hawthorn. She had nearly reached
_ the town, and in a shorter space of time than she
had ever taken before in walking the distance, when
she saw the well-known gig of the doctor standing
at the door of a villa which she was approaching.

“JY have caught him on his round of visits,”
thought Nancy; “that is well; the doctor will be all
the sooner with dear little Ned.” But scarcely had
she said this to herself when the slight active figure
of the doctor emerged from the villa, and he was up
in the gig, and with the reins in his hand, almost
before Nancy had presence of mind enough to call
out to stop him.

But call she did, and that loudly, for the ceeds
head was turned from Colme, and if the gig of the
doctor once went out of sight, she knew not where or
when she might find him again. Nancy’s call was
either not heard or not noticed, for she saw the gig
speeding away; how terribly fast the large wheels
whirled round, raising a cloud of dust on the dry
road over which they passed so lightly. To over- —
IN THE ENEMY’S GRASP. 171

take the fleet horse was impossible, yet Nancy
rushed after the gig, with a hope, though a faint
one, that the doctor might stop at some patient's
door, and so give his panting pursuer time to come
up.

“Tt is in vain; it is in vain!” thought Nancy,
trying to call out as she ran with her eyes fixed on
the gig, which appeared to be growing smaller and
smaller in the distance. Nancy was just about to
stop her pursuit in despair, when the doctor pulled
up his horse that he might exchange a few words
with a gentleman on horseback whom he happened
to meet. Little did the two guess when they ex-
changed questions and answers regarding the pass-
ing of some bill which was exciting strong interest
in political circles, how precious the time taken in
uttering each sentence was to the tired woman who
was toiling up the road as they talked. The con-
versation did not last long; in three minutes the
doctor lightly shook his reins, and again the wheels of
the gig began to revolve ; the loud, repeated call of
Nancy could not reach the ear of the doctor.

But it did reach the ear of the rider, and Mr.
Lane, for it was he, saw the gestures of Nancy, as
she excitedly beckoned to him to stop the gig. He
cantered towards her, and reined up his horse at
her side,
172 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Did you want to overtake Dr. Hawthorn?” he
inquired.

“Qh! sir, for mercy’s sake, stop him, stop him!”
exciaimed Nancy, with a sob-like gasp, “ Franks’
baby is dying !”

Nancy had been wont to consider the squire as
rather a hard man, but she thought so no longer
When she saw how rapidly he turned his horse
round and gave chase to the gig. That moment’s
interview had also the effect of softening Mr. Lane’s
strong prejudice against Nancy, and for the first time
he doubted whether she had stolen the coin after all.
Not that kindness of heart and warm sympathy
with others could be any proof of her own honesty,
but Mr. Lane thought, as he spurred on his hunter,
“There must be some good in a woman who risks
bursting a blood-vessel for the sake of a friend’s sick
child.”

Nancy stood still, she had no longer the power
to run on, gazing after the squire, and praying that
the doctor might be in time to save the little one’s
life, for Mrs. Sands could pray for another though
she had felt on that miserable morning as if she
could not pray for herself. There was a bend in
the road to B , and she lost sight of both gig
and horseman.
and then again Nancy heard the sound of hoofs, and


TRIBULATION. 173

saw some vehicle rapidly turning round the bend.
Tears gushed into Nancy’s eyes, and a thanksgiving
burst from her lips as she recognised the gig of the
doctor. In a short space it had passed her on the
road towards Colme; Mrs. Sands had done her
errand, and could now return to her home at her
leisure,

CHAPTER XVIII.

Fribulation,

THERE are few more powerful remedies for distress
of mind, few more strong safeguards against temp-
tation, than active efforts for the welfare of others.
Such efforts take us, as it were, out of ourselves. No
one, I believe, can ever sink into a state of helpless
despair while trying to impart some comfort to
another sufferer—to do some good to a fellow-
creature. ‘Thus it was that the wearied Nancy
followed in the track left by the wheels on the
dusty road in a more softened frame of mind.

But as the immediate necessity for bodily exertion
passed away, spiritual temptation returned. The
174 THE SILVER KEYS.

prey had been rescued for a time from the fangs of
the lion, but he was still crouching in act to spring.
It Nancy had been thirsty before starting for B :
she was far more thirsty now. The “Horse and
Groom” must be passed on her way back to Colme,
and the subtle tempter whispered that she had now
a more fair excuse for breaking her pledge; not even
Franks with all his strict notions, could blame her
now for doing so. By the time that Nancy had
come in sight of the lonely public-house by the way-



side, she had almost made up her mind to go in and
take the refreshment which her exertions had earned,
and which her tired frame needed. Had the clerk’s
wife done so she was certain to have left the place not
sober, for the late excitement which she had under-
gone would have added to the effect of spirits on
her brain.

But again what the world would term an acci-
dental circumstance occurred to help Nancy Sands
when she was well nigh overpowered by temptation.
As Nancy, before reaching the public-house, was about
to pass a cottage, Mrs. Curtis came out of the dwell-
ing, where she had been visiting one of her husband’s
sick parishioners. Nancy was annoyed at meeting
the lady, and wished to avoid speaking a word to
her, but Mrs. Curtis called to her by name, and
without actual rudeness to the vicar’s wife, from —
TRIBULATION, 175

whom she had received much kindness, Mrs. Sands
could not have passed on.

“Tam so glad to meet you,” said Mrs. Curtis,
walking on in the same direction as Nancy; “I have
_ just been at your cottage.”

Nancy was sullen, and made no reply.

“T wished to tell you,” continued Mrs. Curtis
with tact, “how much vexed I was at Mrs. Stone’s
having taken upon herself to speak to you about the
church key, when I had thought that the vicar had
made her understand that I wished to explain the
business to you myself.”

“T suppose that Mr. Curtis wrote the note show-
ing that he had turned me out of my place,” mut-
tered Nancy, her bitter sense of wrong making her
hardly respectful in her tone.

“You are not turned out of your place, and I
hope that you never will be so,” said the lady mildly.
“But for your own sake, as well as for that of
others, it is needful for a time to stop your work in
the church. My nephew is making every effort to
discover what has become of the lost coin; his anxi-
ety to clear your character is greater than his desire
to get possession of the little piece of gold. But
you must be aware yourself, Mrs. Sands, your good
sense must show you that until the guilty party
is found out, it would not be well for you to go on
176 THE SILVER KEYS.

with your work in the church. I sincerely hope
that it may be restored to you soon again.”

“Then you don’t think me guilty?” said poor
Nancy, softened and soothed by the lady’s kindness.
Mrs. Curtis was pouring oil on the wound on which
Bell Stone had poured vinegar.

~“T do not; nor do the Franks,’ replied Mrs.
Curtis.

“But others do—all the village does-—even Mr.
Curtis?” added Nancy, in a tone of anxious in-
quiry.

The lady could not reply “No.”

Nancy’s feelings burst forth in a passionate ex-
clamation. “It is too hard,” she cried, “that I
should be so cruelly, so shamefully suspected! God
knows my innocence ; why does He leave me to bear
all this misery and shame! If He is just and
good———”’

“Hush! hush!” exclaimed Mrs. Curtis; “never
utter one word, never harbour one thought, against
the justice and goodness of Him whose name and
nature is love!”

“Why does He desert me?” muttered Nancy.

“The Almighty does not desert you; He hag
never ceased to watch over and care for you,” said
Mrs. Curtis. “Did God ever desert one who trusted
in Him? Your only danger lies in letting Satan


TRIBULATION. 177

persuade you for one moment to give up that
trust.”

“Tam so wretched !” faltered poor Nancy.

“You are in tributation ; the stroke falls heavily
on you. But remember this, my friend, those
who stand before God in white robes and with palms
in their hands are they who have come out of great
tribulation.” |

“The Franks are in it now,’ observed Nancy.
“IT know what their misery must be, for I once
lost a child myself, and their boy is to them
as mine was to me—the very light of the eyes.
Why should they too be made wretched when
they are so happy? Why must the kindest
and best people in the parish be plunged without
cause into tribulation?” The spirit of rebellion
and unbelief still breathed in that impatient word
“Why 2”

“We in our blindness may not see the cause; the
ways of God may be hidden from us,” replied the
lady ; “but we know that He doth not afflict will-
ingly nor grieve the children of men,* for we have
His own word for that. Why the Lord suffers His
children to suffer so much in this present state, we
may partly gather from the meaning of the word
trabulation.”

* Lam. i. 83.
178 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Tt just means misery, does it not ?” murmured
Nancy.

“The word trobulation is taken from a Latin one
meaning thréshing, that process which, as we all
know, wheat has to undergo before it is fit for use,”
said the lady. ‘No one supposes that the farmer
threshes his wheat because he does not care for it.”

“Oh! no, wheat is his choicest grain,’ cried
Nancy.

“ Still less could we think that the farmer threshes
his wheat in order to destroy it,” continued Mrs.
Curtis. “But if wheat were a thing which could
feel pain as we do, how it would shrink from the
heavy blows of the flail coming down, one after
another, upon it.”

Nancy remembered that in the Bible God’s people
are likened to corn. “I suppose,” she observed,
after a pause, ‘‘ that tribulation comes to knock from
us the husk of sin.”

“Which clings so closely even to the converted
soul,” rejoined Mrs. Curtis. “TI have read in an old
book a beautiful prayer which often came to my mind
when I was myself under great tribulation: ‘When
the strokes of Thy flail are upon me, let me not be
like the chaff that flies in the thresher’s face, but
like the precious grain which lies at his feet.’”

There was silence for several minutes, as Mrs.
TRIBULATION. 179

Curtis and the clerk’s wife pursued their way. The
lady could not read the thoughts of the companion
who walked with downcast looks by her side, but
she guessed rightly that they were thoughts of self-
condemnation. “I have been like the chaff, rising
in impatience and anger,” reflected Nancy; “I have
not lain still at the feet of the Lord.”

Mrs. Curtis presently ventured to open a subject
which she knew would be very distasteful to Nancy,
but which, as a faithful friend, she could not leave
unnoticed.

“T cannot but regret,” said the lady, “that your
impatience under your trial led you to-day to forget
the meekness which becomes a follower of the Lord.
It pained me to hear, Mrs. Sands, of your flinging
the church key at the head of your neighbour.”

“Bell Stone provoked me past bearing,” said
Nancy. |

“She provoked you greatly, I do not doubt that,
but not past bearing,” said Mrs. Curtis; “had you
sought for grace to struggle against the temptation
to anger, that grace would not have been denied.”

“TI know that I did wrong,” replied Mrs. Sands,
“but it’s not in my nature to take insolence and
wrong meekly and quietly like a saint.”

“It is not in your nature, true, nor is it in mine,”
said the vicar’s wife; “meekness is a fruit of the
180 THE SILVER KEYS.

Spirit, my friend, and therefore a gift from God,
But it must be prayed for, and striven for, and
then exercised by every follower of Him who was
meek and lowly in heart.”

The lady’s advice was a great deal too practical
to be pleasing. Nancy, like most other persons,
much preferred speaking of trials to speaking of sins.
She attempted to turn the conversation. “One
might submit to tribulation when it comes from
God,” she said abruptly ; “I did submit, after a way,
to all that I had to bear last year in the hospital
ward, and that was no trifle, I can tell you. But it
is quite a different thing to be hunted and worried
by your neighbours, falsely accused, insulted, mocked
at.” Nancy was beginning to work herself up
again into a state of excitement.

“Stop, my friend,” interrupted the lady, “it is an
evil thing to let the mind brood over wrongs, Tri-
bulation 2s God’s discipline for us, whether it come
in the shape of sickness or poverty, or whether from
the malice and injustice of man. We must look
from the flail to the Hand that uses it, not to harm
us, but, as you yourself said just now, to strike from
our souls the husk of sin; often specially the sin of
pride.” ,

‘“No honest persons can stand having their char-
acters attacked,” exclaimed Nancy.
TRIBULATION. 181

‘“Many of God’s saints have endured tribulation
in that painful form,” replied Mrs. Curtis, “and
have found the blessing which lay concealed under
the trial. Look at Job—taunted as a hypocrite;
at Paul—suspected of being a murderer; remember
the affliction of Joseph when, cast into prison under
a false accusation, the iron entered into his soul. —
Consider, above all, the sinless Saviour, reviled,
blasphemed, even struck on the face, treated as
though He had been a criminal and deceiver! Yet
when He was reviled He reviled not again, when
fe suffered He threatened not. It is no new kind
of trial, my friend, that you are called upon to en-
dure; may you be strengthened to bear it meekly,
bravely, trustfully; lest while you have the pain
you miss the blessing which tribulation is intended
to leave behind.”

As Mrs. Curtis spoke, she slackened her pace, for
the place which she and Nancy had reached was
nearly opposite the cottage of Widow Stone. The
lady looked earnestly into the face of her companion,
and, by a movement of the hand, seemed to invite
her to go up to the door.

“Nancy Sands, you frankly owned just now that
you did wrong in flinging the key at your neigh-
bour,” said the lady, coming to a halt at the little
gate which opened into the widow’s garden. “Why
182 THE SILVER KEYS.

not do the right and the brave thing at once, by
going in and asking forgiveness 2?”

“Her forgiveness — Bell Stone’s forgiveness;
never!” exclaimed Nancy proudly, drawing herself
up to her full height.

“Qh! remember our Lord’s own command: If
thow bring thy gift to the altar, and there remem-
berest that thy brother hath aught against thee,
leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way;
jirst be reconciled to thy brother, and then come
and offer thy gift.”

“I've no gift to bring,” muttered Nancy.

“Yes indeed, you desire to offer, I know that you
desire to offer to God that most acceptable gift—a —
true and trustful heart, the gift of your submission,
the gift of your love,” said Mrs. Curtis kindly.
“But how can you offer it, dear Mrs. Sands, while
your neighbour has something against you, and your
pride prevents you from frankly asking her pardon 2”

“I can’t do it, indeed, ma’am, I can’t,” replied
Nancy Sands, but in a more humble tone; “I thank
you for your kind advice; but—but—lI must hasten
on and see how poor little Ned is; I wish you good-
day, ma'am ;” and hurriedly the clerk’s wife curtsied
and went on her way.

Mrs. Curtis looked after her receding figure, sad,
but not hopeless as regarded her husband’s parish-
THE HUSBAND'S PRAYER, 183

ioner. ‘God help you, poor tempted one !” said the
lady; “I do trust and believe that you belong to
the wheat which shall one day be found in the
heavenly garner, though much of the husk of pride
and self-will is clinging to you still, and hard and
heavy may be the strokes mich your Master may
find it needful to lay upon you.”

CHAPTER XIX.
Fho Hushand’s Prayer,

Nanoy SANDS was passed by the doctor driving
back on his homeward way before she reached the
schoolhouse. She did not attempt to stop him to
make inquiries for the little sufferer whom he had
just left, but her anxious fears read in his grave
face the death-warrant of poor little Ned. |
As Nancy approached the schoolhouse, the chil-
dren were pouring out from school, where Sir
Claudius, with kindly consideration, had relieved
poor Franks of his morning duties. The scholars
came forth far less noisily than usual; there was no
laughing or shouting amongst them; and many, as
they crossed the road, turned to look up at the win-
184 THE SILVER KEYS.

dow of the sitting-room of the Franks, The appear-
ance of the clerk’s wife, however, diverted the
attention of most of the children, and made them
forget for the moment even their sympathy with
their master; for the robbing of the poor-box was
talked over in every cottage, and that Nancy had
had a share in it was believed by many of her
neighbours.

“That's she as prigged the money,” cried one
saucy urchin, nudging a companion with his elbow.

“And cut open Widow Stone’s cheek with the
church key,” was the rejoinder.

“T wonder she ain't ashamed to be seen,” was the
remark of the first speaker, half heard and wholly
understood by her who was the object of the scorn-
ful observation.

Nancy, stung to the quick, and impatient to
escape the notice of the children, pushed her way
rudely through the throng till she reached the door,
which the last of the scholars was about to close
behind him. She could not q@mmand her voice
even to ask of any one if Franks’ baby were yet
alive.

Mrs. Sands went up the wooden staircase which
she had often mounted before, but never with a
heavier heart. Her mind was full of forebodings of
evil. It was almost a relief to her to hear the sound
THE HUSBAND'S PRAYER. 185

of the strange, painful breathing and the croupy
cough, which told her that at least all was not yet
over. Silence would have been more appalling.

Nancy knocked at the door, and then entered the
bedroom at the back of the sitting-room, being
guided thither by the sound of the cough. Persis,
looking almost as white as a sheet, was sitting with
her child in her arms, his poor flushed face, beaded
with perspiration, resting upon her bosom. Every-
thing had been done that man’s skill or woman’s
tenderness could do to relieve the sufferer; the
mother could now but silently watch the progress
of the terrible malady which was likely to take from
her the little treasure of her heart. Through the
half-open door which divided the two rooms belong-
ing to the Franks, Nancy caught a glimpse of Ned
busy at the fireplace, getting more hot water ready,
in case of a second bath being required for the suf-
fering boy.

“What does the doctor ” began Nancy, but
she stopped short, afraid to finish asking the ques-
tion. Persis gave the reply in a look so sad, and
yet so submissive, that it made Nancy think of the
precious grain lying still on the threshing-floor.
Not in vain had Mrs. Curtis unlocked to Nancy the
meaning of the word tribulation.

Mrs. Sands so earnestly entreated to be allowed


186 THE SILVER KEYS.

to remain with Persis, to help in any way, that the
Franks could not refuse her proffered kindness,
though they would perhaps have preferred being
left to bear their troubles alone. But they soon
found Nancy useful, especially during the afternoon
hours when Ned had to drag himself unwillingly
enough from the sick-room of his child, to go
through his afternoon work in school. It was a
comfort to him then to leave with his wife some
one who would instantly summon him upstairs
should a change for the worse take place in his
child.

Nancy could hardly be persuaded to leave her
post in the evening, and rejoin her husband in their
now miserable home; but as both Ned and Persis
intended to sit up all night, the presence of a third
watcher was neither needful nor would be desirable.

“Preserve your streneth, dear kind friend,”
whispered Ned, as he gratefully pressed the hand of
his neighbour; “if this illness lasts long, my poor
wife may greatly need the help which you are so
willing to give.”

Nancy returned to bas own home, and found her
husband in the little parlour, sitting opposite to the
door, on which for the last half-hour his eyes had
been steadily fixed. Anxious, wistful eyes they
would have looked, had the dull dark orbs had
THE HUSBAND’S PRAYER. 187

much power of expression; as it was, a stranger
would only have read in them stolid patience.
Nancy, however, saw at once in her husband’s face
that he had been more than usually anxious for her
return.

“Any news of the coin?” was her first eager
question.

John mournfully shook his head, but did not for
a moment remove his fixed gaze from his wife. |

Nancy sat down wearily beside him, and gave
her husband an account of poor little Ned’s illness,
and of her own expedition in search of the doctor.
She was as ready with her tongue as John was
slow with his. He did not utter a single word
until her story was ended.

But while Nancy was speaking, the dull cloud on
her husband’s face was gradually clearing away, as
if some secret burden were being removed from his
mind. At last John Sands muttered to himself, “ I
knew that it could not be true.”

“What could not be true?” asked Nancy quickly.

John hesitated before replying to the question,
being fearful of rousing that fiery temper over
which his wife had yet but imperfect control. He
gave an indirect answer. “Folk talk nonsense, my
dear,” he observed ; “we must not heed what they

9)

say.
188 THE SILVER KEYS.

“But I must know what they say,” cried Nancy.
“T saw as soon as I came in that something had gone
wrong with you, John.”

Sands was never able to hide anything long from
his wife, so gave up all attempt to do so. “I heard
that—that you had broken it,’ he said in a low tone
of voice, while he was apparently intent on removing
a small spot of grease from one of the knees of his
trousers.

“Broken what?” asked Nancy abruptly.

“The pledge, my dear,” replied John, bending
down his head, so that the words could scarcely be
heard.

Nancy was not angry, as her husband had ex-
pected her to be. “I very nearly did break it,”
she said sadly; “I was just going into the
‘Chequers’ when Franks—bless him for it—came
up and saved me again from myself. But tell
me all that you have heard of me, John, and who
spoke against me to my own husband; but no
—perhaps I had better not hear who was so
good-natured as to give you such pleasant news,”
added Nancy with bitterness.

John, in few words, and those few uttered with
painful hesitation, let Nancy know that he had
heard that she had not only broken the pledge, but
had, in a fit of intoxication, attacked and severely
THE HUSBANDS PRAYER. 189

hurt the carpenter’s widow with the large iron key
of the church.

“T was not drunk—at least not with spirits—but
I was savagely anery,” said Nancy. “I did what I
ought not to have done; I did what Persis would
never have done; I flung the key at Bell’s head.”

“JY am sorry for it, my dear,’ said poor John.
No sharper word of reproof had ever come from his
lips.

“T am sorry too,’ cried Nancy; “I wish from the
bottom of my soul that I had kept my temper!”
She was not only painfully aware that her passion
had increased the difficulties of her position, but
was also grieved at having acted in a way so un-
worthy of a believer. “I wonder if I shall ever
become an out-and-out Christian like Persis!”
continued Mrs. Sands. “ What has happened to-day
almost makes me fear that all the religion that I
hoped that I had in my heart, was only a sham
after all.” |

17?

“A sham—oh! no!” exclaimed John, —
“There’s something wanting, something very
wrong about me,” said Nancy, speaking rather to
herself than to her husband, “or I would not be
slipping backwards two steps for every one I go
forward,—I would not be bringing, as I do, dis-

honour on my Christian profession.”
190 THE SILVER KEYS.

99

“You do all that you can
husband.

“No, John, no,” interrupted Nancy, with honest
frankness; “I won’t deceive myself, nor you, I
don’t do all that I can. Mrs. Curtis has been
talking over this matter to me to-day; she spoke
truth, but I could hardly bear to hear it even from
her. She says that I ought to ask Bell Stone’s

|?

began the indulgent



forgiveness

“YT wish that you would,” sighed the clerk.

“T can't make up my mind to it, no, John, I
can't!” exclaimed Nancy; and tired as she was,
she rose and paced up and down the room like a
caged wild creature. “Vd rather walk barefoot all
round England, I would, than beg pardon of that
woman Stone!”

John Sands did not press the point; he never
pressed any point with his wife; he was far more

>?

ready to make excuses for her conduct than she
was to make them herself. But it was not without
design that the clerk chose for his evening Bible-
reading the fifth chapter of First Thessalonians,
breaking, to Nancy's surprise, through his unvarying
custom of reading one of the lessons appointed for
the day by his church. John’s style of reading
was always slow and monotonous, and it would
seldom have been easy to decide whether he were or
TRIBULATION. 191

Were not paying attention to the contents of the
chapter. On this particular night, however, Nancy
was in no doubt on the subject, for when John
came to the words, The very God of peace sanctify
you wholly, his voice trembled, he fairly broke
down, and had to pause for several seconds before
he again went on. His wife was sure that the
brief interval was spent in silent prayer, and that
the prayer was for her.

“John,” said Nancy, after her husband had read
through the chapter, and on concluding with the
blessing at the end of it, reverentially closed the
Bible, “John, I know that you chose that chapter
for me. ‘There’s a deal in it that’s. just suited
for a woman of my hot temper; I need to be
told to be patient to all, and not to render evil for
evil.”

Poor Sands did not contradict his wife. The
clerk had suffered more than even Nancy could
guess from what he had heard, partly true and partly
false, of. her conduct on the morning of that most
trying day.

“But I don’t just understand that prayer that
the God of peace should sanctify me wholly,” con-
tinued Nancy, recalling the verse at which her
husband had paused from strong emotion. “I
hope that I know what it is to be saved, 1 am sure
192 THE SILVER KEYS.

that I know what it is to be in great tribulation,
but what is it to be sanctified ?”
“ Made holy,” was the clerk’s brief reply.

CHAPTER XX.
The fight-watch,

NANcy reflected often, and reflected long, over those
two short words. John Sands’ timid hand had
almost unconsciously turned the key that opens a
whole treasury of spiritual instruction, into which
Nancy almost feared to enter. To one like her,
with unsubdued temper, fierce dislikes, and pride
struggling for the mastery still, there is a shrinking
back from the scriptural doctrine that the soul
which the grace of God saves, that grace will also
make holy.

At break of dawn Nancy was at the door of the
schoolhouse ; it was opened to her by Ned Franks
himself. He looked pale in the dim light, and had
the haggard appearance of one who has spent the
night in watching instead of resting, but he greeted
Nancy with a smile.

“Our boy sleeps at last; God may spare him to
THE NIGHT-WATOH. 193

us yet,” said the father, whose naturally cheerful
spirit brightened at the faintest gleam of hope.
“You will come upstairs and see Persis?”

Mrs. Sands needed no second invitation, indeed
she passed the whole of that day in the home of the
Franks. It was to her as a refuge from society,
which would have been dangerous to her, or solitude,
which was perhaps more dangerous still. And that
dwelling was not only a place of refuge, it was algo
a school to Nancy, in which she learned lessons in
the time of sickness which she could not have
learned so well in the time of joy and health. Ned
and his wife had always hitherto appeared to Nancy
to be the happiest, as well as the most pious, couple
whom she knew. She had seen in them the power
of religion to ouide in prosperity, she now saw its
power to support in affliction. The pillar of cloud
which hung over the camp of Israel must have been
a striking object during the day, but it wore a more
grand and awful beauty when, as a column of fiery
brightness, it glowed through the darkness of night.

Very heavily upon the Franks was falling the
flail of tribulation. The slight improvement in the
state of his child which had raised the poor father’s
hopes was very short-lived indeed. Before the day
was far advanced another severe fit of the fearful
malady came on. The little sufferer woke from his

N
194 - THE SILVER KEYS.

short sleep with a violent start; he stared around
him in terror, as if he could see approaching tor-
mentors from whom he had no power to flee, and
from whom not even his parents’ arms could pro-
tect him. Then followed a frightful paroxysm, a
struggle for breath—for life, in which it seemed
as if body and soul would be rent asunder. In
vain the poor child attempted to utter cries; his
throat could now scarcely emit a sound; his agony
was expressed by signs, the clutching hands, the
- quivering limbs, the chest violently heaving. The
once rosy lips of the lovely child grew livid as
' those of a corpse, and clammy sweats burst over
his frame.

Again the doctor was hurriedly summoned, and
sharp remedies were applied, both the lancet and
blister, though with no strong hope of success,
Persis would not quit the room; what her child must
sufier she would endure to see; she supported the
little one in her arms, and in his pain and his terror
he clung more closely to her bosom.

“You would rather bear all this pain yourself,”
whispered Nancy to Persis.

“A thousand times over,” faltered the mother, with
a look of anguish at her suffering boy.

But through that day of distress Nancy heard not
one murmur either from Franks or his wife, she saw
THE NIGHT-WATCH. 195

that they doubted not for an instant either the
wisdom or goodness of God. As the child’s suffer-
ings made him cling but more closely to the parent
who let painful remedies be applied, the nature of
which he could notainderstand save that they hurt
him sorely, so affliction but drew the Franks nearer
to their Heavenly Father. Nancy silently contrasted
her friends’ faith and submission with her own
passionate and rebellious grief when her only son had
sickened and died. Hers had been a sorrow of the
world working death, for she had rushed into intem-
perance to drown the sense of woe; theirs was an
affliction which purified and sanctified. Such is the
affliction which worketh a more exceeding weight of
glory, to be revealed when faith, tried in the furnace,
is proved to be as pure gold.

The sharp remedies applied by the doctor were
not without a certain effect. There were intervals
of comparative relief from pain, though it was
followed by great exhaustion. The long terrible day
closed more tranquilly than anxious nurses had
dared to hope. Ned Franks had passed it almost
entirely between the schoolroom, with its distracting
noises and wearisome work, and the sick-room of his
child. He had scarcely cared to snatch a few minutes
to partake of the meals which Persis had begged
Mrs. Sands to prepare in the little front room.
196 THE SILVER KEYS.

“No, dear husband, you must not sit up again,”
said Persis to Ned as the night drew on. The curly
head of her child still rested on her bosom; he was
not asleep, but seemed rather easier, though drawing
his breath in short gasps. “ You cannot work all
day and watch all night besides,” continued the
schoolmaster’s wife; “you look so pale and ill, my
Ned, do not add anxiety for your health to my
trouble on account of our boy. Nancy has kindly
offered to sit up with me to-night; go, if you
love me, go, and lie down on the sofa in the
next room. If any change occur,’ the mother’s
lip quivered as she spoke, “we will wake you at
once.”

Ned yielded to his wife’s entreaty. Unaccustomed
as he was, to night watches in a chamber of sickness,
and wearied with the long day’s work, the school-
master, notwithstanding his anxiety, could scarcely
keep his eyes open. franks only remained to
offer up a short fervent prayer with his wife, in
which Nancy reverentially joined, and then went
into the sitting-room, and without taking off
his clothes, stretched himself on the sofa. The
tired man was soon sunk in deep and peaceful
slumber.

But the mother could not sleep, even though she
knew that Nancy was watching. If drowsiness
THE NIGHT-WATCH. 197

sometimes stole over Persis, and she felt her eye-
lids drooping, she roused herself either by silently
repeating hymns, or by lifting up her heart in
prayer for the little one whose small feverish hand
she held gently clasped in her own. Then Persig
noiselessly drew towards herself the Bible which
lay on the table, and carefully screening the light
of the candle from the eyes of her child, let it fall
on the pages of the holy Book, from which, in
that sad hour of trial, she drew refreshment and
comfort.

How still and solemn to Nancy that sick-room
appeared, where the pale mother, with her fading
treasure in her arms, sat reading the Word of God!
Mrs. Sands felt as if the place were like a church,
and for a time a strange calm came over her restless
spirit.

Poor little Ned’s favourite cuckoo-clock in the
adjoining room gave a single note, announcing the
hour One. The sound seemed too cheerful for the
place and the time, it was as if the bird of Spring
had uttered its note in some dark night of December.
A. different sound succeeded; a slight sound, yet it
aroused all the attention of Nancy. It was not the
dull crackling of the fire which, even in that summer
night, was not suffered to die out; nor was it the
short breathings of the poor little boy. It was a
198 THE SILVER KEYS.

measured “tic, tic, tic,’ from an unseen worker
behind the wainscot, that made the heart of Nancy
throb fast, as she heard in it the doom of the child.
“Tt is the death-watch!” murmured the clerk’s wife,
a cold shudder passing through her frame. _

Nancy had been a woman of iron nerve before her
health had been shaken by the severe accident which
had maimed her; she had been wont to boast that
she would not start were the moon to fall down on
one side of a hedge while she stood on the other.
But Nancy had at no period of her life been without.
a slight touch of superstition. Though she had been
told that the sound to which the name of death-
watch is given arises but from the tapping of an
insect at work behind the wainscot, the noise, coming
as it did in the stillness of night and in a house
where there was sickness likely to be mortal, gave
her a sensation of terror. Every distinct tap was to
her a blow struck at hope. It seemed to Nancy that
the little sufferer’s breathing had altogether ceased,
and that his mother, while so quietly reading her
Bible, was clasping a corpse to her heart! Mrs.
Sands, nervous and trembling, could not forbear
rising from her seat and moving softly across the
room to the place where Persis was sitting, to see
whether the child’s spirit had not indeed passed
away. A glance at the boy was enough to show
THE NIGHT-WATCH. 199

that such was not the case; little Ned was neither
dead nor sleeping; he raised his heavy eyes and
gave his friend a faint smile of recognition, making,
however, no movement, and uttering no sound.
Nancy’s impulse was to catch him up, press him to
her heart, and cover his fever-flushed face with kisses,
but she abstained, of course, from what must have
disturbed and might seriously have injured the child.

“He will never, never smile at me again; it was
his good-bye!” thought Nancy, with a heart full of
sorrow and gloomy forebodings.

Persis glanced up from her reading, and saw the
expression of distress on the face of her affectionate
friend. Silently, to give comfort, and to show the ©
source from which she herself was drawing comfort,
Persis pointed to the passage in Hebrews which she
had at the moment been reading. It was that beau-
tiful passage that tells the Christian mourner that

whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, But it was
the reason given for the chastening that fixed the
attention of Nancy as she read from the inspired
page, That we nught be partakers of His holiness.
The words seemed like an echo of the prayer,
The very God of peace sanctify you wholly. Nancy
crept softly back to her seat; she had something to
ponder over now which drew her attention from the
beat of the death-watch.
200 THE SILVER KEYS.

“ Holiness—have J holiness ?—no !” such was the
honest answer which Nancy’s conscience returned to
the question. “I have tried to give up intemperance,
bad language, and all other open sin, and to keep
down my savage temper. In the last I have failed,
grievously failed” (the outbreak of passion on the
Wednesday morning had proved this but too plainly).
“But even if f had succeeded in conducting myself
soberly and quietly, so that no one should ever have
seen me give way to old evil habits, all this outward
change would not be enough to prove me a true
child of God. Holiness is something more than a
sober life and quiet behaviour. I remember our
vicar preaching about it once, and saying that
holiness is a@ growing likeness to the Lord, such a
likeness as a dew-drop has to the great sea, or a
glow-worm’s spark to the sun! There’s nothing of
that in me; no, no more likeness to the meek and
lowly Lord than a clod of clay has to the sun, or a
blot of ink to the shining sea! I am not holy; I
never have been holy; and—do I even wish to be
holy now?” Nancy was almost startled at the doubt
which arose in her mind, for she could not from the
depths of her heart answer “ Yes.” And wherefore
was she not able to do so? The cause was to be
found in one cherished bosom sin, with which
Nancy was unwilling to part. “If the Lord were
THE NIGHT-WATCH. 20:1

to sanctify me wholly,” thought Nancy, “the first
thing which conscience would make me do would
be to go and ask forgiveness of the woman whom
I dislike and despise; the woman whom I have
wronged,”

Well would it be for all of us if we gave ourselves
such a time for quiet self-examination as Nancy ~
Sands had during that night of watching. Why
are there so many “ stunted Christians,” cold incon-
sistent professors of religion, who bring dishonour
instead of glory to the Master whose name they
bear? Would we—could we—remain so utterly un-
like our Lord, were God’s Spirit really to sanctify
our hearts wholly ?

Can He do so ?—Yes,

Ts He willing to do so?—Yes.

Hath God promised that He will do so in answer
to the prayer of faith ?—Yes.

Why then is this highest of blessings so seldom
bestowed on nominal Christians? Why do so many
who might be made clear as the dew-drop, and bright
as the spark, remain so long as the dark ink or the
dull sordid clay ?

Because so many, like Nancy Sands, do not ask
earnestly, because they do not desire heartily, that
their souls should not only be saved by Christ, but
sanctified by the Spirit.
202 | THE SILVER KEYS.

Such professors are afraid of the means and of the
effect of sanctification.

The means,—lest that should be tribulation.

The effect,—that of giving up cherished sin.

“Tt is enough to be sencere in religion,” such is
the expressed belief of multitudes who are content
if they can but escape Hell and enter Heaven, but
who never hunger and thirst after that righteousness
which God’s Spirit alone can bestow. _

If any such “ stunted Christian” now glance over
these pages, I entreat him to pause for a few short
minutes, and thus frankly and honestly question his
conscience, as in the sight of his Maker.

«Am I really sincere in my religion?

“Let me bring my sincerity to this simple, practical
test. Were I certain to obtain what I ask for, should
I dare to go down on my knees this moment and
pray thus, THE VERY GOD OF PEACE SANCTIFY ME
WHOLLY! If I should shrink from uttering this Scrip-
tural prayer, can I call myself sencere in religion ?”

But is such a prayer actually needful for every.
one calling himself a Christian? Is sanctification
indispensable to the believer ?

Let the reply be given in the words of Scripture
which tells of Holiness, without which no man shall
see the Lord,* and gives this solemn warning to all

Heb. xii, 14.
HOPES DISAPPOINTED. 203

half-hearted professors of religion, If any man have
not the Spirit of Christ HE IS NONE oF His.+

CHAPTER XXI.
Hopes Pisappointed,

It is not to be supposed that Nancy Sands’ anxiety
regarding the sick child, or her reflections on her
own shortcomings, prevented her mind from brood-
ing over the disappearance of Persis’s coin, and all
the painful consequences to herself and her husband
which were likely to follow its loss. When awake,
Nancy's thoughts, into whatever other channel they
might for awhile be turned, perpetually flowed back
into this ; fears and hopes regarding the lost piece
of gold mingled in the poor woman’s dreams,

The cuckoo had sounded but three notes on the
Friday morning when Nancy was roused from a
short slumber into which she had fallen in her chair,
by the appearance of Ned Franks at the door which
divided the two apartments. He had come, he whis-
pered, to take his morning watch, and insist on his
wife and her kind friend having rest. Persis, whose

Rom. viil. 9.
204 THE SILVER KEYS.

fears were greatly relieved by her child’s soft breath-
ing and the quiet way in which he had passed the
oreater part of the night, placed her boy on the bed,
and then thankfully and peacefully laid herself
down beside him. She could hardly keep awake
longer, and might now, she thought, give way for
awhile to the drowsiness which oppressed her.

Nancy’s night-watch being over, she put on her
bonnet and shawl, and, quietly leaving the house,
returned in the faint twilight to her own home.
As she passed the churchyard the stars were fading
from the sky. She could just distinguish the low
white headstone by the grave of her own son; she
thought how soon its shadow might fall on another
small grassy mound; for Nancy Sands was not so
hopeful as Persis that little Ned would recover.

It’s not for nothing,’ Nancy murmured to herself,
“that the death-watch beat in the middle of the
night. The sweet child seems better indeed; he
breathes more freely, and the little hands have left
off trembling and clutching, but he’s just dying
away like yon stars; that merry laugh of his I never
shall hear again.”

Nancy came down later than usual in the morn-
ing; after the night of watching she had had some
hours of heavy sleep. She found on entering the
parlour that John had taken a comfortless break-
HOPES DISAPPOINTED. 205

fast by himself, and was just about to start for the
Hall. |

“Qh! John, I do hope and trust that you will
bring back to-day good news of the finding of that
wretched coin!” exclaimed Nancy. “The advertise-
ments must have been in yesterday’s papers, and
Sir Claudius will have the answers to-day.” |

“ Possibly,” answered the clerk, looking quiet and
solemn as ever, as he first carefully brushed his hat,
and then placed it over his closely-cropped black
hair.

“You'll send me word if there’s news; I'll be at
the schoolhouse of course,” cried Nancy; “I'll just
snatch a bit of breakfast and be off, for I’m not easy
at all about the child. The poor Franks are, I fear,
buoying themselves up with false hopes. When
little Ned opened his blue eyes and smiled in my
face last night while the dismal death-watch was
beating, I knew it was a good-bye. He'll not stop
with us long, the darling, and what will his parents
do without him! Poor Ned Franks! he’s so
wrapped up in the child!”

It was, perhaps, the wearing anxiety which she
was undergoing which filled the mind of Nancy with
dark forebodings which she deemed the shadow of
coming misfortune. When about half-an-hour after-
wards she approached the schoolhouse, anxiously
206 THE SILVER KEYS.

Mrs. Sands glanced up at the window, and her
heart sank within ‘her, for she saw that the blind
was drawn down. ‘The hum of voices in the school-
room below somewhat reassured her, however; for
surely lessons would not be going on as usual had
there been a death in the house.

Nancy lifted the latch and went in without knock-
ing ; she stole up stairs as softly as she could, and
tremblingly turned the handle of the door which
opened into the sitting-room of the Franks. ‘The
anxious expression of Nancy’s face altered at her
first glance into the little apartment. The softened
light through the white blind fell on Persis, pallid
but happy. She was seated in front of her ebony
_ cabinet, with her child on her knee, and was occu-
pied in locking and unlocking the little drawers for
his amusement, and showing him their various con-
tents. At the moment of Nancy’s entrance little
Ned was kissing the old miniature of which mention
has been made, and softly repeating, “Ma, ma.”
With what intense joy the mother listened to the
sweet lisping of that word by lips which could
not on the previous day have uttered an articulate
sound,

“Tl never put faith in a death-watch again!”
exclaimed Nancy, reflecting back her friend’s look
of thankful delight.
HOPES DISAPPOINTED, 207

The doctor, when he was ushered in by Ned
Franks a little after noon, confirmed all the hopes
of the parents. |

“We've had a sharp fight for it, Mrs. Franks, but
the victory’s won, thanks to good nursing,” observed
Dr. Hawthorn after he had examined the little
patient, who shrank from him and burst out into a
cry, a natural audible cry, which in itself showed
that the malady had been conquered.

“We are very grateful to God, and to you, sir,”
said Ned Franks from his heart.

“The littl man there does not thank me,” ob-
served the doctor with a smile; “he remembers the
blister and the bleeding. There are older patients
than he who are slow in recognising their best friends
to be such.” |

‘What shall I render to the Lord for all His good-
ness to me!” exclaimed Persis, when her husband
had returned into the room after showing out the
doctor. “Oh! my Ned, with what a thankful heart
on Sunday you will remain in church to partake of
the Holy Communion !”

Persis knew not what a pang her words inflicted
on Nancy Sands. ‘The very name of church recalled
to the clerk’s wife her own bitter trial, which seemed
all the more bitter from contrast with the joy of her
friends. Nancy, since her reformation, had been a
208 THE SILVER KEYS.

devout communicant, and had dearly prized the
privilege of approaching with her husband the table
of the Lord. But on the next Sunday how could
she do so? Would she dare so much as show her
face in church if the mystery of the robbing of the
poor-box were not cleared up before then? And
even should it be cleared up, and her innocence of
the crime of sacrilege be proved, was there not
another barrier to shut her out from the feast of
love, as one unworthy to share it? Could Nancy
bring her gift to the altar, remembering that her
neighbour had indeed something against her ?

T'o hide the emotion which her face betrayed, Mrs.
Sands walked to the window, and moving the blind
a little aside with her hand, looked forth on the
landscape bright with summer sunshine. She gave
a slight start as she did so, and instantly drew back
from the window.

“What is it that you see?” asked Franks, who
noticed the hasty movement.

“Bell Stone coming up to the door,” replied
Nancy, turning towards him a face that was flushed
up to the temples. “I wish that I were anywhere
but here!”

“ Do not wish that, my friend!” exclaimed Franks.
“It is better, far better that you should meet Mrs,
Stone here, and by one bravely-spoken word set all
HOPES DISAPPOINTED. 209

right between you. Ona happy day like this let
all be goodwill and kindness.”

“No, no, I can’t, I can’t ask her pardon!” cried
Nancy; “and as for kindness and goodwill there’s
no more of these in that woman, mild and civil as
she looks, than of sugar in soap-suds. I’ve no
time to get out of the house without meeting Bell
Stone on the stairs; Persis, Pll go into the back-
room, and slip quietly away through its other door
as soon as I know that the way is clear.”

It was useless to attempt to stop Nancy; she re-
treated hastily by the door which connected the two
rooms belonging to the Franks. Scarcely had she
done so when a tap was heard below, and then the
voice of the widow inquiring whether she might
come up-stairs. In another minute Mrs. Stone
entered the sitting-room, looking, as she always did
in her widow’s neat weeds, a highly-respectable
person.

“Am I acting wisely, am I acting rightly?”
thought Nancy in her retreat in the bedroom, as
she heard through the closed middle door her neigh-
bour’s kindly greeting to the Franks, and her con-
sratulations to them on the recovery of their child.
“This is an opportunity—lI cannot hope for a better
one—of healing up the old sore, and of getting over

a difficulty which can only be increased by delay.
O
210 THE SILVER KEYS.

Yes, I had better speak to Bell Stone at once, and
confess that I behaved wrongly towards her.”
Nancy's fingers touched the handle of the door
which opened into the sitting-room, and she was
just about to turn it, when the movement was
stopped by her overhearing an observation made
by the widow.

“Ah! that’s the pretty cabinet which held the
coi stolen by that sad hypocrite, Nancy.”

Mrs. Sands drew back her fingers from the handle
with a start, as if she had touched red-hot iron, and
gnashed her teeth with anger. She was not going
to act the mean part of a listener to what she was
not intended to hear; she hurried by the other door
to the staircase, and rushed down it, and forth into
the open air. Had Nancy remained in the bedroom
she would have heard how warmly and affection-
ately her part was taken by the Franks, who were
very grateful for the sympathy and kindness which
she had shown to them in their trouble. But Nancy
had heard nothing but those words—those cruel
words of Bell Stone's, which she repeated to herself
between her clenched teeth, as with rapid strides
she hastened back to her home. “Stolen by that
hypocrite, Nancy!” It was not till she had flung
herself down on a seat in her own little parlour,
that Nancy regained the power to collect her
HOPES DISAPPOINTED. 2t1

thoughts, and bring her reason to bear on what had
occasioned her such exquisite pain.

“Why should I be so savage against that woman ;
she is but saying what others say, because she thinks
what others think ;” moaned poor Nancy, rocking
herself backwards and forwards on her chair. “If
I had committed the crime of which I am accused,
I should indeed be the basest of hypocrites, the
vilest of thieves! But this horrible mystery cannot
last long,” pursued the clerk’s wife in a calmer tone;
“perhaps at this very time Sir Claudius is on the
scent of the real thief. Some answer must surely
have come to the advertisements in the papers, the
reward which the baronet offered for information
was so large that information will certainly be
given. John will bring me good news, I am sure
that he will, Those who have judged me so hardly
will blush at their cruel injustice. The Lord will
make my innocence clear as the noon-day in the face
of all my enemies !”

Reviving hope grew stronger and stronger in the
breast of the impulsive Nancy. The tribulation of
the Franks had passed away, and why, she argued
with herself, should not hers do so also? Some
one must have robbed the box of the coin ; justice
would soon be on the track of that thief; his guilt
could not long be concealed ; so Mrs. Sands tried to
aio THE SILVER KEYS.

persuade herself, until at last she was almost
persuaded. Never during the whole course of her
married life had Nancy so longed for the return
home of her husband as she did on that afternoon.
Many times did she go to the open door and look
down the road to see if Sands were coming, even
before the time at which he would be at all likely to
come. At last Nancy could restrain her impatience
no longer, and went forth to meet her husband,
taking her way over fields and along unfrequented
Janes in order to avoid meeting any of her neighbours,
for the sight of those who might look upon her with
suspicion was painful to her deeply-wounded spirit.

Nancy had just reached the large handsome
bronze gate which gave entrance to the baronet’s
park, when she descried, advancing towards her, the
prim figure dressed in black, which, from its peculiar
gait and stiffness, might have been recognised as
that of John Sands at the distance of half-a-mile.
Nancy waited impatiently till her husband came up
to the gate, for she did not like to venture into the
baronet’s grounds while a cloud of suspicion rested
upon her character. From any face but that of
John Sands Nancy might have read an answer to
her eager question, “Any news?” before he had
come near enough for her to ask it; but John’s
melancholy visage showed no change, and his quiet
HOPES DISAPPOINTED. 213

shake of the head was just the reply which he would
have given had he been asked whether the sun had
yet set.

“Sir Claudius has then had no letters about the
coin?” inquired Nancy, unwilling to give up her
hope.

There was another silent shake of the head, and,
passing out of the park, John Sands rejoined his wife.

Nancy turned, and silently walked by the side of
her husband, her heart too full to allow her to utter
another word.

“Oh! if 1 were only ready—if I were only sancti-
fied,” thought the unhappy woman, “ how thankful
should I be to be laid to rest beside my poor boy
under the sod! I may not be thought fit to enter
the church on week-days, no, nor on Sabbath-days
neither, but no one would grudge even Nancy Sands
a quiet corner in the churchyard—none could shut
her out from the grave !”


214 THE SILVER KEYS.

CHAPTER XXII.
A ictory,

THE breakfast at Sands’ home on the Saturday
morning was cheerless enough. Neither husband
nor wife seemed willing to exchange thoughts on
the subject which weighed so heavily on the minds
of them both. The day was dull and showery; a
grey mantle of mist obscured the sky, and dimmed
the rich green of the summer foliage.

As John Sands prepared to start for his walk to
the Hall, taking from its hook his neat alpaca um-
brella as a precaution against rain (for John had the
prudence and foresight in which Nancy was usually
wanting), he addressed to his wife a few words, over
the delivery of which he had been pondering during
half the time which he had spent at breakfast.

“This is my last day at the Hall, the catalogue is
nearly completed, I'm at the letter T,” began John
in a hesitating tone. He seemed to find something
wrong with his neat umbrella, for he unbuttoned it,
-and occupied his thin fingers in trying to lay the
smooth folds yet smoother.

“There has not been a wedding, a funeral, or a
A VICTORY. | 215

visitor to the church this week, so Stephen White
has not had the chance of standing in your shoes,”
observed Nancy. “To-morrow I will see you again
in your place; that is to say,” she added gloomily,
“if I attend service in church at all while this
hateful business of the coin is unsettled. I have
half a mind to stay at home to-morrow, only that
absence from church might look lke confession of
ouilt; so I’d rather brave out the matter boldly.”

Smoothing the umbrella appeared to be a tedious
and troublesome affair if we were to judge by the
time that poor John took in laying down the folds
one over the other. His wife glanced up at his
face, and it grieved her soul to see how ill her hus-
band was looking. It almost seemed to Nancy as if
John had shrunk in size; certainly his clothes hung
loosely upon him.

“ John,” said Nancy abruptly, “ what shall you do
if I am dismissed altogether ?”

“Resion,” was the brief reply.

Often as Nancy had pondered over the difficulty,
nay, the impossibility of her husband’s retaining his
place as clerk if she were dismissed in disgrace from
her office of taking care of the church, she was
startled when John Sands so simply avowed his in-
tention of taking a step so serious in its results as
his resignation would be. Her heart seemed to rise
216 THE SILVER KEYS.

into her throat; but a feeling of warm, grateful
affection towards her husband, who made her cause
so thoroughly his own, softened the bitterness of her
trial.

“But what shall we live on, dear.John, if
you give up your place?” asked Nancy. “You were
never, till this year, able to save a farthing (I take
shame to myself when I think how much of our
money was spent), and you are not such a young
man now as to begin life afresh, after being for a
dozen years the clerk of this parish.”

John Sands was certainly by no means the kind
of man to push his way in the world. He had ob-
tained his clerk’s situation through a kind of here-
ditary clajm, his father and his grandfather having
held it before him. The place suited John, and he
had, as it were, grown into his place, till the two
fitted each other like the crab and its shell. It
almost appeared as if John Sands had been born to
be a clerk, and could be nothing else but a clerk.

“Tve thought the matter over,” said John, slowly
buttoning up his umbrella, “The miller is in want
of a man.”

“The miller—Bat Bell—and can you think of
being his man!” exclaimed Nancy, bursting into
what sounded at first like a hysterical laugh, but which
ended in something much more resembling violent
A VICTORY. D117

sobs. Not even the vicar himself could have re-
frained from a smile at the idea of the appearance
of John Sands in so new a character, powdered over
with the flour-dust of the mill. Endless would have
been the gibes cut by the young wags of Colme if
their black raven had been thus transformed into a
white one. John made no reply to his wife’s ex-
clamation, and took no apparent notice of her agita-
tion, but put his umbrella under his arm and sallied
forth, relieved at having spoken what had been on
his mind, and must have come out sooner or later.
For John, who was not of a hopeful nature, believed
that the disappearance of the coin would remain a
mystery until that day when all hidden things shall —
be made known.

Nancy, left alone in her cottage, had out her ery ;
it did her good; and then she dried her streaming
eyes, and looked her troubles in the face. Suppose
that the worst were to happen—suppose that she
should be dismissed by the vicar, and that John,
as any man of spirit would do under such cir-
cumstances, were to resign his office as clerk.
Then poverty must come upon both, comparative
poverty at least, for Nancy was disabled from per-
forming any remunerative work save that, so light
and easy, with which she had been so kindly pro-
vided. John must entirely support her; and how
215 THE SILVER KEYS.

was he to do so? Notwithstanding her faith in the
extent of the learning of her husband, Nancy’s com-
mon-sense showed her that Sands was almost as
little fitted to battle his way over any new ground
in this bustling world, as he was to exchange blows
with Hugh Thoms. Nothing to which he had been
unaccustomed ever suited John Sands, and it was
improbable that he would get any appointment as
clerk beyond the village where he had been so long
known and respected.

“We shall have to leave our home, spend less,
fare worse; we shall have a struggling life,” said
Nancy, half aloud. “But we'll not sit down and
give way to despair, for we'll fight the battle to-
vether, and have a clear conscience and God on our
side.”

“A clear conscience and God on our stde!”
repeated Nancy, more slowly. “John may have
that, but J—can I—dare I say that all is right
between me and conscience—between me and my
God?” Nancy rose, and slowly and thoughtfully
paced up and down her small parlour. Part of a
verse which had struck her as being mysterious and
strange when she had first lighted on it in her Bible
came forcibly now to her mind. Hear ye the rod
and Him who hath appointed it.*

* Micah vi. 9.
A VICTORY. 219

“fT am on the threshing-floor of tribulation,”
murmured Nancy, half aloud; “the flail is upon me—.
the rod; and the Bible tells me that it has a voce,
that there is something for me to learn from it if I
have the grace to listen. What does the rod say to
me now? Is it not that the Lord wants to sanctify
me wholly, but that I refuse to submit, and struggle,
hike Franks’ poor child when things were done
which pained him but saved his life? I don’t sub-
mit; I don’t lie still; I don’t give myself up wholly to
my Saviour, to obey Him, and trust Him, and follow
Him with a lowly heart. I have turned from my
drunkenness indeed, but I have not turned from my
pride, or I would not hold back, as I do, from asking
forgiveness from Widow Stone. It is this that
makes my trials greater than I can bear. How can
I meet trouble unless I feel that my Lord is with
me to help me through trouble, and I can’t feel that
the Lord is with me while I will not hearken to His
command—while I refuse at His bidding to give up
my pride and self-will! What, then! shall I choose
to shut myself out from comfort and peace—to shut
myself out from God’s table on earth, and God’s



presence in heaven—rather than bend my stubborn
spirit to say a few humble words to a sinner like
myself!”

There was a great conflict going on in the-.heart
220 THE SILVER KEYS.

of Nancy—a conflict which lasted for hours; but
she ended it on her knees. Mrs, Sands rose with a
prayerful resolve that she would keep back nothing
from God, that whatever griefs He might in His
wisdom send to her, she would not add to them the
misery of having the light of His countenance shut
out from her by the smallest wilful sin. Nancy had
prayed—prayed earnestly, faithfully—to be sanc-
tified wholly, and, as she prayed, the blessed work
was already going on within her. As the Lord cast
the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, so, by His
Spirit, He casts out all manner of evil from the
souls of those who will at the Last Day be raised in
His likeness—be like Him, for they will see Him as
He is.*

“Tt is Saturday; Bell Stone will be preparing the
church for to-morrow,” said Nancy to herself; “she
must pass my cottage on her return to her own. I
will watch for her, and speak to her then.”

John Sands was to take his dinner at the Hall.
Nancy therefore ate hers by herself. She sat facing
the window as she did so, watching for the familiar
ficure in widow’s garb, which did not appear. “ Bell
must have passed whilst I was praying,’ thought
Nancy; “I must go to her and see her in her own
home.”

* Psalm xvii. 15; 1 John iii. 2.
A VICTORY. 221

So Nancy went up into her sleeping-room to put
on her bonnet and shawl. A mere straw will show
which way the wind is blowing; mere trifles will
often serve as signs of the temper of the mind. It
was but a trifling action when Nancy pulled the
gaudy rose out of her bonnet, and smoothed her rough
hair ere she placed that bonnet on her head. She
could scarcely have said why she did so. But there
is usually some kind of agreement between the outer
person and the inward frame of the mind—the
sanctifying within and the purifying without. The
Christian who earnestly and truly believes that we
should glorify God not only with our souls, but with
our bodies, since both alike belong to Him, is not
likely to remain the untidy slattern, or the wearer of
gaudy finery. If the refining process be thorough, it
extends to the manners, the words, even to the dress.

Nancy Sands then went forth from her home,
resolute as one prepared, at any cost, to perform a
painful duty. She strengthened herself by repeating
a psalm to herself till she reached the dwelling of
the carpenter's widow. Nancy went up to the door
and tapped. There was no reply, so, after a pause
to listen, she tapped again and more loudly. There
was the sound of hobbling steps within, and then an
old woman named Janet Parsons opened the door,
and looked surprised to see Mrs. Sands,
2700 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Where is Mrs. Stone?” inquired N ancy.

“She bees a gone to the town,” answered Janet,

“When will she be back ?” said Nancy.

“Not till Monday,” was the reply. “She’s gone
to her brother, the poulterer’s; I be keeping the
house for her while she’s away,” and the old woman,
who had been enough in Bell Stone’s society to have
heard plenty of stories against Nancy, and so looked
upon her as no better than a thief, shut the door in
her face, and hobbled back into the kitchen.

“Not till Monday,” repeated Nancy to herself:
“must I then wait till then before I go through this
painful duty? Must the Sunday pass over me while
fam yet unforgiven, and must I lay down my head
on my pillow for two more nights not at peace with
my neighbour? Can I be sure even that my re-
solution will last so long—that my present earnest
desire to obey my Lord may not grow weaker by
such delay? What ought to be done had better be
and see Bell
Stone at the house of her brother. It will be some-

done at once. I will go on to B



thing for me to tell my John when he comes home
that the matter is settled in the way which he
thought the right one. I take shame to myself
when I remember how often I have neglected my hus-
band’s wishes. Persis told me once that duty and
obedience in a wife are like the weights without
A VICTORY. 223

which the clock will not go, things that help, though
they scem to hinder; may I, from this day forth, be
not only a true and faithful, but a loving, obedient
wife to my John, who has borne so long with my
proud, wilful ways !”

The morning had been showery, and clouds still
overspread almost the whole of the sky as Nancy
started on her long walk; but there was a bright bit
of blue in the south ever widening and widening—
a gleam of heaven through the veil; and the clouds
themselves were rolling up into the form of glorious
mountains, with edges of glittering silver, showing
that the sun was shining behind them.

Nancy thought over the conversation which she
had held with Mrs. Curtis on the day when she had
last trodden that road, and the explanation which
the lady had given to her of the meaning of the
word “tribulation.” “Few have had so hard a husk
to be struck off as I have had,” reflected Mrs. Sands,
“and few have been so unwilling to bear the strokes
of the flail, or have had to endure so many. It will
be all grace—free grace—if I am ever counted fit to
be placed in the heavenly garner.” |

With a thankful and humbled spirit the repentant .
woman passed the “ Horse and Groom,” into which,
but three days before, she had been on the point of
entering. The resolution to resist sin was rising
224 THE SILVER KEYS.

into the higher grace of abhorrence of sin, and
Nancy felt now that she would rather die than break
the pledge which she had taken. She loathed the
vice of intemperance which had at one time held her
in so close and deadly a grasp.

Mrs. Sands had gone only about half the way to
B when she came in sight of the very person
whom she was seeking. Bell Stone had with her
a large bundle of her Sunday clothes, and being
tired after her work in the church (for she had never
been a strong woman), and further wearied with
carrying her parcel, she had sat down to rest on the
parapet of that bridge which has been mentioned
before in this story. The widow was looking over
the parapet, watching a boy who was fishing in the
stream under one of the pollard willows, and she did



not therefore notice any one’s approach, till Mrs.
Sands was within twenty steps of the place where
she sat. Bell Stone was by no means glad to be
thus overtaken by a “ hypocrite, drunkard, vixen, and
thief,” for as such she regarded Nancy. Bell’s dis-
like of, and contempt for, Mrs. Sands was mixed with
a little fear, especially since she had received on her
cheek such a startling mark of her neighbour’s readi-
ness to show resentment by something harder than
words. Mrs. Stone therefore rose hastily from her
seat, and stooped to raise the bundle which lay at
A VICTORY. | 225

her feet, intending to pursue her journey without
entering into conversation with Nancy. But before
the widow had time to put her intention into effect,
she was stopped by the voice of Nancy, who, quick-
ening her pace, was now on the rise of the bridge.

“Pray, Mrs. Stone, let me have a few words with
you, I have come after you on purpose,” said Nancy.

Bell Stone drew herself up stiffly; her last inter-
view with Nancy had made her little desirous to
have another. The widow could not, however, avoid
being struck by the change in the expression of
Nancy’s face as she came up, pale with the effort
which it cost her to humble. herself to her rival.
Nancy did not forget the cruel words which she had
overheard in the schoolhouse; she remembered that
the woman before her had spoken of her as a hypo-
crite and a thief.

“T have come to ask your pardon for my be-
haviour to you on Wednesday,” said Nancy, forcing
herself to look her neighbour in the face, and blush-
ing to see on that face the mark left by her own
violence. |

Bell Stone was so much astonished at the unex-
pected nature of this address that she could not at
first utter a word in reply. She would as soon have
expected the stream below her to flow backward or
uphill, as that the proud and passionate Nancy Sands

P
226 THE SILVER KEYS.

should act in a way so contrary to her natural dis-
position as to stoop to sue for pardon.

“T am very sorry that I threw the church key,’
continued Nancy; “I hope that you will forgive
me,”

“Oh! I’m sure that I bear no malice, it’s not
in my nature,’ cried Bell Stone, whose pride was
flattered by the humiliation of Nancy. “ My la-
mented husband used to say that he knew no one
more seldom in a passion than his wife,’—Bell Stone
did not give the end of his remark—*“ or more often
the cause of passion in others.” “I don’t mean to
give myself any credit,” continued the self-compla-
cent widow, “people have different natures—one’s
like a currant-bush, another like a crab-apple, you
can’t turn the one into the other ; but I’m glad that
yowre ashamed of yourself, Mrs. Sands, and that
for once you've followed the example of your poor
unfortunate husband.”

If there was one thing which above all others
tried the patience of Nancy it was to hear her hus-
band called “ poor,” for it either implied that he was in
himself an insignificant creature, or that he was pitied
because he had her for his wife. Nor had Mrs. Sands
been pleased at the likeness inferred between her-
self and a crab-tree. Nancy, however, took no ap-
parent notice of the taunt, but only inquired, “What
A VICTORY. 227

do you mean by saying that I am following my
husband’s example ?”

“Why, did he not call on me days ago to tell me
what shame he felt at your disgraceful conduct, and
didn’t he, poor man, give me his old silver watch
chain, to tie up my tongue I suppose. Ah! I see
that the poor fellow never dared tell you a word
about this,’ continued Bell Stone, seeing Nancy’s
look of surprise; “I dare say that he showed his
wisdom in keeping the matter secret from you.
But it’s plain that you see as well as he that this is
not a time when you can afford to make enemies,
or you would not go fawning upon the Franks, as
you do, or come wheedling after me now.”

Fawning, wheedling! each word was a fiery dart
of provocation, which at another time would have set
Nancy’s warm temper into a blaze ot fury. It was
the quick silent prayer which burst from the
tempted soul which saved Nancy from herself, and
enabled her, without one word of retort, to turn away
from her tormentor, and begin to retrace her steps
towards home.

The carpenter’s widow watched for awhile the
retiring fieure of Nancy ; she then took up again the
bundle which she had put down during the preceding
conversation, and set off for the town in the opposite
direction, As Bell Stone walked on, she thanked
228 THE SILVER KEYS.

heaven in her heart that she was not a drunkard,
a thief, or a vixen, even as that Nancy Sands.

And Nancy, who had just been given the victory
in a sore struggle with temptation, was silently en-
treating the Lord to be merciful to her a sinner, and
feeling in the calm peace which returned to her
soul that her prayer had been heard and was
granted. Nancy was very thankful that her pain-
ful duty had been performed ; that there was now
no wilfully-indulged sin to shut her out from the
privilege of casting all her care upon her Lord. He,
in His own good time, could and would make her
innocence clear as the noon-day, and turn the pass-
ing tribulation into a lasting blessing. Truly has
it been said that a little sin disturbs our peace more
than a great deal of sorrow.

The silver edges of the opening clouds now
brightened into intense glory, and the sun himself
burst through the screen which had hidden his face
during the earlier part of the day. Golden rays
streamed down on the path of Nancy, and the
myriad rain-drops which hung from leaf and spray
glimmered and glanced like diamonds. The glorious
sun was making his own likeness shine even in the
tiniest rain-drop, which could reflect back an image
of his glory, because it had been purified from
earth’s clay.
PASSING AWAY, 229

CHAPTER XXIII.

Passing Away,

Nancy and Mrs. Stone were not the only villagers
from Colme who took the road to the bridge on
that Saturday afternoon.

“Ned, you have been too much shut up in the
house during our boy’s illness,” observed Persis
Franks; “you have not crossed the threshold once
since Tuesday, except to go for the doctor. You
look pale and weary, dear Ned. Now that the day
is clearing up, would not a walk freshen and
strengthen you ?”

“T’ve had plenty of quarter-deck exercise,’ said
Franks, who for hours at a time had paced up and
down the little room with his child resting on his
breast.

“T must not let you narrow your exercise to such
a quarter-deck walk,—one, two, three strides and
turn round,” replied Persis smiling, as she stretched
out her arms to receive her curly-headed child from
his father. “I'd have you take a long pleasant walk,
and not spend all your half-holiday in playing the
nurse to our pet, or knocking down ninepins for his
230 THE SILVER KEYS.

amusement. Ned must be contented for awhile to
listen to his mother’s ditty, or play with her little
silver keys.”

“ Ah! your mention of the silver keys reminds me
of poor old Thoms,” cried Franks. “If I go out at
all it will be to visit the cabin down in the pit.” |

“Go then,” said Persis Franks. She would not
again attempt to draw back her husband from any
work of merey because of possible annoyance or
risk, The dangerous illness of the child whom she
had so tenderly nurtured, so carefully euarded from
harm, had not taught its lesson in vain. Persis
realised more than she ever before had done that
health, strength, and life are in the hands of Him
who ordereth all things in heaven and earth, and
that safety and happiness are best secured by yield-
ing obedience to His will.

Franks started on the road which led to B
a little sooner than Nancy. Walking briskly, as he



usually did, he overtook Mrs. Stone just before she
reached the bridge on which, not ten minutes after-
wards, Nancy found her seated, as related in the
preceding chapter,

“T need not ask how your child is, I see
that you've no care on your mind now, Mr.
Franks,” observed Bell Stone, looking at Ned’s
cheerful face as he came up to her side. “You walk
PASSING AWAY. 231

as if you were treading on air. How some people’s
spirits rebound after trouble!”

“Tt is like the impetus given to a swing,” said
Ned; “the. farther we are drawn backwards into
sorrow, the higher we are carried up into joy.”

“Tt may be so with a light-hearted person like
you,’ observed Mrs. Stone, with something like
envy; “there are other people who cannot so
easily fling off their burdens, but carry them wearily,
as I do this,” she glanced down at the large bundle
which she was taking with her to her brother’s, as
a broad hint to her companion to relieve her of its
weight.

“JT would gladly carry your bundle for you,”
said Franks, understanding and answering the
look, “were I not bound for the cabin in the
quarry. We've reached the place where our ways
divide.”

Bell Stone would have liked a long gossip with a
lively companion as well as to have had Franks act
as her porter; so she was little pleased to find that
instead of accompanying her to the town, he was
coing to visit old Thoms.

“JT must say that you've an odd choice of friends,
Mr. Franks,” observed the carpenter’s widow; “you
must know as well as I do the character borne by
Hugh Thoms. But let a man be sent to jail for
232 THE SILVER KEYS.

robbery, or a woman deserve to be so, and you are
ready to back the black sheep against a score of the
white ones.”

“T do not visit Hugh, but his father,” said Franks ;
“poor old Thoms was never accused of dishonesty
in his life, that I know of, and his only jail is a sick-
bed.” Though Ned did not appear to notice the
taunt levelled at Nancy Sands, it had not escaped
him. With a little coldness of manner the school-
master wished Mrs. Stone good-day, and left her to
rest herself and her bundle upon the bridge. There
she remained until, as we have seen, she was joined
by Nancy.

Franks in the meantime went on to the quarry.
It seemed as if Dell had been on the watch for his
coming, for as soon as Ned’s tall form appeared on
the edge of the pit her voice exclaimed from below,
“Here he is! I knew he would come!” And as
Franks descended the rough, steep little path, the
child ran forward to meet him.

“You han’t brought nobody with you?” she asked
anxiously, looking up where the line of rough-hewn
stone seemed to cut the sky, unbroken by anything
but the remains of some palings. The edge had in
former days been guarded by a fence; but after the
quarry had ceased to be worked, the greater part of
the palings had been broken up by the Thoms for
PASSING AWAY. 233

firewood, and what remained were green with lichen,
and decaying with age.

“No, Dell, I have brought no one with me. Why
do you ask the question?” said Franks, who, half
shipping, half clambering, had just reached the bot-
tom of the quarry.

“Cause folk have been here, and their coming
makes dad so mad,” was the answer. “First there
came a woman who looked all about, and said as
things were dirty, and that granddad should go to
the workhouse.” There was an expression of resent-
ment on the face of the child as she thus, in few
words, described the visit of Nancy.

“Then two or three days after,” continued Dell,
“there came a gemmian, with red hair all about his
mouth, and a blue pin in his neckcloth” (Franks
recognised Mr. Lane by the description), “and he
asked questions about the woman, as if he knowed
her, and wanted to make out why she came here.
We couldn’t tell him, for we didn’t know ourselves,”
added little Dell naively; “but when dad heard o’
the cemman, he swore he was some beak or detec-
tive, and said—he did—that if any more folk came
a-prying about the place, he'd pitch ’em into the
well.” |

“Ts your father at home now?” inquired Ned,
glancing towards the hut.
234 THE SILVER KEYS.

“Oh, no!” exclaimed Dell, surprised that any
one should think it possible that she should stand
talking there to a stranger if her brutal father were
so near. “ Dad went out a little while ago, and he
won't be back soon—for he took his gun; it’s not
often as he takes that with him but o’ nights. Dad
sald we needn't look to see him for days.”

“Where was he going ?” asked Franks,

“We never knows—we never asks,” replied Dell,
with that look of mystery and cunning on her
withered young face, which it saddened Franks to
see ina child. “Granddad says as he’ll never see
father no more, for granddad has been took so bad.
When the gemman seed him he said as he ought to
have a doctor; but it’s not like as dad would let
one comehere. Granddad told me last night as how
he'd rather have you than any doctor, for he was
past doctoring now.”

Franks did not stop for longer conversation, but
— stooping as he crossed the threshold of the hut to
avoid striking his head against the top of the low
doorway, entered the hovel, where, as usual, the glow
from the fire gave almost as much light as such
gleams of outer day as struggled into the gloomy
abode. Ned’s first glance at old Thoms showed him
that the sufferer’s case was indeed beyond reach of
the skill of man. Death seemed already to have set
PASSING AWAY. 235

his seal on the rigid features and ashen cheek. But
when Ned, bending down gently, pronounced his
name, the heavy eyelids of the dying man unclosed,
and his dim eyes were raised towards Franks with a
look of recognition, as the livid lips murmured
“Thank God, you have come !”

Franks felt that this was the last time that he
should breathe the words of life into that sufferer’s
ear. He was permitted, as it were, to go with the
dying man to the brink of the dark river which
divides the seen world from the unseen, that river
which each must cross alone. There is no scene of
earthly pomp so sublime as a death-bed, even though
he who is to pass into the awful Unknown be but a
poor ignorant peasant. ‘The sinner is about to meet
his Judge, the mortal to appear in the presence of
the Eternal, the unlearned to enter that state of
which to the wisest so little is now revealed, but
where knowledge shall flash like sunlight on the
disembodied soul! Ned Franks whispered to the
dying man of One who is the Resurrection and the
Life. His sentences were few, uttered softly, and
with a pause between each, that the feeble mind
might gradually drink in comfort, as the parched
land drinks in the dew. It was to the word “ Re-
surrection ” that Franks now sought to apply the
silver key. He spoke of the rising again of the
236 THE SILVER KEYS.

body as of the plant which bursts into new life
from the buried seed. He repeated the words which
expressed the glorious assurance of the patriarch Job
that his eyes should behold his God; and the faint
pressure of the old man’s hand, which the visitor
held in his own, assured him that the dying ear was
listening still, and that his labour of love was not in
vain.

CHAPTER XXIV.

A Porilous Pass,

WHILE Ned Franks was thus smoothing the pillow
for a dying head, Hugh Thoms suddenly and unexpec-
tedly returned to the quarry. He did not come to take
a son’s place by the bedside of his father, but having
forgotten something which he had intended to carry
with him from his home, he returned in no good
temper at the delay which his oversight had occa-
sioned. Hugh now stood on the edge of the steep
descent into the quarry, with a leathern bag strapped
across his broad shoulder, and a loaded double-
barrelled gun in his hand. He was not disposed to
take the trouble of clambering down into the pit,
A PERILOUS PASS. 237

especially cumbered as he was with a loaded oun, he
therefore bent over the brink, and shouted out to his
daughter in a harsh, stentorian voice, “ Dell! you
brat! I’ve forgotten that there ’baccy box, bring it
up to me here.”

The start and look of terror given by the girl at
the loud unexpected call from her father, showed
what an object of fear he was to his child. Dell
Sprang up at once from her seat on the floor, her
wild eyes staring at once to right and left, their
peculiar defect increased by nervous excitement.
The poor child seemed uncertain what to do, or
whither to turn.

“You had better take to your father the tobacco
box which he wants,” said Franks, who had no wish
that the ruffian should come to fetch it himself.

Dell had evidently some difficulty about this
which she did not explain; she moved two steps
towards the inner wall formed by the rough-hewn
side of the quarry, near which Ned Franks was
seated, then paused as if uncertain how to proceed.
Franks rose and turned to help the child in her
search for the box, but in the direction towards
which Dell had moved he saw nothing resembling
such a thing, nor was there any shelf on the stony
wall on which a box could have been placed. The
corner was, however, so dark, being shaded from the
238 THE SILVER KEYS.

fire and remote from the door, that even acute sight
like that of Ned Franks’ could scarcely distinguish
objects.

Another impatient shout from above, accompanied
by a savage curse, quickened the movements of Dell.
“Tet me pass,” she muttered to Franks, and going
close to the wall she placed her half-bare foot in
some crevice, helped herself up with one trembling
hand, while she stretched up the other as high as
she could reach to what appeared like a crack or
seam in the rudely-hewn stone. Franks was about
to assist the little climber, but a twitch of her
shoulder, and a nervous “ Don’t, don’t,” shewed that
she did not wish his assistance. Raising herself as
high as she could on the tiptoe of her left foot,
while her right, which had no support, was balanced
in air, Dell contrived with difficulty to draw from
what was evidently a hiding-place, a greasy, dirty,
round box. Though small, it had fitted so tightly
into the cleft that the effort required for pulling it
out overbalanced the child, and made her lose her
uncertain foothold. Dell slipped down with some
violence, the box being jerked from her grasp by the
shock. It fell on the stony floor, breaking as 1t fell,
and something like a piece of money rolled from it
to the feet of Ned Franks.

“The lost coin!” exclaimed the schoolmaster of
A PERILOUS PASS. 239

Colme the moment that he raised it from the floor.
The joyful surprise which he felt at its unexpected
recovery made him forget for the moment under
what dangerous circumstances he had discovered the
object of such anxious search. |

Ned was quickly to be reminded of the peril of
knowing too much. The dim light which came
through the low doorway was suddenly darkened by
some body that filled up the greater part of the
space, so that, but for the red glow of the fire, the
hovel would have been in almost utter obscurity.
Hugh Thoms, impatient at Dell’s delay, had clam-
bered down in savage mood, leaving for the minute
his gun resting against the broken palings at the
top of the quarry, that it might not hamper his
movements. |

Ned Franks was constitutionally brave, and he
had also the moral courage of those who, fearing
God, know that they need have no other fear, yet
the sight of that ruffian, strong as an Arctic bear,
and likely to have as little mercy, gave the one-armed
man a keener sense of danger than when, on board
a man-of-war, he had heard the enemy’s round shot
crashing through a spar just above him. Hugh
asked for no explanation of what had occurred. It
was not needed; the fragments of the box were on
the floor; the stolen coin in the schoolmaster’s hand,
240 THE SILVER KEYS.

Dell, too much terrified to rise, still lay half-prostrate
on the ground; while the sick man, raised from the
lethargy into which he had been settling, by the
noise of her fall, now stared in mute alarm at his
son.

“T say—you give up that there yellow bit,”
erowled Hugh, the savage tone of his voice and
the scowl on his face, conveying the threat which he
did not yet put into words.

“ T will—to its owner,” replied Franks, who was
resolved to hold fast for the present that small bent
piece of gold on which the fair character of Nancy
Sands might depend.

“It’s mine; I’ve had it these ten years; I could
swear to it,” continued Hugh, in the same bullying
tone.

“So could I,” muttered Franks, under his breath.
There was, indeed, no possibility of his mistaking
the identity of that coin.

Hugh Thoms clenched his strong fist, and sur-
veyed the one-armed man who dared to resist him
thus, with the scornful wrath of a Goliath. The
robber knew of the reward offered for the recovery
of the ancient coin, and he was well aware of what
might be the consequence to himself were the stolen
piece of gold to be produced in a court of justice in
evidence against him.
A PERILOUS PASS. 241

“No one could swear to the gold after it had been
two minutes in yon fire,” muttered the ruffian; “and
as for your witness ””—he strode into the hut as he
spoke—* dead men tell no tales.”

Dell uttered a scream of terror, as if she already
saw a deed of murder committed before her eyes;
and there was a cry of agonised entreaty from the
poor old man in the bed.

“ Hugh—my son—for mercy’s sake—don’t bring
your father’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!”

Was there even in that godless heart some touch
of natural feeling left, or did the wild appeal from
these ghastly dying lips thrill a chord of supersti-
tion, as if a corpse had suddenly spoken? Hugh
paused for an instant and looked at his father; and
Franks, prompt to seize even a momentary advan-
tage, made a dash for the door, quick as the dart of
a swallow! It was, he knew, his only chance of
escape, for his strength, matched against that of the
powerful ruffian, was as that of a child. Franks
actually succeeded in bounding across the threshold
into the open air, but even as he did so, the deadly
gripe of Hugh Thoms was on his shoulder, a gripe
from which he could not wrench himself free.

“Youre a dead man!” cried Hugh with an oath,
shaking his victim violently, and dragging him to-
wards the well, |

Q
242 THE SILVER KEYS.

Ned Franks strugeled—strugeled desperately, for
it was for very life, but he felt that the unequal
contest could not be a long one. A thought of
Persis and of his boy flashed through his mind, and
something like a prayer for mercy, but not from
man, burst from his lips. Suddenly there was the
loud report of a gun fired above the heads of the
two wrestling men; it was a startling sound to
Hugh Thoms, who remembered that he had left his
weapon on the top of the quarry. The robber
glanced upwards and caught sight of a face bending
over the edge, the face of a horror-stricken woman,
and of a hand that was grasping a gun.

Nancy, for it was she who, at Franks’ time of
utmost peril, had thus come to the rescue, had made
no attempt to take aim; she could not, even had she
been familiar with the weapon, have done so, for the
two men were engaged in so close a struggle that to
fire at the one might have been to slay the other,
The frightened woman could but catch up the gun
and fire in the air over the combatants’ heads, but
the loud unexpected report made an effectual diver-
sion. Hugh’s first object now was to get back his
gun. As Nancy’s face was instantly withdrawn from
the edge of the quarry, he knew that no time was to
be lost if he would wrench his dangerous weapon
from the hand which had not the skill to use it, To
A PERILOUS PASS. 245

suffer the woman who had witnessed his murderous
attack upon Franks to escape and give the alarm,
would be to bring down upon himself the officers of
justice. She must be overtaken and silenced,—she
had seen too much to be left alive to tell what she
had seen. Hugh could not even wait to make his
deadly work sure with Ned Franks, but he flung his
exhausted victim with violence against the stony
wall of the quarry, kicked the stunned and helpless
man with his hob-nailed boot, and then, without
waiting to see whether life were indeed crushed out
rushed up the steep path to the upper ground in
savage pursuit of Nancy.

Mrs. Sands did not wait for his coming. The
instant after discharging the gun she darted off in
the direction of the bridge, still grasping the gun,
which she dared not leave behind her, for she knew
not whether it might not contain a second charge.
A fearful race ensued. Nancy’s terror lent her wings,
for she heard the sound of pursuit. Over the rough
waste ghe sped,—that desolate waste where she- had
so little chance of meeting a protector. She strikes
her foot against a stone—she is down—the second
barrel of the gun goes off in the shock of her fall!
She is again on her feet, again she speeds onwards;
she has dropped the weapon which impeded her
flight; she has reached the fields at last; the stream
DAA THE SILVER KEYS.

is gleaming before her; she can see the pollard wil-
lows, and the grey arch of the bridge. Oh! if her
strengeth and breath could but last till she should
regain the highroad! but the pursuer is gaining
upon her,—Nancy can hear the sound of his panting.
Dizzy with fear, she rushes towards the little path
that leads on to the bridge; the heavy tramp behind
comes nearer and nearer,—in another minute she
will be at the ruffian’s mercy !

But aid is now at hand. The second report of
the gun has reached the ears of a party of constables
who are bound for the quarry with a magistrate’s
warrant to search the cottage of Thoms. They were
not far from the bridge when the noise made them
quicken their steps, and they are now in full view
of both the woman and her pursuer. As she
catches sight of the forms in blue, which represent
protection and saiety, all Nancy’s remaining strength
exhausts itself in one shrieked-out exclamation,
“Seize him, he has murdered Ned Franks!” and she
sinks gasping upon the ground.

Nancy’s brain reels and swims, there is a dimness
over her eyes, a rushing noise in her ears, she is
almost swooning from the effects of exhaustion and
terror; yet is she conscious that a fierce tussle is
going on near her, that men are struggling, shout-
ing, swaying to and fro like wrestlers in the arena.
A PERILOUS PASS. DA5

Then there is-the sound of a heavy fall. Recover-
ing herself a little, Nancy half raises herself on the
palm of her hand, and sees the huge bulk of Thoms
down on the grass. He is still struggling, kicking,
resisting his captors with the savage fury of a wild
beast which the dogs are pulling down; but one of
the constables has his knee on the ruffian’s chest
and his hand on his throat, two others are fixing
the handcuffs upon him,—he is under the strong
grasp of the law.

Hugh Thoms was so powerful a man that had not
the officers come upon him when he was tired and
breathless from his chase after Nancy, they would
have found it a difficult, if not an impracticable, task
to secure him. Nancy had unwittingly acted as a
decoy, and drawn her pursuer into the net of justice.
The disordered dress, the faces bruised and bleeding
of the panting constables, showed in how desperate
a struggle they had been engaged, but they were in
high spirits at their success.

“ Needs a strong line to hold such a fish as that,”
cried one of the officers, wiping the blood from his
brow; “I scarce thought we'd ha’ landed him at
last; he has the strength and the teeth of a
shark _

“And now he’s caught, he will not be so easily
let go again,” observed another; “there will be a


246 THE SILVER KEYS.

charge of assault in addition to the other;” he
glanced, as he spoke, at Nancy, who had just raised
herself from the ground.

“Of murder, murder!” exclaimed Nancy, trem-
bling with terror, as her dizzy brain recalled the
frichtful struggle which she had witnessed down in
the quarry. “Go for help; Oh! go for a doctor
quickly ; I'll hurry back to the stone-pit; Franks
lies there in his blood. Oh! that I may find him
yet alive!” And without waiting to utter another
word, Nancy, with all the speed that her weary
trembling limbs could command, rushed back to the
scene of the struggle.

It was with intense, sickening anxiety that Nancy
retrod the path to the quarry; even as she ran her
whole soul was welling up in fervent prayer, and
when breathlessness forced her to slacken her pace,
with her gasps came forth the exclamation, “Oh!
his poor wife, his poor wife !”

The edge of the quarry was reached ; the panting
woman dared hardly look down, lest some sight of
horror below should confirm her worst fears. There
was a silence which struck a deadly chill to her
heart ; then—it was almost a relief to hear it—the
low crying of a child. Nancy leant on the paling
and looked over the edge of the pit. She saw the
ragged figure of little Dell kneeling beside a form
A PERILOUS PASS. 24:7

stretched on the stony ground; there were red
stains on the child’s tattered garb and bare little
arm; her position partly hid the form of Ned
Franks from view. Nancy lingered not another
-moment; she half clambered, half slipped down the
rough descent into the quarry, and was quickly by
the side of the girl. Dell was supporting the head
of Ned Franks on her knees; she was dashing cold
water on his face, that pale ghastly face down which
the blood-drops were trickling. But the wounded
man was not dead, nor even senseless. At the sound
of an exclaimation from Nancy, Ned opened his blue
eyes, looked at her, recognised her, and smiled. His
clenched hand slowly unclosed, and to the amaze-
ment of Nancy there dropped from its grasp the
gold coin which he had found so strangely, and held
so firmly, almost at the cost of his life. The faint
gleam of pleasure on Ned’s face was like the dying
smile of a victor.


248 THE SILVER KEYS.

CHAPTER XXVI.

Conclusion,

ABOUT a month has elapsed since the events oc-
curred which have been related in the preceding
chapter. Let us again glance into the little front
room in which we found the family of the Franks
at the beginning of the story.

Sorrow, suffering, and danger have been Ned’s
lot since that sunny afternoon when he brought
home his wife’s silver keys; but sorrow, suffering,
and danger are now to him things of the past. It
is the Sabbath morn, and Franks is going to church
to return thanks for his preservation from a violent
death, and his restoration to health after the severe
injuries which he had sustained. The schoolmaster
looks pale and delicate, as one who has had to endure
much; but bright and happy, as one who knows
that he has not endured in vain.

During his illness great sympathy has been
shown to Franks—sympathy extending far beyond
his own little village. The account of his gal-
lant conduct has appeared in the Times and other
widely-circulated papers in connection with the
CONCLUSION, QA49

trial of Hugh Thoms. Franks, in simply trying to
do his duty, without one thought of the praise of
man, has found himself, much to his own surprise,
honoured and rewarded as a hero,

Ned and Persis are to go to church together, for
Bell Stone has offered to come and take charge of
the child during their absence, Little Ned is still
too lively and restless to be taken to church, for all
the boy’s health has returned, and his playfulness
with it. Little Ned’s cheeks are almost as red and
as round as one of the splendid apples with which
he is playing at the feet of his mother.

“There go the church bells! how sweet they
sound!” exclaimed Franks. “How thankful I am
once more to be able to obey their call !”

“And here is Mrs. Stone,’ said Persis, rising to
welcome her neighbour, who entered at the moment.
Bell Stone had come a good deal too early, for she
desired to have a long gossip with the Franks before
they should start for the church. Had she not been
at the conclusion of the trial of Hugh Thoms?
Would it not be a pleasure to the Franks to hear,
and to herself a still greater pleasure to tell, all
about it ? |

So Mrs. Stone, almost before she had time to sit
down and untie the strings of her bonnet, was ina
full career of rapid talk, describing the scene in
250 THE SILVER KEYS,

court when the verdict was given, and sentence of
transportation pronounced against the sacrilegious
robber, There was something in the account of
such a scene which appeared to the Franks incon-
gruous with the brightness of that Sabbath morn
and the sound of the sweet church bells,

‘How did Hugh take his sentence ?” asked Persis.

“Take it! why, he scowled defiance upon judge
and jurymen, as if he’d have liked to have fought
them all round, one off, and another on, fair field

)

and no handcuffs!” cried Bell Stone, with a merri-
ment in which the Franks did not join. “His
companion, Wriggle-in Jack as they call him, seemed

ye)

more cowed and frightened



“Perhaps he is less hardened in sin,” observed
Persis.

“That I doubt,” said Bell Stone, “ seeing that it
was he who had got false keys both for the church
door and the poor-box. Little did Nancy Sands
guess, when she used to lock up the place, as she
thought, so securely, that two thieves such as Hugh
and Jack could go in and out at their will.”

“Their wickedness brought trouble enough on
poor Nancy,” said Franks.

“Things did look so against her, that it’s no
wonder that folk thought her guilty,” observed Bell
Stone, who now felt a little shame at the part which
CONCLUSION. 251

she herself had taken in condemning her neighbour;
“but it’s strange how matters come right at last,
one event fitting into another just like the links in
achain. If you had not gone to visit that sick old
man in the quarry, you would never have found the
coin, If Nancy had not first come after me to beg
my pardon, and then taken it into her head to turn
off to the hovel in the stone-pit, she would never

23

have come just in time to fire that lucky shot



“Which saved my life!” exclaimed Franks. “I
thought all was over with me as far as this world is
concerned.”

“°Twas a wonderful chance!” exclaimed Bell.

“T should give to it a different name,” said Ned
gravely. “It is not always that we can trace back
here, as you have been doing, the links which, fitting
one into another, form the great chain of events;
but I believe that one of the employments of the
blessed in Heaven will be to review the dealings of
Providence with them through the whole course of
their lives upon earth, They will then see and know
what they once believed, because it is so written in
the Bible, that ALL THINGS, even things which seem
now to us evil, work together for good to them that
love God.”

“Tt was well for old Thoms that he did not live
to hear of his son’s being condemned as a felon,”
252 THE SILVER KEYS.

observed Mrs. Stone. “Tve heard that he died
peaceably in the hospital at B——.”

“Where Nancy often visited him,” said Persis
Franks. ‘The poor old man’s last message to my
husband was sent through her. He bade her give
his friend his dying blessing, and tell him that he
would thank him in Heaven for bringing him the
Good News.”

“TI wonder what will become of the girl,” said
Bell Stone; “her grandfather is in his grave, her

father in jail, I suppose that Dell will be sent to
the Union.”

“Then you have not heard that a friend is going
to adopt and bring up as her own child the mother-
less, and worse than fatherless, Dell?” cried Franks,

“No,” replied the carpenter’s widow ; “I did not
think that those Thoms had a friend in the world
who would have given a crust to keep that girl
from starving. Pray who may this kind friend
be?”

“ Nancy Sands,’ answered Ned with a smile.

“Nancy Sands!” echoed Bell in surprise,
“Wonders never will cease! I should as soon have
expected to hear of a kite taking under her motherly
wing some unfledged sparrow that had tumbled out
of its nest! What says John Sands to this new
freak of his wife ?”
CONCLUSION. 253

“Sands told me yesterday that the presence of a
child would brighten his home,’ answered Ned;
“and I am sure that it will do so; for a blessing
always comes with the orphan who is adopted for
the love of the Lord.”

“And such is Nancy’s motive, of that I am
certain,’ observed Persis Franks.

“ Nancy Sands is a woman whom I can’t pretend
to understand!” cried Bell Stone, with a shrug.
“We all know what she was, not eighteen months
since,’ continued the widow; “and as I, at least,
don’t look for miracles in these days, it’s a riddle
to me how such a sinner can be changing into a
saint.”

Franks had been half unconsciously toying with
his wife’s little bunch of silver keys which he
chanced to have in his hand; his glance at them
now perhaps suggested the idea expressed in his
reply: “When a heart, like that of our friend, is
once opened to receive the Saviour, He will leave
that heart neither uncleansed nor empty. The
Lord sanctifies by His Spirit, and fills with the
treasures of His Grace the lowly contrite heart
which He has entered by the / golten key of His
Love.”

And thus it was with the once despised and sorely-
2904 THE SILVER KEYS,

tempted Nancy. A bright and blessed future was
opening before her,—a life of joyful service on
earth, and eternal glory beyond it. Deeply she
realised her blessedness when on that morning she
mingled her thanksgivings with those of the Franks
in the house of prayer which she loved. The golden
sunlight came streaming down through the narrow
windows—never had it seemed to her eyes more
glorious ; nor more joyful the sound of the psalm.
Near Nancy were the friends who had stood faith-
fully by her when the world had despaired of her,
when she had almost despaired of herself. She had
requited well their friendship; but for her the rich
mellow voice of Ned Franks would never again have
been heard in that church. Beside Nancy was the
poor child to whom she was about to act the part
of a mother,—the now wild and untaught child, from
whose grateful affection she was afterwards to reap
a mother’s reward. In front of Nancy was the
clerk’s desk, so that when she raised her eyes they
rested on the husband who, through evil report and
good report, through all her wilfulness, waywardness,
and wanderings, had loved and hoped for her still.
Nancy, as she looked on her husband, silently
recalled and confirmed her marriage vow to love,
honour, cherish, and obey him till death should them
part.
CONCLUSION. 255

But the source and crown of joy to the penitent
Woman was the realised presence of Him who had
indeed opened her heart with the golden key of His
love, and who was filling it with His treasures,
With Faith, which receives the message of the |
Gospel as Goop News indeed ; Peace, resting on the
finished work of SALVATION; Patience, ready to see
mercy even in the stroke of TRIBULATION, if that
tribulation SANCTIFY and render the soul more meet
for the garner of God; and that blessed hope of a
joyful RESURRECTION, which makes the grave itself
but as the gate of life everlasting.


ABN 18 300e



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