Earnest Harwood; or, the Adopted Son
by H. S. Caswell
It was on a pleasant afternoon, in the month of June, some years ago,
that a small funeral procession might have been seen slowly wending its
way to the church-yard from the dwelling of Mr. Humphrey, in the village
of Walden in one of the Eastern States. Although a deep seriousness
pervaded the small company, and the manner of each was subdued, yet
there were no visible tokens of that strong grief which overwhelms the
soul when the ties of nature are rent asunder; for, with the exception
of a little boy, apparently about five years of age, whom Mr. Humphrey
kindly led by the hand, no one present bore any relationship to the
deceased. As the procession approached the grave, and the coffin was
lowered to its final resting-place, the little boy sobbed bitterly as he
begged of Mr. Humphrey not to allow them to bury his mamma in the
ground. Mr. Humphrey took the child in his arms, and endeavored to quiet
him by many kind and soothing words, explaining to him, so far as the
child was able to comprehend his meaning, that the soul of his mamma was
now in Heaven, but that it was necessary that her dead body should be
buried in the grave; and that although he would see her no more in this
world he would, if he were a good boy, meet her one day in Heaven. The
child still continued to weep, though less bitterly than before,—and
when the grave had been filled up he quietly allowed Mr. Humphrey to
lead him from the church-yard.
In order that the reader may understand the event above narrated, it is
necessary that I should go back a little in my story.
A few weeks previous to the circumstance related at the opening of this
chapter a pale weary-looking woman, leading by the hand a little boy,
might have been seen walking one evening along the principal street of
the small village of Walden. Although her dress was extremely plain, yet
there was a certain air of refinement about her which informed the
observer that she had once occupied a position very different from what
was indicated by her present appearance. The little boy by her side was
indeed a child of surpassing beauty. His complexion was clear and fair,
and a profusion of dark brown hair clustered in thick curls around his
full white brow. His childish features were lighted up by large and
expressive eyes of a dark hazel color. He was a child which the most
careless observer would hardly pass by without turning to gaze a second
time upon his wondrous beauty.
I have been thus particular in describing the little boy as he is to be
the principal actor in the simple scenes of my story.
As they walked slowly forward the woman addressed the child in a voice
that was weak and tremulous from fatigue, saying,—
"We must call at some house and seek a shelter for the night, for indeed
I am unable to walk further."
It required not this remark from her to satisfy the beholder of her
inability to proceed, for extreme fatigue and exhaustion were visible in
her every motion.
She approached the door of a handsome dwelling situated in the central
portion of the village, and rang the bell. The door was opened by an
elderly-looking man, who accosted her civilly and seemed waiting for her
to make known her errand.
In a low and timid voice the woman asked him if he would allow herself
and child to rest for the night beneath his roof?
He replied, in a voice that was decidedly gruff and crusty,—
"There are two hotels in the village; we keep no travellers here," and
immediately closed the door in her face.
Could he have seen the forlorn expression that settled on her
countenance when, on regaining the street, she took her little boy by
the hand and again walked slowly onward—his heart must indeed have been
hard if he had not repented of his unkindness.
After walking a short distance further, the woman paused before a house
of much humbler appearance than the former one, and, encouraged by the
motherly appearance of an elderly lady who sat knitting at her open door
in the lingering twilight, she drew nigh to her, and asked if she would
shelter herself and child for the night.
The old lady regarded her earnestly for a moment; she seemed, however,
to be impressed favorably by her appearance, for her voice was very
pleasant, as she replied to her request,—
"Certainly you can remain for the night, for I have never yet denied so
small a favor (as a shelter for the night) to any one who sought it.
Come in at once, and I will endeavor to make you and your little boy
comfortable, for you look very much fatigued."
The woman gladly followed the kind old lady into the house, and seated
herself in the comfortable rocking chair which she had kindly placed for
her; she also placed a seat for the child, but he refused to leave his
mother's side, and stood leaning upon the arm of her chair. The old lady
soon after left the room saying, as she did so, that she would soon
bring them some refreshment, of which they evidently stood much in need.
Mr. Humphrey, the husband of the old lady, soon came in, and his wife
said a few words to him in a low voice in the adjoining room; a kind
expression was upon his countenance when he entered the room where were
the strangers. He coaxed the little boy to come and sit upon his knee,
by the offer of a large red-cheeked apple which he took from his pocket.
He stroked his brown curls and asked him to tell him his name.
"Ernest Harwood," replied the boy.
Mr. Humphrey told him he thought it a very nice name, and also that he
thought him a very fine little boy. The little fellow blushed, and hid
his face at the praise thus bestowed upon him.
Mrs. Humphrey soon after re-entered the room, bringing a small tea-tray,
on which was a cup of tea and some other suitable refreshment for the
weary woman; she also brought a bowl of bread and milk for the child.
The woman drank the tea eagerly, like one athirst, but partook sparingly
of the more substantial refreshment which Mrs. Humphrey urged upon her;
but the sight of the brim-full bowl of bread and milk caused the eyes of
the little boy to glisten with pleasure, and he did ample justice to the
hospitality of the benevolent old lady.
Mrs. Harwood wished to give Mrs. Humphrey some account of the
circumstances which caused her to be travelling alone with her child,
but the worthy and considerate lady would not allow her to further
fatigue herself by talking that night, and insisted upon her retiring at
once to rest.
"To-morrow," said she, "I shall be happy to listen to any thing you may
wish to communicate."
Mrs. Humphrey conducted the woman and her child up stairs to a neat
bed-room where, after making every arrangement necessary to their
comfort, she bade them a kind good night, and left them to enjoy the
rest which they so much needed.
When Mrs. Humphrey rejoined her husband in the sitting-room, their
conversation very naturally turned to the stranger who was resting
beneath their roof. They evidently felt deeply interested by her
delicate and lady-like appearance.
"I am sure of one thing," said Mrs. Humphrey, "that this woman has seen
better days, notwithstanding the poverty which her present appearance
"And I am convinced of another thing," replied Mr. Humphrey, "that no
fault of her's has reduced her to her present circumstances, for her
countenance shews her to be a worthy and true-souled woman; and she
shall freely remain beneath my roof until it shall be her wish to leave
Little did Mr. Humphrey think, when he made this remark, how soon the
poor woman would exchange the shelter of his roof for that of the grave.
Next morning on visiting the room of the stranger, Mrs. Humphrey found
her too ill to rise from the bed. She complained of no pain, but seemed
very weak and languid. Mrs. Humphrey did all that lay in her power for
the comfort of the sick woman. Taking little Ernest down stairs she
beguiled him with amusing stories, as she attended to her domestic
duties, so that his mother might be left in quiet; and when the child
grew weary of the confinement of the house Mr. Humphrey took him to walk
with him while he attended to some business in the village. Before
returning home Mr. Humphrey called upon Dr. Merton, with whom he was
intimately acquainted, and spoke to him concerning the sick woman at his
house. He requested the physician to call to see her in the course of
the day, saying, that if the woman was not able to pay him he would
himself see him paid for his services.
"It makes no difference," replied the humane physician, "whether she is
rich or poor, if she requires the attention of a physician she must not
be neglected; I will certainly call in the afternoon."
The physician accordingly called in the afternoon, and, after some
conversation with Mrs. Harwood, prescribed for her some medicines, and
left her, promising to call again in a short time. Before leaving the
house, however, he informed Mrs. Humphrey that he thought the woman
alarmingly ill. "As near," said he, "as I can judge from her appearance,
I think that consumption has been for a long time preying upon her
constitution, and over-fatigue has thus suddenly prostrated her. The
powers of life," continued Dr. Merton, "are fast failing, and in my
opinion a few weeks will terminate her earthly existence. I have
prescribed for her some simple medicines, but I fear her case is already
beyond the aid of medicine. All we can do," said the physician in
conclusion, "is to render her as comfortable as may be, for she will
soon require nothing which this world affords."
The lonely situation of the stranger had deeply touched the kind heart
of Dr. Merton.
As the Doctor had predicted, Mrs. Harwood failed rapidly. She suffered
but little bodily pain, but her strength failed her daily, and it soon
became evident to all who saw her, that the day of her death could not
be far distant.
She gave to Mrs. Humphrey a brief sketch of her past life, which will be
made the subject of another chapter.
Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey had reared a family of five children; three of
them now slept in the village church-yard; the remaining two had
married, and removed to a long distance from their paternal home,
consequently the worthy couple had for some years dwelt alone in the
home where once had echoed the glad voices of their children.
They soon decided that, should Mrs. Harwood not recover, they would
gladly adopt her little boy as their own, if she felt willing to leave
him to their care. So great was the anxiety of Mrs. Harwood regarding
her child, that it was long ere she gave up hopes of recovery, but when
she at length became aware that she must die, she at first found it very
difficult to resign herself to the will of Heaven.
"Were it not for my child," she would often say, "the prospect of death
would not be unpleasant to me, for I have a comforting hope of a life
beyond the grave; but who will care for my orphan boy when I am no more?
I must not distrust the goodness of the orphans' God."
Mr. Humphrey, in reply to these remarks one day, said to her—
"I hope you will make your mind perfectly easy in regard to your child;
for, should it please God to remove you by death, I have already decided
to adopt little Ernest as my own son, if you feel willing to consign him
to my care; and you may rest assured that while my life is spared he
shall be tenderly cared for, as though he were my own son."
"Now," replied Mrs. Harwood, "can I die willingly. Since my illness it
has been my daily and nightly prayer, that should it be the will of
Heaven that I should not recover, God would raise up friends to care for
my orphan boy, and that prayer is now answered."
Just six weeks from the evening on which Mrs. Harwood entered the
dwelling of Mr. Humphrey, her eyes were closed in death. The last day of
her life was passed mostly in a kind of lethargy, from which it was
almost impossible to arouse her. Toward evening she rallied, and her
mind seemed clear and calm. She was aware that the hour of her death had
arrived; but she felt no fears in the prospect of her approaching
dissolution. She thanked Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey for their kindness to
her, and again tenderly committed to their care her boy, who would soon
become an orphan.
"I am powerless to reward you," said the dying woman, "but God will
certainly reward you for your kindness to the widow and orphan."
She requested that her child might be brought and placed by her side.
Placing her thin wasted hands upon his head she said, in a voice
"May the God who never forsakes the orphan preserve my precious boy amid
the perils and dangers of the sinful world!"
She drew the face of the child close to her own, and imprinted a
mother's last kiss upon his brow, and sank back exhausted upon her
pillow. A few more fluttering quick drawn breaths and her spirit had
winged its way from earth, and no one who witnessed her death felt a
doubt that its flight was heavenward.
The following brief account of the early life of Mrs. Harwood I give as
nearly as possible in her own words:—
"My earliest recollection carries me back to a small village in
Scotland, about one hundred miles distant from the city of Edinburgh,
where I was born the daughter of a minister of the Church of Scotland. I
was an only child. The salary which my father received was moderate, but
was nevertheless sufficient to support us respectably. When I became of
suitable age I was sent to school, and continued to pursue my studies
until I arrived at the age of fourteen years. At that period I was
deprived by death of a fond and indulgent father. Previous to the death
of my father neither my mother nor myself had ever experienced an
anxious thought as regarded the future. The salary my father received
had enabled us to live in comfort and respectability; and we do not
often anticipate the death of a strong and healthy man. He died very
suddenly; and when my mother's grief at our sudden bereavement had so
far subsided as to allow her taking some thought for the future, she
found that although my father had died free from debt he had been unable
to lay by anything for our future support. During my father's lifetime
we had occupied the parsonage, rent free, as had been stipulated when my
father became pastor of the church over which he presided till his
death. Consequently we had no longer any rightful claim to the dwelling
which had been our home for so many years. They kindly gave us
permission however, to occupy the house for one year, but my mother
liked not to continue to occupy a home which, in reality, was no longer
ours. After some deliberation upon the subject, my mother decided upon
teaching, as a means of support, as her own education had been
sufficiently thorough to render her competent for the undertaking. But,
as the village where we resided was small and already well supplied with
schools, she wrote to an old friend of my father's, who resided in
Edinburgh, as to what he thought of her removing to that city, for the
purpose of opening a school. She received a very encouraging reply from
the old gentleman, in which he promised to render her all the assistance
in his power in the way of obtaining pupils, and as the gentleman was
well known and much respected in the city, we found his assistance in
this respect to be of much value. The task of breaking up our old home
proved a very sad one both to my mother and myself. The furniture of the
parsonage was our own. My father had left quite an extensive library,
considering his limited means. With the exception of a few volumes which
my mother reserved for ourselves, she disposed of the books among our
acquaintances at a fair value, as each was anxious to obtain some relic
of their beloved pastor. The kind people, among whom we had resided,
expressed many kind wishes for our future welfare, when we left them to
seek a home in the great city. The school which my mother opened upon
our removal to the city proved very successful, and soon yielded us a
comfortable support. I assisted my mother both in the duties of the
school-room and also in our household work. We were prospered and lived
contentedly in our new home. We missed, it is true, the familiar faces
of our old friends, but we soon found friends in our new home; we were
cheerful, and should have been happy but for the sad loss we had
recently sustained. Four years thus glided by, during which time our
school continued to afford us a comfortable support. About this time I
became acquainted with Mr. Harwood, who had a short time before
commenced the practice of law in the city of Edinburgh, and one year
later I became his wife. His pecuniary circumstances were but moderate,
as he had been only a short time engaged in the practice of his
profession. We resided with my mother, as she could not bear the idea of
being separated from me. I continued as usual to assist her in the
duties of her school. We, in this way, lived happily, till the event of
my mother's death, which took place two years after my marriage. She
took a sudden cold, which settled upon her lungs, and terminated in a
quick consumption, which, after a short period of suffering, closed her
life. She died as she had lived, full of religious hope and trust. Of my
own sorrow I will not now speak; the only thought which afforded me the
least consolation was—that what was my loss, was her eternal gain.
About a year after the death of my mother my husband formed the idea of
going to America. He had little difficulty in gaining my consent to
accompany him. Had my mother still lived the case would have been very
different; as it was, I had no remaining tie to bind me to Scotland, and
wherever he deemed it for the best to go, I felt willing to accompany
him, for he was my all in the wide world. We left the British shores on
the tenth of June, and after a prosperous voyage, we found ourselves
safely landed in the city of Boston. We brought with us money sufficient
to secure us from want for a time, and my husband soon began to acquire
quite a lucrative practice in his profession, and our prospects for the
future seemed bright. For a long time my spirits were weighed down by
home-sickness. I felt an intense desire to return to the home we had left
beyond the sea, but in time this feeling wore away, and I began to feel
interested in our new home, which appeared likely to be a permanent one.
When we had resided for a little more than a year in our adopted
country, my little Ernest was born, and the lovely babe, with my
additional cares, doubly reconciled me to my new home. When my little
boy was about a year old I was attacked by a contagious fever, which at
that time prevailed in the city. By this fever I was brought very near
to death. I was delirious most of the time, and was thereby spared the
sorrow of knowing that my child was consigned to the care of strangers.
But the fever at length ran its course, and I began slowly to recover.
But just when I was considered sufficiently strong to be again allowed
the care of my child, my husband was prostrated by the same disease from
which I had just recovered, and in ten days I was left a widow with my
helpless child. I cannot even now dwell upon this season of sorrow. All
my former trials appeared as nothing when compared with this. Had it not
been for my boy I could almost have wished I had not been spared to see
this hour, but I banished such thoughts as wrong and impious, and tried
to look the dreary future calmly in the face. I soon found it necessary
to devise some means of support for myself and child. I thought of many
plans only to discard them as useless. I once thought of opening a
school as my own mother had done, but the care of my child prevented me
from supporting myself in this way; and I would not consign him to the
care of strangers. I at length decided to seek to support myself by the
use of the needle, and accordingly rented two rooms on a respectable
street, and removed thither with my child, where, by the closest
industry I succeeded in keeping above want for more than three years,
when my health failed from too close application to my employment. My
physician strongly advised me to leave the city, as he thought country
air would have a beneficial effect upon my health. I followed his
advice, and, with the small sum of money which I had been able to lay
by, added to what I received from the sale of my few articles of
household furniture, I left the city. When I left Boston I had no
particular place in view as to where I might find a home. I had decided
upon opening a school in some country village if I could meet with
encouragement in the undertaking. About fifty miles distant from this
city I was taken ill, and for several weeks was unable to proceed on my
way. When I was sufficiently recovered to allow of my again travelling I
found it to be imperatively necessary that I should seek some place
where I could earn a support for myself and child, as the small sum of
money with which I left Boston was now nearly gone. The kind gentleman,
in whose house I remained during my illness, informed me that he was
well acquainted in the village of Walden, and he thought it a place
where I would be likely to succeed in establishing a select school for
young children, as he informed me there were many wealthy people
residing here, who would patronize a school of this kind. With this
intention I came to this village, and when I purchased my ticket for
Walden I had but one dollar remaining in my purse, which, with the
clothing and other articles contained in my trunk is all I possess in
the world. But this matters little to me now, for I feel that my days on
earth are numbered. I am unable to reward you for your exceeding
kindness to myself and child; but I pray Heaven to reward and bless you,
both temporally and spiritually. It is hard for me to leave my dear
child, but I now feel resigned to the will of Heaven, knowing that
whatever He wills is for the best."
And so the little orphan boy found a home and friends to love and
Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey felt a tender love for the lovely and engaging
orphan. Mrs. Humphrey, in particular, seemed almost to idolize him.
She had many years before lost, by death, a little boy, when of about
the same age which little Ernest was when thus strangely cast upon her
bounty; and this circumstance may have attached her more strongly to the
Mr. Humphrey was equally fond of the boy, but his disposition was less
demonstrative than was that of his wife he was, therefore not so much
inclined to indulge, the child in a manner which would prove injurious
to him as he grew older.
Although the child had a very affectionate disposition he yet possessed
a will that liked not to yield to that of another. Young as the child
was, his mother had discovered this trait in his character and had,
previously to her death, spoken of the matter to Mrs. Humphrey, and
besought her—as she valued her own happiness and that of the child—to
exact strict obedience from him when he should be left solely to her
"Even," said she, "should it require severe measures to break that will,
it must be done. Remember it is for the best good of the child."
Had Mrs. Humphrey strictly followed the counsels of the dying mother in
the early training of her child it might have spared her much
Mr. Humphrey treated the child very kindly, but made it a point that he
should yield to him a ready obedience in all things. But the little
fellow was quick to notice that when Mr. Humphrey was not present he
could usually, either by dint of coaxing or noisy rebellion, carry his
point with Mrs. Humphrey.
Her husband often remonstrated with her upon the course she was pursuing
in the management of the child. She used often to say—
"I cannot find it in my heart to punish the poor child when I consider
that he is both fatherless and motherless, and I trust he will outgrow
these childish ways."
Poor Mrs. Humphrey! She is not the only one that has been cheated by
this hope, and has thereby allowed their child to grow up with an
obstinate will that has marred their happiness for life.
In after years Mrs. Humphrey many times recalled to mind a remark which
a friend made to her one day in regard to little Ernest, then six years
old. He came into the parlor where the two ladies were sitting, and
taking from the centre table an elegantly bound book, began turning the
leaves with fingers that were none of the cleanest. Mrs. Humphrey gently
requested him to replace the book, which request she was obliged to
repeat two or three times before he paid the slightest attention to it.
And then it was only to say in a coaxing voice—
"Ernest wants this pretty book; do let me keep it."
Mrs. Humphrey replied that the book was not suitable for little boys,
and again requested him to replace it on the table. When a few minutes
had passed, and he still continued to turn the leaves of the book, Mrs.
Humphrey again repeated her request in a decided manner, telling him to
replace the book immediately, when his childish temper burst forth in a
regular tempest. He tossed the book from his hand, and threw himself on
the floor in a corner of the room, where he gave vent to his anger by a
succession of screams, which were anything but melodious. But his desire
to retain possession of the coveted book was yet strong, and when the
ladies again became engaged in conversation he quietly approached the
table and, hastily taking the book therefrom, left the room, and Mrs.
Humphrey, to save further trouble, appeared not to notice the act. The
lady, who was an intimate friend, asked Mrs. Humphrey if she were not
pursuing a wrong course in thus allowing the boy to do what she had once
"Oh," said Mrs. Humphrey, "he is but a child, and will become ashamed
of such conduct as he grows older."
"I sincerely hope he may," replied the lady, "but I very much fear you
will see a day when you will regret not having been more firm in your
government of this child."
Nine years have rolled by the with their various changes since we first
introduced Earnest Harwood to the reader, a child of five years of age,
weeping at the grave of his mother.
Let us again glance at him when he has nearly attained to the age of
fourteen years. We find him grown a strong healthy youth, still
retaining that wondrous beauty which had rendered him so remarkable in
the days of his childhood.
The reader will doubtless be ready to enquire if his mind and character
are equally lovely with his person. Would that it were in my power to
give a favourable answer to the question. But the truth must be told,
and, at the age of fourteen, Ernest Harwood was decidedly a bad boy.
When of suitable age he had been put to school, and for a time made
rapid progress in his studies. From the first he was rather averse to
study, but as he learned readily and had a most retentive memory he
managed to keep pace in his studies with most boys of his age.
Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey exercised much watchfulness in regard to his
companions, as, when he began to mingle with other boys, they discovered
that he seemed inclined to make companions of such boys as they could
not conscientiously allow him to associate with. But, notwithstanding
their vigilance, it was soon remarked that he was often seen in company
with boys of very bad repute. He soon came to dislike school, and often
absented himself from it for a very trivial excuse, and in many
instances played truant, when Mr. Humphrey refused to listen to his
excuses for being allowed to remain at home.
Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey endeavored to discharge their duty to the boy; and
more than that, they loved him as their own child.
I cannot describe the sorrow they experienced on his account, when, as
he grew older, he seemed more and more inclined to the company of
vicious boys, and to follow their evil examples. Many of his misdoings
never reached the ears of his foster parents, for they were very much
respected by their neighbors, who disliked to acquaint them with what
must give them pain. He soon became so bad that if a piece of mischief
was perpetrated among the village boys, the neighbors used at once to
say they felt sure that Earnest Harwood was at the bottom of it. Often
when among his wicked companions, those lips that had been taught to
lisp the nightly prayer at his mother's knee were stained with oaths and
Mr. Humphrey, one day, in passing along the street, chanced to find him
in company with some of the worst boys in the village, smoking cigars at
the street corner. He was hardly able to credit his own eyesight. He
requested him to accompany him home at once. He at the first thought of
administering punishment with the rod, but as he had done so in former
instances of misconduct with apparently no effect but to make him more
defiant and rebellious, he thought in this instance he would try the
effect of mild persuasion.
"My dear boy you little know the pain you are inflicting upon your best
friends by thus seeking the company of those wicked boys who will
certainly lead you to ruin, if you allow yourself to follow their
He talked long to him of his deceased mother, telling him of her many
earnest prayers for the future good of her child.
For some time the boy maintained a sulky, defiant manner, but his heart
at length softened, and, covering his face with his hands, he wept
aloud. He begged of Mr. Humphrey to forgive his past misconduct, and he
certainly would try to reform in the future.
For a time there was a marked change for the better in the conduct of
the boy, and his friends began to indulge the hope that the change would
prove to be lasting. But his resolutions of amendment soon yielded to
the influence of his evil companions, from whom he found it very
keep aloof. He was of a rash, impulsive disposition, and he
soon forgot his good resolves, and became even worse than before.
Mr. Humphrey still maintained sufficient control over him to oblige him
to attend church regularly, in company with himself and wife, but often,
when they supposed him to be attending the Sabbath-School, would he join
some party of idle, strolling boys, and spend the day in a very sinful
manner. The Superintendent of the school hearing of this, called and
acquainted Mr. Humphrey of the matter.
"I am obliged to you for your kindness in calling upon me," said Mr.
Humphrey, "although I fear I can do nothing that will have any good
effect upon the boy. I have endeavoured to do my duty by the child, I
know not wherein I have failed. I have counselled, persuaded, and even
punished him, and you behold the result. I am at a loss what to do with
him. I have brought up children of my own, who never caused me a real
sorrow in their lives. Why is it, that this poor orphan seems so
strongly resolved to follow only evil ways? Would that some one could
advise me as to what my duty is, in regard to the boy, for, unless a
change for the better soon takes place, he will be ruined for time and
Mr. Humphrey sighed deeply as he spoke, and seemed oppressed with
sorrow. The gentleman with whom he was conversing, endeavoured, as well
as he was able
under the circumstances, to comfort him; telling him that
they could only give him good counsel, and pray for him, and leave the
result to an over-ruling Providence.
Previous to her death, the mother of Earnest had entrusted to the care
of Mrs. Humphrey, a closely sealed package directed to Ernest in her own
hand-writing. She had left the request that this package should not be
given to him until he had reached the age of fourteen years. Many
surmises were formed among the few who knew of this package, as to what
it might contain. Some were of the opinion that it contained papers
which might lead to the possession of wealth. But from what Mrs. Harwood
had related to Mrs. Humphrey, concerning her early life, she thought
this idea to be highly improbable.
However, she carefully laid by the package, and was very careful that
it should sustain no injury. In the meantime, the boy had continued to
go on from bad to worse, till he became known as the leader in every
kind of mischief among the bad boys of the village. He now seldom spent
an evening in his own home. In one or two instances he narrowly escaped
being sent to jail. The respect entertained for his foster parents by
the people of the village was all that caused them to show lenity to the
erring boy. The conduct of Earnest had borne heavier upon them than
their years; they had fondly loved the beautiful and friendless boy, and
it almost broke their hearts to see him go thus astray. Many there were
who advised them to cast him off, as he seemed given over to evil, and
even treated them with unkindness and disrespect; but with all his
faults, they still clung to him, hoping almost against hope that he
would yet reform.
"I promised his mother," said Mr. Humphrey, "that I would care for her
boy so long as I lived to do so, and that promise I intend to keep."
"And," added Mrs. Humphrey, "as long as we possess a home, he shall not
be homeless. For if we can do no more we can at least pray for him; and
I have a hope that the prayers offered in faith will yet meet with an
Time passed on, till the evening preceding the fourteenth birth-day of
Ernest. Mr. Humphrey sat with his wife by their lonely fireside, Ernest
had gone out directly after tea, and the hour was growing late. They
were speaking of him, for they felt very sad.
"I often wonder," said Mr. Humphrey, addressing his wife, "in what duty
I have failed to Ernest. I have endeavored to set before him a good
example, and to do by him in all things as I would have done by my own
son. I have prayed with and for him; and yet since quite a little child,
he has been a source of grief and anxiety to us, by his evil conduct."
"I am conscious," replied Mrs. Humphrey, "that I have erred in his early
training, by too often yielding to his childish will, rather than
administer punishment to enforce obedience from him. I meant well, and
if I have done him a wrong it is now too late to remedy it. I can only
pray that he may yet forsake his evil ways. To-morrow will be his
birth-day, let us hope that the contents of the package which so many
years ago, his poor mother entrusted to my care, may have some influence
for good upon his future life."
While they were yet speaking a rap sounded at the door. Mr. Humphrey
rose and opened it, but stood speechless, when he beheld Ernest
supported by two or three of his companions. At the first he supposed
him either hurt or seriously ill. But upon going near to him what was
his amazement when he discovered that he was too much intoxicated to
allow of his walking without assistance. This was something entirely
unexpected. Some had hinted that, added to his other faults, he was
acquiring a taste for strong drink, but those whispers never reached the
ears of Mr. Humphrey or his wife. And when he was brought home in this
state, they had no words adequate to describe their feelings.
Dismissing his companions they assisted him into the house, and to his
room, Mrs. Humphrey only saying, "poor misguided boy, what will become
When they returned to the sitting room their minds were too much
agitated to allow them to converse. After
some time passed in silence,
Mr. Humphrey said, "we will not attempt to talk of this new sorrow
to-night, but we will pray for the poor boy as well as for ourselves,
before we retire to rest."
Opening his Bible, Mr. Humphrey read the forty-sixth Psalm, then
kneeling, he poured out his troubled soul in prayer. He prayed earnestly
for the poor youth now lying in the heavy sleep produced by
intoxication. He also prayed for forgiveness, if they erred in the
management of the boy, and for future aid in the performance of their
duty. Could the boy have heard the prayer which Mr. Humphrey sent up to
heaven on his behalf, hard indeed must have been his heart, if he had
not from that moment resolved to forsake his evil ways, and by his
future good conduct endeavoured to atone for his past sins and follies.
When Earnest came down to breakfast the next morning, neither Mr. or
Mrs. Humphrey made any allusion to the situation in which he had been
brought home the previous evening. They treated him with their usual
kindness, but it was evident, by his subdued manner and downcast
countenance, that he felt sensible of his shame and degradation. They
intended to talk with him of the matter, but deferred it for the
present. Mr. Humphrey advised his wife to give him the package herself,
as it was to her care it had been committed. Soon after breakfast was
over, he went up to his room, whither Mrs. Humphrey soon repaired with
the package in her hand. Earnest opened the door when she rapped for
admission. He looked somewhat embarrassed, and seemed by his manner to
expect she had visited his room for the purpose of talking to him of the
event of the last evening. She made no mention of the circumstance, but
seating herself by his side, addressed him, saying—
"My dear Earnest, you have often told me that you retain a distinct
recollection of your mother. I have
never before told you that, previous
to her death, she consigned a sealed package to my care, directed to you
with her own hand, with the request that I should give it to you on your
fourteenth birthday. The time has now arrived, and by giving you this
package I fulfil what was a dying request of your mother." As she
concluded, she placed the package in his hand, and immediately left the
room, thinking he would prefer being left alone to open the package.
When some time had passed, and Earnest did not come down, Mr. Humphrey
went upstairs, and softly opened the door of his room. He found the boy
with his face bowed upon his hands, weeping bitterly. He approached him,
and gently placing his hand upon his shoulder, enquired the cause of his
He replied, in a voice choked with sobs,—
"Oh! I have been so wicked—so—bad—I know not what will become of me.
It is well that my mother did not live to see how widely I have strayed
from the path in which it was her last hope and prayer that I should
Mr. Humphrey endeavoured to comfort the poor boy, wisely thinking this
to be no time to reproach him for past errors.
Mrs. Humphrey, thinking that something unusual must have taken place
followed her husband to the room of Earnest.
By the tearful request of Earnest, she examined the
package, which had
for so long a time remained in her keeping. First there was a Bible and
Hymn Book, the books were elegantly bound, and had silver clasps. Then
there was an old-fashioned locket of gold, containing a picture of the
father and mother of Ernest, which had been taken many years before.
Between the leaves of the Bible was placed a letter addressed to Ernest,
in the hand-writing of his mother. The letter had been written at
different times as her strength permitted, during the last few days of
her life. It read as follows:—
"My dear little Earnest,—Long before your eyes will rest
upon these lines, the hand that traces them will have mouldered
into dust. The contents of this package with my prayerful blessing,
is all I have to leave you. As I write these lines you are playing
about my room a happy, innocent child. Would that my knowledge
could extend into the future, that I might know what manner of
youth you will be, when this letter is placed in your hands. But I
fear that I am wrong in thus wishing to know the future which a
kind Providence has mercifully hidden from us. It is my anxiety for
you alone that prompts the desire. I leave a request that this
letter be not placed in your hands till you shall have attained the
age of fourteen years. For should your life be spared to that
period, you will then be capable of reflection. It is my earnest
prayer, that you should grow up a good and dutiful boy, and by so
doing, reward Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey for the care and instruction,
which, I feel confident they will bestow upon you. But, O! my son,
should it be otherwise, and you have been led astray by evil
companions, I beseech you, my child, to pause and think. Listen to
the voice of your mother as if speaking to you, from her grave.
Again, I say, 'pause and reflect.' If you have evil companions,
forsake them at once, and forever. But I trust that these sad
forebodings are needless, and that when you read these lines, you
will be all that the fond heart of a mother could desire. The Bible
and Hymn Book which I leave you belonged to my father, who was a
minister of the Church of Scotland. Is it too much for me to hope
that you will follow in the footsteps of your deceased grandparent,
and use this Bible as he did in the pulpit, as a minister of the
gospel? The locket contains the likeness of your father and myself,
taken a short time after our marriage. I commit you with many
prayers, to the care of your Heavenly Father, for I feel that the
hand of death is upon me, and that a few brief days will close my
earthly existence. My last prayer will be that my boy may so live
on earth, as to meet his mother in Heaven. My strength fails me. I
can write no more.
"From your loving, but dying mother,
The reader who has got thus far in the narrative of the early life of
Earnest Harwood, will doubtless learn, with pleasure, that the letter
written by his mother, proved, under the blessing of God, the means of
his salvation. The earnest persuasion of that letter, induced him to
form a firm resolve, that he would amend his conduct, and cease from
his evil ways. He was, at the first, fearful that he had lost the love
of his foster parents, by his ungrateful conduct. He one day expressed
this fear to them, and together they assured him, that although he had
certainly caused them much grief and anxiety, their love for him had
remained unchanged. They took this opportunity, when his feelings were
thus softened, to urge him to be firm in his resolution of amendment.
They also, for the first time, spoke of the fearful sorrow he had caused
them by being brought to his home in a state of intoxication; and
besought him never again to allow himself to be persuaded to taste of
the intoxicating cup. Mrs. Humphrey pressed a motherly kiss upon his
fine brow, and said,—
"My dear boy I hope that you will not again disappoint our fond hopes,
and that you will yet do credit to the fine abilities with which our
Heavenly Father has so liberally endowed you."
From this time there was a marked and decided change in the character of
Earnest. Many feared that the change would not be permanent, but Mrs.
Humphrey was very hopeful.
"I feel an assurance," said she "that the many prayers which have been
offered to heaven on his behalf, are about to be answered."
It was even so. And they who feared a relapse into his former evil ways
were happily disappointed. He again punctually attended school, and
applied himself diligently to his neglected studies; and his teachers
were surprised, as well by the astonishing progress he made, as by his
correct exemplary deportment. As may be readily supposed, he had much to
contend with from the vicious boys who had been his former associates.
He shunned their company as much as possible, but he could not avoid
occasionally coming in contact with them, and I am happy to say, that
they found him immovable in his resolutions for good. They tried every
means again to entice him into evil ways, but without success. As a last
resort, they tried the effect of ridicule, but they learned now, that he
had allowed his better nature to assert its power, for he possessed a
spirit far above the influence of ridicule; and when they found they
could by no means induce him to mingle with them, they were forced to
give him up, and allow him to go his way in peace. When Mr. and Mrs.
Humphrey found that the change in Earnest was likely to
permanent one, their gratitude and joy was heartfelt and sincere.
Two years have now passed away, since the beginning of the happy change
in the life of the orphan boy. We now find him a fine, tall youth of
sixteen, as much respected as he had formerly been shunned and pitied.
His personal appearance was still as attractive as in his childhood. He
was called by many the finest looking youth in all the village of
Walden. He had attended closely to his studies, and had obtained a good
English education. During the mid-summer vacation Mr. Humphrey asked if
he had turned his mind towards any particular calling in life which he
wished to follow,—
"For," said he, "it is my intention to assist you in fitting yourself
for any profession you may feel inclined to pursue."
Ernest blushed deeply as he replied,—
"You know, sir, the wish which my mother expressed in regard to my
calling in life, and I feel a desire to fulfill her wish in the matter.
I deeply feel my unworthiness for a calling so sacred, yet I hope my
unworthy services may be accepted, should I be spared to enter upon the
When Mr. Humphrey learned the wishes of Ernest he gladly defrayed his
expenses while pursuing the studies necessary to fit him for the
He passed through his college course with much credit to himself, and
then devoted the necessary time to the study of divinity in the
In conclusion I would ask the reader to accompany me to what is now one
of the oldest churches in the city of Boston.
It is a beautiful Sabbath morning in the balmy month of June.
Let us enter the church. Something of more than usual interest seems to
pervade the large congregation there assembled. As we enter the church
we observe in one of the front pews an aged couple, whom we at once
recognize as Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey. They are now quite aged and feeble,
yet the countenance of each is cheerful and placid. Notwithstanding
their age they have made the journey of two hundred miles to be present
upon this occasion. For their beloved Earnest is this day to be set
apart to the Work of the Holy Ministry by the solemn service of
When the services were closed, and Earnest came forward to accompany
his aged foster parents from the church, they felt themselves more than
rewarded for all the care they had bestowed upon the orphan boy; and
they might have said, as did Simeon of old,—
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servants depart in peace according to thy
word, for our eyes have seen thy salvation."
To the boys who may read this story I would say: As you value your own
well-being in time and eternity, avoid evil companions—for these have
worked the ruin of many a promising youth.
Should this little story be read by any who are mothers of families, it
is my hope that it may afford them encouragement to persevere in their
prayerful efforts, for the good of the immortal beings committed to
their care. The letter penned by the feeble hand of his dying mother,
under the divine blessing, saved Earnest Harwood from ruin. Let this
circumstance encourage you, never to grow weary nor discouraged in your
labours for the good of your children, and "ye shall in no wise lose