Read CHAPTER TWENTY TWO - A MISERABLE DEATH of Frank Oldfield Lost and Found , free online book, by T.P. Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

Three days after Jacob Poole had posted his letter and its enclosure, a cab drove up to Mrs Jones’s door.  In it were Sir Thomas and Lady Oldfield.  No one who saw them could doubt of the bitter sorrow that had stamped its mark upon their noble features.

“Are you Mrs Jones, my poor poor son’s landlady?” asked Lady Oldfield, when they were seated in the parlour.  She could add no more for weeping.

“Yes, ma’am,” was the reply.  “I’m sure I’m very sorry, ma’am, very indeed; for Mr Oldfield was a most kind, free-spoken gentleman; and if he’d only only ”

“I understand you,” said the poor sorrowing mother.

“And Jacob Poole; what has become of him?” asked Sir Thomas.

“I’m sure, sir, I don’t know.  All I can tell is, that he’s sure not to be anywhere in Liverpool; for he told me the morning he left me that he was going to leave the town, and should not come back again.”

“I’m grieved to hear it,” said the baronet.  “And can you give us a clue, Mrs Jones, to our dear misguided child’s present place of abode?  Can you suggest no way of finding it out?”

“I fear not, sir; Mr Oldfield has left nothing behind him except his Bible and Prayer-book, which he asked me to accept as a token of his kind feeling and regard, he was good enough to say.”

“His Bible and Prayer-book!  Oh, let me look at them,” exclaimed Lady Oldfield.

Mrs Jones brought them.  The Prayer-book was one given him on his twelfth birthday by his mother.  His name in it was in her own handwriting.  The Bible was a much newer book, and bore but few marks of use.  It was a gift from Mary Oliphant.  The handwriting of his name was hers, as was also that of two texts below the name, which were written out in full

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Lady Oldfield gazed at these books and the writing in them for a long time without uttering a word, and without shedding a tear.  It seemed as though the sight had for the moment chained every other feeling, and left her only the power to stare wildly at the two familiar handwritings.

“And he has parted with these,” she said at last, half out loud; “he has given them away.  Oh, merciful Father in heaven, what has become of my unhappy boy?”

“Calm yourself, my dear,” said Sir Thomas; “let us hope that things may be better than our fears.”

“I’m sure, ma’am,” said Mrs Jones, “I should never think of keeping these books if you or Mr Oldfield’s father wish to have them.”

“Oh, it is not that, it is not that,” sobbed Lady Oldfield.  “Are you a mother, Mrs Jones?” she cried, turning abruptly to her.

“Yes, ma’am; I’ve had seven children, and five are living now.”

“Then you’ll understand my feelings as a mother.  I fear, oh, I cannot say how terribly I fear, that poor Frank means to do something dreadful; perhaps to to oh, I can’t bear to think of it.”

“Why, my dear, why,” asked her husband, “should you think so?”

“Why, Thomas!  Oh, isn’t there something terrible in his parting with these two books, my gift and dear Mary’s gift, and at such a time?  Doesn’t it seem as if he was turning his back upon everything that is good and holy, and simply giving himself up to despair.  Isn’t it like saying, `The Bible’s no longer a book for me, for God is no longer my God?’ Isn’t it like saying, `Prayer is no longer for me, for God will not hear me.’”

“My dearest wife,” said Sir Thomas, anxiously, “don’t look at the darkest side.  Don’t lose your faith and trust now.  My good Mrs Jones, you see we’re in sore trouble.  You can understand how our hearts are almost broken about our erring son, but still he is our son, and very dear to us; and we want you to help us to find him, if it be possible.”

“I’m sure, sir,” replied the kind-hearted landlady, “I do feel for you both with all my heart, and only wish I knew what to advise.  But really I know no more than yourselves where Mr Oldfield is likely to be found.  It seems that he’s wished to keep it a secret, and so he has purposely kept me in the dark.”

Sir Thomas sighed.

“I understand exactly how it is,” he said.  “I do not see what we can do, except endeavour to get a clue through the police.  By the way, Mrs Jones, you don’t happen to know the names or lodgings of any of his associates?  That might help us, if you did.”

“I do not, sir; for I never saw one of them enter this house.  Your son never brought any one home with him as I know of.  Jacob Poole and he were the only persons who ever were together here while he had my lodgings.”

“Do you happen, then, ever to have heard him mention where any of his companions lived?  I mean those persons he used to stay out with at night or in the day?”

“Never, sir.”

“Nor so much as the name of any of his associates?”

“Not once, sir.  I fear that is to say ”

“Speak out, Mrs Jones, pray.  You know this may be a matter of life and death to him, and perhaps to us also.  Don’t be afraid of wounding us; we want to know everything that can in the least help us in our search.”

“Well, sir, I was going to say, only I hesitated to say so much to my lodger’s own father and mother, that I feared he had got mixed up with companions as wouldn’t be likely to meet him in any private house.”

“I understand you; you think he met his friends, (his companions or associates, I mean), at some common rendezvous or club.”

“Yes, sir; I fear so from all I heard and saw, and from what Mr Poole has said.”

“I fear, then, that you can afford us no information that will help us at present.  But here is my card; we shall be staying for some days probably, possibly for some weeks, at the Albion Hotel.  Will you kindly, without fail, let us know, and that without loss of time, if you hear or see anything either of our poor son or of Jacob Poole, or of any one who may be able to give us any light or any help in our search?”

“You may depend upon me, Sir Thomas,” said Mrs Jones; “and I’m sure, sir, I hope you and her ladyship will excuse this homely room.  It’s only very plainly furnished, but it’s the one your son occupied.”

“Pray, don’t make any apologies,” said her ladyship; “they are not needed.  It is not fine rooms and grand furniture that can give peace.  I have just one thing to ask you to grant me before we go, and we must not delay, for time is precious.”

“I’m sure, my lady, I’ll grant you anything in my power.”

“Let me, then, see the room where my poor boy slept.”

“Certainly, ma’am, though it’s in a sadly untidy state.  I’ve not had time ”

“Never mind, Mrs Jones; I shall not notice any defects.  My heart aches too sorely for me to heed these trifles.  There, thank you; now leave me alone in the room for five minutes.  And will you kindly tell my husband that I will join him almost directly!”

When the door was closed upon the unhappy mother, she threw herself on her knees beside the bed on which her son had slept, too commonly, alas! the drunkard’s sleep, and poured out her heart with tears to God that she might find her poor, lost, and guilty child before it should be too late.  Rendered calmer by this prayer, she joined Sir Thomas.

“Farewell, Mrs Jones,” she said, as they left the house; “many thanks for your kind sympathy.  I trust we may have a less sad tale to tell when we meet again.”

They drove to their hotel, and Sir Thomas wrote at once to the superintendent of police, requesting him to call upon him at the “Albion” at his earliest convenience.  In about an hour that functionary appeared.  He was a tall and stoutly-built man, of a decidedly military carriage; slightly bald, with a peculiarly searching eye, and thin decided lips.  His manner was remarkably quiet, and his language precise and deliberate.  He evidently always thought before he spoke, and then spoke what he thought, and nothing more.  Taking the seat offered him by Sir Thomas, but declining any refreshment, he put himself in the attitude of listening, as one accustomed to weigh evidence, and to put every fact and conjecture into its right box.

“I have requested your kind attendance, Mr Superintendent,” began the baronet, “that I might ask your advice and help in a matter in which Lady Oldfield here and myself are most deeply concerned.”

The superintendent gave a slight bend forward, as much as to say that this introduction to the subject in hand was a matter of course.

Sir Thomas then, with some embarrassment of manner, gave his hearer an account of his son’s unhappy career, and his own difficulties about tracing him, and concluded by saying,

“And now, sir, I would ask your help to discover my poor boy before it be too late.”

The superintendent signified his assent.

“What do you think?” asked Sir Thomas.

“We can find him, no doubt, if he is still in Liverpool,” said the officer.

“And do you think he is now in Liverpool?” asked Lady Oldfield.

“I do.”

“What makes you think, so?” asked the baronet.

“Several things.  First, he’ll be likely to stay where he can get most easily at the drink.  Secondly, he’ll not go away to any near country place, because he’d get sooner marked there.  Thirdly, as he seems hard up for money, he’ll have to pawn anything he may have left that’s worth pawning, and he can do that best and most secretly in a large town.”

Poor Sir Thomas and his lady felt a shiver through their hearts at the matter-of-fact way in which these words were uttered.

“You don’t think, then,” asked the baronet, “that he has started in any vessel for America or Australia?”

“No; because no captain would take him as a sailor, and he’d not be able to raise money to go even as a steerage passenger.  Besides, he wouldn’t risk it, as he’d know that all the outward bound vessels might be searched for him by that man of his Poole, I think you called him.”

“But don’t you suppose he may have left by railway, and gone to some other large town?”

“Of course he may, but I don’t think he has, because he’ll have sense enough to know that he can’t have much to spare for travelling, if he’s gambled away his ready money, and don’t mean to ask you for any more.”

“Perhaps he has done, or means to do, something desperate,” said Lady Oldfield, tremblingly; “he seemed to hint at something of the kind in his letter to me.”

“No, he’ll not do that, I think at least not just yet.  Habitual drunkards have seldom got it in them.  They’ll talk big, but still they’ll go on hanging about where they can get the drink.”

“Then you believe that he is still in Liverpool?” said Sir Thomas.

“That’s my belief.”

“And you think that you can find him?”

“I do think so.  Was your son fond of low company when he lived at home?”

Poor Sir Thomas and his wife winced at this question, but it was put by the superintendent simply as a matter of business.

“Why, not exactly,” was the reply; “that is to say, he never frequented any gatherings of low people, as far as I know.  But he was very much in the habit of making a companion of my under-groom, Juniper Graves.”

“Ah, exactly so!  And this man drank?”

“Yes.”

“And they played cards together?”

“I fear so.”

“Then he’s most likely hooked in with a low set that makes it easier.”

“Do you suppose that he is still in connection with any such set?” asked Lady Oldfield.

“Pretty certain, if he has let out, when he was tipsy, that his father is a gentleman of property.  They’ll help him on a bit, if they think there’s a chance of bleeding him again.”

“But you know he has resolved to keep us in ignorance of his abode, and all about himself.”

“Yes, he meant it when he wrote; but when he’s so hard up as to be near starving, perhaps he’ll change his mind.”

“How then would you propose to proceed?” asked Sir Thomas.

The superintendent thought for half a minute, and then said,

“Have you a photograph of your son with you?”

“I have,” said the poor mother.  She took it out of her pocket-book, and handed it to the officer.  He looked at it very carefully for some time, and then said,

“I suppose he must be a little older looking than this.”

“Yes, surely,” was the reply, “for it was taken three years ago, before he went out to Australia.”

“I must ask you then to spare it me for a few days, as it may help us materially.”

“And how soon may we hope to hear anything from you?”

“In a day or two I expect, perhaps sooner.  But don’t call at the office; it will do no good.  You may depend upon hearing from me as soon as I have anything to communicate.”

That day passed over, a second, and a third day of sickening suspense.  How utterly powerless the poor parents felt!  Lady Oldfield prayed, but oh, there were sad thoughts of bitter self-reproach mingling with her prayers.  She could not but remember how she had herself been the chief hindrance to her son’s becoming a total abstainer when he was bent on making the attempt, and had avowed his intention.  Oh, she would have given worlds now could she but recall the time, and her own words, when she had dissuaded him from renouncing those stimulants which had proved to him the cause of sin, ruin, and perhaps death.  Yes; who could tell what might have been now had that unhappy remonstrance never passed her lips.  Ah, it is easy to laugh down, or press down by a mother’s authority, the holy resolve of a child who sees the gigantic monster drunkenness in some of his hideous proportions, and would gladly take that step which would keep him, if leaning on grace for strength, free from the deadly snare; easy to laugh down or crush down that resolve; but oh, impossible to recall the past, impossible to give back to the utterly hardened drunkard his fresh vigorous intellect, his nervous moral power, his unstrained will, his unwarped conscience, his high and holy resolution!  Lady Oldfield felt it; but the past was now gone from her, beyond the reach of effort, remorse, or prayer.  At last, on the morning of the fourth day, the superintendent again made his appearance.

“Have you found him?” cried both parents in a breath.

“I believe I am on his tracks,” was the reply.

“Oh, thank God for that!” cried the poor mother, clasping her hands together.  “He still lives then?”

“I cannot be sure, but I should think so.”

“Oh, then, cannot you take us to him?”

“No, madam, not yet; we are only on his tracks at present.”

“Would you tell us in what way you have proceeded?” asked Sir Thomas.

“Certainly.  In the first place, the young man’s photograph was shown to all our constables.  Some thought they knew the face, and could fix upon the right person in one of the low haunts they are acquainted with.  But after a two days’ search they were all disappointed.  Young men dress so much alike in these days that it’s often very difficult to tell who’s who till you see them very close.  Then I had the likeness taken round to all the publicans’ wives, for the women are closer observers of features than the men.  Some thought they’d seen such a face, some hesitated, one was quite sure she had.  I could tell at once that she was right.”

“When was this?” eagerly asked Lady Oldfield.

“Yesterday.”

“And what did she say?”

“She said that he had been there several nights running with two regular cardsharpers, and they’d been drinking.  She was sure it was him, though he had disguised himself a little.”

“And did you find him?”

“No; he hadn’t been there for the last two or three nights.  Perhaps he had nothing to spend, for he came the last time in his shirt-sleeves; so she supposed he’d pawned his coat.”

“Well?”

“Well, I sent one of our men last night to see if he’d come again, but he never did.”

“And what can you do now?”

“Oh, I’ve left the photograph with the landlady, and she is to see if any of her customers recognise it; it’ll stand on the counter.”

“And what do you think about him now?” asked Sir Thomas.

“That he’ll turn up again in a day or two, if he’s not ill.”

“Oh, can he can he have destroyed himself in a fit of despair?” gasped Lady Oldfield.

“I think not, madam.  Pray don’t distress yourself.  I believe we shall be able to hunt him out in a day or two.  I shall send a man in plain clothes to the gin-shop again to-night to watch for him.”

Early the next day the superintendent called again.

“We’ve found him,” he said.

“Oh, where, where is he?” exclaimed the poor mother; “take us to him at once!  Oh, is he living?” she asked vehemently, for there was a look of peculiar seriousness on the superintendent’s face which made her fear the worst.

“He is living, madam, but I’m sorry to say that he’s seriously ill.”

“Send for a cab at once,” cried Sir Thomas.

“I have one at the door,” said the officer; “one of you had better secure a respectable lodging and nurse for him at once, while the other goes with me.”

“Let me go to him,” cried Lady Oldfield.

“It will be a strange place for a lady, but you will be safe with me.”

“Oh yes, yes, let me go,” was the reply; “am not I his mother?  Oh, let us go at once.”

“Well, then, Sir Thomas,” said the superintendent, “we will call at the hotel as we return, if you will leave the direction of the lodgings with the landlord.”

“And how did you find out my poor boy?” asked Lady Oldfield, as they hurried along through a labyrinth of by-streets, each dirtier and more dismal than the last.

“My man in plain clothes, madam, watched last night for a long time by the bar, but saw no one come in like your son.  At last an old woman, who was come for a quartern of gin, stared hard at the likeness, and said, `Laws, if that ain’t the young gent as is down ill o’ the fever in our attic!’”

“Ill of the fever!” exclaimed Lady Oldfield.

“Yes; it seems so.  Of course that was enough.  My man went home with her, taking the photograph with him, and soon ascertained that the young gentleman in question is your son.  But we must stop here.  I’m sorry to bring your ladyship into such a place; but there’s no help for it, if you really wish to see the young man yourself.”

“Oh yes, yes,” cried the other; “anything, everything, I can bear all, if I may only see him alive, and rescue him from his misery and sin.”

“Wait for us here,” said the officer to the cabman, as they alighted in the middle of a nest of streets, which seemed as though huddled together, by common consent, to shut out from public gaze their filth and guilty wretchedness.  Wretched indeed they were, as the haunts of destitution and crime.  All was foul and dingy.  Distorted roofs patched with mis-shapen tiles; chimneys leaning at various angles out of the perpendicular; walls vile with the smoke and grime of a generation; mortar that looked as though it never in its best days could have been white; shattered doors whose proper colour none could tell, and which, standing ajar, seemed to lead to nothing but darkness; weird women and gaunt children imparting a dismal life to the rows of ungainly dwellings; all these made up a picture of squalid woe such as might well have appalled a stouter heart than poor Lady Oldfield’s.  And was she to find her delicately-nurtured son in such a place as this?  They turned down one street, under the wondering eyes of old and young, and then plunged into a narrow court that led to nothing.  Here, two doors down on the left hand, they entered, and proceeded to climb a rickety stair till they reached the highest floor.  A voice that sent all the blood rushing back to poor Lady Oldfield’s heart was heard in high strain, and another, mingling with it, muttering a croaking accompaniment of remonstrance,

“Well, you’re a fine young gentleman, I’ve no doubt; but you’ll not bide long in that fashion, I reckon.”

Then came a bit of a song in the younger voice,

  “Drink, boys, drink, and drive away your sorrow;
  For though we’re here to-day, we mayn’t be here to-morrow.”

The superintendent knocked at the door, and both entered.  The old woman uttered an exclamation of terror at the sight of the strangers, but the appearance of Lady Oldfield reassured her, for she divined almost immediately who she must be.  On her part, Lady Oldfield instinctively shrunk back at her first entrance, and well she might; for the revolting sights and odours almost overpowered her, spite of her all-absorbing anxiety to find and rescue her beloved child.

The room, if it could be justly called so for it was, more properly speaking, a kind of loft was lighted, or rather, rendered less dark by a sort of half window, half skylight, which looked out upon a stack of decayed and blackened chimneys, and so much sickly-looking sky as could be seen through the undamaged panes, which were but few, for lumps of rags, old stockings, and similar contrivances blocked up many a space which had once been used to admit the light, while the glass still remaining was robbed of its transparency by accumulated dirt.  There was neither stove nor fire-place of any kind.  The walls, if they had ever been whitened, had long since lost their original hue, and exhibited instead every variety of damp discoloration.  Neither chair nor table were there an old stool and a box were the only seats.  In the corner farthest from the light, and where the ceiling sloped down to the floor, was the only thing that could claim the name of a bedstead.  Low and curtainless, its crazy, worm-eaten frame groaned and creaked ominously under the tossings to and fro of the poor sufferer, who occupied the mass of ragged coverings spread upon it.  In the opposite corner was a heap of mingled shavings, straw, and sacking, the present couch of the aged tenant of this gloomy apartment.  The box stood close at the bed’s head; there were bottles and a glass upon, it, which had plainly not been used for medicinal purposes, as the faded odour of spirits, distinguishable above the general rank close smell of the room, too clearly testified.  Across the floor, stained with numberless abominations, Lady Oldfield made her shuddering way to the bed, on which lay, tossing in the delirium of fever, her unhappy son.  His trousers and waistcoat were thrown across his feet; his hat lay on the floor near them; there was no coat, for it had been pawned to gratify his craving for the stimulant which had eaten away joy and peace, hope and heart.  Flinging herself on her knees beside the prostrate form, his mother tried to raise him.

“O Frank, Frank, my darling boy,” she cried, with a bitter outburst of weeping; “look at me, speak to me; I’m your own mother.  Don’t you know me?  I’m come to take you home.”

He suddenly sat up, and jerked the clothes from him.  His eyes glittered with an unnatural light, his cheeks were deeply flushed with fever heat; his hair, that mother’s pride in former days, waved wildly over his forehead.  How fair, how beautiful he looked even then!

“Ah, poor young creetur,” croaked the old woman; “it’s a pity he’s come to this.  I knowed he were not used to sich a life more’s the shame to them as led him into it.”

Ay, shame to them, indeed!  But oh, how sad, how grievous that the young hand, which might have raised to untainted lips none but those pure draughts which neither heat the brain nor warp the sense of right, should ever learn to grasp the cup that gives a passing brightness to the eye and glitter to the tongue, but clouds at length the intellect, fires the brain, and leaves a multitude of wretched victims cast ashore as shattered moral wrecks.  To such results, though from the smallest beginnings, does the drink tend in its very nature.  Oh, happy they who are altogether free from its toils!

The wretched young man stared wildly at his mother.

“Who are you?” he cried.  “I don’t know you.  More brandy where’s the bottle? `Here’s a health to all good lasses; pledge it merrily, fill your glasses.’  Shuffle the cards well; now then, nothing wenture nothing win.  Spades are trumps.”

“Oh, my boy, my boy,” cried the agonised mother, “can nothing be done for you?  Has a doctor been sent for?” she cried suddenly, turning to the old woman.

“Doctor!” was the reply.  “No, ma’am; who’s to pay for a doctor?  The young gent’s been and popped all his things for the play and the drink; and I haven’t myself so much as a brass farden to get a mouthful o’ meat with.”

“Oh, will any one run for a doctor?” implored the miserable mother.  “Here, my good woman,” taking out a shilling, “give this to somebody to fetch a doctor; quick oh, don’t lose a moment.”

“Ay, ay, I’ll see about it,” mumbled the old woman; “that’ll fetch a doctor quick enough, you may be sure.”

She made her way slowly and painfully down the creaking stairs, and after a while returned.

“Doctor’ll be here soon, ma’am, I’ll warrant,” she said.

Lady Oldfield sat on the box by the bed, watching her son’s wild stare and gesticulations in silent misery.

“I’m glad you’ve came, ma’am,” continued the old woman; “I’ve had weary work with the young gentleman.  I found him outside the door of the `Green Dragon’ without his coat, and shaking like an aspen.  I couldn’t help looking at him, poor soul.  I asked him why he didn’t go home; he said he hadn’t got no home.  I asked him where his friends lived; he said he hadn’t got no friends.  I asked him where he lodged; he said he didn’t know.  I was a-going to ask him summat else, but afore I could speak he tumbles down on the ground.  We’d hard work to lift him up; some was for calling police, others wanted to make short work with him.  But I said, says I, `You just let him alone, I’ll look arter him;’ and so I did.  I just heaved him up, and got him to a door-step, and then I fetched him a quartern o’ gin, and he got a little better; and then I helped him here.  I’d hard work to get him to climb up, but I managed it at last.  So here he’s been ever since, and that’s a week come Friday.”

“God bless you for your kindness,” cried Lady Oldfield.  “You shall have no cause to repent it.”

“Nay,” said the kind-hearted old creature, “I knows I shan’t repent it.  It’s a poor place, is this, for such as he, but it’s the best I have, and it’s what the drink has brought me to, and scores and thousands better nor me, and will do again.”

In a short time the doctor arrived.  A very rapid inspection of his patient was sufficient to show him the nature and extent of his complaint.

“Is he in any danger?” asked the poor mother, with deep anxiety.

The doctor shook his head gravely.

“In great danger, I fear.”

“Can we remove him without risk?”

“Not without risk, I’m afraid,” was the reply; “and yet it may be worse for him to be left here.  It is simply a choice of risks.  We had better wrap him up well in blankets, and convey him to proper lodgings at once.”

“Is there any hope?” asked poor Lady Oldfield, with streaming eyes.

“I trust so,” was all the doctor dared to say.  Blankets were at once procured, and the emaciated body of the patient was borne by strong and willing arms to the cab, for there is a wondrous sympathy with those suffering from illness even in the breasts of the most hardened and godless; while, at the same time, great was the excitement in the little court and its neighbourhood.  Lady Oldfield poured out her thanks once more to the old woman who had taken compassion on her son, and put into the poor creature’s hand more money than it had ever grasped at one time before.

“Eh! my lady,” she exclaimed, in delighted astonishment, “you’re very good.  I’m sure, never a thought came into my head, when I brought home the poor young gentleman, as any one would have come down so handsome.  I’d have done it all the same if I’d never have got a penny.”

“I’m sure of it,” replied her ladyship; “but you have done for me what money can never repay.  I shall not lose sight of you; but I must not stop now.  God bless and reward you; and oh, give up the drink, the wretched drink, which has been my poor boy’s ruin, and come for pardon and peace to your gracious Saviour.”

“Ah!” muttered the old creature, as she turned back to her miserable garret, fondly eyeing the golden treasure which she grasped tight with her withered fingers; “it’s easier said nor done, my lady.  Give up the drink?  No, it cannot be.  Come to my gracious Saviour?  Ah!  I used to hear words like those when I were a little ’un, but the drink’s drowned ’em out of my heart long since.  I’m too old now.  Give up the drink!  No; not till the drink gives me up.  It’s got me, and it’s like to keep me.  It’s taken all I’ve had husband, children, home, money and it’ll have all the rest afore it’s done.  I must just put this safe by, and then I’ll go and wet my lips with a quartern o’ mountain dew.  It’s a rare thing, is the drink; it’s meat and drink too, and lodging and firing and all.”

In the meanwhile the cab sped swiftly on its way to the Albion Hotel, and from thence to the lodgings, where Sir Thomas was anxiously waiting their arrival.  They carried the sufferer up to his bed-room.  What a contrast to the miserable, polluted chamber from which Lady Oldfield had just rescued him!  Here all was cleanliness and comfort, with abundant light and ventilation, and a civil and experienced nurse waited to take charge of the unhappy patient.  Having parted with the superintendent with many heartfelt expressions of gratitude, Sir Thomas, Lady Oldfield, and the doctor proceeded to the sick-room.  Frank lay back on the snow-white pillow, pale and motionless, his eyes closed, his lips apart.  Oh! was he dead?  Had the shock been too much for his enfeebled body?  Had they found him only to lose him at once for ever?  Sir Thomas and his wife approached the bed with beating hearts.  No; there was life still; the lips moved, and the hectic of the fever returned to the cheeks.  Then the eyes opened wide, and Frank sprang up into a sitting posture.

“Frank, Frank, don’t you know me?” asked Sir Thomas, in a voice of keen distress.

“Know you?  No; I never saw you before.  Where’s Juniper?  Come here, old fellow.  You’re a regular trump, and no mistake.  Give us some brandy.  That’s the right sort of stuff; ain’t it, old gentleman?” said Frank, glaring at his father, and uttering a wild laugh.

“This is terrible, terrible!” groaned the baronet.  “Doctor, what can we do?”

The medical man looked very grave.

“We must keep him as quiet as possible,” he replied; “but it’s a bad case.  He’s a bad subject, unhappily, because of his intemperate habits.  I hope we shall reduce the fever; but what I fear most is the after exhaustion.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Lady Oldfield, “if he would only know us if he would only speak rationally if he would only keep from these dreadful ramblings about spirits and drinking!  It breaks my heart to hear him speak as he does.  Oh!  I could bear to lose him now, though we have just found him, if I could only feel that he was coming back, like the poor prodigal, in penitence to his heavenly Father.”

“You must calm yourself, madam,” said the doctor; “we must hope that it will be so.  Remember, he is not responsible for the words he now utters; they are only the ravings of delirium.”

“Yes; he is not responsible for the words he now utters,” cried the poor mother “but oh, misery, misery!  I am responsible. I held him back, I laughed him from his purpose, when he would have pledged himself to renounce that drink which has been his bane and ruin, body and soul.”

“Come, come, my dearest wife,” said her husband, “you must be comforted.  You acted for the best.  We are not responsible for his excess.  He never learned excess from us.”

“No; but I cannot be comforted, for I see I know that he might now have been otherwise.  Ay, he might now have been as the Oliphants are, if his own mother had not put the fatal hindrance in his way.  Oh, if I had worlds to give I would give them, could I only undo that miserable past!”

“I think,” said the medical man, “it will be wiser if all would now leave him except the nurse.  The fewer he sees, and the fewer voices he hears, the less he will be likely to excite himself.  I will call early again to-morrow.”

Lady Oldfield retired to her chamber, and poured out her heart in prayer.  Oh, might she have but one hour of intelligence one hour in which she might point her erring child to that loving Saviour, whom she had herself sought in earnest and found in truth since the departure of her son from home!  Oh, might she but see him return to the Gatherer of the wandering sheep!  She did not ask life for him she dared not ask it absolutely; but she did ask that her heavenly Father would in pity grant her some token that there was hope in her beloved child’s death, if he must die.  And does not God answer prayer?  Yes, alway; but not always in our way.  When sin has found the sinner out when warnings have been slighted, mercies despised, the Spirit quenched, the gentle arm that would guide us to glory rudely and perseveringly flung aside then, then, it may be, not even a believing mother’s prayer shall avail to turn aside the righteous stroke of the hand of that holy God who is to his determined enemies a consuming fire.

All the night long did Frank Oldfield toss to and fro, or start up with glaring eyes, calling on his drunken associates, singing wild songs, or now and then recalling days when sin had not yet set its searing brand on his heart and conscience.  About midnight his father and mother stole into his chamber.  The nurse put up her finger.  They cautiously shrank back behind the screen of the bed-curtains out of his sight.

“Juniper, my boy!” exclaimed the wretched sufferer, “where’s my mother?  Gone down to the rectory!  Ah, they’re water-drinkers there.  That don’t do for you and me, Juniper. `This bottle’s the sun of our table.’  Ha, ha! a capital song that!”

Lady Oldfield sank on her knees, and could not repress her sobs.

“Who’s crying?” exclaimed Frank.  “Is it Mary?  Poor Mary!  She loved me once didn’t she?  My poor mother loved me once didn’t she?  Why don’t she love me now?  Where’s my mother now?”

“Here I am here’s your mother your own loving mother my Frank my darling boy!” burst from the lips of the agonised parent.

She flung herself down on her knees beside the bed.  He stared at her, but his ramblings went off the next moment to something else.  Then there was a pause, and he sank back.  Lady Oldfield took the opportunity to send up a fervent prayer.  He caught the half-whispered words, and sat up.  He looked for the moment so collected, so much himself, that his mother’s lips parted with joyful astonishment, and she gasped,

“He knows us his reason is restored!”

The next moment she saw her sad mistake.

“How funny!” cried the poor patient; “there’s our old parson praying.  Poor old parson! he tried to make me a teetotaller.  It wouldn’t do, Jacob.  Ah, Jacob, never mind me.  You’re a jolly good fellow, but you don’t understand things.  Give us a song.  What shall it be? `Three jolly potboys drinking at the “Dragon."’ What’s amiss?  I’m quite well never was better in my life.  How d’ye do, captain?”

These last words he addressed to his father, who was gazing at him in blank misery.

And was it to be always so?  Was he to pass out of the world into eternity thus thrilling the hearts of those who heard him with bitterest agony?  No; there came a change.  Another day, the remedies had begun to tell on the patient.  The fever gradually left him.  The fire had faded from his eye, the hectic from his cheek.  And now father and mother, one on either side, bent over him.  Lady Oldfield read from the blessed Book the parable of the Prodigal Son.  She thought that Frank heard her, for there was on his face a look of mingled surprise, pleasure, and bewilderment.  Then no one spoke for a while.  Nothing was heard but the ticking of Lady Oldfield’s watch, which stood in its case on the dressing-table.  Again the poor mother opened the same precious Gospel of Saint Luke, and read out calmly and clearly the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  Then she knelt by the bed and prayed that her boy might come with the publican’s deep contrition to his God, trusting in the merits of his Saviour.  There was a whispered sound from those feeble lips.  She could just distinguish the words, “To me a sinner.”  They were all, but she blessed God for them.  An hour later, and the doctor came.  There was no hope in his eye, as he felt the pulse.

“What report?” murmured Sir Thomas.  The doctor shook his head.

“Oh, tell me is he dying?” asked the poor mother.

“He is sinking fast,” was the reply.

“Can nothing restore him?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh, Frank darling Frank,” appealed his mother, in a whisper of agonised entreaty, “let me have one word one look to tell me you know me.”

The weary eyes opened, and a faint smile seemed to speak of consciousness.

“Hear me hear me, my beloved child,” she said again.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus loves you still.  Look to him believe in him.  He is able to save you even now.”

Again the eyes slowly opened.  But the dying glaze was over them.  A troubled look came across the brow, and then a faint smile.  The lips opened, but could frame no words for a while.  Lady Oldfield put her ear close to those parted lips.  They spoke now, but only three short words, very slowly and feebly, “Jesus Mother Mary.”  Then all was over.

So died Frank Oldfield.  Was there hope in his death?  Who shall say?  That heart-broken mother clung, through years of wearing sorrow, to the faint hope that flickered in those few last words and in that feeble smile.  He smiled when she spoke of Jesus.  Yes; she clung to these as the drowning man clings to the handful of water-reeds which he clutches in his despair.  But where was the happy evidence of genuine repentance and saving faith?  Ah, miserable death-bed!  No bright light shone from it.  No glow, caught from a coming glory, rested on those marble features.  Yet how beautiful was that youthful form, even though defaced by the brand of sin!  How gloriously beautiful it might have been as the body of humiliation, hereafter to be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body, had a holy, loving soul dwelt therein in its tabernacle days on earth?  Then an early death would have been an early glory, and the house of clay, beautiful with God’s adornments, would only have been taken down in life’s morning to be rebuilt on a nobler model in the paradise of God.