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 impure language.
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.