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 answer.”
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.