Chapter XIX.
    "High minds of native pride and force
     Most deeply feel thy pangs, remorse!
     Fear of their scourge mean villains have;
     Thou art the torture of the brave."

Max sat before his writing-table, his folded arms upon it, and his face hidden upon them. He was in sore distress of mind. How he had fallen before temptation! into what depths of disgrace and sin! sin that in olden times would have been punished with death, even as the horrible crime of murder, and that must still be as hateful as ever in the sight of an unchangeable God.

And not only that sin, of which he had thought he had so truly and deeply repented, but another which he had always been taught was a very low and degrading vice. Oh, could there be forgiveness for him?

And how would his dear honored father feel when the sad story should reach his ears? would it indeed break his heart as Grandpa Dinsmore had said? The boy's own heart was overwhelmed with grief, dismay, and remorse as he asked himself these torturing questions.

The door opened, but so softly that the sound was lost in his bitter sobbing, then a hand rested lightly, tenderly upon his bowed head, and a gentle, pitying voice said, "My poor, dear boy, my heart bleeds for you."

"O Grandma Elsie!" he burst out, "can you say that to such a wicked fellow as I am?"

"Did not Jesus weep with compassion over the sinners of Jerusalem, many of whom were even then plotting His death? And, Maxie, He pities you in your fallen estate, and is ready to forgive you the moment you turn to Him with grief and hatred of your sin and an earnest desire to forsake it, and to give yourself to His service."

"Oh, I do, I do hate it!" he cried out with vehemence. "I didn't mean ever to swear any more, and I feel as if I'd rather cut off my right hand than to do it again! But oh, how can I ask Him to forgive me, when He did once, and I've gone and done the same wicked thing again, just as if I hadn't been really sorry at all, though I was sure I was! Grandma Elsie, what shall I do?"

"'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.'

"'He is the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.'

"'His name is Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.' He says, 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.' 'O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.'

"'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'

"'I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember thy sins.'"

"Oh, He is very good to say that!" sobbed the penitent boy. "But won't you ask Him to forgive me, Grandma Elsie?"

"Yes, Max, but you must pray, too, for yourself; confess your sins to Him, and ask Him to blot them out and remember them no more against you, because Jesus has suffered their penalty in your stead. Shall we kneel down now and ask Him?"

She stayed with him some time longer, talking in tender, motherly fashion; not extenuating his guilt, but speaking of the blood that cleanseth from all sin, the love and tender compassion of Jesus, His willingness and ability to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.

Warning him, too, of the danger from evil associates and from indulgence in the vice of gambling.

Then she told him he was not too young to begin to lead a Christian life, and urged him to do so without a moment's delay.

"I think I do want to be a Christian, Grandma Elsie," he said, "if I only knew just how."

"It is to leave the service of Satan for that of the Lord Jesus Christ," she said. "It is to give yourself body and soul, at once and forever, to Jesus, trusting in Him alone for salvation from sin and eternal death.

"'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' 'Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.'

"Just take the first step, and He will help you on all the way, one step at a time, till you reach the gates of the celestial city. 'This God is our God forever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death.'

"Just speak to the Lord Jesus, dear Max, as if you could see Him standing before you while you knelt at His feet; say to Him as the leper did, 'Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.' Tell Him how full you are of the dreadful leprosy of sin, how unable to heal yourself, and beseech Him to do the work for you, to wash you and make you clean and cover you with the robe of His righteousness; give yourself to Him, asking Him to accept the worthless gift and make you entirely and forever His own."

She rose to leave him.

"Oh, do stay a little longer!" he pleaded, clinging to her hand. "Tell me, do you think Mamma Vi will ever love me any more? that she will ever kiss me again?" he sobbed.

"I am sure she will, Max," Elsie answered in moved tones; "she has not ceased to love you, and I think will come and speak a word to you now, if you wish it."

"Oh, so much! only--only I'm dreadfully ashamed to look her in the face. And--O Grandma Elsie, do you think it will break my father's heart when he hears it all?"

"It will make him very sad indeed, I have no doubt, Max," she answered, gently, "but if he hears, too, that you have truly repented and given your heart to God, he cannot fail to be greatly comforted. Tell him the whole truth, my dear boy, don't try to conceal anything from him."

"It's what I mean to do, Grandma Elsie," he said with a heavy sigh, "though I'd rather take the worst kind of a flogging. And that's what I'd get if he was here, for he told me so."

"I am very glad you love your father so well, Max, and that your sorrow is more for grieving him, and especially for having dishonored and displeased God, than for the unpleasant consequences to yourself; it gives me great hope that you will never be guilty of such conduct again.

"Now, I shall go and send your mamma to you; she is in her own rooms, for she has been too much distressed over her dear boy's sad fall to join the others at the table or in the drawing-room. She loves you very dearly, Max."

"It's very good of her," he said in trembling tones, "and oh, I'm ever so sorry to have grieved her so!"

Violet was greatly comforted by her mother's report of her interview with Max, because both saw in his conduct and words the evidence of sincere repentance toward God, giving them strong hope of his future avoidance of the sins of profanity and gambling.

She went to him presently, put her arms about him, kissed him, wept with him, and like her mother pointed him to the Saviour, telling of His willingness to forgive every truly penitent soul.

"O Mamma Vi," he sobbed, "I thought I was that before, when papa showed me what an awful sin swearing was, and I didn't think I could ever do it again; but I got dreadfully angry with Ralph because he cheated me out of everything--all my money and my watch that I've always thought so much of, you know--and the wicked words slipped out before I knew it; they just seemed to speak themselves."

"Ah, dear Max, that is one of the dreadful consequences of allowing ourselves to fall into such wicked ways; it is the power of habit which grows upon us till we are bound by it as with an iron chain.

"The Bible says, 'His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.' So the longer any one lives in sin, the harder it is for him to break away from it--to repent and be converted and saved. Therefore, I beseech you to come to Jesus now; God's time is always now."

"Mamma Vi, I think I have," he said low and humbly; "I tried to do it with my heart, when Grandma Elsie was praying for me."

"O Max, dear Max, I am very glad!" she returned with tears of joy in her eyes. "And your father will rejoice almost as the angels do in heaven when a sinner repents and is saved."

"It's a dreadful task to have to write down all about this afternoon for him to read," sighed the boy.

"But you will do it, Max? will you tell him the whole truth like a brave boy?" queried Violet anxiously.

"Yes, ma'am, I will. Oh, I wish he were here! so I could just tell him, and have it all over in a few minutes. But now it will be so long that I'll have to wait to hear what he has to say about it."

Violet expressed her sympathy, joining very heartily in his wish for his father's presence, then left him to his task.

"Seems to me it's a little like marching up to the cannon's mouth," Max said to himself, as he took out his writing materials and dipped his pen in the ink, "but it's got to be done, and I'll have it over."

He cogitated a moment, then began. "Dear papa, I've been doing very wrong for 'most a week--letting a fellow teach me to play cards and gamble; we didn't play for money or anything but fun at first, but afterward we did; and I lost all the money I had, and, worse still, the nice watch you sent me.

"But the very worst is to come. You would never believe I could be so terribly wicked after all you said to me, and I wouldn't have believed it myself, and oh, I don't like to tell you, for I'm afraid it will almost break your heart, papa, to know you have such a wicked boy for your only son!

"But I have to tell you, because you know you said I must tell you everything bad I did.

"Well, I was sure the fellow had cheated, and I got very mad, and called him a cheat and a thief. Then he got mad and swore horrible oaths at me, and called me a liar, and that made me madder than ever, and--O papa, how can I write it for you to see? I swore at him."

The boy's tears were dropping upon the paper. He dashed them hastily away, and went on writing.

"I am dreadfully, dreadfully sorry, papa! I think I was never so sorry for anything in all my life, because--because it was so wicked and ungrateful to God. I've asked Him to forgive me for Jesus' sake, and Grandma Elsie has asked Him for me, too, and Mamma Vi told me she had been praying for me. And I've tried to give myself to the dear Saviour, and I hope I'll be His servant all the rest of my life.

"I think He has forgiven me, and will you forgive me, too, papa? I'm to stay alone here in my room for a week. Mamma Vi says you said that was the way I should be punished, if I ever did that wicked thing again, and it isn't a bit worse than I deserve."