The Little Latchkey
It was March and midnight. The air was full of driving sleet, and the streets were vacant. Not even the form of a policeman broke the monotony of slippery pavement glittering under the waving shadows of electricity. Presently a boyish form emerged from a dark corner, and crept slowly up the steps of a corner house. It was a large, handsome residence, now utterly dark and quiet. What business had one to creep stealthily into this house at that hour? Was the boy a burglar?
He fumbled in his pocket, and drew forth a tiny key. Yes, it opened the door, and he stood within. The hall was dark, but warm. He moved eagerly to the register,—he seemed to know just where to find it,—and crouched shivering over its delightful warmth. After some moments he started up the stairs, oh, so carefully, lest there should be a sound. But the steps were padded and carpeted, and his old wet shoes sank into them noiselessly. At the head of the stairs he felt his way to the door. It was closed, and he hesitated, leaning against the frame, and breathing heavily. At last he laid his hand on the knob, then turned it a little. Was the door locked? No, it swung open quietly, and the boy stepped in.
The street light shone upon a dainty bed all made, and turned open ready for an occupant. A dressing gown hung on a chair near the bed, and a pair of slippers stood before it. The rest of the room was in darkness. The boy gave a great sob, and fell on his knees by the side of the bed.
No, he was not a burglar, only a sick boy stealing home under cover of midnight.
It was nearly two years since he knelt by that bed. His mother had died; he had thought his father stern and cold, so he had run away to live as he liked. Once in his miserable wanderings a much-forwarded letter from home had reached him. It contained no writing, just the tiny latchkey to the home door. For months the little key had burned as it lay in his pocket. It had reminded him that, though a prodigal, he still had a home. It had reminded him of the Savior whom his mother trusted, and in time of his deepest distress he had said, I will trust Him. Still he was afraid; but the little key had still lain in his pocket, and at last had drawn him home.
The next morning Mr. Kane opened his son’s door, as he always did since he had sent the latchkey. He expected nothing, but it had become a habit, so he opened the door. Did his eyes deceive him? No, it was true. Ralph was in the bed asleep. The face was thin and worn. The father fell on his knees, and the boy opened his eyes.
"O Father!" he sobbed, "I’ve come home to die. I’ve been wicked, wicked, wicked. Can you forgive me?"
"Indeed I can. And God—have you asked His forgiveness?"
"Yes, and I wanted to tell you before I die."
"Die!" said the father, gathering him in his arms. "No, indeed."
"The doctor at the hospital said I would not live long."
"We’ll see about that," said Mr. Kane, stepping to the phone.
When the family physician had looked Ralph over, he smiled. "The hospital doctor knew that you had little chance wandering about with no care," he said, "but we’ll send you off to Florida; and if you lead a sensible, pure life, you’ll live to be the stay of your father’s old age."
When the physician had gone, Ralph turned to his father. "I’m so glad you sent the latchkey. I never would have come home by daylight. But when I was out in the cold, wet night, I could not resist the comfort at the end of that key," he said. "It was God who gave me the thought, my boy. I asked Him what to do."
"How good God is!" replied Ralph. "And you have your whole life before you in which to show your love for Him," replied the father.
The Youth’s Instructor, October 2, 1902.