Susan Warner.

Stephen, M. D. online

. (page 2 of 34)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 2 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"Eat all you want, my boy," said the mother
kindly, without answering this question. "Corn
meal don't cost much."

"But this aint paid for yet What'll you do
when it's gone ? "

" Mr. Harrison will trust me again, I dare say, if
I Haven't got the money."



MUSH AND MOLASafcS. 27

" Why wouldn't you like him to give it to you,
mother? You said you didn't want him to give
it."

"Nor I don't. And don't you, Stephen. Don'!
ever let anybody give you anything you can work
for. One may be poor ; that one can't help ; but one
may be independent too. Always be independent,
Stephen, whatever else happens."

" What is 'independent' ? "

"Work for yourself, and live on your own earn
ings."

" Weren't the folks independent, that had some
of the manna given to them ? "

Mrs. Kay laughed a little. "I don't know," she
said; " I suppose they had done the best they could;
they had gathered a little, you know. Some of the
people might be sick, or lame, or weak, and couldn't
gather as much as they needed before the sun got
hot."

"Well, mother, aint that like you?"

"There's nobody to give me of his abundance,
Stephen, if it is. I must work for myself."

"When will the Millen-num come? was that
what you called it ? "

" Not in my time, boy. "

"Then, mother, how do you know you will get
money enough to pay Mr. Harrison? 'Cos, you
know, when you send for some more meal and 'lasses
there'll be this to pay for first. And that we had
once or twice before."

"I don't know," said Mrs. Kay again. "1 have



28 STEPHEN, M.D.

nothing but the Lord's promise. He will be paid,
somehow."

" Shew me the promise, mother."

The table was cleared again and washed clean of
sundry drops of molasses and morsels of mush ; and
Stephen brought the Bible and laid it before his
mother. Mrs. Kay a little unwillingly turned
from her work, saying she did not know whether
she could find the places or not; but finally turned
up the familiar passage in the sixth of Matthew.
Stephen fell to studying it intently; and Mrs. Kay
had forgotten all about him and his questions, sunk
in her own thoughts, when he suddenly came out
with another question.

" ' Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his right
eousness, and all these things shall be added unto
you.' Mother, ' all these things ' means food and
clothes?"

" What, Stephen ? Yes, of course."

" Then, mother, what is the ' kingdom of God ' ? "

"What is the kingdom?"

"Yes. What does it mean?"

"I don't think the President of the United States
could beat you asking questions! I don't know
as I can tell you, Steve."

"But what do you think it means?"

Mrs. Kay was not more ready with a definition
than many another woman who is unaccustomed
to giving one. She took the book from Stephen
and pored over the words ; as if that would help
her.



MUSH AND MOLASSES. 29

" Mother," suggested Stephen then, "the kingdom
of heaven is spoken of in other places. See " and
he pointed to the beginning of the fifth chapter.

"It is spoken of in a great many places, a great
many," said Mrs. Kay; "but that don't tell."

Stephen read '"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' It must mean,
God's good things, mother."

"I don't think it means just that."

"And, 'Blessed are they which are persecuted
for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven.' "

" It means, the kingdom" said Mrs. Kay. "Don't
you know, Christ is King? His kingdom; that
is the kingdom of heaven ; and these sort of people
belong to it."

"And get the good things," said Stephen.
" Oh ! Then, ' Seek ye first the kingdom of
God' that must mean what does that mean,
mother? "

" It means, care for it most, and work for it
hardest ? "

"Oh! " said Stephen again* "And do you,
mother?"

"Do I ?- Po 1 what ? "

"Do you care for that most, and work for it
hardest ? "

The child's face was raised towards hers, with
an innocent, honest, but withal somewhat acute
inquiry. Mrs. Kay met his eyes, and sank her own.
She did not answer readily.



30 STEPHEN, M.D.

"I can't e^ 1 - 1 ^ everything to you to-night,"
she said a little huskily. "You had better go to
bed, Stephen. Your coat will be dry by morning."

"0 mother, I'm as warm as can be. Mayn't I
sit up a little and read ? Robinson is building his
house, and I want to see how he gets on."

Mrs. Kay made no objection; she rarely made
any objection to Stephen's wishes, if they were
not absolutely impracticable; and now the conver
sation had taken a safer turn she let him do as
he would. The talk ceased utterly; Stephen was
buried in the delights of Robinson Crusoe's adven
tures, and troubled his little head no more about
questions of duty and Providence. Mrs. Kay per
haps thought the more. What had she cared for
most, and worked for hardest ?



CHAPTEB IIL

ON TICK.

MRS. KAY had been a widow three years, at the
time our story opens; and they had been
years of steady come-down in this world's affairs.
Her husband had followed a carpenter's trade ; fol
lowed it not with striking success; however, he
was an industrious man, and he and his wife did
contrive to lay by a little money. When he was
gone, Mrs. Kay tried to keep herself and Stephen
by certain desultory ways of earning small sums
at a time. She went out as a nurse; she took in
sewing; she even took in washing; and she culti
vated a small garden, from which in summer the
mother and son almost got their living; for Mr.
Kay had put it in good heart and stocked it well
while he had the care of it, and the fruits of his
care came greatly to the advantage of his widow
and little boy. But Mrs. Kay did not get on very
well, nevertheless. Whitebrook. was a healthy
place; there was not much nursing to do; it was

a simple place, where most people did their own

f31)



32 STEPHEN, M.D.

sewing, and their own work of all sorts; and it
was an out-of-the-way place, all the pleasanter for
that, where few strangers came, and jobs of laun
dry work were only rarely to be come by. All
that it was possible for a garden to do, Mrs. Kay's
garden did; even to the weeds, she made them
useful as far as she could; and many a dish of
dandelions and purslane did she cook up for her
and Stephen's dinner. But to a dish of greens a
bit of meat is usually thought indispensable ; Mrs.
Kay considered it so, and paid out a little money
to the butcher. And white bread she had always
been accustomed to, and did not know she could
do without; also tea and coffee, and sugar, and
butter. Her own hens she had, and so eggs for
her use, which came in very conveniently ; but the
grocer's shop was a terrible place for her ready
money. Her ready money all went, there and
elsewhere ; for clothes are a necessity unquestioned,
though Mrs. Kay bought few, and of right coarse
material; she made the clothes herself, and she
saved them well, and patched and mended them
carefully; and yet, alas, they would wear out, and
the cash wherewith to buy more was every season
less and less sufficient. Till little Stephen went
mostly barefoot, and his dress shewed too plainly
its darning and patching; even his best suit. Be
fore it came to that, Mrs. Kay had begun to draw
upon her little fund in the bank. She drew out
five dollars, meaning to stop there ; but how could
she stop there ? She took ten more, and resolved



On TICK. 3

*vith that to purchase some absolute necessaries,
and then to go without whatever else might be
wanted. So much was wanted ! The cold weather
could not be lived through, unless fuel could be
procured ; and fuel was a terrible item. Mrs. Kay
burnt as little as she could help, and Stephen and
she often were chilly in consequence. Even so,
she had to draw another ten dollars from the di
minishing store. Then the score at Mr. Harrison's
grew to proportions that frightened her; she could
not endure the look and tone with which the grocer
sometimes accosted her, even when they were com
ing from church; for indeed Mrs. Kay seldom saw
him at other times. She could not stand it; she
drew more money and paid the bill. Now it was
all gone; there was no little store to draw from
any longer; and winter was at the doors again.
Winter, and Stephen's feet had no covering, save
one, half worn, well saved, pair of shoes for going
to church in. And less than seven pounds of meal
in the house, less by that evening's sapon ; and the
tea nearly out too. Without a cup of tea now and
then, Mrs. Kay felt as if she could hardly live and
hold up her head at all. What should she do?
Well, Mr. Rock would trust her yet for some wood ;
and Mr. Harrison, he would go on trusting her, no
doubt, also ; and she could get a little more tea, a
little would last her a long while, and meal, and
sugar. But a long while is not always, and a
growing score presses with not only its present
but its future weight; all at once; and some day



34 STEPHEN, M.D.

it would be necessary to pay. Where should the
money come from ? And what should she do ?

Mrs. Kay sat cowering over the embers of her
dying fire, with her head in her hands. Once she
turned her face a little, so that she could see Ste
phen in the bed. He was fast asleep; his rosy face
quiet and peaceful as if no cares hovered over his
waking; rosy and fair, as if he were fed on the fat
of the land instead of bare meal and molasses. No
mother in all the country had a sweeter little face
to look upon and call hers; there was a manly cast
in it, along with its honesty and innocence, which
filled Mrs. Kay's heart with delight and bitterness
at once. Why were things so uneven in this world ?
Why should Mr. Harrison, for instance, have such
a plenty, of comfort and the means to procure com
fort, when her own hand was so empty ? He was
a deacon in the church where Mr. Kay had been
an honoured member; where she was an honoured
member, she believed, herself; why should Mr. Kay
earn so little and Mr. Harrison earn so much?
Were things right to be so ? She remembered that
in the early days of Christianity things had not
been so ; in those days nobody said that anything
ne had was his own, if another, a brother or sister
Christian, needed it with a greater need. A little,
a very little, flowing over from Mr. Harrison's full
cup into her empty one, and what a difference it
would make! Life, and hope, and health, and
comfort; and Mr. Harrison's own family robbed
of none of these. Mrs. Kay said to herself indeed,



ON TICK. 35

that she would not take money from him if he of
fered it to her; money nor anything else, as a gift;
but she went on thinking how wonderful a changs
it would make if he offered it. Why should tho ~e
be sucn a difference between those two houses in
the village ? how had she deserved there should be
Buch a difference ?

With that came a kind of pang of conscience,
along with the remembrance of the Bible words and
Stephen's innocent, unanswered question. Really,
what had she been loving best and seeking most?
Then she rose up to meet conscience. What if the
answer must be "Daily bread?" If daily bread
were in jeopardy, how could she help but that daily
bread should be her first and most anxious care?
What, in practical life, could come before that ? She
knew, and remembered well at this minute, that in
Mr. Kay's life-time he had always put by a certain
portion of his earnings, to be given solely and sa
credly to the service of God; to doing the work of
the kingdom of heaven. She knew that, and she re
membered too that in these latter days of her widow
hood and extreme poverty she had ceased to do the
same. How could she, as she said to herself at the
time and now, how could she, when ten dollars would
not begin to get for her what she needed with ab
solute need for herself and Stephen, how could she
take one of them and set it aside for missionaries,
or for struggling churches, or for her minister, or
for other poor people like herself? A whole dollar?
that would keep her and her child from starvation



36 STEPHEN, M.D.

for at least many days. Who couij. <i->ed it m-re
than she ? How could she, from one dollar that she
might have to buy sugar and tea or flum, take one
whole dime to go into the charity-box ? J id not,
charity begin at home ? If her rare pennies went
to convert the Indians, what should become of the
fair-faced little boy sleeping there at this instant
so peacefully? Yes, she had not given anything
for the kingdom of heaven this long, long while.
What would have become of her if she had ? But
then conscience raised up her head and whispered,
"All these things shall be added unto you." And
then, most unwished-for, swept into Mrs. Kay's
memory some other words, or rather a faint echo
of them, which almost made her start. Then she
could not rest till she looked up the passage and
read it. She sought it and found, though not with
out a little trouble. It is in the prophecy of
Haggai.

"Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat,
but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not
filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none
warm ; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to
put it into a bag with holes."

It went through her like a knife. how well she
knew just that experience. The possible reason for
it had never occurred to her. Eeading on, she saw
that the reason given by the prophet in that case,
was that the people had been attending to tneir
own interests and concerns and had left the temple
of the Lord unbuilt. The lesson was easy to trans-



ON TICK. 37

fer, but MIE Kay took it hard. If she had had
ever so little surplus, but with not money enough
to get bread for her own child, how could it be de
manded of her that she should help build the temple ?
There were enough rich folk to do that. She ar
gued, without getting rid of the command, or being
able to forget the promise "all these things shall
be added unto you." She knew her husband would
never be stopped by any seeming deficiency of
means from setting by the full proportion of what
he had, to be used religiously in the service of God ;
and as long as Mr. Kay had lived they had always
" got along," as she expressed it, " somehow." Had
she made a mistake? and was this destitution the
bitter fruit of it? Well, it was too late now to
mend things. And Mrs. Kay knew that money
given on a mere basis of calculation would not meet
the conditions of either command or promise. Not
because she paid in such or such a sum into the
treasury, but because she " sought first the kingdom,"
would the blessing follow. It was too late! She
had nothing any longer to give, or she thought so;
and the power to earn anything was slipping away
She knew that very well. Work and want and
worry and care, had told upon a constitution which
had not been hardy in the best of times; and Mrs.
Kay's strength was failing. It did not matter much,
she said to herself despairingly ; if she had ever so
much strength there was no work to be had in
Whitebrook; but the strength was going; and
ehe believed a few months would put an end to



38 STEPHEN, M.T /

her troubles; but what then would bcc-me of
Stephen ?

The fire was long gone out; the room was very
cold ; and Mrs. Kay was chilled to the bout,, I might
say, literally and figuratively, when at last she crept
to her place by Stephen's side, and went to sleep
for sheer misery.

When she opened her eyes in the morning, it was
to see a little half-dressed figure crouching upon the
hearth, busy with some bits of paper and kindling.
Mrs. Kay half closed her eyes and watched him.
He raked open the ashes in vain; no life of coals
was there. Then he laid sticks carefully and with
some labour, put kindling and paper beneath, and
got on a chair to lift a match box down from the
mantel shelf. The match was lit and applied;
Stephen watched and tended the springing flame,
giving it a puff of breath now and then, till the
wood caught and his labour was over. Mrs. Kay
watched the rosy little face, the intent, eager, busi
ness look it wore ; the careful, softly, but thorough
way in which the little fellow set about his work
and did it; till she could not bear any longer the
thoughts that crowded upon her, and she sprang up.

"Wait a little, mother," said Stephen; "don't get
up yet; the room's real chilly. Wait till it gets
warm ; the fire's burning splendidly now."

"My boy, you will take cold. You are only half
dressed."

" I'm as warm as can be. I was afraid you'd
wake up before I got the fire going. Mother, we



ON TICK. 39

haven't a match left. I took the last one. I had
to take it, for there wasn't a spark. I must get
some more to-day."

Mrs. Kay sank back again among her coverings,
unable to say a word to that remark; and Stephen
gaily seized the kettle and ran off to the well.

" There! " said he, as he set it in front of the fire,
now doing its duty, "there, mother! your kettle
will be boiled soon for your tea. But what will you
have for breakfast, mother? there's no bread. How
will you do ?

"I'll make you some cakes of the cold mush," she
said, getting up now in earnest. " I'll bake 'em in
the pan ; that'll be very good, Stephen."

" Will they?" said the little boy. "And can you
eat 'em, mother?"

Mrs. Kay made some unintelligible answer; and
Stephen went off, out of the house, while she dressed
and put the room up. Mrs. Kay was always a not
able woman and a careful housekeeper; she made
the room look as neat as it could, though since the
cold November winds had forced her to move her
bed into that room, it never looked nice or pleas
ant in her eyes as a place to sit and live in. She
opened her windows, and set things in order; swept
and dusted; and made the bed; and finally per
formed her promise to Stephen about the mush
cakes. Meanwhile Stephen had been doing what
he could in the province which was not properly a
woman's. He had cut some sticks of wood, with
superhuman effort; the thought that if he could not,



40 STEPHEN, M.P.

his mother must, do it, gave nerve to his small
arms and weight to his blows. He had done it, so
mv.cb. as he could do at once of that sort of work,
&.id he had gathered up a basketful of light stuff
i,nd chips and brought it to the door. He took a
turn through the garden, in a sort of childish hope
of finding some green thing that had survived frost
and escaped hitherto notice; but the garden was
brown and bare, as the very bean poles which still
stood there. All that Stephen could further do was
to bring in two pailfuls of water; as the well was
the one supply which did not give out, and he had
a sort of satisfaction in being lavish with it. Then
he washed his face and hands in some more of the
clear, cold fluid, and went in to breakfast. He
was hungry, and the mush cakes were to him
delicious.

" Where am I going to get some more matches,
mother?" he asked when he had time to think
again of ways and means.

" I don't know, my boy."

"You couldn't get along very well without 'em,
could you ? "

" I don't see how."

" Mother, how did folks do before matches were
made?"

"They had a great deal of trouble."

"But I say, how did they do? Suppos'n we
hadn't had that match this morning, now; there
wasn't a spark. You forgot to cover it up,
mother."



ON TICK. 41

" 1 let it go all out, carelessly. There was no fire
tc sover "

" \V ell, suppos'n we hadn't had that one match,
what would we have done, mother ? How would
we have got fire ? "

" I don't know. You would have had to run up
street to Squire Leland's."

"His fire might ha' gone out too. Suppos'n it had? 1 *

" He has a gun, though."

" What would he do with a gun ? "

" Strike fire."

"Could he?"

" Yes. I remember seeing my father do it, once
or twice when we had no fire in the house."

" How could he, mother?"

" With the flint. I can't tell you how."

"Who taught the first man to make matches,
mother?"

"I don't know, Stephen, I'm sure. Now eat your
breakfast, my boy, and no more about it."

No more did Stephen say. But his thoughts did
not let the matter drop; as was proved when even
ing came, by his bringing home a box of the con
venient little articles in question. He presented
it to his mother with great, though quiet, satisfaction.

" Who gave it to you ? " she asked.

" Nobody."

" How did you get it ? "

"I paid for it, ma."

" Paid. You had not a penny How could you
pay ? Where did you find a penny ? "



42 STEPHEN, M.D.

"Didn't 'find' one," said Stephen contentedly.
" I'll tell you, mother. I hired myself out."

" What ? " exclaimed Mrs. Kay. " What do you
mean ? "

" Mean just that," said Stephen, not without a lit
tle pardonable elation becoming apparent. " When
I went by Mrs. Hill's this morning she was making
a great fuss over her beans; she'd been pickin' her
dry beans, and she'd got a great lot of 'em, and
somebody had poured 'em all together, all the
sorts; there was big ones and little ones, and red
ones and black ones and white ones; she has a lot
o' names for 'em; and they were all mixed up, and
she said she'd never get 'em sorted again. So I
told her, if she'd pay me a cent I'd sort 'em for her ;
and she said she'd give me two cents, if I'd do it.
And I've done about half, and she gave me one cent,
and to-morrow she'll give me the other; and I'll get
another box o' matches with it, I guess. Sha'n't I ? "

" Where did you buy this one ? "

" At Mr. Harrison's."

"Did you tell him how you got your cent?"

"No."

" What will he think of me ? Yesterday I sent
you for meal, and asked for credit, because I had
no money; and to-day you go to him with money."

"Not much money," said Stephen laughing. " It
wouldn't ha' paid for a bag o' meal and a pitcher
of molasses and another bag of sugar."

"No; but he might think, if I had one penny
I had more."



ON TICK. 43

" No, but mother, I told him.'

" My boy, everybody isn't as ,-ie as you are."

"Aint Mr. Harrison true? Why mother, he's a
deacon."

"He ought to have given you two boxes of
matches for a cent, if he had thought it was all
right."

" How ' all right,' mother ? "

" If he had thought I was dealing honestly by
him. Anyhow, perhaps he thought I was in his
debt enough already, and he would keep that half
cent," Mrs. Kay said a little bitterly.

" Ma, that would be making a great fuss about
half a cent."

" You will find people do that, my boy. Unless
you happen to be rich ; and then they will have no
objection to spend a hundred half cents on you, and
never ask for it back again."

" I'll explain it to Mr. Harrison then," said the
boy, with a capable air which at another time might
have made his mother smile.



CHAPTER IV.

THIBTY DOLLAKS.

unequal strife went on a while longer; the
1 strife between strength which was giving way,
and circumstances which never abated a jot of
their demands nor would accommodate themselves
at all to weak hands or an empty purse. The ne
cessity for going on to eat, and to makes fires, and
to be clothed, continued in its inexorable way, with
no regard of the fact that there was no money to buy
food and firing and clothing, and no power to earn
money. The power was less and less, and the de
mand was rather more, for Stephen was a hearty
little boy, and growing, and seemed to want a
larger supply, Mrs. Kay thought, every month to
satisfy his appetite. Perhaps she thought so because
with every month the supply was more difficult and
more precarious. Her neighbours did not indeed
refuse their countenance, and so far as giving credit
went, their help. Other help Mrs. Kay never asked ;
and she was one of those people to whom it is rarely
offered, unless by dear and near friends. Of such
Mrs. Kay had none. And with the ceaseless, rest
ed)



THIRTY DOLLARS. 45

less anxiety about ways and means, and the daily
and nightly worry of mind over her condition of
debt, and loss of independence, and Stephen's cloudy
future, which was a pressing and gnawing pain tc
her, the health which had never been robust gave
way, and the strength which had never been of iron
departed entirely. She could make no pretence of
working any longer. All she could do was to pre
pare Stephen's meals and keep her room decent ; her
self could hardly be said to take meals any more.
From time to time, as it became absolutely needful
to do it or starve, she sent Stephen to Mr. Harrison's
for meal and molasses or a five cent's worth of milk ;
and the grocer did not refuse her, though he some
times grumbled; he could not refuse her, for Mrs.
Kay and her husband had always been good and
respectable people. Nevertheless, when she died,
and Mr. Harrison found himself simply so much



Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 2 of 34)