Susan Warner.

Stephen, M. D. online

. (page 20 of 34)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 20 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

weather; and in all the natural world perhaps there
is no better school for colour. Not the golden and
crimson alone were beloved of Stephen's eye; the


greys and browns, the matchless mixed purples, the
soft fawns and greens and ashes-of-roses, with the
combinations and blendings of all these, were a
never-exhausted treasury of pleasure. Then he had
learnt to see the changes of tint in a meadow, where
the common eye discerns nothing but a green plain ;
he noticed the varied tints of green where different
growths of grass came in or the light fell variously
on a slope, the streak of dark red where a bit of poor
ground gave entertainment to a patch of sorrel, the
touch of another sort of red where wild roses grew
at the edge of the field or a cockle blossom reared
itself up in the grass, or clover heads were blushing.
What pleasure Stephen took in all these, I should
despair of telling anybody who did not himself know
the same by experience. Then a field of grain un
der a breeze that swayed the ripe ears; or the
branches of shad blossom shining white among the
dark foliage of a wood in the spring; or the long
arms of a dogwood carrying their wreath of fair
white flowers across his path a little later; or a
soft maple in the autumn, holding forth one fiery
branch, before the turn of the leaf had become gen
eral among its neighbour trees; these and a thousand
other combinations were a continual nourishment
and joy to a part of Stephen Kay's nature which
found no other but the like food. It found no ex
pression, either; or but rarely. Now and then,
walking or driving with Posie, he would point her
eyes to something which delighted his; and Posie
would nod acquiescence, but never look twice. So


Stephen's communications on these subjects were
naturally few, and his taste unsuspected ; and the
men in the factory would have been much aston
ished to know that their very business-like young
overseer, who knew figures as he knew his fingers,
could be seen going down on his knees in a wood
to look at a patch of violets in the moss.

Therefore Stephen loved the brown and the grey
and the gold in the Japanese screen, and delighted
in it exceedingly. But it was more than this to
him ; it was a foreigner ; it testified of a whole world
of foreigners and of foreign things, of which till
now he had known nothing. Of course Stephen
was aware that the world was round, and the anti
podes at a great distance away; but until this even
ing he had never realized how great the distance
might be in other things beside miles. He sat and
looked at the screen now and began to feel out the
truth. It would have been an entire moral impos
sibility for anybody in or about Cowslip, nay, for
anybody in all New England, to conceive or exe
cute such a thing as that. A New England work
shop would have turned out each panel of one pat
tern, at least ; and if the idea of quartering it could
have occurred to a downright Downeaster, the
making one of the quarters of patchwork never
would. If that had been within the bounds of his
possible imagination, the patchwork certainly would
have been in a regular design a star, or a crescent,
or some other remarkable figure, and put together
with contrasts of colour that should have made the


whole thing startling. No such soft variety without
contrast, no such eccentric arrangement as forbade a
pattern, no such soft, rich, blended hues, ever rose
upon the circuit of a Yankee fancy. The screen
came from far away, and from a mental organiza
tion further away still. What must the rest of the
life be, where this odd beautiful thing was at home
and in harmony ? It stood there in Stephen's little
bare room like the stranger it was, bearing testi
mony to the existence of a mental and social world
utterly unlike the one he knew. And if there were
one such, there might be many. The world sud
denly assumed a new character in Stephen's eyes;
from that time it was no more a mere magnified
New England in his thoughts, but something to

I cannot search out all the confusion of images
which succeeded one another in Stephen's brain.
They were very vague, many of them, not traced
or fully discerned by himself. An indistinct sense
of want; a dim longing for knowledge, for travel,
for an intelligent filling up of the vast outlines
which were all he knew of the creation; an incip
ient determination, springing from an unrecognized
contrast; all kept down by his practical sense of
present duty and the bondage of present circum
stances ; with which, true to his principles, Stephen
was content as long as they lasted. He sat looking
and brooding, till at last all other visions faded into
one the idea of a room which should be altogether
iu keeping with this Japanese screen. One day,


he thought, the screen should be so placed; and
nothing in that imagined room should be out of
harmony with it. Soft combinations of colour,
rich individual hues, refinement of workmanship
and beauty of design ; a subdued quiet of effect,
where nothing should strike the eye, yet every
thing delight it when looked at; such a place
dawned upon Stephen's imagination. No room like
that was in Mrs. Hardenbrook's house, or ever could
be; no room like that had Stephen Kay ever seen;
but the proof of the possibility of it was before
him. Some day, it was all very vague; Stephen
hardly knew himself what he was thinking of; but
the reason of this was, that it fell in with a course
of thought which had become to him second nature.
Everything in the possible future which he meant
to do or meant to have, if he could, was all round
about or laid at the feet of Posie. He did not reason
about this; as I said, it was second nature; it had
simply grown up with him. So the screen was
for Posie, and that room was to be Posie's room,
to which the screen had given the key and the



summer days went by merrily. "A mans
1 gift maketh room for him," saith the proverb ;
and certain it is, from the time of the unpacking of
Erick's box he had been accepted as quite belong
ing to the family. A very agreeable and useful
member of the family party he proved himself.
Never had the house been so lively before. Meal
times became delightful occasions for much more
than bodily refreshment; the long evenings after
supper were not long enough for the play that went
on in them. Hitherto the social pleasures of the
house had been very quiet ones. Stephen was not
much of a talker in general, Mr. Hardenbrook none
at all. He had plenty of intelligence, and could
enjoy other people's talk right well, when it was
worth listening to; he himself, except on business
themes, had hardly a word to say. Truly his stock of
knowledge and of experience was very limited. Ho
was not an educated man, except so far as the com
monest school advantages went, supplemented by a
practical, sensible, thoughtful life. Mrs. Harden
brook could talk fast enough; but never judged her



family circle the proper sphere for it; at least the
utmost to which she favoured those belonging to
it ordinarily was of the captious and critical kind.
And Posie could riot talk alone. But now all was
altered. Erick was the useful flux, under whose
persuasive influence the other intractable elements
lost their character, and softened, and flowed to :
gether. Mrs. Hardenbrook could go on now with
out end. Posie became vivacious. Even Mr. Har
denbrook would put in a word now and then ; and
his laugh and the sly twinkle of his eye were always
ready. The new blossoming out of the family social
life was evidently a great refreshment to him ; his
whole nature expanded and revived under the un
wonted stimulus; he grew young again with every

Stephen alone kept his old manner, and seemed
not to benefit in equal degree by the new elements
that had come into his daily life. If the character
of all the meals and the whole household intercourse
was changed, the change did not extend to his
part in them. He talked no more than he had
been used to do; rather less. Everybody knew that
Stephen was a good listener and that he was safe
to lose nothing of all that went on around him ;
what he thought of it, he did not generally tell
them ; never, unless challenged to do so. He was
ready then, although scant of words; but somehow
Stephen's few sentences said as much as other peo
ple's many. Yet that he did not enjoy equally
with the others the new state of things, is undeni-


able, and for the very simple reason that it threw
him out of his place. Not out of his real place in
anybody's regard or trust, but out of his office and
position as a constant helper and resort in all sorts
of need. Stephen had been indispensable, even to
Mrs. Hardenbrook, who depended on him for more
than she knew. He still kept his place with Mr.
Hardenbrook; but the others, at least for the mo
ment, could do without him. Mrs. Hardenbrook
largely employed Erick now to do things for her;
unless they were disagreeable things, in which case
Stephen was found as serviceable as ever; and Posie
needed him no longer for a walk or a drive. Erick
had his whole time at disposal, and that meant, at
Posie's disposal; she could go when and whither
she would; there was no need to wait till Stephen
could be out of the factory. And Stephen would
come in, and find the young people gone; or he
would, look from the window of the workshop and
see the buggy just driving through the gates of the
courtyard; and he did not enjoy it. So also in the
evenings and at mealtimes, when they were all to
gether; Erick constantly found entertainment for
Posie, and he, Stephen, was not necessary to it, or
to her. Erick told stories, or he played games, and
made himself agreeable generally; and as I said,
the house was lively after an entirely new fashion ;
but the new fashion hardly included Stephen, ex
cept as a listener and spectator.

" That's a silent friend of yours," Erick remarked
one evening-, when Stephen had left the room.


" He always is silent," returned Posie. "At least,
anless "

" Unless what, please ? "

" Well," said Posie with a little difficulty, "he does
not talk much, unless he has something to say."

There was a general burst of merriment at this ;
but Mrs. Hardeiibrook remarked severely, " I should
think you forget yourself, Posie ! " and Posie col
oured up to her eyes, recognizing the fact that she
had forgotten herself, and said an ungraceful thing ;
such as Erick with his knowledge of the world
would never have been guilty of. But Erick
laughed most of all.

"I will put my question in another form," he
said. "How is it that he so seldom has some
thing to say ? Is he shy ? "

" N-o," said Posie, afraid now to go any further
in attempting to account for Stephen's manner.

" Not a bit of it," answered her father heartily.
"No more shy than you are. Get Stephen where
he feels that he ought to speak, and he will speak
fast enough, never fear."

"But what constitutes an 'ought' for Mr. Kay,
in this connection ? " pursued Erick.

"That I can't say. But whatever Mr. Kay thinks
he ought to do, in any connection, that he'll do."

" Mr. Hardeiibrook, how do you know ? You
cannot see people's hearts," said his wife, with a
face that spoke for an amount of vinegar in her
own at the moment.

"Don't need it either," rejoined her husband.


"I can tell enough by people's lives. And Ste
phen, ever since I first knew him, when he was a
little shaver, has done always and everywhere what
he thought was his duty to do."

Erick's eyes went to Posie as if to inquire how
far this statement was truth, how far favouritism?
But Posie nodded her head in confirmation.

Mr. Hardenbrook went out; the other three pres
ently fell upon some other subject. I may remark
that the above conversation took place on a Sunday
evening. An hour or two later, Stephen returned,
and found them capping verses.

" Stephen, you are just in time," Posie cried.
" Come and help us. You'll do the best of all."

" What are you doing ? "

" capping verses; and you know so much more
than the rest of us. We take the verses from
hymns, of course; as it is Sunday."

"Capping verses!" Stephen repeated in a sort
of bewilderment.

" Yes; not exactly; we couldn't make it work; but
it is a sort of capping verses. We are just quoting
lines of hymns ; only, your verse must begin with the
letter that begins the last word of mine. For in
stance, the line I quoted just as you came in, was,

" ' My soul, come meditate the day '

" Now your verse must commence with D ; don't
you see?"

Stephen did not appear to see ; he stood still, look
ing at Posie; his habitual quiet reserve perhaps


hindering his face from expressing what he felt.
It expressed nothing that the others could read.
Mrs. Hardenbrook put her handkerchief to her face,
and shook with silent laughter. Posie looked em
barrassed; Erick curious.

" Why don't you say something, Stephen ? " said
the former. "Aren't you going to help us? Cous
in Erick has the better of me, because he has sung
in a choir in England ; but I guess you know more
than he does. I believe you know half the hymn
book. Won't you play ? "

"Sunday night?" said Stephen doubtfully.

"Yes, but we are playing with lines of hymns,
you know."

" I don't see how you can."

" Why not ? There are plenty of them; plenty."

"What is your object?"

"Our object?"

" Yes. What do you want to play for ? What
do you get by it ? "

Stephen's questions were so quiet and unimpas-
sioned that Posie did not quite know how to un
derstand them, and looked at him vaguely. Erick
came to her help.

" I suppose we are playing for the usual end,
amusement," he said. "Just to pass the time harm
lessly and exercise our wits, or our memories."

"You know, Stephen," Posie went on, "we are think
ing of good things all the while, and talking of good
things. What can be better than lines of hymns ? "

Stephen made no answer, or not in words, but


he turned his eyes full upon Posie and looked into
hers steadily. Stephen had good eyes ; they were
tearless and thoughtful and true at all times ; upon
occasion they could be powerful ; and their stead
fast, grave, gentle, glance seemed to affect Posie
now singularly. She coloured, moved uneasily,
looked away and looked again at him.

" What are you thinking of, Stephen ? " she said
at last. " Speak out ! I would rather you would
speak out, than look at me. What is it ? "

"I was sorry, Posie, that's all," he answered,
turning his eyes from her.

" But why ? why ? What possible harm ? "

" What difference between saying the hymns and
singing them ? " suggested Erick.

" How would you like taking the hymn tunes in
that way ? " Stephen returned. " One line of one
tune, and the next of another; and so on."

" Not at all, of course ; that is different."

" Quite different," Posie echoed.

" Why would you not like it ? "

" Simply because it would be disagreeable," Erick
said with" half a laugh.

" You care too much for the music," Stephen said

" Oh Stephen ! " cried Posie, now in a good deal
of excitement "0 Stephen! do you think I do
not care for the hymns? Stephen, do you think
that ? Speak 1 "

" I do not suppose you thought about the hymns
at all, Posie," Stephen said rather sorrowfully.


Posie here burst into tears. Mrs. Hardenbrook
angrily asked what made him say that?

" She could not have done it, if she had thought,''
Stephen answered in the same way.

"It is my fault," said Erick. "I am the sinner,
if there is one in the lot."

"It is easy to say that," said Stephen gravely;
" but nobody who feels it, plays with the fact. And
so with the rest. ' I love my Shepherd's voice '
or, ' How firm a foundation,' or, ' There is a foun
tain filled with blood,' Nobody that can say those
with great joy, can use them as marbles to play a
game with ; you hit mine and I'll hit yours."

" Stephen ! Stephen ! " cried Posie sobbing.

" Isn't it true ? " Stephen asked gently.

" I think it is very arrogant to say it," responded
Mrs. Hardenbrook angrily. " What do you think
of the words about judging people? and there is in
the Bible such a word as charity, if you please to

" Charity is love "said Stephen.

" No, it isn't ! it is something quite different. It
is something that makes you make the best of other
people, and always think the best of them."

Stephen looked pained.

" After all, how is our little game any worse than
the most of choir singing ? " Erick asked, willing to
make a diversion. " I assure you, ninety, nine hun-
dredths of the people who make up the church
choirs, do not think what they are singing, but only
how they can best sing it. And the most of them


could not, if they thought, adopt the words as their
own as giving their own experience."

Stephen did not seem to wish to criticise, or to
explain himself; he was silent.

" What would you do with them ? " Erick spoke
lightly. But Stephen answered, not lightly,

" I would not have them. That is, if I were the
minister of the church, and could do anything
about it."

" You would stop their singing ! "


" But churches must have choirs ? "

" Where there's a church, there are Christians,"
Stephen answered, smiling a little.

" And you really would not have anybody sing
hymns, that could not adopt for himself the words
he sang ? "

" The question is, what would God have."

"I should say, certainly, he would have good
music in the churches."

" Yes. Then you must find out what Tie thinks
good music."

Erick stared a little, but was too polite to say
what rose to his lips. He was silent now, and
after a pause Stephen went on.

"Perhaps you do not remember some words I
was reading only to-day; Isaiah's message from
the Lord to some people who drew near him with
their mouth and honoured him with their lips, and
that was all. The Lord took no pleasure in it, or
in them."


" But it seems to me, we want good singing ID
the churches to lead the singing of the untrained
voices there. And the effect of a well sung, fine
piece of music, do you make nothing of that? the
effect upon the hearers ? "

" Stephen is so cranky," said Mrs. Hardenbrook
pettishly, "there is no getting along with him.
Posie, do dry your eyes and don't be a goose ! the
wisdom of the world isn't shut up in Mr. Kay. I
wonder what sort of music we should have in our
churches, if he had his way ? "

Stephen took this burst with the utmost quiet
ness; only glanced a little wistfully at Posie.

"I don't see," remarked the latter, "how we
should have any singing at all! I don't know
where he would get his choir."

" If I could not have one that would please God,"
said Stephen calmly, " I would have none at all."

" Kay," said Erick suddenly, " let's take a turn
outside. There's just time for a bit of a walk be
tween now and suppertime; don't you want a
breath of fresh air."

" As if the windows were not all open, as wide
as they can stand, and been open all day ! " cried
Mrs. Hardenbrook. But the young men went out.

"Posie, don't be a goose!" her mother admon
ished her again with energy.

" But mother, Stephen is always right, in what
ever he says."

"Do you think so? / don't. I think he is a
great prig; that's what I think of him, if you want


to know. You needn't cry for any wisdom that
comes out of his mouth."

" I don't know what you mean by a * prig.* "
" I mean a conceited fellow, who is always for
setting the world right according to his own no

" mother, Stephen is not conceited ! "
" I don't know what you call it, then, I am sure.
Isn't he always telling you what you ought to do?"
"No; unless when the question comes up."
" Ah ! and when doesn't it come up ? Posie, he
just leads you and your father by the nose ! that's
what he does; and you're so meek you don't know
it. Now he don't lead we, and he is aware of it,
and so he don't like me."

"0 mother, mother! how can you talk so!
Stephen never tries to lead anybody; he never did.
And you have no reason in the world to say he
does not like you."

" Well, he don't," said Mrs. Hardenbrook with
decision, " and I suppose he knows why. But you
and your father are blind. And I am just glad
you should see somebody else, before you or the
world was much older; you were thinking Stephen
a sort of demigod."

" I haven't changed my thought of him."
"Well, you see now there are two sorts, any
way. Your thought will change, I fancy."
Posie was silent.



IT had been a hot summer day, and now at the
end of the day the twilight shadow and the
lowered temperature were very welcome; and there
was a little freshness in the air, though not much,
no breeze stirring. Still it was very sweet out of
doors. The soft gloom of approaching night, en
folding the meadows and the hills and the woody
thickets, blending all outlines, losing all colours in
the general warm grey, seemed to send the soul
in upon itself; as if gently withdrawing earth from
observation that the eye of the mind might be
turned elsewhere; and a slender new moon, already
lowering towards the west, but giving a delicate
gleam upon the darkening world, silvery and prom
issory, seemed to indicate whither the thoughts
should go.

Whither went the two young men's thoughts did
not appear. They stepped silently, somewhat leis
urely, along beside each other; neither of them
remarked upon the beauty of the night or said
anything else; and the slow, languid movement,


not customary with either of them, was hardly
accounted for by the lingering warmth of the
atmosphere. It was the step of men whose minds
are busy and preoccupied in some way that has no
stimulus in it. For a number of rods they went
along so, and then it was Erick that broke the

" Kay, aren't you taking things up a little shorter
than need be?V

Stephen's thoughts had been following another
track, for he started as he answered

"What things?"

" Well what we were talking of; Bible words,
if you like."

" What do you mean by taking them ' short ' ? "

"I mean, don't you make them stricter than
really they are meant to be ? At your rate, they
tie a fellow up tremendously."

" I am not a rule for anybody else," said Stephen.

" No, but I really want to know what you mean.
You are looked up to as an authority in this house,
and I dare say justly. I take it on trust that you
are; and I want to have the benefit, as well as

" I am not an authority anywhere," said Stephen;
" unless perhaps in the factory ; and I certainly do
not desire the honour. The Bible words are open
for every one to read and study for himself; and
every one must study for himself, I take it."

" But you read them so strictly."

" How would you read them ? "


" Why, according to the spirit, and not the

" But what is the ' spirit ' of a command ? " said
Stephen. "It seems to me it means obedience.
That is what I mean, when I give an order. And
it is what you mean, isn't it ? "

" But the Bible" said Erick.

" I cannot imagine that God's commands should
mean anything else but obedience."

"But Kay " said Erick hesitating, "I am a

Stephen made no answer.

" At least," Erick went on, " I always thought I
was one. I meant to be one, and I have professed
that I was one. But my religion isn't exactly like

" Is it a religion without obedience ? " inquired

" I have not meant it so. But you make obedi
ence somehow to be different from mine; or you
read the commands differently; and one of us must
be wrong. It is most likely to be I; but I am in
earnest in asking you about it. I want to know."

Stephen paused a minute.

" I reckon it comes to this," he said. " Do you
love the commands ? "

" Love them ! " echoed the other.

" Yes. Do you love to obey them ? "

" Love, repeated Erick again. " That's a strange
question. I obey them or I try to obey them
because I ought. I wish to do my duty "


" Duty," said Stephen. " There is the difference.
To me, the commands shew what God's will is;
and I love dearly to do his will. It is not because
I ought."

"Not because you ought 1"" cried Erick. "You
make nothing of duty ! "

Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 20 of 34)