Susan Warner.

Stephen, M. D. online

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slie had formerly known to exist; and with her
knowledge her estimate grew. Those were good
hours for her which they spent together over the
Bible; and manifestly Posie felt the influence of
them. She was growing more serious and more
sensible, though no whit less bright; sweeter she
hardly could be, but somehow her sweetness
seemed to have a more exquisite flavour to it.

Erick had spoken of coming again at Christmas;
however he did not come. Something hindered
him, much to Mrs. Hardenbrook's disappointment



QUESTIONABLE. 491

and disgust; and she treated her family to a fcour
sauce with most of their Christmas fare. The
good humour of the others was meanwhile so
abundant, that the sourness was overwhelmed.
Nobody but her seemed to care a bit for Erick's
non-appearance; I am afraid Stephen and Mr.
Hardenbrook were even glad on that account.
Nothing disturbed the peace of that holy tide, for
her family were too much accustomed to Mr.
Hardenbrook's lifted eyebrow to make much ac
count of it.

And after Christmas was passed, the rest of the
winter flowed on in gentlest course; with a grad
ually swelling tide of love and harmony and en
joyment. Busy days, and evenings of most dear
society; nights of peace, and mornings of vigorous,
glad awaking, succeeded each other; each better
than the last, or seeming so. Mr. Hardenbrook
was immensely comfortable; Stephen and Posie
hardly knew how the time went. Mrs. Harden
brook's eyebrow became permanent.

I think it was in the course of this winter that
it began to dawn upon Stephen, that sometime he
would have to step out of his reserve and say cer
tain very distinct words, to Mr. Hardenbrook first
and then to Posie. Or to Posie first; he had not
settled that; and indeed he thought they under
stood one another pretty well without words. Yet
it would certainly be necessary to speak them; and
becoming clearly aware of this for the first time,
Stephen now and then lay awake thinking of it



492 STEPHEN, M.D.

Yes, he must ask Mr. Hardenbrook for his daugh
ter, if he were ever to have her; that would be both
a usual and a necessary preliminary. Ask Mr.
Hardenbrook for his daughter ! It startled Ste
phen, now when he came to put his thought into
words. He, a poor boy, with no business nor in
come nor home of his own; no prospects, but what
depended on his benefactor's good pleasure; no
place in the world, nor station, to which he could
lift Posie up. And she, her father's daughter and
the only one, therefore heiress of all his property;
a beauty, and a treasure generally ; it would be
asking for much, to ask for her. All this in Ste
phen's mind was not, it is true, mingled with any
real misgiving as to what Posie's father might say
to such an application. Of course the question
had never been broached between them, nor the
subject so much as alluded to; nevertheless Ste
phen had a certain comfortable assurance that on
that score he had nothing to fear; Mr. Harden
brook's absolute trust in him, respect for his opin
ions, reliance upon his assistance, and affection for
his person, were too undoubted ; had been too often
manifested; Stephen believed his suit would meet
with no disfavour in that quarter. It was different
with Mrs. Hardenbrook. Stephen thought it over
and over. He was just as sure that she would
make the most of every objection that could be al
leged against his proposition, and would not fail
to roll them up together like an avalanche to crush
him and it at once. If she could. Stephen did not



QUESTIONABLE. 493

believe she could do it; however, the endeavour
was not a pleasant thing to anticipate.

Stephen thought about it a great deal, and shrank
from bringing the matter to immediate decision.
He was very young yet, and so was Posie ; his im
portance in Mr. Hardenbrook's business was grow
ing with every day; nothing could turn Posie's
affection from him; and the intercourse of the
present moment was as sweet as could be desired.
Were it not the better way to let it be undisturbe
for the present, and allow time to work its wonder
ful work of smoothing roughnesses and healing
divisions and cementing connections and removing
hindrances out of the way ? There might be cer
tainly something said for another line of time's
working, which is not all to soften and to heal ;
but then, one day slipped by after another, one so
like another that it was difficult to say why to
morrow might not do as well as to-day for any
special new thing; and Stephen's genuine modesty
and shyness (on this point, for he was not troubled
with shyness in any other connection) kept him
quiet. He thought by and by would be better
than now. He might wait perhaps till he was a
year older, and then speak with more advantage.
Meanwhile he had Posie all to himself, and they
were both contented with the existing state of
things.

So the days went by, with a soft and bright pro
gress most like that of the sun through the heavens
on a summer's day. One does not fairly see Apollo's



494 STEPHEN, M.D.

swift chariot, the dancing hours come so between.
Yet it moves on its way ; climbs the vault of hea
ven, and goes down on the other side, and is near-
ing the portals of the west before we know where
we are. Before the course of that sunshiny time
was ended, however, there came a slight cloud
over the sunshine.

The cloud was Erick Dunstable again. He ar
rived for the long vacation, as he had come last
year; and as it had been last year, so it was this
year; he did a good deal monopolize Posie. It
was all perfectly natural, as Stephen said to him
self; but he had to say it to himself a trifle too
often. Of course, Erick was a visiter, and must be
attended to; he was a novelty, and would neces
sarily be listened to and welcomed as a change
from the monotone of the winter. Yet how sweet
that monotone had been ! Stephen would never
have wanted a change, except to have more and
more of such sweetness. Mrs. Hardenbrook how
ever, .and Posie, seemed to delight in new ways and
varieties of amusement. There was no journey to
Niagara or elsewhere this summer; instead, there
were drives without end, all about the country;
sometimes walks; and generally the drives were of
Posie and Erick alone, for the buggy held most
conveniently two, and Stephen was frequently en
gaged with business at the time the other two were
going for pleasure. At home there were now no
more Bible-readings and earnest talks about the
things of the Bible. Of course, as Stephen said to



QUESTIONABLE. 495

himself, how could there be ? for such talks brook
no listeners that are uninterested, and there was
no place nor time when they could be held in pri
vate between Stephen, and Posie alone. Instead of
that, now there was tea out of doors, in the arbour;
Erick and Posie picking fruit for the table together,
and together preparing it, amid no end of talking
and laughing; and Stephen would come in at the
end and help eat it or quite as often not help as
the case might be. The fruit seemed to be singu
larly tasteless to him much of the time.

It was a very busy summer for Stephen. Heavy
orders came in; business prospered; Mr. Harden-
brook laughingly said it was because of Stephen's
enterprise and skill; "as if the business had
not always prospered ! " Mrs. Hardenbrook said
scornfully.

" Never so well as now," her husband answered.

"Then I should think, Mr. Hardenbrook, you
might soon give up the business. You have made
money enough, haven't you? Let Stephen take
the factory off your hands; and then we needn't
be tied to Cowslip any longer."

" Where would you like to go ? w

U anywhere! some place where people live
differently. I am tired of Cowslip ways. I would
like to live near Boston or in it; and have things
a little nice."

" mother, don't you think we have things nice
here ? " Posie cried, forgetting her own former wish.

"Nice for people who know no better!" Mrs.



496 STEPHEN, M.D.

Hardenbrook's nostrils were beginning to play
ominously.

" If we followed your suggestion, and went away,"
her husband remarked, " we should lose Stephen."

" Quite time " said the lady with a significant
smile.

However, this was empty talk. Mr. Hardenbrook
had no mind either to quit Cowslip, give up his
business, or lose his right hand man; and things
went on after the usual fashion to the end of the
summer. Only, that as I said, Stephen was very
much preoccupied, and had far less share than
common in whatever was going on that was not
business. Eides and drives and walks and talks;
even picnics, and little flights to the nearer large
towns, all flourished and were enjoyed without his
help or presence. But then, Mr. Hardenbrook was
making money hand over hand ; and when Stephen
joined the family after one of the pleasure-takings
above mentioned, Posie would welcome him with a
most loving smile, and would sit down by him and
tell him all about what they had been doing. Ste
phen tried to be patient and hope for Erick's return
to his studies ; and meanwhile did his duty.



CHAFFER XLII.

CHESTNUTS.

r PHERE is a proverb, that the longest lane has
1 a turning. So it befel at Cowslip also. The
summer passed by, slowly or quick as people con
sidered it; the first half of September followed in
its train; and then Stephen breathed freely, for
Erick was gone. He had had a very pleasant
vacation, he said, and no doubt it was true, or he
would not have staid so ; and furthermore he prom
ised the family and himself that he would come
this year and keep Christmas with them. Stephen
hoped something might hinder him again.

But he took up anew now the questions that had
busied him some months before. During the sum
mer, when he had been engrossed with business
and everybody else with their visiter, it had obvi
ously been no time to agitate propositions that in
volved the future of the whole family; now there
was a lull in parties of pleasure, the household had
fallen back into its old ways; what time could be
better than this for Stephen to make known hia
plans, before some other hindering or disturbing
element should come in his way V He was nearly

(497)



498 STEPHEN, M.D.

a year older, besides ; Mr. Hardenbrook very pros
perous, himself very important to his employer.

Yet Stephen delayed from day to day. There
was no hurry, he told himself; he might wait for a
good time; and where things were so pleasant, he,
like many another man, was slow to speak the word
which whatever way they might take would
break up these conditions for evermore. So Sep
tember ran out, and October came, and three weeks
of October were gone. Frost had already set in,
and the woods were in russet brown, with a dash of
gold here and there where a hickory stood, or a
purple blotch where some great ash tree spread its
branches in sober symmetry.

" Have you got the nuts from the hill trees ? "
Mr. Hardenbrook asked one morning at breakfast.

" No, papa, that we haven't," said Posie. " It is
too bad ! but Stephen has been so busy."

" That's nonsense ! he needn't stick so close as
that. Stephen has time enough. I advise you to
go this afternoon. It's going to be a royal day;
and you know we can't count upon this sort of
thing lasting."

The " hill trees" were certain fine large chestnuts,
which grew at the foot of a rocky ridge a good
half mile away. Stephen and Posie had always
gathered those nuts together, year after year ; this
year, what with Stephen's engagedness in business
and what with the engrossment of his thoughts,
the chestnuts had been forgotten or neglected.
Mr. Hardenbrook's proposition was received with



CHESTNUTS. 499

acclamation ; and after the early dinner, Posie and
Stephen, equipped with baskets and a long pole,
set off on their walk.

It was so fair as an afternoon in October can be;
and no month in the year can shew fairer, unless
November at the Indian summer time. The air
was absolutely still; the little racks of clouds lay
at rest on the blue; not a breath moved the brown
leaves that were ready to fall. A little haziness
m the distance gave a touch of luxurious repose
to the colouring, more ordinarily sharp with the
vigour of the North ; yet it did not disturb the crystal
transparency of the air near at hand and over the
heads of the walkers. It did just soften the colour
ing of woodland and fields, though mysteriously
and scarcely to be recognized. Brown, and gold,
and purple, and red, the dark, rich, dull red of
the red oaks, for the brilliancy of the maples was
passed by. Brilliancy would hardly have suited
the day, so well as this soft, dainty, tender tone
of colour, to which all sharp contrasts seemed for
eign. The eye, not dazzled, searching for the
individual tints, found them most delicate and
delicious. Then there were soft brown stubble
fields; now and then a patch of up-turned soil;
little strips of grass along by the fences, really
green ; but all subdued and harmonized together,
as they are at no other time of the year. Spring
is alive with hidden activity; summer is revelling
in wealth and power, calling out her flowers, dis
tributing her fruit, ripening her grain, working the



500 STEPHEN, M.D.

strange work for which all green leaves are the
laboratory; her vapours and her sunshine, her winds
and her storms, are mighty and busy. October looks
on it all done; the grain is in the barn, the flowers
have ripened their seeds and strengthened their roots
for another year; the trees have added another ring
of woody tissue to their great stems; the heats and
the storms have passed away with the need for
them. Nature is resting. And this October day,
as she often does in October days, she was resting
in a very luxury of complacency. And these moods
of nature are catching; it is difficult to avoid sym
pathizing with them; the material speaks to the
spiritual, as it has such a power of doing, and on
such a day bids rest and peace to the heart.

Stephen and Posie both felt it, as they stepped
along over the short, dry, warm grass of the
meadows, and perhaps it made them both silent.
They had talked at first, briskly, when first set
ting out; gradually talk had died away, and they
walked on silently; hearing, if they heard anything,
the tread of their feet on the crisp herbage; for
other sound there was none. Stephen had com<>
out with the fixed intention of speaking all hia
mind to Posie before they went home; he was fully
purposed to do it; yet there was no hurry; he had
her all to himself and with no sort of danger of
interruption; he might take his time. For the
moment he had all he wanted; and the exquisite
beauty of that moment made him slow to touch it
even by a touch that would heighten the beauty.



CHESTNUTS. 501

Who does not know what it is, the impulse to let
a perfect minute alone, no matter with what better
he may propose to replace it. Stephen was full of
content; the loveliness and the peace of nature
found their reflection and counterpart in his own
heart, and Posie and he were alone together again
and had the day and the beautiful world to them
selves. And Posie was wonderfully pretty, as she
went along there beside him and he stole from time
to time a look at her. She was dressed in a light
green dress of cambric; nothing could be more sim
ple; but nothing at the same time could better have
set off the fresh fairness and sweetness of his lit
tle life's companion. Her colour was most deli
cate ; peach blossom on the white ; not after a fixed
fashion, but stirring and flushing and passing and
deepening again with the moods of the moment.
More delicately changeable Stephen thought he
had never seen it. And the soft brown hair, not
light nor dark, was in accordance with the com
plexion, lightly curling about the white brow and
those peach blossom cheeks. It was the very
same creature that had taken his childish heart
by storm at seven years old ; bright, arch, winning,
wilful, sweet; only of late the wilfulness had been
less and the sweetness greater. The features were
mobile and delicate; not an unlovely line in the
whole dear little face ; and to-day Stephen fancied
it particularly bewitching. He was ready to think
that Posie as well as he felt the delight of their
being together again after the old fashion ; he even



502 STEPHEN, M.D.

was ready to fancy that she had some instinctive
sympathy with the feeling that possessed him ; and
without knowing what he had in his mind to say
to her, was happy as he was happy. She looked
happy. There was a certain satisfied line of lip
and quick smile of the eye, when occasionally he
epoke or she spoke and she looked up; something
which he could not define, that made her more
than ever like a sweet briar blossom among its spicy
green leaves; so dainty, so delicate, so rosy lovely.
She had talked at first when they were beginning
their walk; she had exclaimed at the beauty of
everything; but now she was not talking, and
often was not even looking, for Stephen often found
her eyes cast down to the ground where she was
stepping. So they went on from one field to
another; and over one fence after another. Ste
phen meant to begin presently what he had to say,
but the October day was simply perfect, the silent
companionship soothing and satisfying; and scarce
a word was exchanged between the two while they
crossed the last field and climbed over the last fence
that separated them from the chestnut trees.

There were several of these, and they grew along
by the foot of a rocky ridge covered with sparse
woods ; not susceptible of cultivation. Being in a
very out of the way place, the trees were mostly
un visited except by their two selves; and every
year for years past, Stephen and Posie together
had harvested the riches of the spoil. It was late,
this year, but nobody had been beforehand with



CHESTNUTS. 503

them. Or the ground and on the branches the
half-opened burrs were thick and yellow and plenty.

" All safe, Stephen," said Posie, as she looked
up and saw them.

" Nobody has been here," he assented. It was
pretty there under the chestnut trees; solitary and
still; the rocky ridge rising up just behind them
with its clothing of parti-coloured woods. Here
a dark red oak, there the dull buff of a chestnut
oak; yonder a spot of golden yellow where a hick
ory was dropping its leaves; and rocks and ferns
and countless wild undergrowths between the rocks,
ail spicy and warm and glowing in the October haze
and stillness. Probably the consciousness that No
vember is soon coming to change it all, adds to
one's appreciation of the extreme beauty of such a
day; but Stephen was not thinking of either Octo
ber or November ; instead, he was full of the sense
that now was the time to say what he had to say
to Posie, before they began their nut-gathering.
He laid down his pole and deposited his basket on
the ground, and was just about to speak, when
Posie prevented him by speaking herself.

" Stephen"

That was all, in a hesitating, soft tone. Stephen
looked up quickly, glad of a word that would per
haps help him to introduce his own subject. Posie
was standing with her basket still in her hand, no
longer looking at the chestnut trees. It struck
Stephen that she had something more serious than
usual to speak about. He came a step nearer.



504 STEPHEN, M.D.

" What is it, Posie ? " he asked, with the tone of
ready sympathy which Posie had been accustomed
to meet from him, in all her smaller and greater
needs, ever since she was seven years old. A gen
tle, manly, kindly voice, which hitherto had never
failed her.

" I want to tell you about something I have
been wanting to get a good chance to speak to
you," she began, without altering her attitude.

" No time can be better than now," he answered
cheerily. "Goon, Posie. What is it?"

" Stephen, you have seen a good deal of Erick
Dunstable, first and last, these two summers ? "

"Yes " said Stephen, wondering. " Not so much
as some other people; but of course I have seen a
good deal of him."

" How do you like him ? What do you think of
him?"

Could Mr. Hardenbrook be thinking of employ
ing Erick in any way ? Could Erick in any way
in his profession be useful to Mr. Hardenbrook?
The questions went confusedly through Stephen's
brain, to be answered by negatives as fast; along
with another lightning thought, that if Erick medi
tated anything of the kind, it could be solely and
simply for the sake of being near Posie.

" How do you like him ? " she repeated. " Se
riously."

" Why I think he's a first-rate fellow ! " Stephen
answered in his bewilderment, but answered true.
" I like him very much "



CHESTNUTS. 505

"Really?"

" Certainly. Why do you ask me ? "

" I wanted to have your opinion. I think more
of your opinion, Stephen, than I do of anybody's in
the world."

" Mr. Hardenbrook should know better, Posie."

"No, he is not a young man; and young men
know each other best; they can judge best of each
other. Besides, papa is a little prejudiced."

" I don't think so."

" yes, he is; he thinks," said Posie with a half
laugh, " that all young men should be built upon
your pattern, Stephen. Now you know that can
not be."

" Not to be wished, either."

" yes, it is. I don't think anybody hardly is
equal to you, Stephen ; but people are different.
And the world would be stupid, I suppose, if they
were not different."

" I think there is only one Posie in all the world,
and I am glad of it."

"And I think there is only one Stephen," she
said laughing a little. " I don't know whether I
am glad of it. It's a pity for the world. But I am
very glad you like Erick."

" Why ? " said Stephen suddenly.

"Because" said Posie slowly "if you didrit
like him, Stephen, I really don't think I should
want to have anything to do with him. You
know," she went on more freely and looking up
at him now, "you know we are just like brother



506 STEPHEN, M.D.

and sister; I could not care for any own brother
more. After my father and mother, there ie no
one in all the world I love as I do you, Stephen.
And if you didn't like something, or disapproved
it, I don't see how I could take any pleasure in it.
So I have been wanting to ask you."

Stephen was like a person under a spell. The
very extremity of the occasion seemed to keep him
outwardly calm and undemonstrative, as he stood
opposite to her. He hardly dared look into her
eweet face, or meet the eyes which sought his; he
knew how sweet they were, in unconscious inno
cence and tenderness and a certain wistful happi
ness; in vrhich this time he had no share.
"Yes," he said hoarsely; "so it has been."
He considered whether he should even now tell
her the whole truth; let her know how indeed it
had been with him, behind all that brotherly and
sisterly intercourse. Should he tell her that his
earthly all went where she went? that for years
she had been the one goal of his life? that if she
gave herself to another she left his heart and hopes
empty of all beneath the sun? It might be, she
too without knowing it loved him better than sis
ters love brothers. It might be yet, that if bade
to choose between him and Erick, she would not
give up him. Dared he speak? his one chance
was now. He could never speak, if not now.
Should he let her know how it was? But then, if
it were so, that her love for him did not go be
yond what a sister might feel; then, by telling her



CHESTNUTS. 507

how it was with himself, he would simply give the
d^ath blow to all this brotherly and sisterly inter
course which was so inexpressibly precious to them
both. That would be the end of it, if she knew
that he loved her not as a brother and wanted from
her different love from that of a sister. Affection
would not be killed, no doubt, but the freedom of
the relationship would. If Erick had her heart,
Stephen could never be anything to her but a
brother; and if not a brother then, nothing! He
weighed it all in one of those lightning-like flashes
of thought, which do the work as thoroughly as if
days had been given to it. The risk was too great.
He could not venture it. He could not lose this
sweet sisterly confidence and clinging and inno
cent affection. He might blow it all away like a
puff of smoke by a few incautious words; he would
not speak them. The long habit of keeping him
self in hand and not acting from impulse or giving
way to passion, stood the man in stead now. Hia
whole soul was as a garden swept by a hurricane,
lying in wrecks under the hail-storm; at the same
time it was a wreck shut in from observation by a
wall of defence. He shewed nothing. His colour



Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 26 of 34)