Susan Warner.

Stephen, M. D. online

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might be a little paler than usual, but that Posie
in her own agitation of mind, would not be likely
to notice. She did not notice anything strange.
It was quite in order that Stephen should be sur
prised, startled, and sorry, at the news she had
told him ; she had expected no less. She watched
him, by turns, for her look could not be steady.


"It will always be so, Stephen," she went on
gently; "nothing can change what we are to each

"No " said he. Another word was beyond hia
powers. Changes? would there not be changes!
what earthly thing would remain unchanged?

"Of course," Posie went on, supplementing her
own words, " of course I shall not always be here.
We shall not always be seeing each other every
day. But we shall see each other? You will
always be coming to see me, Stephen, just as much
as my father and mother ? Will you ? no matter
how business goes ? "

"Where?" said he, for her manner pressed for
an answer, and he could scarce speak that one word
with his dry lips. He took up the baskets again
and set them down in another place, and came
back to her. He wanted to get to work. But Po-
eie stood quite still and had forgotten the chestnuts.

" I cannot tell yet just where," she said. " That
is not settled yet. But Erick has an excellent pros
pect of being employed on a piece of work I be
lieve it is railroad work down in Virginia; if he
gets it it will be a long job, and it will pay well.
It is not certain yet ; Erick thought he would know
about it before he comes for Christinas."

Christmas! The word went through Stephen's
heart like a sword, only it did not kill him. He
could find nothing to say.

" In that case," said Posie, " I suppose I should
be in Virginia ; and it would give you quite a bit


of the travelling you like so much, to come there;
and shew you quite a new part of the world,
wouldn't it?"

Travelling! His thoughts made a leap to last
year and Niagara. He could not stand much more
of this sort of thing. And it shewed the strength
of the man and his iron hold of himself, the way
his next words to Posie were quiet and gentle,
having no roughness in them, nor any hurry of
spirits. Perhaps I ought to say that it shewed
something better yet; a mind staid on God, and
an habitual sweet agreement with his will; but
the strength and the firmness were also there.

"We shall have time enough to talk of that,"
said he. " What do you think now of attacking
these chestnut trees ? "

" Stephen, you are very cool ! " said Posie, half

"Ami? " said he. " I don't feel it."

" No," said Posie. " I do believe you have more
thoughts behind that smooth white brow of yours,
than you could find in half the heads in the country!
and you are not cool at all, I know, where fire is

"There is no use in thoughts that don't do any
body any good," said Stephen, preparing to swing
himself up into the tree. He wanted to get to work
and be busy, and not stand there as if he had been
turned to stone before Posie. He seemed to him
self benumbed, as one can be with despair. But
when he had with two or three agile and vigorous


movements lifted himself up into the tree-top, this
mood changed; and an intense bitterness, in full
life, took possession of his soul. As soon as he
found himself alone in the head of the great chest
nut tree, surrounded by its leafy wilderness, and
hidden from Posie's affectionate eyes, the paralysed,
stony feeling passed away, the spell was off him,
and the mental action became exceedingly vivid
and keen. So the mental pain. If there was any
place in the world that Stephen specially delighted
in, it was the head of a great tree; he had there
a sort of lifted-up and apart feeling, as though the
world were beneath his feet; he seemed to breathe
higher air and to have kindred with more ethereal
living creatures. The light and shadow of the
great leafy canopy were unearthly, or at least
more heavenly than earthly; birds came and went,
unconcerned about the quiet new inhabitant of
their domain; the very slight motion and rustle
of the leaves about him had a curious kind of
fellowship and welcome in it, to Stephen's fancy.
For he was of that mind to which the promise is
already made good, " The stones of the field shall
be at peace with thee." To-day, the familiar de
light and beauty of the great chestnut top had
the effect only the more keenly to emphasize his
misery. Up there in the sweet leafage and under
the noble arching and groining of the tree archi
tecture, Stephen fought one of those mortal fights
with pain, which human creatures know; they
come once or more into many human lives; and


even when the victory is gained, leave often a
battlefield marked for the rest of life by its wrecks
and scars. He was no longer dull and benumbed,
but active with the full activity of which his na
ture was capable; doing as much thinking in an
hour as might have filled out many ordinary days.
He was not thinking about the chestnuts, and yet
his hands had never been more busy with them,
nor his energy more skilful. He forgot nothing;
he did his work in the most careful and thorough
manner, beating off the nuts with his long pole,
cleaning branch after branch, but never maiming
the tree; not going to work in a blind rage of
excitement, as many a one would; keeping his
self-mastery still, and shewing it by his perfect
attention to what he had in hand. But all the
while he was thinking, fighting that fight; for
the pain must be met and borne, and accepted, and
only so could be overcome. It followed that Ste
phen did not talk much. That he forgot, or per
haps he would have forced himself to say at least
a word now and then. He worked in steady si
lence. The whip of his pole against the branches,
the rustle and tumble of the chestnut burrs as
they fell, was all Posie heard; and she heard that
as in a dream, and scarce missed Stephen's words
which did not come. She was in a dream, not
like his condition of terrible awakening; in her
thoughts a succession of pleasant images were
floating, softly and sweetly, with only alternations
of pleasantness. She had told Stephen her secret,


it was off her mind; be had given his approval
frankly, as to be sure she knew he would; there
was nothing now but clear sailing before her; she
gathered up her chestnuts into a heap by the
wonted stone where they were to be husked, and
did not even notice Stephen's silence; or if she
noticed did not wonder at it. Of course, it was a
great surprise to him, her news, and not without
some elements of disagreeableness to him ; of course !
she felt that herself. When she should be married
and gone away, yes, there would be something for
her parents and Stephen to miss ; he had to get ac
customed to the thought, which she had grown
accustomed to long ago. So she gathered her
chestnuts into a heap and her mind roved off, to
somebody else, and to what was before him and
her, with which Stephen and all the world beside
had nothing to do.

So it was a silent afternoon in the sweet October,
while one in the tree and one under the tree were
very busy, and the burrs came tumbling down, and
the sound of Stephen's pole beating the branches
might have been heard some distance through the
still air. Earth and sky so at peace, and a human
heart at fight with such hard warfare, the contrast
makes itself keenly felt at such times. But as I
said, Stephen's mind was doing a great deal of work
under high pressure; and when the last tree was
stripped, and when he dropped first his pole and
then himself to the ground, he was quite outwardly
calm and entirely master of himself.



I^HE rest of the work was hastily done; not with
the sweet leisure-taking of the old times; for
Stephen's thoughts were still seething within him
and he did not feel leisurely. Besides, the quan
tity of nuts was very large, and the afternoon well
advanced, and there was some distance to walk
home. But characteristically, not for that or for
anything would Stephen shorten the work or shirk
any of it that remained to do. He would leave
none of the great pile of chestnuts, though Posie
admonished him that he could never carry them
all home; he knew better; he knew he could carry
any burden that afternoon and not feel it. lie
would beat the nuts out of every burr; and kept
Posie, perhaps willingly, as busy as she could be,
picking them up and bestowing them in the bas
kets. Posie laughed, and ran about, and gathered
the chestnuts up from the grass, and hardly noticed
how Stephen worked and said nothing. For the
fight was by no means fought out with him; and
though he had got the upper hand of himself as it



were, and knew what he would do, he was not
ready to play about it. Work was all in order.

The baskets were heavy with chestnuts; the
burrs lay yellow and despoiled all about upon the
ground ; the sun was low in the sky. This sweet
day was coming to a sweet end. Posie took up her
basket, which was small; Stephen slung the other
to the big end of his pole and carried it so over his
shoulder, and they set out to go home. It did
strike Posie that her companion was uncommonly
silent; for when alone with her, in other times, Ste
phen had always been ready enough to talk. He
strode along now steadily over the soft turf which
hardly gave any sound from his steps, and he made
no remark about anything. It struck Posie, and
then she remembered that there might be reason
for it, and she could venture no attempt to change
his mood, if it wanted changing. Silently and
swiftly they went on beside each other, crossing
field after field, making light of the fences, keeping
an unwavering rate of progress, till they came to
the last meadow before getting out upon the road
again. Here, under a straggling butternut tree
that had already lost all its leaves, Stephen sud
denly made a halt.

" Posie you are tired ! I have walked so unmer
cifully fast."

" No," she said, breathing a little ; " don't you
think I can walk as fast as you can ? "

" Sit down and rest a bit."

He put his basket on the ground to serve as a


seat for her, and Posie to please him sat down,
The almost level rays of the sun fell on them and
lighted them both up ; they made a pretty picture,
with their baskets, under the straggling arms of
the brown old tree; but nothing was further from
the thoughts of either of them than picturesque
effects just then.

" The sun is almost down," said Posie presently,
for Stephen had stood beside her saying nothing
more. " 1 am rested enough, Stephen. Are you?"

" Wait," said he. " I have something to tell you,
and 1 have been just thinking how to do it."

"Something to tell me?" For an instant the
girl looked up in his face to see if perhaps it were
another secret akin to her own, and a strange throb
of pain moved her heart as she did so. The next
instant it was gone ; Stephen wore no gala face ; no
pleasant mystery was hovering on his lips; he waa
very grave, although perfectly calm. She saw that
there was no flutter of emotion bringing colour to
his cheeks or light to his eye. But for that sun
light flashing in his face she would have seen that
he was pale. He did not shun the sunlight, nor
think of it.

" What have you to tell me, Stephen ? "

" I am going away."

" Going away ? What do you mean ? For how

" I do not know. I am going away. I mean it
so. A drive to Concord is riot going away, nor a
railway journey to New Haven."


" Going where ? " said Posie, now rising to her
feet in mingled surprise and fear.

"Somewhere " said Stephen without meeting
her eyes. " I am going away. I have been mak
ing up my mind ; and I wanted to tell you first of
all. I am going away for good, Posie," he added,
looking quietly at her now.

" Leaving the business ? "


" Leaving Cowslip, and father and mother ? "

" Yes."

"Oh Stephen! Oh why?"

" Perhaps the best reason to give is that I can
not help it. I cannot stay any longer."

" But, oh Stephen ! Father counts upon you ; he
depends upon you. You are just like a son to him.
What is the matter ? "

" Nothing is the matter, if you mean, with any
body but myself. I have come to that point when
I know I must do something else."

" Different business, you mean ? "

He assented.

" But Stephen, you might go into any other busi
ness you like, and yet not leave home. Oh Stephen,
if I had thought you would go away, I should never
have wanted to go. I thought you would always
be here and take care of father and mother. Ste
phen, you could follow any business you liked, and
stay with them ? "

" I can't get ready for it here."

"Get ready for it? You mean, for the business?*


"Yes, I mean that. One cannot do anything
without first learning how."

" What business, Stephen ? "

" I will try to do the work I am best fitted for;
the work that God will give me to do for him. I
do not yet quite know what it will be, but I shall
find out. I only know now that it is not the work
I am doing here; and I must be about something
else without loss of time."

" When, Stephen ?" Posie cried with a new start of
anxiety and trouble. But he answered her steadily.

" As soon as I can go. As soon as 1 can put
matters in such train that I shall not be missed.
That will take a few days, 1 suppose."

"A few days! Will you go before spring?"

" I must. With what I have to do, there is no
time to be lost. No more time."

" You aren't going before Christmas ! " exclaimed
Posie with an expression almost of terror.

Christmas ! How impossible it was that he should
be there at Christmas ! Rather enlist for a sailor,
and sail away before the mast. He told her it was
impossible; he could not tell her why; and natural
ly Posie was very discontented.

"You said, ' what you have to do;' what have
you so much to do, Stephen?"

" Posie, I have to get ready for my work in the

" You don't know what it is to be ! "

" No; but whatever it be, I must be ready for it
I am fit for nothing now."


"Why not?"

" I know nothing."

" But you can do more than anybody in all the
world that I know. You can do more than father.
I believe you can do more than Erick can. Ste
phen, I never knew you miss doing anything you
set yourself to do."

"These were things within my reach," he said

"And now you want things that are not within
your reach! Stephen, that is ambition; it is not
like you."

" It is not ambition," he said in the same way.
" I would have liked nothing better than to stay
here all my life, if it might have been. But my
calling is different."

" How do you know ? " impatiently.

"It is very plain .to me, Posie."

" Oh there is no moving you ! " cried the girl in
despair. " When once you take it into your head
that a thing is duty, the game is up. It may not
seem duty to other people ; but you can see with
no eyes but your own ! "

" No, I cannot."

" It would seem to anybody else, that your duty
was to stay here when I am gone, and take care
of father and mother."

"It would seem so to myself," he answered,
" only that I see plainly my duty is elsewhere."

Posie had sat down on her basket again, and
now she began to cry. It was a hard minute for


Stephen. The sun was just dipping below the
horizon, gilding every thing with flashing gold for
a short space; then he sank, the gold faded, soft
dusk began to fall upon the landscape, and stars
were twinkling out of the blue. In Stephen's
mental vision he had only the dusk without the
stars. Dusk but not black night, for that never
comes to the Lord's children unless they have
wandered out of sight of him.

Posie cried bitterly. Stephen bore it for a few
minutes, and then began to try to soothe her; but
really he had not much to say. It must be a dis
appointment to her, his decision; he knew that; he
would have spared her at any cost to himself if it
had been practicable. But he had made up his
mind in the chestnut tree, what he must do and
was meant to do; and the reasons were unshakable.
Only he could not tell them to her; at least not in
detail; and the sum without the items was what
Posie could not approve.

But Posie was naturally light-hearted, and her
cup just then was very full of happiness; it was
not in one or two bitter drops to take the taste out
of all that sweet for long. She stopped weeping
and dried her tears, got up and took her basket,
and silently through the dusk they made their
way home.

"I have not spoken to your father yet, Posie,"
he said as they neared the house. "Do not say
anything about it till I have seen him."

"He won't like it better 1han T do, Stephen."


And Mr. Hardenbrook did not. Stephen had
eought him out immediately, and found a good
opportunity to speak to him alone. The conver
sation need not be repeated, as it went over the
same ground Stephen had already gone over with
Posie; and Mr. Hardenbrook's incredulity, aston
ishment, chagrin and displeasure were but copies
of hers. I think, however, that the father perhaps
was able to look at the matter in some lights un
known to the daughter. At any rate, after argu
ment and entreaty had both been tried in vain,
breaking like unsubstantial waves upon the rock of
Stephen's steadfastness, Mr. Hardenbrook gave in.

" Nobody has offended you, Stephen?" he asked.

"Certainly not, sir! Everybody is only too good
to me. And you, "

" Well, well," siad Mr. Hardenbrook, throwing
off a drop from his eyelashes, ''that is unchanged.
What I have been 1 am, arid will always be. I
have considered you as my son for this long time
past, and so 1 consider you now; and as my son I
shall take care that you go where you are going.
Where is it first, Stephen? college?"

"Yes, sir," the young man answered tinder his


" I don't know, sir; I think, Harvard."

'Harvard! Why that, rather than one of the
smaller colleges, where maybe you would feel
more at home?"

"N<>, sir. it is for that very ronson. One of the


things I don't know, is the world; and I must
learn to know it, if I am ever to do my work in it.
I thought I would go to the largest college I could

"There's more religion, they say, at Yale."

"That's another reason for Harvard."

"Well, you seem to have laid all your plans!
But Stephen, what is the work you are expecting
to do in the world ? "

" I do not know yet, sir. That I shall find as I
go on."

" Something better than chairs and tables, I
suppose," said Mr. Hardenbrook, in a manner that
bespoke great vexation. " You are fit to do better

"It is not that, sir," Stephen replied steadily.
" I think the best work is that which the Lord
gives me. I could have wished for no better than
to be as I have been; but I see I have something
else to do."

" In all my experience," said Mr. Hardenbrook,
" a man chooses his own course of life. I do not
see how it can be otherwise. When do you think
to make this move ? "

" In a few days as soon as I can put things in
train. There is the order from Plymouth that I
want to see under weigh; and I must go to Con
cord once, to conclude a purchase of stuff, that I
have half made ; and there are some bills I do not
want you to be troubled with. I will arrange all
that, and then go."


" But this is an awkward sort of time to enter
college, isn't it ? middle of term."

" I dare say I shall have some work to do before
I can enter anywhere; but I am too ignorant to
know just what."

" Harvard," said Mr. Hardenbrook musing. " I'll
tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a letter to a
man I know in Boston; he's not a college man,
but he'll know how to put you up to a good many
things; lodgings, and shops, and whom to apply
to, and all that; for you do not know the world, aa
you say, at least not the world of Boston. And
I'll take care, my boy, that you have money enough
in your pocket; there's no doing anything without
money. And if you get to a great place in the
world, I'll have my satisfaction in that, anyhow,
if I'm alive to see it."

So he dismissed Stephen with some show of
cheerfulness. But it was a worried face Mr. Har
denbrook shewed to the women of his household,
when he joined them at supper. Stephen was not

" What's the matter with that boy ? " he broke
out vexedly, when the meal had gone on far
enough to make it plain Stephen would not make
one at the table.

" Matter ? " said his wife. " I suppose he haa
business of some sort. He's punctual, I'll say that
for him."

" No, no ! What has anybody done to him ? w

"Done to him? Really, Mr. Hardenbrook, I


should think you knew that Stephen has every
thing his own way, and is quite master, except
where I am ; why do you ask ? "

" He's going away."

" Going away ! "

" Yes, and in earnest," said Mr. Hardenbrook,
making a desperate and very awkward attempt to
get something which stood at the other side of the
table. His daughter could have served him, but
he was just in one of those uncomfortable moods
in which a man takes the hardest way.

" Take care, Mr. Hardenbrook ! the lamp will be
over ! why do you do such things ! What's he
going for? In earnest! Stephen never does any
thing any other way."

But when the matter was explained to her, and
she comprehended it, for the two things were not
synonymous, Mrs. Hardenbrook's eyebrow went up

" Leaving us ! " she cried. " Well, that's what the
world calls gratitude ! Leaving us ! When he owes
you everything his very own self "

"No," said her husband, "no; no man owes
himself to any other man. If it were so, Stephen
would stay; for what he owes he pays, always."

" To leave us ! And just when Posie 0, it's be
yond everything. Leave us ! Well, I thought Ste
phen would always remember how you brought
him here, a poor little ragged beggar, with no friend
in the world "

" Softly, softly ! He was not ragged, my dear.


And Stephen does not forget. It makes me won
der the more "

" And me too," said Posie, who had sat by with
a sorrowful face and hitherto said nothing. " He
told me this afternoon ; and I said all I could, but
it was no use. I can't make out what's come over

" It's always the way ! " said Mrs. Hardenbrook
beginning to cry. " Do anything for anybody, and
what they do is to turn about and slap you. And
now just when Mr. Hardenbrook and I want him,
and Mr. Hardenbrook is getting old "

"Speak for yourself, Maria; /am all right."

" You're getting old, I suppose, aren't you ! " said
the lady sharply, stopping her tears for that speech,
and then going on. " And if Stephen hasn't a
tongue, he has a head ; and I like to see three heads
at least at the table. Two are just dreadful! He's
an ungrateful, stupid, absurd creature ! and he's just
got his head full of some bubble or other, and is
running away from his bread and butter to catch a

"Ah, but ivliat butterfly?" said her husband.
* That is what I would like to know."



JUNTO was unable to find out to her satisfaction
where Stephen got his supper that night, and
was not sure that he had any anywhere. He came
in too early to have shared anybody's supper at a
distance, although too late to be the better for the
supper at home. And he did not read a chapter
to her, as it had been long his constant wont to do.
He went up to his room, came back almost immedi
ately, and went out of the house again. Jonto did
not like his manner, which she could not read; and
she had not failed to notice that the family in the
supper room had seemed very " dumpish" when she
went in to clear the table. She was quite keen
enough to jump at the conclusion that something
was wrong. But what could be wrong? The
wheels of the household always moved smoothly,
saving that one little wheel which was represented
by Mrs. Hardenbrook's humour, which nobody
minded. The grating of the machinery came from
some other part now. Mr. Harden brook looked
gloomy, Posie was sad and thoughtful, Mrs. Har-


denbrook's fretting evidently in sympathy with
theirs and not provoked by it. And Stephen?
Short and grave he was apt enough to be. Jonto
could not make out that he was more than short
and grave to-night; yet she felt what she could not
reason out, and sat down in some uneasiness to wait

Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 27 of 34)