Susan Warner.

Stephen, M. D. online

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out of pocket on her behalf, and that there were
QO household stuffs or belongings the sale of which
would go any way towards discharging his debt,
he was very much disturbed in his mind.

For Mrs. Kay died. Circumstances got the bet
ter of her in the long slow fight, and at last killed
her. She eat her heart out, so to speak, with wor
rying; and died at last, of wear and tear and des
titution, leaving her little boy to the world's mercies,
without one person in it who had any natural
reason to take concern about him. Before she
died, she left Stephen one parting bit of advice ; all
the legacy she had to give him.


" Stephen," she said one day sorro wfullj, " I have
not just lived as I ought ; I have not trusted God
as I ought. Your father trusted him better. But
be sure of this, my boy; the Lord always keeps his

Whitebrook held a good many kind-hearted peo
ple, more perhaps than more sophisticated places
can shew; and one of them took the friendless little
boy into her house for those first days. I cannot
tell what those days were to Stephen. He went
where he was bidden, and did whatever he was
told; but I think the child hardly realized anything
except that he was alone. Grief possessed him un-
dividedly, for a time. He was but a little boy; and
in the nature of things it should have been a much
lesser time than older persons could have remained
in the absorption of grief, or have borne to remain
so. Stephen was in some ways old for his years ;
he and his mother had lived in very close and
trusting love and sympathy the one with the other;
moreover, as he had been too poor to go to school
and unable to dress like the other children of the
village, and as his mother had been more than or
dinarily dependent on him, Stephen had been much
'ess than usual thrown into children's society, and
had become accustomed to older thoughts and feel
ings and views. With all their poverty and need,
perhaps because of it in part, the companionship
between him and his mother had been very sweet.
In all the world there was nothing to replace that.
He had a better breakfast and dinner at Mrs.


Estey's; but it was not a quarter so good as his
mush cakes had been, with his mother beside him.
The child mourned deeply, sadly, goirjg apart from
human notice and sympathy liK a wounded ani
mal. Yet when he came buck to the family and
sat with them at table, or in the evening made one
of the circle that gathered round the fire, he did not
shew them what he felt, and they never suspected
it. Stephen was very grave, but in company he
made known his feelings neither by words nor by
tears. Mrs. Estey thought him dull. The children
said he was stupid.

"What are you expectin' to do with him, mo
ther ? " asked Mr. Estey one day.

"Time enough to find out," said the good woman.

" Well, I don't know. We can't keep him for
ever. It's how long ? since Mrs. Kay died."

" Let the child alone a bit yet. I'll see what is
to be done."

But Stephen himself decided this question.

A few hours later, Mrs. Estey found that she
wanted something in her kitchen work.

" Stephen," she cried, " Stephen, won't you do
something for me ? "

"Yes ma'am," Stephen said readily, coming to
the table where she was at work.

" Run up to Mr. Harrison's, won't you, and get
me sixpence worth o' cinnamon I'm out there's
a good boy ; and you shall have a big piece of apple
pie. My boys are, I don't know where."

Stephen was most willing to go, if it had been


to any other shop but Mr. Harrison A> He had as
sociations with that place ar>J ^s master, derived
from many a visit and from the Lome needs which
had sent him there. But of course he went for Mrs.
jSetey; though his heart swelled, and his feet de
layed in their going, and his eyes were not willing
to see the grocer. The unwillingness however had
no connection with a thought of his mother's in
debtedness. That complication had never occurred
to the child's simplicity. Now his mother was
gone, for ought he knew the debt was gone likewise.

It was a raw day in spring; not much business
doing. Joe lounged at the door of the grocery
store, looking up- and down the village street for
possible customers; for things were, as he said,
"dull enough to make a feller want to do sunthin'."
Mr. Harrison within was talking to a caller, no less
than Mr. Bain, the village clergyman.

"There's that there Kay boy comin'," Joe an
nounced from his post of observation. Mr. Harrison
paused a minute in his conversation.

" Not coming here, I suppose ? "

"Guess likely," said Joe, "I shouldn't wonder.
He's got pretty much the trick o' comin' here.
Don't know how to keep away."

And as little Stephen the next minute passed by
him and entered, Joe turned his head to look after
him, as if he were somehow an object of curiosity.
So he was; for the reason that persons who are
supposed to be feeling anything deeply are always
objects of speculation and interest to their fellow-


men. The old Romans brought it to a pitch of
refinement when they set gladiators to fighting and
gave men and women to the lions, or otherwise put
them to torture, ^nd watched to see how they would
bear it. We do not go so far as to put them to tor
ture; but we are very eager to see how they will
bear the torture, otherwise inflicted. And we are
likewise curious to see how they will manifest
themselves under circumstances of peculiar excite
ment which is not disagreeable. So Joe looked
after the little waif, and Mr. Harrison paused again
in his talk with Mr. Bain to turn his attention to
Stephen. Stephen pulled off his hat with his
wonted polite reverence to both gentlemen, which
Mr. Harrison hardly returned in a kindred spirit.

"Well, Stephen Kay," he said coldly, "what
brings you here? Have you brought me any

"Sixpence, sir."

" Sixpence ! What's that for ? "

"Cinnamon, sir, if you please."

" Cinnamon ? What cinnamon ? " asked the gro
cer harshly.

" I don't know, sir. Mrs. Estey told me to get
sixpence worth of cinnamon. I believe she wants
it for her apple pies."

" Mrs. Estey ! So it's her sixpence, and she wants
the cinnamon."

" When are you going to pay me what you owe



" If you please, sir, I don't know what that is,'
Stephen answered in some bewilderment.

"You know you owe me something, don't
you? You know you've been coming to me for
months, getting meal and sugar and tea, and I
don't know what all; and no sixpences came
along with you, nor pennies neither? You know
that, I suppose?"

" 1 know I came for the things," said Stephen.
" I didn't know"

" What didn't you know ?"

" I didn't know but they were paid for, sir."

Stephen's face expressed a good deal of trouble.

" Why how should they be paid for ? " said the
incensed grocer. " Who should pay for 'em? Did
you ever bring me any money, all this winter?

"No, sir, except for matches."

"Matches! A penny for matches! Are you a
fool, boy? That woman died owing me all of
thirty dollars," he went on, turning to the minister.
" Thirty dollars I am just out of pocket for her.
These six or eight months past she has been send
ing to me for whatever she wanted in my line, and
asking me to trust her; and I thought she was
respectable, her husband always paid his debts;
and if she couldn't, I supposed after she was gone
there would be some effects that would sell for
something; but there wasn't a cent to be got that
way. And now I may whistle for my thirty dollars.
It's sort o' hard on a man ! "


" I suppose Mrs. Kay really could not pay, ' sug.
gested the minister.

" Then she should not have got things under false
pretences. I don't believe in that way o' doing.
If she couldn't pay, first or last, she had ought to
ha' said so, and go to the poor house, or take charity
where she was. People had ought to be more care
ful, when it's other folks' money they're amusing
themselves with."

" I suppose she thought she was taking charity,"
said the minister mildly.

" Then she had ought to said so, and let me say
whether I was willin' to give it. I don't believe in
puttin' your hand in another man's pocket and
helpin' yourself, 'thout tellin' him what you're doin'.
Maybe he'd like to have a word to say on the sub
ject. I can't afford to give charity at that rate,
thirty dollars a head ; and if poor folks must be
supported, I aint the only one in the place to do it.
Thirty dollars out of my pocket ! "

" Ma didn't want charity " Stephen began, a
little huskily.

" No, I suppose not. She was like a good many
of us, that wanted to cut her cake and have it too.
It is better to call things by their right names ; and
if you are going to live on somebody else's money,
it's honester to ask him for it."

" Mrs. Kay was a good woman, I do believe," said
the minister soothingly; while Stephen swallowed
and swallowed, and would not cry, and tried to get
voice to speak.


" I s'pose she was a good woman," returned the
grocer; "any way, she warn't a bad one; but good
ness that pays what it owes is the kind I like."

Stephen had got his voice, and now spoke up

" Mr. Harrison, I'll pay it."

"Pay what?"

" Mother's thirty dollars."

Stephen choked badly here, but managed to over
come the convulsion of tears that had nearly un
manned him.

" You pay it ! " cried the grocer. " How do you
propose to pay it ? "

"Couldn't I work for you, sir?" said the boy

" Work ! A little shaver like you ! How much
do you suppose you could earn in a year ? Your
lodging and your salt, eh ? Do you think you would
be worth that to me ? "

"I think I could, sir."

" Suppose you could earn your salt which you
couldn't when would you get thirty dollars to
gether? That will do, boy; be off with yourself.
I must put up with my loss as I can."

"I will pay you, Mr. Harrison," said the little
fellow stoutly. "As soon as I can."

" It is worth while to put in that provision," said
the grocer. "Now go. What do you want ?"

" The cinnamon, sir, for Mrs. Estey. Here is the

Mr. Harrison weighed out the sweet spice, with


which Stephen had from that day an indestructible
association of shame and trouble. As he received
the package however, he said again significantly
and with great distinctness,

" You shall be paid, Mr. Harrison."

He left the shop steadily, passing by Joe's curi
ous eyes; and having the paper of spice in his hand,
bent his attention for the first thing to delivering
it to the hand of its right owner. He came into
the kitchen where Mrs. Estey was still at work,
laid the paper down on the table, and disappeared
immediately, not even staying to answer her thanks.
Nor did any one see Stephen again for hours. His
child's heart was overcharged with pain, and over
burdened with a problem of life-work he knew not
how to solve. Tears were the first thing ; they had
waited and must have their way; but nobody knew
where they were shed, nor indeed that they were
shed at all. Stephen climbed to the hay loft of
Mr. Estey's barn, and there he lay outstretched in
the hay, prone upon his face ; in one of those states
of feeling when the mind has so much to bear that
it seems as if her colleague the body had no energy
left to support an ounce of its own weight; in sym
pathy with its oppressed sister. The world was
very big and empty to the little creature there, and
one of its many undischarged liabilities was press
ing with terrible weight upon his sense of obliga
tion and his sense of powerlessness ; although the
amount of the liability was but thirty dollars. He
must pay the debt and he could not; he must pay


it and how should he get the means ? with these
thoughts Stephen's soul was tossed and swayed and
shaken, as the ground with an earthquake, and it
seemed as if feeling would not be still enough to
let him think. And oh, far more, his lost mother;
and the reproach brought on her name, and the
words he had been obliged to hear that day and
could not silence nor refute ; it shook the child's
soul with a great agony. He lay there long,-motion-
less in the hay, except as at times his whole little
body was convulsed with sobs ; and I am sure there
were some locks of hay in that place that would
never need salting when they came to be cut up
for the cattle. How time went Stephen had no
knowledge; he entirely ignored the dinner hour,
and in truth forgot it. And after long wrestling
with grief, finally lost it all, for the time, in a child's
refuge of sleep.



WHEN he waked, his passion was over and he
could think. He sat up in the hay and gave
himself to that somewhat difficult operation. He
must determine what he would do. For him to raise
thirty dollars, there was no way but to work. At
least, no other way even suggested itself to Stephen's
fancy. It never occurred to him that money could
be got by begging; and indeed, I am afraid the
genius of men and things at Whitebrook, and the
views of life prevalent there, would not have been
favorable to any application of that sort which Ste
phen might have made. People had quite as kind
hearts there as in most other parts of the world ;
they were by no means averse to helping their needy
fellow-townsmen; but they had their own notions
as to how the thing should be done, and above all,
they had habits fixed as the polar star. To raise
a subscription to pay off a debt to Mr. Harrison, no
longer owed by any living person, would have
seemed to them rather an undertaking for the gro
cer's benefit; and would hardly have found approval,


or commended itself to their hard sense as a rea
sonable thing. Stephen never thought of it. He
must earn the money. He would earn it. So he
must work. What could he do? And who wanted
what he could do ? He studied the matter. So far as
he knew, nobody in Whitebrook was at all likely to
need his services. He could not think of anybody
with whom an application for work would stand
the ghost of a chance. At the same time, Stephen
had long been a helpful little boy to his mother,
and he thought there must be somebody in the
world to whom he could again be useful. How to
find the person ? if such a one existed. Of that he
had little doubt. But how to bring the supply and
demand together ?

He did not know. Only by degrees so much
seemed clear; that if it was not in Whitebrook, it
must be somewhere else. Then his first step must be,
to go away. And whither could he go, for the first
move, but to the next village ? The next village
was called Deepford. It was on a small stream
which turned the wheels of one or two factories ;
Stephen knew so much, but he had never been there.
It was, he believed, some six miles off. He would
go to Deepford. He settled that with himself. He
would ask God to take care of him, and he would
go. When ? That was the next question.

He rolled himself down from the hay and went
out of the barn. The sun was well in the west ; the
day was going on towards evening; there could be
no journey undertaken before another day. Stephen


must have supper and lodge once more under Mrs.
Estey's kind roof. He wished supper was ready.
Should he tell anybody what he was going to do ?
Must he bid Mrs. Estey good bye ? Would she try
to hinder him, if he did ? He could not be hindered.
But he was a little boy, and authority might be too
much for him. He debated this new question with
himself; and could not decide it. Till the next morn
ing came, and then he thought he must speak. It
would not be " manners," to go away without so
much as saying "Thank you." But he waited till
breakfast was over and the boys had gone to school,
and Mr. Estey also had left the house. It was not
Stephen's plan to take him into his confidence. He
lingered about the table where Mrs. Estey was
washing up her cups and plates.

" It's most time you took to school going, Stephen,"
she remarked, kindly enough. " You haint ben in a
long while, hev you ? "

"I never went, ma'am."

"Never? Good sakes! Why didn't you go,
child? My boys go as soon as ever they're big
enough to walk it."

" Mother wanted me," said Stephen softly.

"Yes, yes. But now you can go. I think, ef I
was you, I'd take a start and begin to-morrow."

"I'm goin' away," said Stephen.

" Goin' away ? Goin' where ? What do you mean
by that, child ? Who wants you to go away ? "

"I want to go, ma'am. I am going to get work."

"Work! Where? Who wants you to work?"


"I don't know yet. I am going to Deepford. I
wanted to say good bye "

And here Stephen broke down. He had not
meant to do any such foolish thing; but somehow,
just at that minute, the mention of bidding fare
well to Mrs. Estey who had been good to him, and
Whitebrook which had been the home of his happy
and unhappy days, made his throat grow thick and
brought a heaving convulsion in his little breast.
Stephen hid his face in his hands on the edge of
the great kitchen table where Mrs. Estey was at
work, and the good woman fairly paused in her pie
crust making to look at him.

"You aint goin' to bid me good bye just yet,
sonny," she said kindly. "Who's ben talkin' to
you, to put that in your head? You're welcome
while you stay, and when you go there'll be some
other home open for you. Cheer up ! "

For Stephen was sobbing ; but he presently raised
his head again, and cleared his eyes of the salt drops
which lingered in them.

" Now don't you bother yourself no more," said
Mrs. Estey, beginning to mould and turn her pie
crust again. "Can't you find somethin' to do to
amuse yourself, till the boys comes home from
school ? You can stay here by the fire, if you like,
and help me bake my pies."

"No, ma'am, thank you," said Stephen.

"Well, find somethin' out doors then. I'll be
bound you can. But be on hand for dinner, and
don't lose it as you did yesterday."


Stephen did not know what more to add; he
did not want to draw on a discussion of his pur
pose, which stood fast; still less to provoke in
terference with it. He had said good bye; what
remained ?

Slowly he turned and left the kitchen, and went
out at the little courtyard gate. Nobody was near,
to question his movements, and nobody would have
thought of questioning them at any rate. The idea
of what the boy had it in heart to do, would cer
tainly have occurred to no grown-up dweller in
Whitebrook. Stephen turned his back upon the
village, his childhood's first home, and struck out
on the road to Deepford.

But the " striking out " of little legs not eleven
years old is at the best a very gentle and gradual
process; unless indeed they run; and Stephen was
in no such hurry; and quite wise enough to know
too, if he had been in a hurry, that it would not be
his quickest way. He was wise enough to know
that; yet in life knowledge still so very unwise,
that it never entered his head to take any of his
clothes along with him, nor that it might be pru
dent to ask Mrs. Estey for a bit of bread and cheese
or gingerbread. Totally unprovided for even the
wants of the day, Stephen set out on his life journey.
One thing he had to do, to pay his mother's debt
and clear her name ; one resource and help he had,
his trust in One who has said to his people " Leave
thy fatherless children to me." Not that Stephen
knew those particular words; but others he knew,


and his mother's parting charge he remembered,
that the Lord keeps his promises.

So he set out to go to Deepford, stepping out
manfully. It is a sort of sight I fancy the angels
look on with great sympathy. Little human feet,
BO small that they took but a little piece of road at
each step, yet going their life-way alone; a small
childish face, fresh-coloured and fair, innocent of
the world's wisdom, yet bound to meet the world's
handling and take up the world's work ; weak little
hands, that were fit for not much beyond a primer
and a marble, already stretched forth to do a man's
task. And all that in the sublime unconsciousness
of childhood, ignorant of the issues involved and
the forces engaged and the dangers to be encoun
tered. Stephen's face was very innocent, albeit there
was a steadfast, honest manliness in it, and the
promise of shrewd intelligence. He knew too little
yet to be shrewd. But enough to be manly, be
yond the wont of ten years and a half old. So step
by step his little feet put the road behind him, and
by slow half miles he went on and on over the way
between Whitebrook and Deepford; patient, strong
in purpose, and strong also in hope.

It was early when he set out; very soon after
the breakfast, which Farmer Estey always had be
times. Early in a spring morning, with dew drops
lying thick on the wayside grass and a soft fog
veiling all but the very near landscape. Fences on
either side the broad road; the wheel way and the
footpaths and between them wide strips of grass


aforesaid ; these were visible enough ; while beyond
the fence, to the right or to the left, only a misty
bit of meadow, or spring grain, or ploughed land
came into view. Warm yellow light was struggling
through the fog, promising that the sun would be
out and have things his own way by and by. It
was the beginning of May. Here and there a tree by
the wayside shewed its tender foliage just unfolding;
others had only swelling buds ; one young maple drew
Stephen's attention by its beautiful red clothing.
The whole little tree was red; a clear, deep, almost
dark colour; as if its opening buds had been cut in
garnet, or here and there in fiery ruby. That red
tree he noticed with delight, and never forgot, nor
ever failed in all the subsequent springs of his life to
look out for others of the same kind. He noticed
little else, except by degrees indeed the length of
the way; for six miles is a good stretch for little
legs to measure off foot by foot. And Stephen was
accustomed to meadows and farm fields, and thought
nothing of them. He did not trouble himself with
thinking much about anything, not even his pros
pects. Why should he? He was going to find
work ; he would find it of course ; of what kind he
did not care, and how he could not imagine before
hand. He would find out, in time. So he did the
very thing which the highest wisdom of the sages
would have counselled; he contented himself with
taking one step at a time.

Oh how many steps there were ! The sun rose
higher, and the mist thinned and seemed to draw


further off, and yellow faint sunlight began to
warm up the road and cast light shadows behind
the fences. Now and then a house appeared; not
often; and the road was level; a good thing for
Stephen. The mist retreated further and further;
the sun broke out warm and soft on all the fields,
and dried the grass in the road. And at last, but
not till midday was hot and clear and shining
without mist or cloud upon all the country, Ste
phen saw the houses of Deepford beginning to

Deepford was more of a plaee of business than
Whitebrook, owing partly to the fact of its being
a railway station. That brought life into the village
doings, or so the villagers thought. Whether they
did not lose in another direction as much as they
gained in this might be open to question ; but the
doubt occurred to nobody. There was a stream
also, of some volume, which ran past the place, and
was made use of to turn one or two mill wheels;
which had of course their corresponding factories,
with a large number of hands that worked in them.
Altogether, Deepford was, as the people said, "quite
a place ; " and a very different place from White-
brook. Of all this Stephen knew and understood
little, yet perceived at least some difference as he
entered the village. It was closer built than White-
brook; there was less of the shady repose of over
arching green treetops, and of careless spaces of
green grass between the wheeltracks in the street.
There was not quite so universal neat beauty ami


comfort in the look of the dwellinghouses; the
people were less homogeneous; one could imagine
more of the bustle and wrangle of life going on here;
in fact at Whitebrook one could not imagine it
going on at all. Stephen knew nothing of the
bustle and wrangle of life; his young eyes simply
saw that this was a more stirring place than his
old home, and that the people here must be a dif

Online LibrarySusan WarnerStephen, M. D. → online text (page 3 of 34)