When Miss Anne’s prayer was ended, she left Stephen alone to the deep but gentler thoughts that were filling his mind. He understood now, with a clearness that he had never had before, that ’love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.’ He must love his enemies because they were precious, as he himself had been, in all their sin and rebellion, to their Father in heaven. Not only did God send rain and sunshine upon the evil and unjust, but He had so loved them as to give His only begotten Son to die for them; and if they perished, so far it made the cross of Christ of none effect. Henceforth the bitterness of revenge died out of his heart; and whenever he bent his knees in prayer, he offered up the dying petition of his namesake, the martyr Stephen, in behalf of all his enemies, but especially of his master: ’Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’
A new calling.
Stephen’s recovery went on so slowly, that the doctor who attended him said it would not be fit for him to resume his underground labour for some months to come, if he were ever able to do so; and advised him to seek some out-door employment. His old comrades began to find the weekly subscription to make up his wages rather a tax upon their own earnings; and Stephen himself was unwilling to be a burden upon them any longer. As soon, therefore, as he was strong enough to bear the journey, he resolved to cross the hills again to Danesford, to see when Mr. Lockwood was coming home, and what help the clergyman left in charge of his duty could give to him. Tim brought his father’s donkey for him to ride, and went with him across the uplands. The hard frosts and the snow were over, for it was past the middle of March; but the house at Fern’s Hollow remained in precisely the same state as when little Nan died; not a stroke of work had been done at it, and a profound silence brooded over the place. Perhaps the master had lost all pleasure in his ill-gotten possession!
So changed was Stephen, though Danesford looked exactly the same, so tall had he grown during his illness, and so white was his formerly brown face, that the big boy who had shown him the way to the rectory did not know him again in the least. Probably Mr. Lockwood and his daughter would not have recognised him; but they were still lingering in a warmer climate, until the east winds had quite finished their course. The strange clergyman, however, was exceedingly kind to both the boys, and promised to send a full and faithful account to Mr. Lockwood of all the circumstances they narrated to him; for Tim told of many things which Stephen passed over. They had done right in coming to him, he said; and he gave Stephen enough money to supply the immediate necessities of his family, at the same time bidding him apply for more if he needed any; for he knew that a boy of his principle and character would never live upon other people’s charity whenever he could work for himself.