John Stevenson's Good Fortune
On the last night of the year John Stevenson plodded thoughtfully home in the rain, under cover of a faded umbrella. He was a book-keeper in the large establishment of Green & Sons, No. --- Washington Street. His thoughts were on the whole of a desponding nature. He was blest with a good wife and four promising children, but during the last year such had been the advance in the cost of food and all articles of clothing that he had found it almost impossible suitably to feed and clothe his family and yet keep from falling into debt.
Three months before, perceiving how inadequate his salary was to his needs, he ventured to request a small increase, only a hundred dollars, but Mr. Green chanced to be in a bad humor, and answered him so abruptly and coldly that he had never ventured to repeat the petition. His own overcoat was very shabby, so much so that he had once or twice absented himself from church from shame at its appearance. Johnny, his oldest boy, was in immediate want of one also but how he could manage to get either was a problem which the poor book-keeper found it hard to solve.
Arrived at home he was met by his wife, who received him with a cheerful smile and helped him off with his coat. “John,” she said, don’t you think you can manage to get a new coat? You really need one.”
John Stevenson shook his head.
“I know that, Martha, but a new coat would cost me at the very least, thirty dollars, and even then I could not get such a one as I wished. I must give it up.”
“If Mr. Green would only increase your salary.”
“There is no chance of it.”
“Have you asked him?”
“‘Yes, three months since.”
“And what did he say?”
“That if I considered my salary too small with him, he would not stand in the way of my bettering myself.”
“That was cruel.”
“It seemed so to me, knowing as I did that he lived in a splendid house and spent for his family expenses twenty times what he allowed me for mine.”
“Then you will not venture to ask him again?”
“No. He might discharge me, and as I have been unable to save anything, that would be too much to risk.”
“Well,” sighed the wife, “I only hope things will get a little cheaper. Otherwise we shall actually suffer. Johnny needs an overcoat badly.”
“Yes, he must have one even if I go into debt for it. Is there any way in which we can retrench?”
“I am afraid not. We economize so closely now that I cannot think of any way.”
Stevenson sat down to his supper. As he looked at his wife opposite, and his children surrounding the table, he couldn’t help feeling that despite his narrow circumstances, he had much to be thankful for.
After supper he sat down before the fire, taking his youngest daughter into his lap. For the time, he dismissed all anxious thoughts and felt happy in his present comfort.
It was about nine o’clock when a ring was heard at the front door. As they kept no servant, Mr. Stevenson answered the summons himself. He was not a little surprised on recognizing his employer.
“Walk in, Mr. Green,” he said. “I am glad to see you here.”
“Thank you, Stevenson. I have got a little extra work for you — some letters which it is important to post so that they may go off in the first mail. Can you spare the time?”
“Certainly, sir. But how did you find out where I lived?”
“Through the directory. I was not certain, however, whether I had got the right number.”
By this time they were in the little sitting-room.
“This is my wife, Mr. Green,” said John Stevenson.
“Your employer, John?” asked his wife.
“I am glad to welcome you, sir, to our humble home,” she said, putting out her hand.
“It seems cozy, however,” said the merchant looking about him.
“Such as it is, we are thankful for it, sir.”
“I believe you have children, Mrs. Stevenson.”
‘Yes, sir, four — the oldest, a boy of fourteen years.”
Just before Mr. Green had come out he had run his eyes over his book of personal expenses. He had noticed the amount paid out for his oldest daughter’s school bills and dress, and they came within a little of the amount of his book-keeper’s salary. This occurred to him, and he couldn’t help wondering how it was possible on such a sum to support a wife and family.
John Stevenson brought out his writing materials, and his employer gave his directions as to the letters to be written. Just as he had completed these, Johnny, the oldest boy, entered. He had been out coasting on the common. He looked extremely cold.
“You came home earlier than you expected, John,” said his mother.
“Yes, mother, I found it cold without a coat.”
Mr. Green looked up. Although nothing was said, he suspected the true state of the case, and said —
“Why didn’t you wear your coat?”
“I have none,” he said.
“His father has been meaning to get him one,” said Mrs. Stevenson, “but we have had so many calls for money.”
‘Yes, I understand,” said the merchant, who was really kind at heart. “That reminds me that I have an overcoat at home which I have laid aside. It is still in good condition, and if you think you could get one out of it for your son, you are quite welcome to it.”
“It will be quite a help to us, Mr. Green,” said the book-keeper’s wife, her face brightening. “To tell the truth, it will relieve us from considerable embarrassment.”
“Then I will send it over tomorrow, or rather you may send your son to my house for it. I may be able to find some coats and pants also.”
“They will also be acceptable, Mr. Green,” said Mrs. Stevenson, “and we shall feel very much obliged to you.”
There was an expression of genuine relief and gladness in her face, which the merchant noticed. He could not but think that their need must indeed be great, when they could welcome a gift of old clothes with so much rejoicing.
Mr. Green was not a mean man. He was only inconsiderate. As to the question of the salaries he paid, he had considered it only with reference to himself, not to the actual needs of those he employed. Now he saw that he had been cruel, without meaning it. He made a resolve that Stevenson, who had served him faithfully, should be better paid; but this knowledge he reserved for the morrow.
After a while he rose, and after mentioning a time when Johnny might come to the house for the clothes, he withdrew.
The next morning John Stevenson repaired as usual to the office.
“Did you post those letters last night?” inquired his employer.
“I am glad of it. They were of considerable importance. I am obliged to you for the service you rendered me. I shall expect you to draw extra compensation.”
“Thank you, sir, but the coat you have kindly offered to give my boy will more than pay me.”
“It seems to me,” said the merchant, glancing at the shabby garment, which his book-keeper had hung up, “that your own coat is considerably the worse for wear.”
‘Yes, sir,” said John Stevenson, blushing a little.
“You ought to get another.”
“I should like to, sir, but it takes all my salary to support my family. Things are so high now.”
“Yes, true,” said Mr. Green thoughtfully. “I suppose you would like an increase of salary.”
“I should, sir, certainly, if it would not be asking too much.”
“How much more would enable you to get along comfortably?”
“With a hundred dollars more, sir, I think I could manage.”
“But even then you would be straightened?”
“Well, yes, sir. I hope, however, that prices will fall.”
“We are sure of that, however. I think I had better pay three hundred more.”
“Three hundred?” repeated John Stevenson, hardly crediting his good luck. “How can I thank you, sir?”
“By discharging your duties as faithfully as you have done hitherto. And by the way, the hundred dollars you asked for, you may consider added to last year’s salary. Fill out a cheque for the amount in your favor, and I will sign it.”
“I hope, Mr. Green, this will be as happy a New Year’s day to you, as you have made it to me.”
It was with a heart full of gratitude that the book-keeper said this, feeling a heavy burden of anxiety rolled off his mind. His hope, too, was likely to be fulfilled. Seeing how much happiness he had caused, Mr. Green felt his own heart warmed, and wondered why he had never thought of raising his book-keeper’s salary before. When five o’clock came, he stopped at his desk, and said kindly —
“As it’s New Year’s Day, Stevenson, I think you had better go home an hour earlier than usual.”
John Stevenson gladly availed himself of his privilege. He found his wife elated with the results of Johnny’s mission. The overcoat was less than half worn, and there were two very good undercoats, besides other clothes.
“I have been thinking, John,” she said, “that as this overcoat is so good perhaps you had better take it yourself and get one for Johnny out of one of the under coats.”
“That will not be necessary.”
“But your overcoat is so shabby.”
“I am going to buy a new one.”
“But how will you pay for it?”
Then John Stevenson told her of his good luck, and showed the hundred dollar bill as an earnest of it. There was great joy in the plain little house that night. The children held high carnival, and were permitted to sit up two hours beyond their usual bed-time, parching corn and making molasses candy. I doubt very much whether in Mr. Green’s own home New Year’s Night was celebrated as joyously, but I do know that the merchant slept more comfortably for the feeling that a worthy family had been made happy through his means.
(First appeared Gleason's Literary Companion, January 5, 1867)