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Stephen Archer
by [?]

He had been chief in establishing a small mission amongst the poor in the neighbourhood, with the working of which he occupied the greater part of his spare time. I will not venture to assert that his mind was pure from the ambition of gathering from these to swell the flock at the little chapel; nay, I will not even assert that there never arose a suggestion of the enemy that the pence of these rescued brands might alleviate the burden upon the heads and shoulders of the poorly prosperous caryatids of his church; but I do say that Stephen was an honest man in the main, ever ready to grow honester: and who can demand more?

One evening, as he was putting up the shutters of his window, his attention was arrested by a shuffling behind him. Glancing round, he set down the shutter, and the next instant boxed a boy’s ears, who ran away howling and mildly excavating his eyeballs, while a young, pale-faced woman, with the largest black eyes he had ever seen, expostulated with him on the proceeding.

“Oh, sir!” she said, “he wasn’t troubling you.” There was a touch of indignation in the tone.

“I’m sorry I can’t return the compliment,” said Stephen, rather illogically. “If I’d ha’ known you liked to have your shins kicked, I might ha’ let the young rascal alone. But you see I didn’t know it.”

“He’s my brother,” said the young woman, conclusively.

“The more shame to him,” returned Stephen. “If he’d been your husband, now, there might ha’ been more harm than good in interferin’, ’cause he’d only give it you the worse after; but brothers! Well, I’m sure it’s a pity I interfered.”

“I don’t see the difference,” she retorted, still with offence.

“I beg your pardon, then,” said Stephen. “I promise you I won’t interfere next time.”

So saying, he turned, took up his shutter, and proceeded to close his shop. The young woman walked on.

Stephen gave an inward growl or two at the depravity of human nature, and set out to make his usual visits; but before he reached the place, he had begun to doubt whether the old Adam had not overcome him in the matter of boxing the boy’s ears; and the following interviews appeared in consequence less satisfactory than usual. Disappointed with himself, he could not be so hopeful about others.

As he was descending a stair so narrow that it was only just possible for two people to pass, he met the same young woman ascending. Glad of the opportunity, he stepped aside with his best manners and said:

“I am sorry I offended you this evening. I did not know that the boy was your brother.”

“Oh, sir!” she returned–for to one in her position, Stephen Archer was a gentleman: had he not a shop of his own?–“you didn’t hurt him much; only I’m so anxious to save him.”

“To be sure,” returned Stephen, “that is the one thing needful.”

“Yes, sir,” she rejoined. “I try hard, but boys will be boys.”

“There is but one way, you know,” said Stephen, following the words with a certain formula which I will not repeat.

The girl stared. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “What I want is to keep him out of prison. Sometimes I think I shan’t be able long. Oh, sir! if you be the gentleman that goes about here, couldn’t you help me? I can’t get anything for him to do, and I can’t be at home to look after him.”

“What is he about all day, then?”

“The streets,” she answered. “I don’t know as he’s ever done anything he oughtn’t to, but he came home once in a fright, and that breathless with running, that I thought he’d ha’ fainted. If I only could get him into a place!”

“Do you live here?” he asked.

“Yes, sir; I do.”

At the moment a half-bestial sound below, accompanied by uncertain footsteps, announced the arrival of a drunken bricklayer.