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Chapter II: The Heart of a Child


For some weeks after his wife's death Squire Norman was overwhelmed
with grief.  He made a brave effort, however, to go through the
routine of his life; and succeeded so far that he preserved an
external appearance of bearing his loss with resignation.  But
within, all was desolation.
Little Stephen had winning ways which sent deep roots into her
father's heart.  The little bundle of nerves which the father took
into his arms must have realised with all its senses that, in all
that it saw and heard and touched, there was nothing but love and
help and protection.  Gradually the trust was followed by
expectation.  If by some chance the father was late in coming to the
nursery the child would grow impatient and cast persistent, longing
glances at the door.  When he came all was joy.
Time went quickly by, and Norman was only recalled to its passing by
the growth of his child.  Seedtime and harvest, the many comings of
nature's growth were such commonplaces to him, and had been for so
many years, that they made on him no impressions of comparison.  But
his baby was one and one only.  Any change in it was not only in
itself a new experience, but brought into juxtaposition what is with
what was.  The changes that began to mark the divergence of sex were
positive shocks to him, for they were unexpected.  In the very dawn
of babyhood dress had no special import; to his masculine eyes sex
was lost in youth.  But, little by little, came the tiny changes
which convention has established.  And with each change came to
Squire Norman the growing realisation that his child was a woman.  A
tiny woman, it is true, and requiring more care and protection and
devotion than a bigger one; but still a woman.  The pretty little
ways, the eager caresses, the graspings and holdings of the childish
hands, the little roguish smiles and pantings and flirtings were all
but repetitions in little of the dalliance of long ago.  The father,
after all, reads in the same book in which the lover found his
At first there was through all his love for his child a certain
resentment of her sex.  His old hope of a son had been rooted too
deeply to give way easily.  But when the conviction came, and with it
the habit of its acknowledgment, there came also a certain
resignation, which is the halting-place for satisfaction.  But he
never, not then nor afterwards, quite lost the old belief that
Stephen was indeed a son.  Could there ever have been a doubt, the
remembrance of his wife's eyes and of her faint voice, of her hope
and her faith, as she placed her baby in his arms would have refused
it a resting-place.  This belief tinged all his after-life and
moulded his policy with regard to his girl's upbringing.  If she was
to be indeed his son as well as his daughter, she must from the first
be accustomed to boyish as well as to girlish ways.  This, in that
she was an only child, was not a difficult matter to accomplish.  Had
she had brothers and sisters, matters of her sex would soon have
found their own level.
There was one person who objected strongly to any deviation from the
conventional rule of a girl's education.  This was Miss Laetitia
Rowly, who took after a time, in so far as such a place could be
taken, that of the child's mother.  Laetitia Rowly was a young aunt
of Squire Rowly of Norwood; the younger sister of his father and some
sixteen years his own senior.  When the old Squire's second wife had
died, Laetitia, then a conceded spinster of thirty-six, had taken
possession of the young Margaret.  When Margaret had married Squire
Norman, Miss Rowly was well satisfied; for she had known Stephen
Norman all her life.  Though she could have wished a younger
bridegroom for her darling, she knew it would be hard to get a better
man or one of more suitable station in life.  Also she knew that
Margaret loved him, and the woman who had never found the happiness
of mutual love in her own life found a pleasure in the romance of
true love, even when the wooer was middle-aged.  She had been
travelling in the Far East when the belated news of Margaret's death
came to her.  When she had arrived home she announced her intention
of taking care of Margaret's child, just as she had taken care of
Margaret.  For several reasons this could not be done in the same
way.  She was not old enough to go and live at Normanstand without
exciting comment; and the Squire absolutely refused to allow that his
daughter should live anywhere except in his own house.  Educational
supervision, exercised at such distance and so intermittently, could
neither be complete nor exact.
Though Stephen was a sweet child she was a wilful one, and very early
in life manifested a dominant nature.  This was a secret pleasure to
her father, who, never losing sight of his old idea that she was both
son and daughter, took pleasure as well as pride out of each
manifestation of her imperial will.  The keen instinct of childhood,
which reasons in feminine fashion, and is therefore doubly effective
in a woman-child, early grasped the possibilities of her own will.
She learned the measure of her nurse's foot and then of her father's;
and so, knowing where lay the bounds of possibility of the
achievement of her wishes, she at once avoided trouble and learned
how to make the most of the space within the limit of her tether.
It is not those who 'cry for the Moon' who go furthest or get most in
this limited world of ours.  Stephen's pretty ways and unfailing good
temper were a perpetual joy to her father; and when he found that as
a rule her desires were reasonable, his wish to yield to them became
a habit.
Miss Rowly seldom saw any individual thing to disapprove of.  She it
was who selected the governesses and who interviewed them from time
to time as to the child's progress.  Not often was there any
complaint, for the little thing had such a pretty way of showing
affection, and such a manifest sense of justified trust in all whom
she encountered, that it would have been hard to name a specific
But though all went in tears of affectionate regret, and with
eminently satisfactory emoluments and references, there came an
irregularly timed succession of governesses.
Stephen's affection for her 'Auntie' was never affected by any of the
changes.  Others might come and go, but there no change came.  The
child's little hand would steal into one of the old lady's strong
ones, or would clasp a finger and hold it tight.  And then the woman
who had never had a child of her own would feel, afresh each time, as
though the child's hand was gripping her heart.
With her father she was sweetest of all.  And as he seemed to be
pleased when she did anything like a little boy, the habit of being
like one insensibly grew on her.
An only child has certain educational difficulties.  The true
learning is not that which we are taught, but that which we take in
for ourselves from experience and observation, and children's
experiences and observation, especially of things other than
repressive, are mainly of children.  The little ones teach each
other.  Brothers and sisters are more with each other than are
ordinary playmates, and in the familiarity of their constant
intercourse some of the great lessons, so useful in after-life, are
learned.  Little Stephen had no means of learning the wisdom of give-
and-take.  To her everything was given, given bountifully and
gracefully.  Graceful acceptance of good things came to her
naturally, as it does to one who is born to be a great lady.  The
children of the farmers in the neighbourhood, with whom at times she
played, were in such habitual awe of the great house, that they were
seldom sufficiently at ease to play naturally.  Children cannot be on
equal terms on special occasions with a person to whom they have been
taught to bow or courtesy as a public habit.  The children of
neighbouring landowners, who were few and far between, and of the
professional people in Norcester, were at such times as Stephen met
them, generally so much on their good behaviour, that the spontaneity
of play, through which it is that sharp corners of individuality are
knocked off or worn down, did not exist.
And so Stephen learned to read in the Book of Life; though only on
one side of it.  At the age of six she had, though surrounded with
loving care and instructed by skilled teachers, learned only the
accepting side of life.  Giving of course there was in plenty, for
the traditions of Normanstand were royally benevolent; many a
blessing followed the little maid's footsteps as she accompanied some
timely aid to the sick and needy sent from the Squire's house.
Moreover, her Aunt tried to inculcate certain maxims founded on that
noble one that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  But of
giving in its true sense:  the giving that which we want for
ourselves, the giving that is as a temple built on the rock of self-
sacrifice, she knew nothing.  Her sweet and spontaneous nature, which
gave its love and sympathy so readily, was almost a bar to education:
it blinded the eyes that would have otherwise seen any defect that
wanted altering, any evil trait that needed repression, any lagging
virtue that required encouragement--or the spur.