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Miss Stratton's Paper by Mary E. Bamford

 

The wind was blowing quite keenly from the north, and Miss Stratton had the collar of her coat turned up, as she hurried through the darkness of the avenue. She was talking behind her coat collar, the tips of which brushed her lips. If what Miss Stratton said had been audible to any one beside herself, it would have sounded as if she were talking severely to somebody.

"I don't see why you can't throw that evening paper where we can find it!" Miss Stratton was saying under her breath. "We have a broad walk, and there's plenty of room! I've been out in the yard three or four times to-night, and hunted thoroughly, and mother's been out once. Mother's eyes are poor, and she likes to have the paper before dark."

Miss Stratton caught her breath in the cold wind. She hastened by a gas-lamp, climbed the hill, and found her way in darkness up the long steps of a house. She fumbled for the bell and rang it. There was a little stir within, the opening of an interior door to let light into the hall, and then a boy's step. The front door opened. Miss Stratton looked straight into the boyish face that appeared.

"I want to know where you threw our paper to-night," she demanded. "I can't find it anywhere."

The boy stepped one side so that the light within the farther room might fall on Miss Stratton's face. He recognized her.

"Oh," returned the boy, "your paper went up a tree."

"Up a tree!" exclaimed Miss Stratton, indignantly. "Why didn't you come in and tell me, so I'd know where to look for it?"

"If I'd had an extra copy with me, I'd have thrown in another," said the boy--"I'll get you one."

He walked back into the sitting-room, glad to escape from the accusing subscriber, whom he had not expected to see following him to his home. Miss Stratton sternly waited. The boy's sister had come into the hall, and was holding a candle for a light. Her brother came back with the evening paper, and Miss Stratton took it.

"I wish you'd be careful where you throw that paper, Harry," she admonished him, her indignation cooling. "I've spoken to you about that before. I don't like to have to come away up here for the paper. It isn't convenient."

"Yes'm," answered the boy.

Miss Stratton hurried home. When she arrived there, one of the first things she saw gleaming faintly through the garden's darkness, was the missing evening paper that Harry had thrown into a pepper tree near the side fence. During Miss Stratton's absence, the strong wind had shaken the paper down, and it lay at the foot of the tree. "How did he suppose I was going to find that paper up that tree?" questioned Miss Stratton. "I did look up there before dark, but I didn't see anything."

The evening paper was easily discoverable for a week or so after this: Then matters went back to their old state and Miss Stratton frequently spent a quarter of an hour finding her evening paper.

"If he'd take the slightest pains he could throw it on this walk that is ten feet wide!" she would tell herself indignantly, as she pushed aside the branches of blue marguerites and the leaves of calla-lilies, and peered into holes on either side of the steps near the front gate, where the watering of the garden had washed away the soil.

Miss Stratton had liked Harry very much, when he first became paper boy. He had a frank manner that made him friends. At first he carefully threw the paper on Miss Stratton's front piazza. He never skipped an evening, as the former paper boy had sometimes done, and Miss Stratton rejoiced that at last a paper boy who was reliable had been found for the route. Months had passed, and while Harry was as careful at some houses as before, Miss Stratton's was not among that number. Harry had three 'customers on that street and he nightly walked only as far toward Miss Stratton's as would enable him to throw her paper and then, with two or three steps, throw another paper to the neighbor diagonally across the street. A few more steps would have made Harry sure that Miss Stratton's paper fell every night squarely on the broad front path, but he "fired the paper at her," as he expressed it, and the result was Miss Stratton's otherwise unnecessary number of steps hunting after her paper. Yet Harry would have scorned to cheat any customer. He fulfilled the letter of the law. He delivered the paper.

Late one afternoon the minister and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Landler, came by invitation to take supper with Mrs. and Miss Stratton. After a while, as they sat, pleasantly chatting, Mr. Landler spoke of a ship that had been overdue for almost two weeks. A neighbor's son was on board, and this fact caused Mr. and Mrs. Landler to look at the papers, morning and night, as soon as possible, to ascertain if anything had been heard of the missing vessel.

"That's what my daughter and I have been doing, too," returned Mrs. Stratton. "I wonder if this evening's paper hasn't come, so we could look?"

Her daughter glanced at the clock.

"Why, yes!" said she. "That paper ought to have come before now."

Miss Stratton went out and hunted carefully. No paper was visible, search as she might.

"Perhaps it hasn't come yet," she said to the guests, when she came in.

A little later she went out again. Mrs. Landler came to help search, though Miss Stratton disclaimed the need of aid.

"The paper doesn't always fall where I can see it," explained Miss Stratton, mortified at her failure to find the paper for her guests.

"Who brings it around?" asked Mrs. Landler, looking at the broad front walk.

"Harry Butterworth," answered Miss Stratton.

She did not tell of the annoyance Harry had caused her heretofore. Harry's mother was a church friend of the Landlers and the Strattons, and Miss Stratton was loath to expose the boy's shortcomings.

No paper appeared, and after a thorough search, Mrs. Landler and Miss Stratton went into the house. Dusk was coming. Miss Stratton had occasion to go upstairs for something, and glancing out of the front hall window, she saw the twisted roll of that evening's paper lying on a projection of the roof.

"He threw the paper on the roof!" exclaimed Miss Stratton, "and he didn't come in to tell me!"

She pushed up the hall window, and reaching out as far as she dared, she tried with an old umbrella handle to dislodge the paper. She drew breathlessly back.

"It's no use! I can't get it!" she gasped.

She went downstairs and told her mother quietly, but Mrs. Stratton had no scruples about informing her guests what had happened.

"That boy's thrown this evening's paper on the roof!" stated old Mrs. Stratton. "He does put us to so much trouble!"

The minister instantly offered to climb the roof. Miss Stratton and her mother protested, but Mr. Landler took off his coat, climbed out of an upper-story window, and secured the paper. In one column was a notice that the missing ship had been heard from and was safe. Great was the rejoicing around the Strattons' supper-table that their friend's son was not lost.

The next time Mr. Landler saw Harry, the minister said pleasantly, "You gave me quite a climb the other night, my boy."

Harry looked astonished.

"Gave you a climb?" he questioned. "I gave you one?"

"Yes," nodded Mr. Landler. "Miss Stratton's evening paper fell on her roof. My wife and I were taking supper there, so I climbed the roof for the paper."

Harry turned very red. Was ever a paper boy so unfortunate? He knew the paper fell on the roof, but who would have supposed Mr. Landler was at the Strattons'? Harry wanted very much to be thought well of by the minister and his wife. Everybody liked them.

"I didn't know you were there," apologized Harry, hardly knowing what to say.

"No," said the minister, gently, "we never know who may be in any home. You didn't know you were delivering the paper to me. You thought it was to Miss Stratton. Wasn't that it?"

"Yes," acknowledged the boy.

"If the Lord Jesus were here on earth, Harry," went on the minister in a very grave, tender tone, "and if he wanted a little service from you, you wouldn't render it in the way you deliver Miss Stratton's paper, would you? Yet she is his child, one of his representatives on earth, and as you treat her you treat him. 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,' you know, Harry."

The next night Miss Stratton's paper fell with an emphatic thwack in the middle of the front walk. The next night it did the same, and the next, and the next.

"What has changed that boy?" wondered Miss Stratton with grateful relief, as weeks passed and the paper still fell in plain sight.

She did not know that as Harry carefully aimed his papers, the boy thought, "'Ye have done it unto me.'"