The Little Stranger: 1868

The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger


Though a man of very strict principles, no man ever enjoyed a joke more than Dr. Byron; he had a vast fund of humor, and very ready wit, and with children, particularly, he loved to chat familiarly, and draw them out. As he was one day passing into the house, he was accosted by a very little boy, who asked him if he wanted any sauce, meaning vegetables. The doctor asked if such a tiny thing was a marketman. No, sir; my father is,” was the prompt answer.

The doctor said, “Bring me in some squashes,” and passed into the house, sending out the change. In a few moments the child returned, bringing back part of the change. The doctor told him he was welcome to it; but the child would not take it back, saying his father would blame him. Such strange manners in a child attracted his attention, and he began to examine the boy attentively; he was evidently poor, his jacket was pieced and patched with every kind of cloth, and his trowsers darned with so many colors, that it was difficult to tell the original fabric, but scrupulously neat and clean withal. The boy very quietly endured the scrutiny of the doctor, while holding him at arm’s length, and examining his face. At last he said:—”You seem a nice little boy; won’t you come and live with me, and be a doctor?”

“Yes, sir,” said the child.

“Spoken like a man,” said the doctor, patting his head as he dismissed him.

A few weeks passed on, when one day Jim came to say there was a little boy with a bundle downstairs, waiting to see the doctor, and would not tell his business to any one else.

“Send him up,” was the answer; and, in a few moments, he recognized the boy of the squashes,—but no squash himself, as we shall see; he was dressed in a new though coarse suit of clothes, and his hair very nicely combed, his shoes brushed up, and a little bundle in a homespun checked handkerchief, on his arm. Deliberately taking off his hat, and laying it down with his bundle, he walked up to the doctor, saying: “I have come, sir.”

“Come for what, my child?”

“To live with you, and be a doctor,” said the child, with the utmost naivete.

The first impulse of the doctor was to laugh immoderately; but the imperturbable gravity of the little thing rather sobered him, as he recalled, too, his former conversation, and he said he never felt so perplexed in his life. At the time, he felt he needed no addition to his family.

“Did your father consent to your coming?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“What did he say?”

“I told him that you wanted me to come and live with you, and be a doctor; and he said you were a very good man, and I might come as soon as my clothes were ready.”

“And your mother, what said she?”

“She said Dr. Byron would do just what he said he would, and God had provided for me. And,” said he, ” I have on a new suit of clothes,” surveying himself, “here is another in the bundle,” undoing the handkerchief and displaying them, with two shirts white as snow, and a couple of neat checked aprons, so carefully folded it was plain none but a mother would have done it. The sensibilities of the doctor were awakened to see the fearless, the undoubting trust with which the poor couple had bestowed their child upon him, and such a child! His cogitations were not long; he thought of Moses in the bulrushes, abandoned to Providence; and above all, he thought of the child that was carried into Egypt, and that the Divine Saviour had said, “Blessed be little children;” and he called for the wife of his bosom, saying, “Susan, dear, I think we pray in church that God will have mercy upon all young children.”

“To be sure we do,” said the wondering wife, “and what then?”

“And the Saviour said, ‘Whosoever receiveth one such little child in my name, receiveth me;’ take this child in His name, and take care of him;” and from that hour this good couple received him to their hearts and home. It did not then occur to them that one of the most eminent physicians and best men of the age stood before them in the person of that child; it did not occur to them that this little creature, thus thrown upon their charity, was destined to be their staff and stay in declining age,—a protector and more than son to themselves; all this was then unrevealed; but they cheerfully received the child they believed Providence had committed to their care; and if ever beneficence was rewarded, it was in this instance.—Family Circle.

Daily Iowa State Register [Des Moines, IA] 2 July 1868: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil hesitates to think what the social service agencies of to-day would have to say about such a transaction. One also wishes to know if “Dr Byron” was a real individual or if this is merely a touching story for Papa to read aloud to the family.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.



2 thoughts on “The Little Stranger: 1868

  1. Undine

    I assume this is a fictional (or at least semi-fictional) tale, but I’m a bit baffled by what the moral is supposed to be. Were they encouraging lower-income parents to foist their kids on the local worthies?


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Perhaps the moral is to be found at the end? everyone took a leap of faith and everyone was rewarded: the parents at seeing their child provided for; the doctor and his wife with a stay and support in their old age. There are, of course, many odd tales of parents sending their children off to live with strangers or relatives either in an apprenticeship situation or an informal adoption process. Mr Augustus Hare was actually handed over to his Aunt Maria Hare to be raised as casually as if he had been a parcel, his mother adding that if Maria wished any more children, she had plenty others she could spare. A different era from today’s “helicopter” parents.



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