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Children's Story Garden  >  Daddy John's Debt

Girl standing in wild undergrowth, casting milkwood seeds to the breeze.

The Children's Story Garden

Daddy John's Debt


Daddy John's cottage stood almost at the water's edge; the waves dashed spray right into its door when the sea was high, and Daddy John loved to step out each morning to the gray rocks, while he "reckoned on the weather."

"Daddy John," the shore children called him, but his name was really John Barry, and he and Debby, his wife, were now both old people. On the morning of my story, the March winds were bleak and shrill, the hearth fire of driftwood scarcely heated the tiny cottage, and Daddy John was seated with his back to the blaze, his spectacles drawn well down on his nose, as he slowly and laboriously got news from the weekly paper. Suddenly he sat upright. "Debby!" he exclaimed, "look-a-here, Sam Lowry's dead! Died suddent o' heart disease!"

"What!" replied Debby excitedly, dropping her carpet rags and looking over her husband's shoulder. "Is his pictur' there?"

"Yes, here it is; it's him," said Daddy John. "The very man! And to think I ain't never paid him that four hundred and forty dollars, and him so patient!"

This news was a blow to the old couple. They had always meant to pay the money that Sam Lowry had loaned when their Johnny fell sick and died. But somehow, after the little fellow, with his joyous laugh and sunny curls, was gone, Daddy John never wanted to join the other men in their long fishing trips; he couldn't leave Debby so much alone. So his catch was smaller, and the coins were very slowly gathered to put away in the stocking which hung in the closet behind the door. Yet Daddy John often used to say, "That money will weigh me down like a sand-bag until it gits into Sam Lowry's pocket."

"Sam Lowry dead!" Daddy John repeated over and over again, as though in a dream. "Why he warn't seventy yet, for I'm older'n him."

Debby had little to say, but her scissors clipped faster at the rags as her mind went over the possibilities of paying the debt at once. Finally she went to the closet, got the stocking and handed it to Daddy John. "Count it," said she, "we ain't added much lately, but we ain't counted it neither."

Daddy John took the stocking, moved over to the table, and slowly seating himself by it, laid the notes and the coins in piles before him. Then he got up, reached for a stub of chalk on the clock shelf, and began to figure on the wall.

"Debby," he said finally, "it was four hundred and forty we owed, warn't it, and 'with the interest-for thirty years, I figger it out that it comes to seven hundred and four dollars."

"Seven hundred and four," said Debby, "and how much is in the stocking?"

"Just six hundred and eighty-four," said Daddy John. "It's a pity he couldn't a-lived till fall; fishin's so hard for a while yet."

Debby turned the question over and over in her mind. At last she came to the conclusion that there was only one way out: they must sell the cow. So Daddy John accepted her suggestion as final and offered "Brindle" for sale. It took them three months to make the transaction, and fall was almost at hand when, one day, Daddy John counted the precious money once more, and putting the fat bundle into his inside pocket, turned to bid Debby good-bye before going up to Sam Lowry's office in the town.

"Poor Debby!" Daddy John said, for the tears were running down her cheeks. Then Debby put her hands on her old companion's shoulders, looked lovingly at him and said, "Remember, John, the Good Book says the righteous ain't never been forsaken, nor His seed beggin' bread."

The office was now occupied by Sam Lowry's three sons. When Daddy John arrived he was told to sit down and wait, as the eldest son was busy. This gave the old man time to count the money again. He put on his spectacles, took out the wallet, and satisfied himself that the amount was right.

At length the eldest son admitted him and Daddy John began, "I come up from the Cape to pay a debt I owed the old gentleman."

The eldest son asked a few questions: Daddy John's name, residence, and so forth, and turning to the fisherman, said, "Your note is outlawed. You are not bound to pay it."

"Sir," said Daddy John, "I wish ter pay it. This here is the only debt I've got in the world. It may be outlawed here, but Debby and me both want to be at peace with God as well as with man."

The eldest son had been looking up and down the pages of an old book, and now he said, "I cannot take the money."

Daddy John looked alarmed, and the son explained, "In this book are the names of those who owed my father money, and he; desired that after his death, all the debts be cancelled that are on this page. Your name is here. It was his wish that your debt be considered paid. I am only carrying out his will when I ask you to take the money back with you. He did this because he knew that you were an honest man, working your hardest to pay the debt you owed."

For a moment Daddy John was almost stupefied. Then collecting himself, he wiped the tears from his eyes and told the eldest son how he and Debby had saved and pinched for years. He had thought now that the debt was paid, that he and Debby would have an easy mind, although it would have been hard to know how to get along.

"We can't work like we used ter, we're gettin' on in years," he said. "But now we can be comfortable the rest of our days, thanks to Sam Lowry's kindness. And I'm glad we stinted and saved to get the money all ready to pay, even if I do take it home to Debby again."

Then giving the eldest son a hearty handshake, and blessing the father's memory, Daddy John went on his way rejoicing.

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

Daddy John's Debt
A true incident. The names of the characters and the setting are fictitious. (Historical Notes.)