Looking for Dorcas


(A Folktale)

Ian paced the room like a caged lion. He took a book from the shelf and leafed through it quickly, then replaced it and stood in front of the fireplace. He went to look anxiously out one window after another.

His mother watched his pacing. She saw the lines of concern on his brow. Finally she looked up from her embroidery and smiled. “There is nothing to see outside but the moonlit frozen ground and snow,” she said as the wind whistled around the corners of the house.

Ian clasped his hands behind his back and continued to stare out at the bleak landscape. “I know,” he replied thoughtfully. “But many out there may be in need of much.”

“Then do what your heart tells you to do, Ian,” she suggested with a knowing smile.

Instantly, his pensive mood lifted. “You always understand,” he said, smiling back at her. He kissed her pale cheek quickly and hurried to his chambers, where he pulled a cord and reached for his thick felt boots, long warm coat, and snug fur hat. Soon his servant appeared. “Load the sleigh, Oleg,” Ian said with a broad smile. “We ride into this night.” Oleg’s smile matched Ian’s as he hurried away to prepare.

Soon the smooth runners of the sleigh glided over the snow and ice while the gentle tinkling of bells announced Ian’s passing to the wolves that roamed the forest. At the crossroad the sleigh was halted, and the horses snorted and tugged in their traces. Then Ian pointed north, for he was sure that he would find what he was seeking there. With a crack of the whip, Oleg sent the sleigh on against the howling wind.

Across the frozen wasteland, Ian saw the dim glow of a light in a peasant’s hut. When they reached the rustic dwelling, Oleg stopped the sleigh. “Here?” he asked.

Ian clapped his back. “Come, and we will soon know.” Quickly he pulled the bearskin rug from their laps, jumped down from the sleigh, and knocked loudly on the door, which was finally opened by a scowling peasant holding a lantern high. As soon as he saw the fine clothes and horses, he bowed and motioned Ian and his servant indoors. “Enter Stefan’s humble hut, fine sir—you and your servant both. Come in and be warmed.”

When a hot cup had been set before Ian by the fire and Oleg by the pantry, Ian glanced around. “You have wood enough for your fire?” he asked as he nodded at the dancing flames.

“I have wood stacked to the roof of my shed!” Stefan replied proudly.

“And food?” Ian wondered aloud. “Is there enough food for your family and livestock?”

The man thumped the table with his fist. “Four children sleep snugly in the loft above, and let me tell you that last summer’s fine weather and good growing season were not wasted on me and mine. We worked hard to stock our larder and bin with fine vegetables and grains. The autumn hunt was just as bounteous. Tonight’s rabbit stew is still on the fire, and you’re welcome to a bite,” Stefan offered.

Ian smiled. “Thank you. This broth is quite enough. So you have provided for you and yours. I am happy that you do so well.”

“To be sure,” Stefan added, “with winter hardly begun, we must use what we have very carefully.” He looked smugly at Ian and boasted, “But I am a prudent man. I am not to be compared to stupid Dorcas!”

Ian leaned forward with sudden interest. “Who is Dorcas?”

Stefan laughed. “He is the biggest fool of all! He and his family worked hard all season. He stocked his larder and provided well for his family and animals too. But with the first sign of winter, beggars, widows, and orphans travel the roads, as you must know. They come morning and night, pleading for food—and stupid Dorcas feeds them all!”

Ian nodded. “Do they knock on your door, too, goodman?”

Stefan rubbed his beard and shook his head. “No. They learned long ago that I have nothing for beggars and the like! Why should I work hard just to give so much of what I have away!”

“But beggars, orphans, and widows have no plot of land to call their own,” Ian countered. “What do you tell them to do?”

“I just send them on their way,” Stefan declared. “It is not my problem! I’ve told Dorcas many times to do as I do. But, as I say, he’s a stupid man!”

“If he gives much of what he has to others, how will he get through the winter?”

Stefan threw back his head and laughed. “Not by begging from me! That’s his problem.”

“But you must know Dorcas well—how can you turn him away?”

“I know him well all right. His hut is just beyond the next crossroad,” Stefan said, waving his hand in that direction. “And that’s where he’ll stay, for he knows well how I feel.”

“Thank you, goodman,” Ian said as he nodded to his servant and pulled his greatcoat around his shoulders. “We must be off.”

Stefan looked at Ian anxiously. “But you have not said why you came,” he objected with a puzzled frown. “Is there no business that I can do with you? Why else are you out on such a fierce night as this?”

Ian shrugged. “I had come to see if there was something that I could do for you. I have a sleigh filled with provisions, which I was thinking to give you. But you are well stocked without my help, so I shall continue on my way.”

Stefan stood abruptly and helped Ian with his coat. “I have room for more, fine sir. Who can tell how long and hard the winter will be?” he whined.

Ian slowly pulled on his gloves. “True, but it is very difficult to give to someone who keeps his hands clenched so tightly around what he already has. If you have need, I will hear of it and return,” he promised.

Stefan began to stammer. “Clearly I am a good steward,” he argued. “I waste nothing that is given to me and mine.”

Ian fastened his coat. “That may be, but a good steward also shares what he is given, and though you take good care of your household, there are others who have no household at all. The one who shares with them will get my provisions. Thank you for your hospitality on this cold night.”

Stefan’s eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open. “Where will you take your provisions?”

Ian lifted the door latch. “Dorcas is the one I seek,” he answered.

Oleg climbed onto the seat beside Ian, and they wrapped the bearskin rug snugly around their legs. “I am sorry that you did not find the one you were seeking here,” Oleg said.

“But I did,” Ian said with a smile from deep in the folds of his collar. “We know now where to go—just beyond the next crossroad to the hut of Dorcas.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney