Hetty's Strange History
by Helen Jackson
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Yes," said the doctor again: and this monosyllable meant even more than the other. Dr. Eben was a philosopher. Epictetus, and that most royal of royal emperors, Marcus Aurelius, had been his masters: their words were ever present with him. "It is not possible that the nature of the universe, either through want of power or want of skill, has made a mistake;" "nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear,"—were hourly watchwords of thought with him. In this regard he and Hetty were alike, though they had reached their common standpoint by different roads: he by education and reasoning, and a profound admiration for the ancient classics; she by instinct and healthfulness of soul, and a profound love for that old Massachusetts militiaman, her grandfather.

"The Runs" was, as Hetty had said, one of the loveliest of sea-side places. Dr. Eben, who was familiar with all the well-known sea-side resorts in America, was forced to admit that this little nook had a charm of its own, unlike all the others. The epithet "hugged in," which Hetty had used, was the very phrase to best convey it. It was at the mouth of a small river, which, as it drew near the sea, widened so suddenly that it looked like a lake. The country, for miles about, was threaded by little streams of water: which of them were sea making up, and which were river coming down, it was hard to tell. In early morning they were blue as the sky overhead; at sunset they glowed like a fiery net, suddenly flung over the grasses and rushes. Great flocks of marsh birds dwelt year after year in these cool, green labyrinths, and made no small part of the changeful beauty of the picture, rising sometimes, suddenly, in a dusky cloud, and floating away, soaring, and sinking, and at last dropping out of sight again, as suddenly as they had risen. The meadows were vivid green in June, vivid claret in October: no other grass spreads such splendor of tint on so superb a palette, as the salt-marsh grasses on the low, wide stretches of some of New England's southern shores. Sailing down this river, and keeping close to the left-hand bank, one came almost unawares on a sharp bend to the left: here the river suddenly ended, and the sea began; the rushes and reeds and high grasses ceased; a low, rocky barrier stayed them. Rounding this point, lo, your boat swayed instantly to the left: a gentle surf-wave took possession of you, and irresistibly bore you towards a yellow sand beach, which curved inward like a reaper's sickle, not more than a quarter of a mile long, from the handle to the shining point; smooth and glistening, strewn with polished pebbles and tiny shells, it seemed some half-hidden magic beach on which shallops of fairies might any moment come to moor. On the farther point, so close to the sea that it seemed to rise out of the water, stood a high stone lighthouse, with a revolving light, whose rays swept the open sea for many miles. The opposite river bank was a much higher one, and ran farther out to sea. On this promontory was Safe Haven, a small, thickly settled town, whose spires and house-tops, as seen from the beach at "The Runs," looked always like a picture, painted on the sky; white on gray in the morning, gray on crimson at sunset. The farmhouse of which we have spoken stood only a few rods back from the beach, and yet it had green fields on either hand; and a row of Balm of Gilead trees in front; an old and sandy road, seldom disturbed by wheels, ran between these trees and the house, and rambled down towards the lighthouse. Wild pea and pimpernel made this road gay; white clover and wild rose made it fragrant; and there branched off from it a lane, on which if you turned and strayed back into the fields, a mile or so, you came to thickets of wild azalia, and tracts of pink laurel; and, a little way farther in, you came to fresh-water ponds which in July were white with lilies. No storm ever lashed the water high on the beach at "The Runs"; no sultriest summer calm ever stilled it; the even rhythm and delightsome cooling of its waves seemed to obey a law of their own, quite independent of the great booming sea outside the lighthouse bar.

In the quiet, and the beauty, and the keen salt air of this charmed spot, poor Sally Little lifted up her head, and began to live again, like a flower taken from desert sands and set by a spring. The baby also bloomed like a rose. In an incredibly short time, both mother and child had so altered that one would hardly have known them. The days went by, to them all, as days go by for children: unnamed, uncounted; only marked by joy of sleep, and the delight of waking. In after years, when Hetty looked back upon these weeks, they seemed to her, not like a dream, which is usually the heart's first choice of a phrase to describe the swift flight of a happy time, but like a few days spent on some other planet, where, for the interval, she had been changed into a sort of supernatural child. Except at night, they were never in the house. The harsh New England May laid aside for them all its treacheries, and was indeed the month of spring. Their mornings they spent on the water, rowing or sailing; their afternoons in driving through the budding and blossoming country. Always the baby lay in Hetty's lap: from the beginning, his nurse had found herself perpetually set aside by Hetty's imperious affection. As Eben Williams looked, day after day, on the picture which Hetty and the baby made, he found himself day after day more and more bewildered by Hetty. She had adopted towards him a uniform manner of cordial familiarity, which had in it, however, no shade of intimacy. If Hetty had been the veriest coquette living, she could not have devised a more effectual charm to a man of Eben Williams's temperament. He had come out unscathed from many sieges which had been laid to him by women. He knew very well the ordinary methods, the atmosphere of the average wooing or wooable woman, and he was proof against them all. He was thirty years old and he had never yet been in love. But this woman, who treated him with the same easy, unconscious frankness with which men treat men, who never seemed to observe his going or his coming, otherwise than as it might affect her friend's need of him as a physician; this woman who seemed all mother while she was holding the baby, and all boy while she was trying, under old Captain Mayhew's guidance to learn to sail a boat; this woman who was a spinster in years, and a child in simplicity and directness; who was beautiful, and never once thought of her beauty; who was alone, and never seemed lonely: she was a perpetual problem and fascination to him. Dr. Eben was not usually given to concerning himself much as to other people's opinion of him: but he found himself for ever wondering what Hetty Gunn thought of him; whether she were beginning to lose any of her old prejudice against him; and whether, after this sea-side idyl were over, he should ever see her again. The more he pondered, the less he could solve the question. No wonder. The simple truth was that Hetty was not thinking about him at all. She had accepted the whole situation with frankness and good sense: she found him kind, helpful, cheery, and entertaining; the embarrassments she had feared, did not arise, and she was very glad of it. She often said to herself: "The doctor is very sensible. He does not show any foolish feeling of resentment;" and she felt a sincere and increasing gratitude to him, because Sally and her child were fast regaining health under his care. But, beyond this, Hetty did not occupy her thoughts with Dr. Eben. It had never been her way to think about men, as most women think about them: good comradeship seemed to be all that she was capable of towards a man. Dr. Eben said this to himself hundreds of times each day; and then hundreds of other times each day, as he watched the looks which she bent on the baby in her arms, he knew that he had said what was not true; that there must be unstirred depths in her nature, which only the great forces of love could move. All this time Dr. Eben fancied that he was simply analyzing Hetty as a psychological study. He would have admitted frankly to any one, that she interested him more than any woman he had ever seen, puzzled him more, occupied his thoughts more; but that he could be in love with this rather eccentric middle-aged woman, beautiful though she was, Dr. Eben would have warmly denied. His ideal maiden, the woman whom he had been for ten years confidently expecting some day to find, woo, and win, was quite unlike Hetty; unlike even what Hetty must have been in her youth: she was to be slender and graceful; gentle as a dove; vivacious, but in no wise opinionated, gracious and suave and versed in all elegancies; cultured too, and of a rare, fine wit: so easy is it for the heart to garnish its unfilled chambers, and picture forth the sort of guest it will choose to entertain. Meanwhile, by doors which the heart knows not of, quietly enters a guest of quite different presence, takes up abode, is lodged and fed by angels, till grown a very monarch in possession and control, it suddenly surprises the heart into an absolute and unconditional allegiance; and this is like what the apostle meant, when he said,—

"The kingdom of God cometh not by observation."

When Hetty said to Dr. Eben, one night, "I really think we must go home. Sally seems perfectly well, and baby too: do you not think it will be quite safe to take them back?" he gave an actual start, and colored. Professionally, Dr. Eben was more ashamed of himself in that instant than he had ever been in his life. He had absolutely forgotten, for many days, that it was in the capacity of a physician that he was living on this shore of the sea. They had been at "The Runs" now two months; and, except in his weekly visits to Lonway Corners, he had hardly recollected that he was a physician at all. The sea and the wind had been Sally's real physicians, and the baby's; and as for the other two, in the happy quartette, had they needed a physician? Perhaps; but no physician was there for them.

"Certainly! certainly!" he stammered, "it will be safe;" and his face grew redder and redder, as he spoke. Hetty looked at him in honest amazement. She could put but one interpretation on his manner.

"Why, there is no need of our going yet, if it isn't best. Don't look so! Sally can stay here all summer if it will do her good."

"You misunderstood me, Miss Gunn," said the doctor, now himself again. "It will really be perfectly safe for Mrs. Little to go home. She is entirely well."

"What did you mean then?" said Hetty, looking him straight in the eye with honest perplexity in her face. "You looked as if you didn't think it best to go."

"No, Miss Gunn," replied Dr. Eben. "I looked as if I did not want to go. It has been so pleasant here: that was all."

"Oh," said Hetty, in a relieved tone, "was that it? I feel just so, too: it has been delightful; it is the only real play-spell I ever had in my life. But for all that I'm really impatient to get home: they need me on the farm; the men have not been doing just as they ought to. Jim Little is all right when I'm there; but they take advantage of him when I'm away. I really must get home before haying. I think we must certainly go some day next week."

Dr. Eben was just going over to town for the letters. As he walked slowly down to the beach, he said to himself:

"Haying! By Jove!" and this was pretty much all he thought during the whole of the hour that he spent in rowing to and from the Safe Haven wharf. "Haying!" he ejaculated again, and again. "What a woman that is! I believe if we were all dead, she'd have just as keen an eye to that haying!"

By "we all" in that sentence of his soliloquy, Dr. Eben really meant "I." He was beginning to be half aware of a personal unhappiness, because Hetty showed no more consciousness of his existence. Her few words this morning about returning home had produced startling results in his mind; like those a chemist sometimes sees in his crucible, when, on throwing in a single drop of some powerful agent, he discovers by its instantaneous and infallible test, the presence of things he had not suspected were there. Dr. Eben Williams clenched his hands as he paced up and down the beach. He did not wish to love Hetty Gunn. He did not approve of loving Hetty Gunn; but love her he did with the whole strength of his soul. In this one brief hour, he had become aware of it. What would be its result, in vain he tried to conjecture. One moment, he said to himself that it was not in Hetty's nature to love any man; the next moment, with a lover's inconsistency, he reproached himself for a thought so unjust to her: one moment, he rated himself soundly for his weakness, and told himself sternly that it was plain Hetty cared no more for him than she did for one of her farm laborers; the next moment, he fell into reverie full of a vague and hopeful recalling of all the kind and familiar things she had ever done or said. The sum and substance of his meditations was, however, that nothing should lead him to commit the folly of asking Hetty to marry him, unless her present manner toward him changed.

"I dare say she would laugh in my face," thought he; "I don't know but that she would in any man's face who should ask her," and, armed and panoplied in this resolution, Dr. Eben walked up to the spot where Hetty sat under one of the old Balm of Gilead trees sewing, with the baby in its cradle at her feet. It was still early morning: the Safe Haven spires shone in the sun, and the little fishing schooners were racing out to sea before the wind. This was one of the prettiest sights from the beach at "The Runs." Every morning scores of little fishing vessels came down the river, shot past like arrows, and disappeared beyond the bar. At night they came home again slowly; sometimes with their sails cross-set, which made them look like great white butterflies skimming the water. Hetty never wearied of watching them: still pictures never wholly pleased her. The things in nature which had motion, evident aim, purpose, arrested her eye, and gave her delight.

"I haven't learned to sail a boat yet, after all," she said regretfully, as the doctor came up. "Only see how lovely they are. I wish I could buy this whole place, and carry it home. I think we will all come here again next summer."

"Not all," said Dr. Eben; "I shall not be here with you."

"No, I hope not," replied Hetty, unconsciously.

Dr. Eben laughed outright: her tone was so unaffectedly honest.

"Oh, you know what I mean," exclaimed Hetty, "I mean, I hope Sally will not have to bring you as a physician. Of course, there is nothing to hinder your coming here at any time, if you like," she added, in a kindly but indifferent tone.

"But I should not want to come alone," said the doctor.

"No," said Hetty, reflectively. "It would be dull, I shouldn't like it myself, to be here all alone. The sea is the loneliest of things in the universe, I think. The fields and the woods and the hills all look as if they had good fellowship with each other perpetually; but the great, blank, bare sea, looks for ever alone; and sometimes the waves seem to me to run up on the shore as fiercely as starved wolves leaping on prey!"

"Not on this little comfortable beach, though," said Dr. Eben.

"Oh, no!" replied Hetty, "I did not mean such sea-shore as this. But even here, I should find it sad if I were alone."

"All places are sad if one is alone, Miss Gunn," replied the doctor, in a pensive tone, rare with him.

Hetty turned a surprised glance at him, and did not speak for a moment. Then she said:

"Yes; but nobody need be alone: there are always plenty of people to take into one's house. If you are lonely, why don't you get somebody to live with you, or you might be married," she added, in as purely matter-of-fact a tone, as she would have said, "you might take a journey," or "you might build on a wing to your house."

This suggestion sounded oddly enough, coming so soon from the lips of the woman whom the doctor had just been ardently wishing he could marry; but its cool and unembarrassed tone was sufficient to corroborate his utmost disheartenment.

"Ah!" he thought, "I knew she didn't care any thing for me!" and he fell into a silent brown study which Hetty did not attempt to break. This was one among her many charms to Dr. Eben, that she was capable of sitting quietly by a person's side for long intervals of silence. The average woman, when she is in the company of even a single person, seems to consider herself derelict in duty, if conversation is not what she calls "kept up;" an instinctive phrase, which, by its universal use, is the bitterest comment on its own significance. Men have no such feeling. Two men will sit by each other's side, it may be for hours, in silence, and feel no derogation from good comradeship. Why should not women? The answer is too evident. Women have a perpetual craving to be recognized, to be admired; and a large part of their ceaseless chatter is no more nor less than a surface device to call your attention to them; as little children continually pull your gown to make you look at them. Hetty was incapable of this. She was a vivacious talker when she had any thing to say; but a most dogged holder of her tongue when she had not. In this instance she had nothing to say, and she did not speak: the doctor had so much to say that he did not speak, and they sat in silence till the shrill bell from the farmhouse door called them to dinner. As they walked slowly up to the house, the doctor said:

"You don't wonder that I hate to go away from this lovely place, do you, Miss Gunn?"

Any other woman but Hetty would have felt something which was in his tone, though not in his words. But Hetty answered bluntly:

"Yes, I do wonder; it is very lovely here: but I should think you'd want to be at work; I do. I think we've had play-spell enough; for, after all, it hasn't been any thing but play-spell for you and me."

"Now she despises me," thought poor Dr. Eben. "She hasn't any tolerance in her, anyhow," and he was grave and preoccupied all through dinner.


It was settled that they should set out for home a week from that day. "Only seven days left," said the doctor. "What can I do in that time?"

Never was man so baffled in attempts to woo. Hetty saw nothing, heard nothing, understood nothing; unwittingly she defeated every project he made for seeing her alone; unconsciously she chilled and dampened and arrested every impulse he had to speak to her, till Dr. Eben's temper was tried as well as his love. Sally, the baby, the nurse, all three, were simply a wall of protection around Hetty. Her eyes, her ears, her hands were full; and as for her heart and soul, they were walled about even better than her body. Nothing can be such a barrier to love's approach as an honest nature's honest unconsciousness. Dr. Eben was wellnigh beside himself. The days flew by. He had done nothing, gained nothing. How he cursed his folly in having let two whole months slip away, before he found out that he loved this woman, whom now he could no more hope to impress in a few hours' time than a late afternoon sun might think to melt an iceberg.

"It would take a man a lifetime to make her understand that he loved her," groaned the doctor, "and I've only got two days;" and more than ever his anxiety deepened as he wondered whether, after they returned home, she would allow him to continue these friendly and familiar relations. This uncertainty led to a most unfortunate precipitation on his part. The night before they were to go, he found Hetty at sunset sitting under the trees, and looking dreamily out to sea. Her attitude and her look were pensive. He had never seen such an expression on Hetty's face or figure, and it gave him a warmer yearning towards her than he had ever yet dared to let himself feel. It was just time for the lamp in the lighthouse to be lit, and Hetty was watching for it. As the doctor approached her, she said, "I am waiting for the lighthouse light to flash out. I like so to see its first ray. It is like seeing a new planet made." Dr. Eben sat down by her side, and they both waited in silence for the light. The whole western and southern sky glowed red; a high wind had been blowing all day, and the water was covered with foamy white caps; the tall, slender obelisk of the lighthouse stood out black against the red sky, and the shining waves leaped up and broke about its base. But all was quiet in the sheltered curve of the beach on which Hetty and Dr. Eben were sitting: the low surf rose and fell as gently as if it had a tide of its own, which no storm could touch. Presently the bright light flashed from the tower, shone one moment on the water of the river's mouth, then was gone.

"Now it is lighting the open sea," said Hetty. In a few moments more the lantern had swung round, and again the bright rays streamed towards the beach, almost reaching the shore.

"And now it is lighting us," said Dr. Eben: "I wish it were as easy to get light upon one's path in life, as it is to hang a lantern in a tower."

Hetty laughed.

"Are you often puzzled?" she asked lightly.

"No," said the doctor, "I never have been, but I am now."

"What about?" asked Hetty, innocently: "I don't see what there is to puzzle you here."

"You, Miss Gunn," stoutly answered Dr. Eben, feeling as if he were taking a header into unfathomed waters.

"Me!" exclaimed Hetty, in a tone of utmost surprise. "Why, what do you mean?"

Dr. Eben hesitated a single instant. He had not intended to do this thing, but the occasion had been too much for him. "I may as well do it first as last," he said; "she can but refuse me:" and, in a very few manly words, Dr. Eben Williams straightway asked Hetty Gunn to marry him. He was not prepared for what followed, although in a soliloquy, only a few days before, he had predicted it to himself. Hetty laughed merrily, unaffectedly, in his very face.

"Why, Dr. Williams!" she said, "you can't know what you're saying. You can't want to marry me: I'm not the sort of woman men want to marry"—

He interrupted her. His voice was husky with deep feeling.

"Miss Gunn," he said, "I implore you not to speak in this way. I do know what I am saying, and I do love you with all my heart."

"Nonsense," answered Hetty in the kindliest of tones; "of course you think you do: but it is only because you have been shut up here two whole months, with nothing else to do but fancy that you were in love. I told you it was time we went home. Don't say any thing more about it. I'll promise you to forget it all," and Hetty laughed again, a merry little laugh. A sharp suspicion crossed the doctor's mind that she was coquetting with him. In a constrained tone he said:

"Miss Gunn, do you really wish me to understand that you reject me?"

"Not at all," said Hetty, gayly. "I wish you to understand that I haven't permitted you to offer yourself. I have simply assured you that you are mistaken: you'll see it for yourself as soon as we get home. Do you suppose I shouldn't know if you were really in love with me?"

"I didn't know it myself till a week ago," replied Dr. Eben: "I did not understand myself. I never loved any woman before."

"And no man ever asked me to marry him before," answered the honest Hetty, like a child, and with an amused tone in her voice. "It is very odd, isn't it?"

Dr. Eben was confounded. In spite of himself, he felt the contagion of Hetty's merry and unsentimental view of the situation; and it was with a trace of obstinacy rather than of a lover's pain in his tones that he continued:

"But, Miss Gunn, indeed you must not make light of this matter in this way. It is not treating me fairly. With all the love of a man's heart I love you, and have asked you to be my wife: are you sure that you could not love me?"

"I don't really think I could," said Hetty, "but I shall not try, because I am sure you are mistaken. I am too old to be married, for one thing: I shall be thirty-seven in the fall. That's reason enough, if there were no other. A man can't fall in love with a woman after she's as old as that."

Dr. Eben laughed outright. He could not help it.

"There!" said Hetty, triumphantly; "that's right; I like to hear you laugh now; for goodness' sake, let's forget all this. I will, if you will; and we will be all the better friends for it perhaps. At any rate, you'll be all the more friend to me for having saved you from making such a blunder as thinking you were in love with me."

Dr. Eben was on the point of persisting farther; but he suddenly thought to himself:

"I'd better not: I might make her angry. I'll take the friendship platform for the present: that is some gain."

"You will permit me then to be your friend, Miss Gunn," he said.

"Why, certainly," said Hetty, in a matter-of-fact way: "I thought we were very good friends now."

"But you recollect, you distinctly told me I was to come only as physician to Mrs. Little," retorted the doctor.

Hetty colored: the darkness sheltered her.

"Oh! that was a long time ago," she said in a remorseful tone: "I should be very ungrateful if I had not forgotten that."

And with this Dr. Eben was forced to be contented. When he thought the whole thing over, he admitted to himself that he had fared as well as he had a right to expect, and that he had gained a very sure vantage, in having committed the loyal Hetty to the assertion that they were friends. He half dreaded to see her the next morning, lest there should be some change, some constraint in her manner; not a shade of it. He could have almost doubted his own recollections of the evening before, if such a thing had been possible, so absolutely unaltered was Hetty's treatment of him. She had been absolutely honest in all she said: she did honestly believe that his fancied love for her was a sentimental mistake, a caprice born of idleness and lack of occupation, and she did honestly intend to forget the whole thing, and to make him forget it. And so they went back to the farm, where the summer awaited them with overflowing harvests of every thing, and Hetty's hands were so full that very soon she had almost ceased to recollect the life at "The Runs." Sally and the baby were strong and well. The whole family seemed newly glad and full of life. All odd hours they could snatch from work, Old Caesar and Nan roamed about in the sun, following the baby, as his nurse carried him in her arms. He had been christened Abraham Gunn Little; poor James Little having persistently refused to let his own name be given to the child, and Hetty having been cordially willing to give her father's. To speak to a baby as Abraham was manifestly impossible, and the little fellow was called simply "Baby" month after month, until, one day, one of Norah's toddlers, who could not speak plain, hit upon a nickname so fortunate that it was at once adopted by everybody. "Raby," little Mike called him, by some original process of compounding "Abraham" and "Baby;" and "Raby" he was from that day out. He was a beautiful child: his mother's blue eyes, his father's dark hair, and a skin like a ripe peach, but not over fair,—made a combination of color which was rarely lovely. He was a joyous child, as joyous as if no shadow had ever rested on his mother's heart. Sally watched him day by day with delight; but the delight was never wholly free from pain: the wound she had received, the wound she had inflicted on herself, could never wholly heal. A deep, moral hurt must for ever leave its trace, as surely as a deep wound in a man's flesh must leave its scar. It is of no use for us to think to evade this law; neither is it a law wholly of retribution. The scar on the flesh is token of nature's process of healing: so is the scar of a perpetual sorrow, which is left on a soul which has sinned and repented. Sally and Jim were leading healthful and good lives now; and each day brought them joys and satisfactions: but their souls were scarred; the fulness of joy which might have been theirs they could never taste. And the loss fell where it could never be overlooked for a moment,—on their joy in their child. In the very holiest of holies, in the temple of the mother's heart, stood for ever a veiled shape, making ceaseless sin-offering for the past.

As the winter set in, an anxiety fell on the family which had passed so sunny a summer. With the first sharp cold winds, little Raby developed a tendency to croup. Neither Sally nor Hetty had ever seen a case of this terrible and alarming disease; and, in Raby's first attack of it, they had both thought the child dying. Now was Doctor Eben brought again into close and intimate relations with Hetty. During the months of the summer, he had, in spite of all his efforts, in spite of his frequent visits to her house, in spite of all Hetty's frank cordiality of manner, felt himself slowly slipping away from the vantage-ground he hoped he had gained with her. This was the result of two things,—one which he knew, and one which he did not dream of: the cause which he knew, was a very simple and evident one, Hetty's constant preoccupation. Hetty was a very busy woman: what with Raby, the farm, the house, her social relations with the whole village, she had never a moment of leisure. Often when Dr. Eben came to the house, he found her away; and often when he found her at home, she was called away before he had talked with her half an hour. The other reason, which, if Dr. Eben had only known it, would have more than comforted him for all he felt he had lost on the surface, was that Hetty, in the bottom of her heart, was slowly growing conscious that she cared a great deal about him. No woman, whatever she may say and honestly mean, can entirely dismiss from her thoughts the memory of the words in which a man has told her he loves her. Especially is this true when those words are the first words of love which have ever been spoken to her. Morning and night, as Hetty came and went, in her brisk cheery way, in and out of the house and about the farm, she wore a new look on her face. The words, "I love you with all my heart," haunted her. She did not believe them any more now than before; but they had a very sweet sound. She was no nearer now than then to any impulse to take Dr. Williams at his word: nothing could be deeper implanted in a soul than the conviction was in Hetty's that no man was likely to love her. But she was no longer so sure that she herself could not love. Vague and wistful reveries began to interrupt her activity. She would stand sometimes, with her arms folded, leaning on a stile, and idly watching her men at work, till they wondered what had happened to their mistress. She lost a little of the color from her cheeks, and the full moulded lines of her chin grew sharper.

"Faith, an' Miss Hetty's goin' off, sooner'n she's any right to," said Mike to Norah one day.

"What puts such a notion in your head thin, Mike?" retorted Norah, "sure she's as foine a crayther as's in all the county, an' foiner too."

"Foine enough, but I say for all that that she's a goin' off in her looks mighty fast," replied the keen-eyed Mike. "You don't think she'd be a pinin' for anybody, do you?"

Norah gave a hearty Irish laugh.

"Miss Hetty a pinin'!" she repeated over and over with bursts of merriment:

"Ah, but yez are all alike, ye men. Miss Hetty a pinin'! I 'd like to see the man Miss Hetty wud pine fur."

Mike and Norah were both right. There was no "pining" in Hetty's busy and sensible soul; but there had been planted in it a germ of new life, whose slow quickening and growth were perplexing and disturbing elements: not as yet did she recognize them; she only felt the disturbance, and its link with Dr. Eben was sufficiently clear to make her manner to him undergo an indefinable change. It was no less cordial, no less frank: you could not have said where the change was; but it was there, and he felt it. He ought to have understood it and taken heart. But he was ignorant like Hetty, only felt the disturbance, and taking counsel of his fears believed that things were going wrong. Sometimes he would stay away for many days, and then watch closely Hetty's manner when they met. Never a trace of resentment or even wonder at his absence. Sometimes he would go there daily for an interval; never a trace of expectation or of added familiarity. But now things were changed. Little Raby's illness seemed to put them all back where they were during the days of the sea-side idyl. Now the doctor felt himself again needed. Both Hetty and Sally lived upon his words, even his looks. Again and again the child's life seemed hanging in even balances, and it was with a gratitude almost like that they felt to God that the two women blessed Dr. Eben for his recovery. Night after night, the three watched by the baby's bed, listening to his shrill and convulsive breathings.

Morning after morning, Dr. Eben and Hetty went together out of the chamber, and stood in the open doorway, watching the crimson dawn on the eastern hills. At such times, the doctor felt so near Hetty that he was repeatedly on the point of saying again the words of love he had spoken six months before. But a great fear deterred him.

"If she refuses me once more, that would settle it for ever," he said to himself, and forced the words back.

One morning after a night of great anxiety and fear, they left Sally's room while it was yet dark. It was bitterly cold; the winter stars shone keen and glittering in the bleak sky. Hetty threw on a heavy cloak, and opening the hall-door, said:

"Let us go out into the cold air; it will do us good."

Silently they walked up and down the piazza. The great pines were weighed down to the ground by masses of snow. Now and then, when the wind stirred the upper branches, avalanches slid noiselessly off, and built themselves again into banks below. There was no moon, but the starlight was so brilliant that the snow crystals glistened in it. As they looked at the sky, a star suddenly fell. It moved very slowly, and was more than a minute in full sight.

"One lighthouse less," said Dr. Eben.

"Oh," exclaimed Hetty, "what a lovely idea! who said that? Who called the stars light-houses?"

"I forget," said the doctor; "in fact I think I never knew; I think it was an anonymous little poem in which I saw the idea, years ago. It struck me at the time as being a singularly happy one. I think I can repeat a stanza or two of it."


When night falls on the earth, the sea From east to west lies twinkling bright With shining beams from beacons high, Which send afar their friendly light.

The sailors' eyes, like eyes in prayer, Turn unto them for guiding ray: If storms obscure their radiance, The great ships helpless grope their way.

When night falls on the earth, the sky Looks like a wide, a boundless main; Who knows what voyagers sail there? Who names the ports they seek and gain?

Are not the stars like beacons set, To guide the argosies that go From universe to universe, Our little world above, below?

On their great errands solemn bent, In their vast journeys unaware Of our small planet's name or place Revolving in the lower air.

Oh thought too vast! oh thought too glad: An awe most rapturous it stirs. From world to world God's beacons shine: God means to save his mariners!

Hetty was silent. The mention of light-houses had carried her thoughts back to that last night at "The Runs," when, with Dr. Eben by her side, she had watched the great revolving light in the stone tower on the bar.

Dr. Eben was thinking of the same thing; he wondered if Hetty were not: after a few moments' silence, he became so sure of it that he said:

"You have not forgotten that night, have you?"

"Oh, no!" replied Hetty, in a low voice.

"I should like to think that you did not wish to forget it," said the doctor, in a tender tone.

"Oh, don't, please don't say any thing about it," exclaimed Hetty, in a tone so full of emotion, that Dr. Eben's heart gave a bound of joy. In that second, he believed that the time would come when Hetty would love him. He had never heard such a tone from her lips before. Her hand rested on his arm. He laid his upon it,—the first caressing touch he had ever dared to offer to Hetty; the first caressing touch which Hetty had ever received from hand of man.

"I will not, Hetty, till you are willing I should," he said. He had never called her "Hetty" before. A tumult filled Hetty's heart; but all she said was, in a most matter-of-fact tone:

"That's right! we must go in now. It is too cold out here."

Dr. Eben did not care what her words were: nature had revealed herself in a tone.

"I'll make her love me yet," he thought. "It won't take a great while either; she's beginning, and she doesn't know it." He was so happy that he did not know at first that Hetty had left him alone in front of the fire. When he found she had gone, he drew up a big arm-chair, sank back in its depths, put his feet on the fender, and fell to thinking how, by spring, perhaps, he might marry Hetty. In the midst of this lover-like reverie, he fell asleep in the most unlover-like way. He was worn out with his long night's watching. In a few minutes, Hetty came back with hot broth which she had prepared for him. Her light step did not rouse him. She stood still by his chair, looking down on his face. His clear-cut features, always handsome, were grand in sleep. The solemnity of closed eyes adds to a noble face something which is always very impressive. He stirred uneasily, and said in his sleep, "Hetty." A great wave of passionate feeling swept over her face, as, standing there, she heard this tender sound of her name on his unconscious lips.

"Oh what will become of me if I love him after all," she thought.

"Why not, why not?" answered her heart; wakened now and struggling for its craved and needed rights. "Why not, why not?" and no answer came to Hetty's mind.

Moving noiselessly, she set the broth on a low table by the doctor's side, covered him carefully with her own heavy cloak, and left the room. On the threshold, she turned back and looked again at his face. Her conscious thoughts were more than she could bear. In sudden impatience with herself, she exclaimed, "Pshaw! how silly I am!" and hastened upstairs, more like the old original Hetty than she had been for many days. Love could not enthrone himself easily in Hetty's nature: it was a rebellious kingdom. "Thirty-seven years old! Hetty Gunn, you 're a goose," were Hetty's last thoughts as she fell asleep that night. But when she awoke the next morning, the same refrain, "Why not, why not?" filled her thoughts; and, when she bade Dr. Eben good-morning, the rosy color that mounted to her very temples gave him a new happiness.

Why prolong the story of the next few days? They were just such days as every man and every woman who has loved has lived through, and knows far better than can be said or sung. Love's beginnings are varied, and his final crises of avowal take individual shape in each individual instance: but his processes and symptoms of growth are alike in all cases; the indefinable delight,—the dreamy wondering joy,—the half avoidance which really means seeking,—the seeking which shelters itself under endless pleas,—the ceaseless questioning of faces,—the mute caresses of looks, and the eloquent caresses of tones,—are they not written in the books of the chronicles of all lovers? What matter how or when the crowning moment of full surrender comes? It came to Eben and Hetty, however, more suddenly at last than it often comes; came in a way so characteristic of them both, that perhaps to tell it may not be a sin, since we aim at a complete setting forth of their characters.


For three days little Raby had been so ill that the doctor had not left the house day nor night, except for imperative calls from other patients. Each night the paroxysms of croup returned with great severity, and the little fellow's strength seemed fast giving way under them. Sally and Hetty, his two mothers, were very differently affected by the grief they bore in common. Sally was speechless, calm, almost dogged in her silence. When Dr. Eben trying to comfort her, said:

"Don't feel so, Mrs. Little: I think we shall pull the boy through all right." She looked up in his face, and shook her head, speaking no word. "I am not saying it merely to comfort you; indeed, I am not, Mrs. Little," said the doctor. "I really believe he will get well. These attacks of croup seem much worse than they really are."

"I don't know that it comforts me," replied Sally, speaking very slowly. "I don't know that I want him to live; but I think perhaps he might be allowed to die easier, if I didn't need so much punishing. It is worse than death to see him suffer so."

"Oh, Mrs. Little! how can you think thus of God?" exclaimed the doctor. "He never treats us like that, any more than you could Raby."

"The minister at the Corners said so," moaned Sally. "He said it was till the third and fourth generations."

At such moments, Dr. Eben, in his heart, thought undevoutly of ministers. "A bruised reed, he will not break," came to his mind, often as he looked at this anguish-stricken woman, watching her only child's suffering, and morbidly believing that it was the direct result of her own sin. But Dr. Eben found little time to spare for his ministrations to Sally, when Hetty was in such distress. He had never seen any thing like it. She paced the house like a wounded lioness. She could not bear to stay in the room: all day, all night, she walked, walked, walked; now in the hall outside his door; now in the rooms below. Every few moments, she questioned the doctor fiercely: "Is he no better?" "Will he have another?" "Can't you do something more?" "Do you think there is a possibility that any other doctor might know something you do not?" "Shan't I send Caesar over to Springton for Dr. Wilkes; he might think of something different?" These, and a thousand other such questions, Hetty put to the harassed and tortured Dr. Eben, over and over, till even his loving patience was wellnigh outworn. It was strengthened, however, by his anxiety for her. She did not eat; she did not drink; she looked haggard and feverish. This child had been to her from the day of his birth like her own: she loved him with all the pent-up forces of the great womanhood within her, which thus far had not found the natural outlet of its affections.

"Doctor," she would cry vehemently, "why should Raby die? God never means that any children should die. It is all our ignorance and carelessness; all the result of broken law. I've heard you say a hundred times, that it is a thwarting of God's plan whenever a child dies: why don't you cure Raby?"

"That is all true, Hetty," Dr. Eben would reply; "all very true: it is a thwarting of God's plan whenever any human being dies before he is fully ripe of old age. But the accumulated weight of generations of broken law is on our heads. Raby's little life has been all well ordered, so far as we can see; but, farther back, was something wrong or he would not be ill to-day. I have done my best to learn, in my little life, all that is known of methods of cure; but I have only the records of human ignorance to learn from, and I must fail again and again."

At last, on the fourth night, Raby slept: slept for hours, quietly, naturally, and with a gentle dew on his fair forehead. The doctor sat motionless by his bed and watched him. Sally, exhausted by the long watch, had fallen asleep on a lounge. The sound of Hetty's restless steps, in the hall outside, had ceased for some time. The doctor sat wondering uneasily where she had gone. She had not entered the room for more than an hour; the house grew stiller and stiller; not a sound was to be heard except little Raby's heavy breathing, and now and then one of those fine and mysterious noises which the timbers of old houses have a habit of making in the night-time. At last the lover got the better of the physician. Doctor Eben rose, and, stealing softly to the door, opened it as cautiously as a thief. All was dark.

"Hetty," he whispered. No answer. He looked back at Raby. The child was sleeping so soundly it seemed impossible that he could wake for some time. Doctor Eben groped his way to the head of the great stairway, and listened again. All was still.

"Hetty!" he called in a low voice, "Hetty!" No answer.

"She must have fallen asleep somewhere. She will surely take cold," the doctor said to himself; persuading his conscience that it was his duty to go and find her. Slowly feeling his way, he crept down the staircase. On the last step but one, he suddenly stumbled, fell, and barely recovered himself by his firm hold of the banisters, in time to hear Hetty's voice in a low imperious whisper:

"Good heavens, doctor! what do you want?"

"Oh Hetty! did I hurt you?" he exclaimed; "I never dreamed of your being on the stairs."

"I sat down a minute to listen. It was all so still in the room, I was frightened; and I must have been asleep a good while, I think, I am so cold," answered Hetty; her teeth beginning to chatter, and her whole body shaking with cold. "Why, how dark it is!" she continued; "the hall lamp has gone out: let me get a match."

But Dr. Eben had her two cold hands in his. "No, Hetty," he said, "come right back into the room: Raby is so sound asleep it will not wake him; and Sally is asleep too;" and he led her slowly towards the door. The night-lamp was burning low; its pale flame, and the flickering blaze of the big hickory logs on the hearth, made a glimmering twilight, whose fantastic lights and shadows shot out through the doorway into the gloom of the hall. As the first of these lights fell on Hetty's face, Dr. Eben started to see how white it was. Involuntarily he put his arm around her; and exclaimed "How pale you are, my poor Hetty! you are all worn out;" and, half supporting her with his arm, he laid his free hand gently on her hair.

Hetty was very tired; very cold; half asleep, and half frightened. She dropped her head on his shoulder for a second, and said: "Oh, what a comfort you are!"

The words had hardly left her lips when Doctor Eben threw both his arms around her, and held her tightly to his breast, whispering:

"Indeed, I will be a comfort to you, Hetty, if you will only let me."

Hetty struggled and began to speak.

"Hush! you will wake Raby," he said, and still held her firmly, looking unpityingly down into her face.

"You do love me, Hetty," he whispered triumphantly.

The front stick on the fire broke, fell in two blazing upright brands to right and left, and cast a sudden flood of light on the two figures in the doorway. Sally and Raby slept on. Still Doctor Eben held Hetty close, and looked with a keen and exultant gaze into her eyes.

"It isn't fair when I am so cold and sleepy," whispered Hetty, with a half twinkle in her half-open eyes.

"It is fair! It is fair! Any thing is fair! Every thing is fair," exclaimed the doctor in a whisper which seemed to ring like a shout, and he kissed Hetty again and again. Still Sally and Raby slept on: the hickory fire leaped up as in joy; and a sudden wind shook the windows.

Hetty struggled once more to free herself, but the arms were like arms of oak.

"Say that you love me, Hetty," pleaded the doctor.

"When you let me go, perhaps I will," whispered Hetty.

Instantly the arms fell; and the doctor stood opposite her in the doorway, his head bent forward and his eyes fixed on her face.

Hetty cast her eyes down. Words did not come. It would have been easier to have said them while she was held close to Doctor Eben's side. Suddenly, before he had a suspicion of what she was about to do, she had darted away, was lost in the darkness, and in a second more he heard her door shut at the farther end of the hall.

Dr. Eben laughed a low and pleasant laugh. "She might as well have said it," he thought: "she will say it to-morrow. I have won!" and he sank into the great white dimity-covered chair, at the head of Raby's bed, and looked into the fire. The very coals seemed to marshal themselves into shapes befitting his triumph: castles rose and fell; faces grew, smiled, and faded away smiling; roses and lilies and palms glowed ruby red, turned to silver, and paled into spiritual gray. The silence of the night seemed resonant with a very symphony of joy. Still Sally and Raby slept on. The boy's sweet face took each hour a more healthful tint; and, as Doctor Eben watched the blessed change, he said to himself:

"What a night! what a night! Two lives saved! Raby's and mine." As the morning drew near, he threw up the shades of the eastern window, and watched for the dawn. "I will see this day's sun rise," he said with a thrill of devout emotion; and he watched the horizon while it changed like a great flower calyx from gray to pearly yellow, from yellow to pale green, and at last, when it could hold back the day no longer, to a vast rose red with a golden sun in its centre.


That morning's light could have fallen on no happier house, the world over, than "Gunn's." A little child brought back to life, out of the gates of death; two hearts entering anew on life, through the gates of love; half a score of hearts, each glad in the gladness of each other, and in the gladness of all,—what a morning it was!

Doctor Eben and Hetty met at the head of the stairs.

"Oh, Hetty!" exclaimed the doctor.

"Well?" said Hetty, in a half-defiant tone, without looking up. He came nearer, and was about to kiss her.

She darted back, and lifting her eyes gave him a glance of such mingled love and reproof that he was bewildered.

"Why, Hetty, surely I may kiss you?" he exclaimed.

"I was asleep last night," she answered gravely, "and you did very wrong," and without another word or look she passed on.

Doctor Eben was thoroughly angry.

"What does she mean?" he said to himself. "She needn't think I am to be played with like a boy;" and the doctor took his seat at the breakfast table, with a sterner countenance than Hetty had ever seen him wear. In a few moments she began to cast timid and deprecating looks at him. His displeasure hurt her indescribably. She had not intended to offend or repel him. She did not know precisely what she had intended: in fact she had not intended any thing. If the doctor had understood more about love, he would have known that all manifestations in Hetty at this time were simply like the unconscious flutterings of a bird in the hand in which it is just about to nestle and rest. But he did not understand, and when Hetty, following him into the hall, stood shyly by his side, and looking up into his face said inquiringly, "Doctor?" he answered her as she had answered him, a short time before, with the curt monosyllable, "Well?" His tone was curter than his words. Hetty colored, and saying gently, "No matter; nothing now," turned away. Her whole movement was so significant of wounded feeling that it smote Doctor Eben's heart. He sprang after her and laid his hand on her arm. "Hetty," he said, "do tell me what it was you were going to say; I did not mean to hurt your feelings: but I don't know what to make of you."

"Not—know—what—to—make—of—me!" repeated Hetty, very slowly, in a tone of the intensest astonishment.

"You wouldn't say you loved me," replied the doctor, beginning to feel a little ashamed of himself.

Hetty's eyes were fixed on his now, with no wavering in their gaze. She looked at him, as if her life lay in the balance of what she might read in his face.

"Did you not know that I loved you before you asked me to say so?" she said with emphasis. It was the doctor's turn now to color. He answered evasively:

"A man has no right to know that, Hetty, until a woman tells him so."

"Did you not think that I loved you," repeated Hetty, with the same emphasis, and a graver expression on her face.

Dr. Eben hesitated. Already, he felt a sort of fear of the incalculable processes and changes in this woman's mind. Would she be angry if he said, he had thought she loved him? Would she be sure to recognize any equivocation, and be angrier at that?

"Hetty," he said, taking her hand in his, "I did hope very strongly that you loved me, or else I should never have asked you to say so; but you ought to be willing to say so, if it be true. Think how many times I have said it to you."

Hetty's eyes did not leave his: their expression deepened until they seemed to darken and enlarge. She did not speak.

"Will you not say it now, Hetty?" urged the doctor.

"I can't," replied Hetty, and turned and walked slowly away. Presently she turned again, and walked swiftly back to him, and exclaimed:

"What do you suppose is the reason it is so hard for me to say it?"

Dr. Eben laughed. "I can't imagine, Hetty. The only thing that is hard for me, is not to keep saying it all the time."

Hetty smiled.

"There must be something wrong in me. I think I shall never say it. But I suppose"—She hesitated, and her eyes twinkled. "I suppose you might come to be very sure of it without my ever saying it?"

"I am sure of it now, you darling," exclaimed the doctor; and threw both his arms around her, and this time Hetty did not struggle.

When Welbury heard that Hetty Gunn was to marry Doctor Ebenezer Williams, there was a fine hubbub of talk. There was no half-way opinion in anybody's mind on the question. Everybody was vehement, one way or the other. All Doctor Eben's friends were hilarious; and the greater part of Hetty's were gloomy. They said, he was marrying her for her money; that Hetty was too old, and too independent in all her ways, to be married at all; that they would be sure to fall out quickly; and a hundred other things equally meddlesome and silly. But nobody so disapproved of the match that he stayed away from the wedding, which was the largest and the gayest wedding Welbury had ever seen. It went sorely against the grain with Hetty to invite Mrs. Deacon Little, but Sally entreated for it so earnestly that she gave way.

"I think if she once sees me with Raby in my arms, may be she'll feel kinder," said Sally. James Little had carried the beautiful boy, and laid him in his grandmother's arms many times; but, although she showed great tenderness toward the child, she had never yet made any allusion to Sally; and James, who had the same odd combination of weakness and tenacity which his mother had, had never broken the resolution which he had taken years ago: not to mention his wife's name in his mother's presence. Mrs. Little had almost as great a struggle with herself before accepting the invitation, as Hetty had had before giving it. Only her husband's earnest remonstrances decided her wavering will.

"It's only once, Mrs. Little," he said, "and there'll be such a crowd there that very likely you won't come near Sally at all. It don't look right for you to stay away. You don't know how much folks think of Sally now. She's been asked to the minister's to tea, she and James, with Hetty and the doctor, several times."

"She hain't, has she?" exclaimed Mrs. Little, quite thrown off her balance by this unexpected piece of news, which the wary deacon had been holding in reserve, as a good general holds his biggest guns, for some special occasion. "You don't tell me so! Well, well, folks must do as they like. For my part, I call that downright countenancing of iniquity. And I don't know how she could have the face to go, either. I must say, I have some curiosity to see how she behaves among folks."

"She's as modest and pretty in her ways as ever a girl could be," replied the deacon, who had learned during the past year to love his son's wife; "you won't have any call to be ashamed of her. I can tell you that much beforehand."

When Mrs. Little's eyes first fell upon her daughter-in-law, she gave an involuntary start. In the two years during which Mrs. Little had not seen her, Sally had changed from a timid, nervous, restless woman to a calm and dignified one. Very much of her old girlish beauty had returned to her, with an added sweetness from her sorrow. As she moved among the guests, speaking with gentle greeting to each, all eyes followed her with evident pleasure and interest. She wore a soft gray gown, which clung closely to her graceful figure: one pale pink carnation at her throat, and one in her hair, were her only ornaments. When Raby, with his white frock and blue ribbons, was in her arms, the picture was one which would have delighted an artist's eye. Mrs. Little felt a strange mingling of pride and irritation at what she saw. Very keenly James watched her: he hovered near her continually, ready to forestall any thing unpleasant or to assist any reconciliation. She observed this; observed, also, how his gaze followed each movement of Sally's: she understood it.

"You needn't hang round so, Jim," she said: "I can see for myself. If it's any comfort to you, I'll say that your wife's the most improved woman I ever saw; and I'm very glad on't. But I ain't going to speak to her: I've said I won't, and I won't. People must lie on their beds as they make 'em."

James made no reply, but walked away. It seemed to him that, at that instant, a chord in his filial love snapped, and was for ever lost.

Moment by moment, Sally watched and waited for the recognition which never came. Bearing Raby in her arms, she passed and repassed, drawing as near Mrs. Little as she dared. "Surely she must see that nobody else here wholly despises me," thought the poor woman; and, whenever any one spoke with especial kindness to her, she glanced involuntarily to see if her mother-in-law were observing it. But all in vain. Mrs. Little's pale and weak blue eyes roamed everywhere, but never seemed to rest on Sally for a second. Gradually Sally comprehended that all her hopes had been unfounded, and a deep sadness settled on her expressive face. "It's no use," she thought, "she'll never speak to me in the world, if she won't to-night."

Even during the moments of the marriage ceremony, Hetty observed the woe on Sally's countenance; and, strange as it may seem,—or would seem in any one but Hetty,—while the minister was making his most impressive addresses and petitions, she was thinking to herself: "The hard-hearted old woman! She hasn't spoken to Sally. I wish I hadn't asked her. I'll pay her off yet, before the evening is over."

After the ceremony was done, and the guests were crowding up to congratulate Hetty, she whispered to James:

"Bring Sally up here."

When Sally came, Hetty said:

"Stand here close to me, Sally. Don't go away."

Presently Deacon Little approached with Mrs. Little. Hetty kissed the good old man as heartily as if he had been her father; then, turning to Mrs. Little, she said in a clear voice:

"I am very glad to see you in my house at last, Mrs. Little. Have you seen Sally yet? She has been so busy receiving our friends, that I am afraid you have hardly had a chance to talk with her. Sally," she continued, turning and taking Sally by the hand, "I shall be at liberty now to attend to my friends, and you must devote yourself to Mrs. Little;" and, with the unquestioning gesture of an empress, Hetty passed Mrs. Little over into Sally's charge.

Nobody could read on Hetty's features at this moment any thing except most cordial good-will and the tender happiness of a bride; but her heart was fighting like a knight in a tournament for rescue of one beset, and she was inwardly saying: "If she dares to refuse speak to her now, I'll expose her before this whole roomful of people."

Mrs. Little did not dare. More than ever she dreaded Hetty at this moment, and her surprise and fear added something to her manner towards Sally which might almost have passed for eagerness, as they walked away together; poor Sally lifting one quick deprecating look at Hetty's smiling and inexorable face. Deacon Little hastily retreated to a corner, where he stood wiping his forehead, endeavoring not to look alarmed, and thinking to himself:

"Well, if Hetty don't beat all! What'll Mrs. Little do now, I wonder?" And presently, as cautiously as a man stalking a deer, he followed the couple, and tried to judge, by the expression of his wife's face, how things were going. Things were going very well. Mrs. Little had, in common with all weak and obstinate persons, a very foolish fear of ever being supposed to be dictated to or controlled by anybody. She was distinctly aware that Hetty had checkmated her. She had strong suspicions that there might be others looking on who understood the game; and the only subterfuge left her, the only shadow of pretence of not having been outwitted, was to appear as if she were glad of the opportunity of talking with Sally. Sally's appealing affectionateness of manner went very far to make this easy. She had no resentment to conceal: all these years she had never blamed Jim's mother; she had only yearned to win her love, to be permitted to love her. She looked up in her face now, and said, as they walked on:

"Oh! I did so want to speak to you, but I did not dare to."

It consoled weak Mrs. Little, for her present consciousness of being very much afraid of Hetty, to hear that she herself had inspired a great terror in some one else; and she answered, condescendingly:

"I have always wished you well,"—she hesitated for a word, but finally said,—"Sally."

"Thank you," said Sally. "I know you did. I never wondered."

Mrs. Little was much appeased. She had not counted on such humility. At this moment they were met by the nurse, carrying Raby; and he was a fruitful subject of conversation. Presently he began to cry; and Sally, taking him in her arms, said, as if by a sudden inspiration, "I think I had better take him upstairs. Wouldn't you like to go up with me, and see what lovely rooms Hetty has given to Jim and me?"

The friendliness of the bedroom, the disarming presence of the baby, completed Mrs. Little's surrender; and when James Little, missing his wife, went to her room to seek her, he stood still on the threshold, mute with surprise. There sat his mother with Raby on her lap; Sally on her knees by an opened bureau-drawer, was showing her all Raby's clothes, and the two women's faces were aglow with pleasure. James stole in softly, came behind his mother, and kissed her as he had not kissed her since he was a boy. Neither of the three spoke; but little Raby crowed out a sudden and unexplained laugh, which seemed a fitting sign and seal of the happy moment, and set them all at ease. When Sally described the scene to Hetty, she said:

"Oh, I was so frightened when Jim came in! I thought he'd be sure to say something to his mother that would spoil every thing. But the Lord put it into Raby's head to go off in one of his great laughs at nothing, and that made us all laugh, and the first thing that came into my head was that verse, 'And a little child shall lead them.'"

"Dear me, Sally, does any thing happen that doesn't put you in mind of some verse in the Bible?" laughed Hetty.

"Not many things, Hetty," replied Sally. "Those years that I was alone all the time, I used to read it so much that it's always coming into my head now, whatever happens."

After the last guest had gone, Doctor Eben and Hetty stood alone before the blazing fire. Hetty was beautiful on this night: no white lace, no orange blossoms, to make the ill-natured sneer at the middle-aged bride attired like a girl; no useless finery to be laid away in chests and cherished as sentimental mementos of an occasion. A substantial heavy silk of a useful shade of useful gray was Hetty Gunn's wedding gown; and she wore on her breast and in her hair white roses, "which will do for my summer bonnets for years," Hetty had said, when she bought them.

But her cheeks were pink, her eyes bright, and her brown curls lovelier than ever. Dr. Eben might well be pardoned the pride and delight with which he drew her to his side and exclaimed, "Oh, Hetty! are you really mine? How beautiful you look!"

"Do you think so?" said Hetty, taking a survey of herself in the old-fashioned glass slanted at a steep angle above the mantel-piece. "I don't. I hate fine gowns and flowers on me. If I'd have dared to, I'd have been married in my old purple."

"I shouldn't have cared," replied her husband. "But it is better as it is. Welbury people would have never left off talking, if you had done that."

They were a beautiful sight, the two, as they stood with their arms around each other, in the fire-light. Dr. Eben was tall and of a commanding figure; his head was almost too massive for even his broad shoulders; his black hair was wellnigh shaggy in its thickness; and his dark gray eyes looked out from under eyebrows which were like projecting eaves, and threw shadows on his cheeks below. Hetty's fair, rosy face, and golden-brown curls, were thrown out into relief by all this dark coloring so near, as a sunbeam is when it plays on a dark cloud. The rooms were full of the delicate fragrance of apple blossoms. The corners were filled with them; the walls were waving with them. Sally had begged permission to have, for once, all the apple blossoms she desired; and, despite groans and grumblings from Mike, she had rifled the orchards.

"Faith, an' a good tin bushel she's taken off the russets," Mike said to Norah; "an' as for thim gillies yer was so fond of, there's none left to spake of on any o' the trees. Now if she'd er tuk thim old blue pearmain trees, I wouldn't have said a word. But, 'Oh no!' sez she, 'I must have all pink uns;' an' it was jest the pink uns that was our best trees; that's jest as much sinse as ye wimmin's got."

"Wull, thin, an' I'm thinkin' yer wouldn't have grudged Miss Hetty her own apples, if it was in barrls ye had 'em," replied the practical Norah, "an' I don't see where's the differ."

"Yer don't!" said Mike, angrily. "If it had ha plazed God to make a man o' yer, ye'd ha known more 'n yer do;" and with this characteristically masculine shifting of his premises, Mike turned his back on Norah.

Neither Hetty nor Doctor Eben had ever heard that lovers should not wed in May; and, as they looked up at the great fragrant pink and white boughs on the walls, Hetty exclaimed:

"Nobody ought to be married except when apple-trees are in bloom. Nothing else could have been half so lovely in the rooms, and the fire-light makes them all the prettier. What a genius Sally has for arranging flowers. Who would have thought common stone jars could look so well?"

Sally had taken the largest sized gray stone jars she could buy in Welbury, and in these had set boughs six and seven feet long, looking like young trees. On the walls she had placed deep wooden boxes with shield-shaped fronts; these fronts were covered with gray lichens from the rocks; the rosy blossoms waved from out these boxes, looking as much at home as they did above the lichen-covered trunks of the trees in the orchard.

"Poor dear Sally!" Hetty continued, "she had a hard time the first part of the evening. That stony old woman wouldn't speak to her. But I took her in hand afterward. Did you observe?"

"Observe!" shouted Dr. Eben. "I should think so. You hardly waited till the minister had got through with us."

"I didn't wait till then," replied Hetty, demurely. "I was planning it all the while he was telling me about my duty to you. I didn't believe he could tell me much about that, anyway; and the duty that weighed on my mind most at that minute was my duty to Sally."

And thus, in the flickering fire-light and the apple-blossom fragrance, the two wedded lovers sat talking and dreaming, and taking joy of each other while the night wore on. There was no violent transition, no great change of atmosphere, in the beginnings of their wedded life. Dr. Eben had now lived so much at "Gunn's," that it seemed no strange thing for him to live there altogether. If it chafed him sometimes that it was Hetty's house and not his, Hetty's estate, Hetty's right and rule, he never betrayed it. And there was little reason that it should chafe him; for, from the day of Hetty Gunn's marriage, she was a changed woman in the habits and motives of her whole life. The farm was to her, as if it were not. All the currents of her being were set now in a new channel, and flowed as impetuously there as they had been wont to flow in the old ones. Her husband, his needs, his movements, were now the centre around which her fine and ceaseless activity revolved. There was not a trace of sentimental expression to this absorption. A careless observer might have said that her manner was deficient in tenderness; that she was singularly chary of caresses and words of love. But one who saw deeper would observe that not the smallest motion of the doctor's escaped her eye; not his lightest word failed to reach her ear; and every act of hers was planned with either direct or indirect reference to him. In his absence, she was preoccupied and uneasy; in his presence, she was satisfied, at rest, and her face wore a sort of quiet radiance hard to describe, but very beautiful to see. As for Dr. Eben, he thought he had entered into a new world. Warmly as he had loved and admired Hetty, he had not been prepared for these depths in her nature. Every day he said to her, "Oh, Hetty, Hetty! I never knew you. I did not dream you were like this." She would answer lightly, laughingly, perhaps almost brusquely; but intense feeling would glow in her face as a light shines through glass; and often, when she turned thus lightly away from him, there were passionate tears in her eyes. It very soon became her habit to drive with him wherever he went. Old Doctor Tuthill had died some months before, and now the county circuit was Doctor Eben's. His love of his profession was a passion, and nothing now stood in the way of his gratifying it to the utmost. Books, journals, all poured in upon him. Hetty would have liked to be omniscient that she might procure for him all he could desire. Every morning they might be seen dashing over the country with a pair of fleet, strong gray horses. In the afternoon, they drove a pair of black ponies for visits nearer home. Sometimes, while the doctor paid his visits, Hetty sat in the carriage; and, when she suspected that he had fallen into some discussion not relative to the patient's case, she would call out merrily, with tones clear and ringing enough to penetrate any walls: "Come, come, doctor! we must be off." And the doctor would spring to his feet, and run hastily, saying: "You see I am under orders too: my doctor is waiting outside." Under the seat, side by side with the doctor's medicine case, always went a hamper which Hetty called "the other medicine case;" and far the more important it was of the two. Many a poor patient got well by help of Hetty's soups and jellies and good bread. Nothing made her so happy as to have the doctor come home, saying: "I've got a patient to-day that we must feed to cure him." Then only, Hetty felt that she was of real help to her husband: of any other help that she might give him Hetty was still incredulous; intangible things were a little out of Hetty's range. Even her great and passionate love had not fully opened her eyes to all love's needs and expressions. All that it meant to her was a perpetual doing, ministration, a compelling of the happiness of the loved object. And here, as everywhere else in her life, she was fully content only when there was something evident and ready to be done. If her husband had taken the same view of love,—had insisted on perpetual ministerings to her in tangible forms,—she would have been bewildered and uncomfortable; and would, no doubt, have replied most illogically: "Oh, don't be taking so much trouble about me. I can take care of myself; I always have." But Doctor Eben was in no danger of disturbing Hetty in this way. Without being consciously a selfish man, he had a temperament to which acceptance came easy. And really Hetty left him no time, no room, for any such manifestations towards her, even had they been spontaneously natural. Moreover, Hetty was a most difficult person for anybody to help in any way. She never seemed to have needs or wants: she was always well, brisk, cheery, prepared for whatever occurred. There really seemed to be nothing to do for Hetty but to kiss her; and that Doctor Eben did most heartily, and of persistence; and Hetty liked it better than any thing in this world. With his whole heart and strength, Eben Williams loved his wife; and he loved her better and better, day by day. But she herself, by her peculiar temperament, her habits of activity, and disinterestedness, made it, in the outset, out of the question that any man living with her as her husband should ever fully learn a husband's duties and obligations.


And now we shall pass over an interval of eight years in the history of "Gunn's." For it is only the "strange history" of Eben and Hetty that was to be told in this story, and in these years' history was nothing strange; unless, indeed, it might be said that they were strangely happy years. The household remained unchanged, except that there were three more babies in Mike's cottage, and Hetty had been obliged to build on another room for him. Old Nan and Caesar still reigned. Caesar's head was as white and tight-curled as the fleece of a pet lamb. He was now a shining light in the Methodist meeting; but he had not yet broken himself of his oaths. "Damn—bress de Lord" was still heard on occasion: but everybody, even Nan, had grown so used to it that it did not pass for an oath; and, no doubt, even the recording angel had long since ceased to put it down.

James Little and his wife were now as much a part of the family as if they had had the old Squire's blood in their veins; and nobody thought about the old time of their disgrace,—nobody but Jim and Sally themselves. From their thoughts it was never absent, when they looked on the beautiful, joyous face of Raby. He had grown beyond his years, and looked like a boy of twelve. He was manly, frank, impulsive; a child after Hetty's own heart, and much more like her than he was like his father or his mother. It was a question, also, if he did not love her more than he loved either of his parents: all his hours with her were unclouded; over his intercourse with them, there always hung the undefined cloud of an unexpressed sadness.

Hetty was changed. Her hair was gray; her fair skin weather-beaten; and the fine wrinkles around the corners of her merry eyes radiated like the spokes of a wheel. She had looked young at thirty-seven; she looked old at forty-five. The phlegmatic and lazy sometimes seem to keep their youth better than the sanguine and active. It is a cruel thing that laughter should age a woman's face almost as much as weeping; but it does. Sunny as Hetty's face was, it had come to have a look older than it ought, simply because the kindly eyes had so often twinkled and half closed in merry laughter.

Time had dealt more kindly with Doctor Eben. He was a handsomer man at forty-one than he had been at thirty-three: the eight years had left no other trace upon him. Face, figure, step, all were as full of youth and vigor as upon the day when Hetty first met him walking down the pine-shaded road. The precise moment when the first pang of consciousness of the discrepancy between her husband's looks and her own entered Hetty's mind would be hard to determine. It began probably in some thoughtless jest of her own, or even of his; for, in his absolute loyalty of love, his unquestioning and long-established acceptance of their relation as a perfect one, it would never have crossed Doctor Eben's mind that Hetty could possibly care whether she looked older or younger than he. He never thought about her age at all: in fact, he could not have told either her age or his own with exactness; he was curiously forgetful of such matters. He did not see the wrinkles around her eyes. He did not know that her skin was weather-beaten, her figure less graceful, her hair fast turning gray. To him she was simply "Hetty:" the word meant as it always had meant, fulness of love, delight, life. Doctor Eben was a man of that fine fibre of organic loyalty, to which there is not possible, even a temptation to forsake or remove from its object. Men having this kind of uprightness and loyalty, rarely are much given to words or demonstrations of affection. To them love takes its place, side by side with the common air, the course of the sun, the succession of days and nights, and all other unquestioned and unalterable things in the world. To suggest to such a man the possibility of lessening in his allegiance to a wife, is like proposing to him to overthrow the whole course of nature. He simply cannot conceive of such a thing; and he has no tolerance for it. He is by the very virtue of his organic structure incapable of charity for men who sin in that way. There are not many such men, but the type exists; and well may any woman felicitate herself to whom it is given to rest her life on such sure foundations. If there be some lack of the daily manifestations of tenderness, the ready word, the ever-present caress, she may recollect that these are often the first fruits of a passion whose early way-side harvest will be scorched and shrivelled as soon as the sun is high; while the seed which bringeth forth a hundred, nay a thousand fold, of true grain, sleeps in long silence, and grows up noiseless and slow.

Doctor Eben did not know that he was in many small ways an unlover-like husband. He did not know that his absorption in his professional studies made him often seem unaware of Hetty's presence for hours together, when she was watching and waiting for a word. He did not know that he sometimes did not hear when she spoke, and did not answer when he heard. He did not know a hundred things which he would have known, if he had been a less upright and loyal man, and if Hetty had been a less unselfish woman. Neither did Hetty know any of these things, or note them, until the poisoned consciousness awoke in her mind that she was fast growing old, and her face was growing less lovely. This was the first germ of Hetty's unhappiness. It had been very hard for her in the beginning to believe herself loved: now all her old incredulity returned with fourfold strength; and now it was not met as then by constant and vehement evidence to conquer it. Here again, had Hetty been like other women, she might have been spared her suffering. Had it been possible for her to demand, to even invite, she would have won from her husband, at any instant, all that her anxiety could have asked; but it was not possible. She simply went on silently, day after day, watching her husband more intently; keeping record, in her morbid feeling, of every moment, every look, every word which she misapprehended. Beyond this morbidness of misapprehension, there was no other morbidness in Hetty's state. She did not pine or grieve; she only began slowly to wonder what she could do for Eben now. Her sense of loss and disappointment, in that she had borne him no children, began to weigh more heavily upon her. "If I were mother of his children," she said to herself, "it would not make so much difference if I did grow old and ugly. He would have the children to give him pleasure." "I don't see what there is left for me to do," she said again and again. Sometimes she made pathetic attempts to change the simplicity of her dress. "Perhaps if I wore better clothes, I should look younger," she thought. But the result was not satisfactory. Her severe style had always been so essentially her own that any departure from it only made her look still more altered. All this undercurrent of annoyance and distress added continually to the change in her face: gradually its expression grew more grave; she smiled less frequently; had fits of abstraction and reverie, which she had never been known to have before.

In a vague way, Doctor Eben observed these, and wondered what Hetty was thinking about; but he never asked. Often they drove for a whole day together, without a dozen words being spoken; but the doctor was buried in meditations upon his patients, and did not dislike the silence. Hetty did not realize that the change here was more in her than in him: in the old days it had been she who talked, not the doctor; now that she was silent, he went on with his trains of thought undisturbed, and was as content as before, for she was by his side. He felt her presence perpetually, even when he gave no sign of doing so.

Many months went by in this way, a summer, a winter, part of a spring, and Hetty's forty-fifth birthday came, and found her a seriously unhappy woman. Yet, strange to say, nobody dreamed of it. So unchanged was the external current of her life: such magnificent self-control had she, and such absolute disinterestedness. Little Raby was the only one who ever had a consciousness that things were not right. He was Hetty's closest comrade and companion now. All the hours that she did not spend driving with the doctor (and she drove with him less now than had been her custom) she spent with Raby. They took long rambles together, and long rides, Raby being already an accomplished and fearless little rider. By the subtle instinct of a loving child, Raby knew that "Aunt Hetty" was changed. A certain something was gone out of the delight they used to take together. Once, as they were riding, he exclaimed:

"Aunt Hetty, you haven't spoken for ever so long! What's the matter? you don't talk half so much as you used to."

And Hetty, conscience-stricken, thought to herself: "Dear me, how selfish it makes one to be unhappy! Here I am, letting it fall on this dear, innocent darling. I ought to be ashamed." But she answered gayly:

"Oh, Raby! aunty is growing old and stupid, isn't she? She must look out, or you'll get tired of her."

"I shan't either: you 're the nicest aunty in the whole world," cried Raby. "You ain't a bit old; but I wish you'd talk."

Then and there, Hetty resolved that never again should Raby have occasion to think thus; and he never did. Before long he had forgotten all about this conversation, and all was as before. This was in May. One day, in the following June, as Hetty and the doctor were driving through Springton, he said suddenly:

"Oh, Hetty! I want you to come in with me at one place this morning. There is the most perfectly beautiful creature there I ever saw,—the oldest daughter of a Methodist minister who has just come here to preach. Poor child! she cannot sit up, or turn herself in bed; but she is an angel, and has the face of one, if ever a human creature had. They are very poor and we must help them all we can. I have great hopes of curing the child, if she can be well fed. It is a serious spinal disease, but I believe it can be cured."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse