When Hetty first looked on the face of Rachel Barlow, she said in her heart: "Eben was right. It is the face of an angel;" and when she heard Rachel's voice, she added, "and the voice also." Some types of spinal disease seem to have a marvellously refining effect on the countenance; producing an ethereal clearness of skin, and brightness of eye, and a spiritual expression, which are seen on no other faces. Rachel Barlow was a striking instance of this almost abnormal beauty. As her fair face looked up at you from her pillow, your impulse was to fall on your knees. Not till she smiled did you feel sure she was human; but when she smiled, the smile was so winningly warm, you forgot you had thought her an angel. For two years she had not moved from her bed, except as she was lifted in the strong arms of her father. For two years she had not been free from pain for a moment. Often the pain was so severe that she fainted. And yet her brow was placid, unmarked by a line, and her face in repose as serene as a happy child's.
Doctor Eben and Hetty sat together by the bed.
"Rachel," said the doctor, "I have brought my wife to help cure you. She is as good a doctor as I am." And he turned proudly to Hetty.
Rachel gazed at her earnestly, but did not speak. Hetty felt herself singularly embarrassed by the gaze.
"I wish I could help you," she said; "but I think my husband will make you well."
"I never permit myself to hope for it," she replied. "If I did, I should be discontented at once."
"Why! are you contented as it is?" exclaimed Hetty impetuously.
"Oh, yes!" said Rachel. "I enjoy every minute, except when the pain is too hard: you don't know what a beautiful thing life seems to me. I always have the sky you know" (glancing at the window), "and that is enough for a lifetime. Every day birds fly by too; and every day my father reads to me at least two hours. So I have great deal to think about."
"Miss Barlow, I envy you," said Hetty in a tone which startled even herself. Again Rachel bent on her the same clairvoyant gaze which had so embarrassed her before. Hetty shrank from it still more than at first, and left the room, saying to her husband: "I will wait for you outside."
As they drove away, Hetty said:
"Eben, what is it in her look which makes me so uneasy? I don't like to have her look at me."
"Now that is strange," replied the doctor. "After you had left the room, the child said to me: 'What is the matter with your wife? She is not well,' and I laughed at the idea, and told her I never knew any woman half so well or strong. Rachel is a sort of clairvoyant, as persons in her condition are so apt to be; but she made a wrong guess this time, didn't she?"
Hetty did not answer; and the doctor turning towards her saw that her eyes were fixed on the sky with a dreamy expression.
"Why, Hetty!" he exclaimed. "Why do you look so? You are perfectly well, are you not, dear?"
"Oh, yes! oh, yes!" Hetty answered, quickly rousing herself. "I am perfectly well; and always have been, ever since I can remember."
After this, Hetty went no more with her husband to see Rachel. When he asked her, she said: "No, Eben: I am going to see her alone. I will not go with you again. She makes me uncomfortable. If she makes me feel so, when I am alone with her, I shall not go at all. I don't like clairvoyants."
"Why, what a queer notion that is for you, wife!" laughed the doctor, and thought no more of it.
Hetty's first interview with Rachel was a constrained one. Nothing in Hetty's life had prepared her for intercourse with so finely organized a creature: she felt afraid to speak, lest she should wound her; her own habits of thought and subjects of interest seemed too earthy to be mentioned in this presence; she was vaguely conscious that all Rachel's being was set to finer issues than her own. She found in this an unspeakable attraction; and yet it also withheld her at every point and made her dumb. In spite of these conflicting emotions, she wanted to love Rachel, to help her, to be near her; and she went again and again, until the constraint wore off, and a very genuine affection grew up between them. Never, after the first day, had she felt any peculiar embarrassment under Rachel's gaze, and her memory of it had nearly died away, when one day, late in the autumn, it was suddenly revived with added intensity. It was a day on which Hetty had been feeling unusually sad. Even by Rachel's bedside she could not quite throw off the sadness. Unconsciously, she had been sitting for a long time silent. As she looked up, she met Rachel's eyes fixed full on hers, with the same penetrating gaze which had so disturbed her in their first interview. Rachel did not withdraw her gaze, but continued to look into Hetty's eyes, steadily, piercingly, with an expression which held Hetty spell-bound. Presently she said:
"Dear Mrs. Williams, you are thinking something which is not true. Do not let it stay with you."
"What do you mean, Rachel?" asked Hetty, resentfully. "No one can read another person's thoughts."
"Not exactly," replied Rachel, in a timid voice, "but very nearly. Since I have been ill, I have had a strange power of telling what people were thinking about: I can sometimes tell the exact words. I cannot tell how it is. I seem to read them in the air, or to hear them spoken. And I can always tell if a person is thinking either wicked thoughts or untrue ones. A wicked person always looks to me like a person in a fog. There have been some people in this room that my father thought very good; but I knew they were very bad. I could hardly see their faces clear. When a person is thinking mistaken or untrue thoughts, I see something like a shimmer of light all around them: it comes and goes, like a flicker from a candle. When you first came in to see me, you looked so."
"Pshaw, Rachel," said Hetty, resolutely. "That is all nonsense. It is just the nervous fancy of a sick girl. You mustn't give way to it."
"I should think so too," replied Rachel, meekly. "If it did not so often come exactly true. My father will tell you how often we have tried it."
"Well, then, tell me what I was thinking just now," laughed Hetty.
Rachel colored. "I would rather not," she replied, in an earnest tone.
"Oh! you're afraid it won't prove true," said Hetty. "I'll take the risk, if you will."
Rachel hesitated, but finally repeated her first answer. "I would rather not."
Hetty persisted, and Rachel, with great reluctance, answered her as follows:
"You were thinking about yourself: you were dissatisfied about something in yourself; you are not happy, and you ought to be; you are so good."
Hetty listened with a wonder-struck face. She disliked this more than she had ever in her life disliked any thing which had happened to her. She did not speak.
"Do not be angry," said Rachel. "You made me tell you."
"Oh! I am not angry," said Hetty. "I'm not so stupid as that; but it's the most disagreeable thing, I ever knew. Can you help seeing these things, if you try?"
"Yes, I suppose I might," said Rachel. "I never try. It interests me to see what people are thinking about."
"Humph!" said Hetty, sarcastically. "I should think so. You might make your fortune as a detective, if you were well enough to go about in the world."
"If I were that, I should lose the power," replied Rachel. "The doctors say it is part of the disease."
"Rachel," exclaimed Hetty, vehemently, "I'll never come near you again, if you don't promise not to use this power of yours upon me. I should never feel comfortable one minute where you are, if I thought you were reading my thoughts. Not that I have any special secrets," added Hetty, with a guilty consciousness; "but I suppose everybody thinks thoughts he would rather not have read."
"I'll promise you, indeed I will, dear Mrs. Williams," cried Rachel, much distressed. "I never have read you, except that first day. It seemed forced upon me then, and to-day too. But I promise you, I will not do it again."
"I suppose I shouldn't know if you were doing it, unless you told me," said Hetty, reflectively.
"I think you would," answered Rachel. "Do I not look peculiarly? My father tells me that I do."
"Yes, you do," replied Hetty, recollecting that, in each of these instances, she had been much disturbed by Rachel's look. "I will trust you, then, seeing that you probably can't deceive me."
When Hetty told the doctor of this, expecting that he would dismiss it as unworthy of attention, she was much surprised at the interest he showed in the account. He questioned her closely as to the expression of Rachel's face, her tones of voice, during the interval.
"And was it true, Hetty?" he asked; "was what she said true? Were you thinking of something in yourself which troubled you?"
"Yes, I was," said Hetty, in a low voice, fearing that her husband would ask her what; but he was only studying the incident from professional curiosity.
"You are sure of that, are you?" he asked.
"Yes, very sure," replied Hetty.
"Extraordinary! 'pon my word extraordinary!" ejaculated the doctor. "I have read of such cases, but I have never more than half believed them. I'd give my right hand to cure that girl."
"Your right hand is not yours to give," said Hetty, playfully. The doctor made no reply. He was deep in meditation on Rachel's clairvoyance. Hetty looked at him for some moments, as earnestly as Rachel had looked at her. "Oh if I could only have that power Rachel has!" she thought.
"Eben," she said, "is it impossible for a healthy person to be a clairvoyant?"
"Quite," answered the doctor, with a sudden instinct of what Hetty meant. "No chance for you, dear. You'll never get at any of my secrets that way. You might as well try to make yourself Rachel's age as to acquire this mysterious power she has."
Unlucky words! Hetty bore them about with her. "That showed that he feels that I am old," she said, as often as she recalled them.
A month later, as she was sitting with Rachel one morning, there was a knock at the door. Hetty was sitting in such a position that she could not be seen from the door, but could see, in the looking-glass at the foot of Rachel's bed, any person entering the room. As the door opened, she looked up, and, to her unspeakable surprise, saw her husband coming in; saw, in the same swift second's glance, the look of gladness and welcome on his face, and heard him say, in tones of great tenderness:
"How are you to-day, precious child?" In the next instant, he had seen his wife, and was, in his turn, so much astonished, that the look of glad welcome which he had bent upon Rachel, was instantaneously succeeded by one of blank surprise, bent upon Hetty; surprise, and nothing else, but so great surprise that it looked almost like dismay and confusion. "Why, Hetty!" he said, "I did not expect to see you here."
"Nor I you," said Hetty, lightly; but the lightness of tone had a certain something of constraint in it. This incident was one of those inexplicably perverse acts of Fate which make one almost believe sometimes in the depravity of spirits, if not in that of men. When Dr. Eben had left home that morning, Hetty had said to him:
"Are you going to Springton, to-day?"
"No, not to-day," was the reply.
"I am very sorry," answered Hetty. "I wanted to send some jelly to Rachel."
"Can't go to-day, possibly," the doctor had said. "I have to go the other way."
But later in the morning he had met a messenger from Springton, riding post-haste, with an imperative call which could not be deferred. And, as he was in the village, he very naturally stopped to see Rachel. All of this he explained with some confusion; feeling, for the first time in his long married life, that it was awkward for a man to have to account for his presence in any particular spot at any particular time. Hetty betrayed no annoyance or incredulity: she felt none. She was too sensible and reasonable a woman to have felt either, even if it had been simply a change of purpose on the doctor's own part which had brought him to Springton. The thing which had lent the shade of constraint to Hetty's voice, and which lay like an icy mountain on Hetty's heart, was the look which she had seen on his face, the tone which she had heard in his voice, as he greeted Rachel. In that instant was planted the second germ of unhappiness in Hetty's bosom. Of jealousy, in the ordinary acceptation of the term; of its caprices, suspicions, subterfuges; and, above all, of its resentments,—Hetty was totally incapable. If it had been made evident to her in any one moment, that her husband loved another woman, her first distinct thoughts would have been of sorrow for him rather than for herself, and of perplexity as to what could be done to make him happy again. At this moment, however, nothing took distinct shape in Hetty's mind. It was merely the vague pain of a loving woman's sensitive heart, surprised by the sight of tender looks and tones given by her husband to another woman. It was wholly a vague pain, but it was the germ of a great one; and, falling as it did on Hetty's already morbid consciousness of her own loss of youth and beauty and attractiveness, it fell into soil where such germs ripen as in a hot-bed. In a less noble nature than Hetty's there would have grown up side by side with this pain a hatred of Rachel, or, at least, an antagonism towards her. In the fine equilibrium of Hetty's moral nature, such a thing was impossible. She felt from that day a new interest in Rachel. She looked at her, often scrutinizingly, and thought: "Ah, if she were but well, what a sweet young wife she might make! I wish Eben could have had such a wife! How much better it would have been for him than having me!" She began now to go oftener with her husband to visit Rachel. Closely, but with no sinister motive, no trace of ill-feeling, she listened to all which they said. She observed the peculiar gentleness with which the doctor spoke, and the docility with which Rachel listened; and she said to herself: "That is quite unlike Eben's manner to me, or mine to him. I wonder if that is not more nearly the way it ought to be between husbands and wives. The wife ought to look up to her husband as a little child does." Now, much as Hetty loved Dr. Eben, passionately as her whole life centred around him, there had never been such a feeling as this: they were the heartiest of comrades, but each life was on a plane of absolute independence. Hetty pondered much on this.
One day, as they sat by Rachel's bed, the doctor had been counting her pulse. Her little white hand looked like a baby's hand in his. Holding it up, he said to Hetty:
"Look at that hand. It couldn't do much work, could it!"
Involuntarily Hetty stretched out her large, well-knit brown hand, and put it by the side of Rachel's. There are many men who would have admired Hetty's hand the more of the two. It was a much more significant hand. To one who could read palmistry, it meant all that Hetty was; and it was symmetrical and firm. But, at that moment, to Dr. Eben it looked large and masculine.
"Oh, take it away, Hetty!" he said, thoughtlessly. "It looks like a man's hand by the side of this child's."
Hetty laughed. She thought so too. But the words remained in her mind, and allied themselves to words that had gone before, and to things that had happened, and to thoughts which were restlessly growing, growing in Hetty's bosom.
If Rachel had remained an invalid, probably Hetty's thoughts of her, as connected with her husband, would never have gone beyond this vague stage which we have tried to describe. She would have been to Hetty only the suggestion of a possible ideal wife, who, had she lived, and had she entered into Dr. Eben's life, might have made him happier than Hetty could. But Rachel grew better and stronger every day. Early in the spring she began to walk,—creeping about, at first, like a little child just learning to walk, by pushing a chair before her. Then she walked with a cane and her father's arm; then with the cane alone; and at last, one day in May,—oddly enough it was the anniversary of Hetty's wedding-day,—Dr. Eben burst into her room, exclaiming: "Hetty! Hetty! Rachel has walked several rods alone. She is cured! She is going to be as well as anybody."
The doctor's face was flushed with excitement. Never had he had what seemed to him so great a professional triumph. It was the physician and not the man that felt so intensely. But Hetty could not wholly know this. She had shared his deep anxiety about the case; and she had shared much of his strong interest in Rachel, and it was with an unaffected pleasure that she exclaimed: "Oh, I'm so thankful!" but her next sentence was one which arrested her husband's attention, and seemed to him a strange one.
"Then there is nothing to hinder her being married, is there?"
"Why, no," laughed the doctor, "nothing, except the lack of a man fit to marry her! What put such a thought as that into your head, Hetty? I don't believe Rachel Barlow will ever be married. I'm sure I don't know the man that's worthy to so much as kiss the child's feet!" and the unconscious Dr. Eben hastened away, little dreaming what a shaft he had sped.
Hetty stood at the open window, watching him, as far as she could see him, among the pines. The apple orchard, near the house, was in full bloom, and the fragrance came in at every window. A vase of the blossoms stood on Hetty's bureau: it was one of her few, tender reminiscences, the love which she had had for apple blossoms ever since the night of her marriage. She held a little cluster of them now in her hand, as she leaned on the window-sill; they had been gathered for some days, and, as a light wind stirred the air, all the petals fell, and slowly fluttered down to the ground. Hetty looked wistfully at the bare stems. A distinct purpose at that moment was forming in her mind; a purpose distinct in its aim, but, as yet, very vague in its shape. She was saying to herself: "If I were out of the way, Eben might marry Rachel. He needn't say, he doesn't know a man fit to do it. He is fit to marry any woman God ever made, and I believe he would be happier with such a wife as that, and with children, than he can ever be with me."
Even now there was in Hetty no morbid jealousy, no resentment, no suspicion that her husband had been disloyal to her even in thought. There had simply been forced upon her, by the slow accumulations of little things, the conviction that her husband would be happier with another woman for his wife than with her. It is probably impossible to portray in words all the processes of this remarkable woman's mind and heart during these extraordinary passages of her life. They will seem, judged by average standards, morbid and unhealthy: yet there was no morbidness in them; unless we are to call morbid all the great and glorious army of men and women who have laid down their own lives for the sake of others. That same fine and rare quality of self-abnegation which has inspired missionaries' lives and martyrs' deaths, inspired Hetty now. The morbidness, if there were any, was in the first entering into her mind of the belief that her husband's happiness could be secured in any way so well as by her. But here let us be just to Hetty. The view she took was the common-sense view, which probably would have been taken by nine out of ten of all Dr. Eben's friends. Who could say that it did not stand to reason, that a man would be happier with a wife, young, beautiful, of angelic sweetness of nature, and the mother of sons and daughters, than with an old, childless, and less attractive woman. The strange thing was that any wife could take this common-sense view of such a situation. It was not strange in Hetty, however. It was simply the carrying out of the impulses and motives which had characterized her whole life.
About this time, Hetty began with Raby to practise rowing on Welbury Lake. This lake was a beautiful sheet of water, lying between Welbury and Springton. It was some two miles long, and one wide; and held two or three little wooded islands, which were much resorted to in the summer. On two sides of the lake, rose high, rocky precipices; no landing was possible there: the other two sides were thick wooded forests of pines and hemlocks. Nothing could exceed in loveliness the situation of this lake. Two roads led to it: one from the Springton, the other from the Welbury side; both running through the hemlock forests. In the winter these were used for carrying out ice, which was cut in great quantities on the lake. In the summer, no one crossed these roads, except parties of pleasure-seekers who went to sail or row on the lake. In a shanty on the Welbury side, lived an old man, who made a little money every summer by renting a few rather leaky boats, and taking charge of such boats as were kept moored at his beach by their owners.
Hetty had promised Raby that when he was ten years old he should have a fine boat, and learn to row. The time had come now for her to keep this promise. Every Saturday afternoon during the summer following Rachel's recovery, Hetty and Raby spent on the lake. Hetty was a strong and skilful oars-woman. Little Raby soon learned to manage the boat as well as she did. The lake was considered unsafe for sail-boats, on account of flaws of wind which often, without any warning, beat down from the hills on the west side; but rowing there was one of the chief pleasures of the young people of Welbury and Springton. In Hetty's present frame of mind, this lonely lake had a strange fascination for her. In her youth she had never loved it: she had always been eager to land on one of the islands, and spend hours in the depths of the fragrant woods, rather than on the dark and silent water. But now she never wearied of rowing round and round its water margin, and looking down into its unsounded depths. It was believed that Welbury Lake was unfathomable; but this notion probably had its foundation in the limited facilities in that region for sounding deep waters.
One day Hetty rowed across the lake to the point where the Springton road came down to the shore. Pushing the boat up on the beach, she sprang out; and, telling Raby to wait there till she returned, she walked rapidly up the road. A guide-post said, "Six miles to Springton." Hetty stood some time looking reflectingly at this sign: then she walked on for half a mile, till she came to another road running north; here a guide-post said, "Fairfield, five miles." This was what Hetty was in search of. As she read the sign, she said in a low tone: "Five miles; that is easily walked." Then she turned and hastened back to the shore, stopping on the way to gather for Raby a big bunch of the snowy Indian-pipes, which grew in shining clumps in the moist dark hemlock woods. A strange and terrible idea was slowly taking possession of Hetty. Day and night it haunted her. Once having been entertained as possible, it could never be banished from her mind. How such an impulse could have become deep-seated in a nature like Hetty's will for ever remain a mystery. One would have said that she was the last woman in the world to commit a morbid or ill-regulated act. But the act she was meditating now was one which seemed like the act of insanity. Yet had Hetty never in her life seemed farther removed from any such tendency. She was calm, cheerful, self-contained. If any one saw any change in her, it seemed like nothing more than the natural increase of quiet and decorum coming with her increased age. Even her husband, when he looked back on these months, trying in anguish to remember every day, every hour, could recall no word or deed or look of hers which had seemed to him unnatural. And yet there was not a day, hardly an hour, in which her mind was not occupied with the details of a plan for going away secretly from her house, under such circumstances as to make it appear that she had been drowned in the lake. That she must leave her husband free to marry Rachel Barlow had become a fixed idea in Hetty's mind. She was too conscientious to kill herself for this purpose: moreover, she did not in the least wish to die. She was very unhappy in this keen conviction that she no longer sufficed for her husband's happiness; that she was, as she would have phrased it, "in the way." But she was not heart-broken over it, as a sentimental and feeble woman would have been. "There is plenty to do in the world," she said to herself. "I've got a good many years' work left in me yet: the thing is how to get at it." For many weeks she had revolved the matter hopelessly, till one day, as she was rowing with Raby on the lake, she heard a whistle of a steam-engine on the Springton side of the lake. In that second, her whole plan flashed upon her brain. She remembered that a railroad, leading to Canada, ran between Springton and the lake. She remembered that there was a station not many miles from Springton. She remembered that far up in Canada was a little French village, St. Mary's, where she had once spent part of a summer with her father. St. Mary's was known far and near for its medicinal springs, and the squire had been sent there to try them. She remembered that there was a Roman Catholic priest there of whom her father had been very fond. She remembered that there were Sisters of Charity there, who used to go about nursing the sick. She remembered the physician under whose care her father was. She remembered all these things with a startling vividness in the twinkling of an eye, before the echoes of the steam-engine's whistle had died away on the air. She was almost paralyzed by the suddenness and the clearness with which she was impressed that she must go to St. Mary's. She dropped the oars, leaned forward, and looked eagerly at the opening in the woods where the Springton road touched the shore.
"What is it, aunty? What do you see!" asked Raby. The child's voice recalled her to herself.
"Nothing! nothing! Raby. I was only listening to the car-whistle. Didn't you hear it?" answered Hetty.
"No," said Raby. "Where are they going? Can't you take me some day."
The innocent words smote on Hetty's heart. How should she leave Raby? What would her life be without him? his without her? But thinking about herself had never been Hetty's habit. That a thing would be hard for her had never been to Hetty any reason for not doing it, since she was twelve years old. From all the pain and loss which were involved to her in this terrible step she turned resolutely away, and never thought about them except with a guilty sense of selfishness. She believed with all the intensity of a religious conviction that it would be better for her husband, now, to have Rachel Barlow for his wife. She believed, with the same intensity, that she alone stood in the way of this good for him. Call it morbid, call it unnatural, call it wicked if you will, in Hetty Williams to have this belief: you must judge her conduct from its standpoint, and from no other. The belief had gained possession of her. She could no more gainsay it, resist it, than if it had been communicated to her by supernatural beings of visible presence and actual speech. Given this belief, then her whole conduct is lifted to a plane of heroism, takes rank with the grand martyrdoms; and is not to be lightly condemned by any who remember the words,—"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend."
The more Hetty thought over her plan, the simpler and more feasible it appeared. More and more she concentrated all her energies on the perfecting of every detail: she left nothing unthought of, either in her arrangements for her own future, or in her arrangements for those she left behind. Her will had been made for many years, leaving unreservedly to her husband the whole estate of "Gunn's," and also all her other property, except a legacy to Jim and Sally, and a few thousand dollars to old Caesar and Nan. Hetty was singularly alone in the world. She had no kindred to whom she felt that she owed a legacy. As she looked forward to her own departure, she thought with great satisfaction of the wealth which would now be her husband's. "He will sell the farm, no doubt,—it isn't likely that he will care to live on here; and when he has it all in money he can go to Europe, as he has so often said he would," she said to herself, still, as ever, planning for her husband's enjoyment.
As the autumn drew near, she went oftener with Raby to row on the Lake. A spell seemed to draw her to the spot. She continually lived over, in her mind, all the steps she must take when the time came. She rowed slowly back and forth past the opening of the Springton road, and fancied her own figure walking alone up that bank for the last time. Several times she left Raby in the boat, and walked as far as the Fairfield guide-post, and returned. At last she had rehearsed the terrible drama so many times that it almost seemed to her as if it had already happened, and she found it strange to be in her own house with her husband and Jim and Sally and her servants. Already she began to feel herself dissevered from them. When every thing was ready, she shrank from taking the final step. Three times she went with Raby to the Lake, having determined within herself not to return; but her courage failed her, and she found a ready excuse for deferring all until the next day. She had forgotten some little thing, or the weather looked threatening; and the last time she went back, it was simply to kiss her husband again. "One day more or less cannot make any difference," she said to herself. "I will kiss Eben once more." Oh, what a terrible thing is this barrier of flesh, which separates soul from soul, even in the closest relation! Our nearest and dearest friend, sitting so near that we can hear his every breath, can see if his blood runs by a single pulse-beat faster to his cheek, may yet be thinking thoughts which, if we could read them, would break our hearts. When the time came in which Eben Williams tried to recall the last moments in which he had seen his wife, all he could recollect was that she kissed him several times with more than usual affection. At the time he had hardly noted it: he was just setting off to see a patient, and Raby was urging Hetty to make haste; and their good-byes had been hurried.
It was on a warm hazy day in October. The woods through which Hetty and Raby walked to the lake were full of low dogwood bushes, whose leaves were brilliant; red, pink, yellow, and in places almost white. Raby gathered boughs of these, and carried them to the boat. It was his delight to scatter such bright leaves from the stern of the boat, and watch them following in its wake. They landed on the small island nearest the Springton shore, and looked for wild grapes, which were now beginning to be ripe. After an hour or two here, Hetty told Raby that they must set out: she had errands to do in the town before going home. She rowed very quickly to the beach, and, just as they were leaving the boat, she exclaimed:
"Oh, Raby, I have left my shawl on the island; way around on the other side it is too. I must row back and get it."
Raby was about to jump into the boat, but she exclaimed:
"No, you stay here, and wait. I can row a great deal quicker with only one in the boat. Here, dear," she said, taking off her watch, and hanging it round his neck, "you can have this to keep you from being lonely, and you can tell by this how long it will be before I get back. Watch the hands, and that will make the time seem shorter, they go so fast. It will take me about half an hour; that will be—let me see—yes—just five o'clock. There is a good long daylight after that;" and, kissing him, she jumped into the boat and pushed off. What a moment it was. Her arms seemed to be paralyzed; but, summoning all her will, she drove the boat resolutely forward, and looked no more back at Raby. As soon as she had gained the other side of the island, where she was concealed from Raby's sight by the trees, she pulled out vigorously for the Springton shore. When she reached it, she drew the boat up cautiously on the beach, fastened it, and hid herself among the trees. Her plan was to wait there until dusk, then push the boat adrift in the lake, and go out herself adrift into the world. She dared not set out on her walk to Fairfield until it was dark; she knew, moreover, that the northern train did not pass until nearly midnight. These hours that Hetty spent crouched under the hemlock-trees on the shore of the lake were harder than any which she lived through afterward. She kept her eyes fixed on the opposite shore, on the spot where she knew the patient child was waiting for her. She pictured him walking back and forth, trying by childish devices to while away the time. As the sun sank low she imagined his first anxious look,—his alarm,—till it seemed impossible for her to bear the thoughts her imagination called up. He would wait, she thought, about one hour past the time that she had set for her return: possibly, for he was a brave child, he might wait until it began to grow dark; he would think that she was searching for the shawl. She hoped that any other explanation of her absence would not occur to him until the very last. As the twilight deepened into dusk, the mysterious night sounds began to come up from the woods; strange bird notes, stealthy steps of tiny creatures. Hetty's nerves thrilled with the awful loneliness: she could bear it no longer; she began to walk up and down the beach; the sound of her footsteps drowned many of the mysterious noises, and made her feel less alone. At last it was dark. With all her strength she turned her boat bottom side up, shoved it out into the lake, and threw the oars after it. Then she wrapped herself in a dark cloak, and walked at a rapid pace up the Springton road. When she reached the road which led to Fairfield, she stopped, leaned against the guide-post, and looked back and hesitated. It seemed as if the turning northward were the turning point of every thing. Her heart was very heavy: almost her purpose failed her. "It is too late to go back now," she said, and hurried on.
The station-master at Fairfield, if he had been asked whether a woman took the midnight train north at Fairfield that night, would have unhesitatingly said, "No." An instinctive wisdom seemed to direct Hetty's every step. She waited at some little distance from the station till the train came up: then, without going upon the station platform at all, she entered the rear car from the opposite side of the road. No one saw her; not even a brakeman. When the train began to move, the sense of what she had done smote her with a sudden terror, and she sprang to her feet, but sank down again, before any of the sleepy passengers had observed her motion. In a few moments she was calm. Her long habits of firm, energetic action began to resume sway: she compelled herself to look forward into the future, and not backward into the past she was so resolutely leaving behind her. Strangely enough, it was not her husband that she found hardest to banish from her thoughts now, but Raby. She could not escape from the vivid imagination of the dear child running in terror alone through the long stretch of woods.
"I wonder if he will cry," thought poor Hetty: "I hope not." And the tears filled her eyes. Then she fell to wondering if there would be any doubt in anybody's mind that her boat had suddenly capsized. "They will think I leaned over to pick something off the bushes on the edge of the island," said she. "I have come very near capsizing that way more than once, and I have always told Eben when it had happened. That is the first thing he will think of." And thus, in a maze of incoherent crowding conjectures and imaginings, all making up one great misery, Hetty sat whirling away from her home. By and by, her brain grew less active; thought was paralyzed by pain. She sat motionless, taking no note of the hours of the night as they sped by, and roused from her dull reverie only when she saw the first faint red tinge of dawn in the eastern sky. Then she started up, with a fresh realization of all. "Oh, it is morning!" she said. "Have they given over looking for me, I wonder. I suppose they have been looking all night. By this time, they must be sure I am drowned. After I know all that is over, I shall feel easier. It can't be quite so hard to bear as this."
In all Hetty's imaginings of her plan, she had leaped over the interval of transition from the life she left to the life she proposed to lead. She had pictured herself always as having attained the calm rest of the shelter she would seek, the strong moral support of the work she would do. She had not dwelt on this wretched interval of concealment and flight; she had not thought of this period of being an unknown outcast. A sense of ignominy began to crush her. It was a new thing for her to avoid a human eye: she felt guilty, ashamed, terror-stricken; and, doubly veiling her face, she sat with her eyes closed, and her head turned away, like one asleep or ill. The day dragged slowly on. Now and then she left the train, and bought a new ticket to carry her farther. Even had there been suspicions of her flight, it would have been impossible to have traced her, so skilfully had she managed. She had provided herself with a time-table of the entire route, and bought new tickets only at points of junction where several roads met, and no attention could possibly be drawn to any one traveller.
At night she reached the city, where she had planned to remain for some days, to make purchases. When she entered the hotel, and was asked to register her name, no one who saw the quick and ready signature which she wrote would have dreamed that it was not her own:
"Mrs. HIBBA SMAILLI, St. Mary's, Canada."
"One of those Welsh women, from St. Mary's, I guess," said the clerk; "they all have those fresh, florid skins when they first come over here." And with this remark he dismissed Hetty from his mind, only wondering now and then, as he saw her so often coming in, laden with parcels, "what a St. Mary's woman wanted with so many things."
During these days, while Hetty was unflinchingly going forward with all her preparations for her new home, the home she had left was a scene of terrible dismay and suffering.
It was long after dark when little Raby, breathless and sobbing, had burst open the sitting-room door, crying out:
"Auntie's drowned in the lake. I know she is; or else a bear's eaten her up. She said she'd be back in an hour. And here's her watch,"—opening his little hot hand, in which he had held the watch tight through all his running,—"she gave it to me to hold till she came back. And she said it would be five; and I stayed till seven, and she never came; and a man brought me home." And Raby flung himself on the floor, crying convulsively.
His father and mother tried to calm him, and to get a more exact account from him of what had happened; but, between their alarm and his hysterical crying, all was confusion.
Presently, the man entered who had brought Raby home in his wagon. He was a stranger to them all. His narrative merely corroborated Raby's, but threw no light on what had gone before. He had found the child on the main road, running very fast, and crying aloud. He had asked him to jump into his wagon; and Raby had replied: "Yes, sir: if you will whip your horse and make him run all the way to my house? My auntie's drowned in the lake;" and this was all the child had said.
Poor Raby! his young nerves had entirely given way under the strain of those hours of anxious waiting. He had borne the first hour very well. When the watch said it was five o'clock, and Hetty was not in sight, he thought, as she had hoped he would, that she was searching for the shawl; but, when six o'clock came, and her boat was not in sight, his childish heart took alarm. He ran to the shanty where the old boatman lived; and pounded furiously on the door, shouting loud, for the man was very deaf. The door was locked; no one answered. Raby pushed logs under the windows, and, climbing up, looked in. The house was empty. Then the little fellow jumped into the only boat which was there, and began to row out into the lake in search of Hetty.
Alas! the boat leaked so fast that it was with difficulty he got back to the shore. Perhaps, if Hetty, from her hiding-place, had seen the dear, brave child rowing to her rescue, it might have been a rescue indeed. It might have changed for ever the current of her life. But this was not to be. Wet and chilled, and clogged by his dripping shoes, Raby turned towards home. The woods were dark and full of shadows. The child had never been alone in them at night before; and the gloom added to his terrors. His feet seemed as if they would fail him at every step, and his sobbing cries left him little breath with which to run.
Jim and Sally turned helplessly to the stranger, as he concluded his story.
"Oh, what shall we do! what shall we do!" they said. "Oh, take us right back to the lake, won't you? and the rest will follow: we may find her."
"There isn't any boat," cried Raby, from the floor. "I tried to go for her, and the boat is all full of holes, and she must have been drowned ever so long by this time; she told me it only took half an hour, that nobody could be brought to life after that," and Raby's cries rose almost to shrieks, and brought old Caesar and Nan from the kitchen. As the first words of what had happened reached their ears, they broke into piercing lamentations. Nan, with inarticulate groans, and Caesar with, "Damn! damn! bress de Lord! No, damn! damn! dat lake. Haven't I always told Miss Hetty not to be goin' there. Oh, damn! damn! no, no, bress de Lord!" and the old man, clasping both hands above his head, rushed to the barn to put the horses into the big farm-wagon. With anguished hearts, and hopelessly, Jim and Sally piled blankets and pillows into the wagon, and took all the restoratives they could think of. They knew in their hearts all would be of no use. As they drove through the village they gave the alarm; and, in an incredibly short time, the whole shore of the lake was twinkling with lights borne high in the hands of men who were searching. Two boats were rowing back and forth on the lake, with bright lights at stern and prow; and loud shouts filled the air. No answer; no clew: at last, from the island, came a pistol shot,—the signal agreed on. Every man stood still and listened. Slowly the boats came back to shore, drawing behind them Hetty's boat; bringing one of the oars, and also Hetty's shawl, which they had found, just where Raby had told them they would, in the wild-grape thicket.
"Found it bottom-side up," was all that the men said, as they shoved the boat high up on the sand. Then they all looked in each other's faces, and said no more. There was nothing more to be done: it was now ten o'clock. Slowly the sad procession wound back to town through the rayless hemlock woods. Midway in them, they met a rider, riding at the maddest gallop. It was the doctor! No one had known where to send for him; and there was no time to be lost. Coming home, and wondering, as he entered, at the open doors and the unlighted windows, he had found Norah sitting on the floor by the weeping Raby, and trying to comfort him. Barely comprehending, in his sudden distress what they told him, the doctor had sprung upon his horse and galloped towards the lake. As he saw the group of people moving towards him, looking shadowy and dim in the darkness, his heart stood still. Were they bearing home Hetty's body? Would he see it presently, lying lifeless and cold in their arms? He dashed among them, reining his horse back on his haunches, and looking with a silent anguish into face after face. Nobody spoke. That first instant seemed a century long. Nobody could speak. At a glance the doctor saw that they were not bearing the sad burden he had feared.
"Not found her?" he gasped.
"No, doctor," replied one nearest him, laying his hand on his arm.
"Then by God what have you come away for! have you got the souls of men in you?" exclaimed Eben Williams, in a voice which seemed to shake the very trees, as he plunged onward.
"It's no use, doctor," they replied sadly.
"We found her boat bottom up, and one of the oars; and it was hours since it capsized."
"What then!" he shouted back. "My wife was as strong as any man: she can't have drowned; Hetty can't have drowned;" and his horse's hoofs struck sparks from the stones as he galloped on. A few of the younger men turned back and followed him; but, when they reached the lake, he was nowhere to be seen. Old Caesar, who was sitting on the ground, his head buried on his knees, said:
"He wouldn't hear a word. He jest jumped into one of thim boats, and he was gone like lightning: he's 'way across the lake by this time."
Silently the young men re-entered their boats and rowed out, carrying torches. Presently they overtook the doctor.
"Oh, thank God for that light!" he exclaimed, "Give one to me; let me have it here in my boat: I shall find her."
Like a being of superhuman strength, the doctor rowed; no one could keep up with him. Round and round the lake, into every inlet, close under the shadows of the islands; again and again, over every mile of that treacherous, glassy, beautiful water, he rowed, calling every few moments, in heart-breaking tones, "Hetty! Hetty! Hetty! I am here, Hetty!"
As the hours wore on, his strength began to flag; he rowed more and more slowly: but, when they begged him to give over the search, and return home, he replied impatiently. "Never! I'll never leave this lake till I find her." It was useless to reason with him. He hardly heard the words. At last, his friends, worn out by the long strain, rowed to the shore, and left him alone. As he bade them good-by, he groaned, "Oh, God! will it never be morning? If only it were light, I am sure I should find some trace of her." But, when the morning broke, the pitiless lake shone clear and still, and all the hopelessness of his search flashed on the bereaved man's mind: he dropped his oars, and gazed vacantly over the rippleless surface. Then he buried his face in his hands, and sat motionless for a long time: he was trying to recall Hetty's last looks, last words. He recollected her last kisses. "It was as if they were to bid me good-bye," he thought. Presently, he took up the oars and rowed back to the shore. Old Caesar still sat there on the ground. The doctor touched him on the shoulder. He lifted a face so wan, so altered, that the doctor started.
"My poor old fellow," he said, "you ought not to have sat here all night. We will go home now. There is nothing more to be done."
"Oh, yer ain't a goin' to give up, doctor, be yer?" cried Caesar. "Oh, don't never give up. She must be here somewheres. Bodies floats allers in fresh water: she'll come to shore before long. Oh, don't give up! I'll set here an' watch, an' you go home an' git somethin' to eat. You looks dreadful."
"No, no, Caesar," the doctor replied, with the first tears he had felt yet welling up in his eyes, "you must come home with me. There is no hope of finding her."
Caesar did not move, but fixed a sullen gaze on the water. The doctor spoke again, more firmly:
"You must come, Caesar. Your mistress would tell you so herself." At this Caesar rose, docile, and the two went home in silence through the hemlock woods.
For three days the search for Hetty continued. It was suggested that possibly she might have gone over to the Springton shore for some purpose, and there have met with some accident or assault. This suggestion opened up new vistas of conjecture, almost more terrible than the certainty of her death would have been. Parties of three and four scoured the woods in all directions. Again and again Dr. Eben passed over the spot where she had lain crouched so long: the bushes which had been brushed back as she passed, bent back again to let him go over her very footsteps; but nothing could speak to betray her secret. Nature seems most mute when we most need her help: she keeps, through all our distresses, a sort of dumb and faithful neutrality, which is not, perhaps, so devoid of sympathy as it appears.
After the third day was over, it was accepted by tacit consent that farther search would be useless. Hetty was mourned as dead: in every home her name was tenderly and sorrowingly spoken; old memories of her gay and mirthful youth, of her cheery and busy womanhood, were revived and dwelt upon. But in her own home was silence that could be felt. The grief there was grief that could not speak. Only little Raby, of all the household, found words to use; and his childish and inconsolable laments made the speechless anguish around him all the greater. To Dr. Eben, the very sight of the child was a bitter and unreasonable pain. Except for Raby, he thought, Hetty would still be alive. He had never approved of her taking him on the water; had remonstrated with her in the beginning, but had been overruled by her impetuous confidence in her own strength and skill. Now, as often as he saw the poor little fellow's woe-begone face, he had a strange mixture of pity and hatred towards him. In vain he reasoned against it. "He has lost his best friend, as well as I," he said to himself; "I ought to try to comfort him." But it was impossible: the child's presence grew more and more irksome to him, until, at last, he said to Sally, one day:
"Sally, you and Raby are both looking very ill. I want you to go away for a time. How would you like to go to 'The Runs,' for a month?"
"Oh, not there, dear doctor! please do not send us there!" cried Sally. "Indeed I could not bear it. We might go to father's for a while. That would be change enough; and Raby would have children to play with there, in the village, all the time, and that would be the best thing for him."
So Jim and Sally went to Deacon Little's to stay for a time. Mrs. Little welcomed them with a cordiality which it would have done Hetty's heart good to see. Her old aversion to Sally had been so thoroughly conquered that she was more than half persuaded in her own mind it had never existed. When the doctor was left alone in the house, he found it easier to bear the burden of his grief. It is only after the first shock of a great sorrow is past that we are helped by faces and voices and the clasping of hands. At the first, there is but one help, but one healing; and that is solitude.
Dr. Eben came out from this grief an altered man. Poor Hetty! How little she had understood her value to her husband! Could she have seen him walking slowly from house to house, his eyes fixed on the ground, his head bent forward; all his old elasticity of tread gone; his ready smile gone; the light, glad look of his eyes gone,—how would she have repented her rash and cruel deed! how would the scales have fallen from her eyes, revealing to her the monstrous misapprehension to which she had sacrificed her life and his! Even long after people had ceased to talk about Hetty's death, or to remember it unless they saw the doctor, the first sight of his tall bowed figure recalled it all; and again and again, as he passed men on the street, they turned and said to each other, with a sad shake of the head:
"He's never got over it."
"No, nor ever will."
On the surface, life seemed to be going on at "Gunn's" much as before. Jim and Sally and Raby made a family centre, to which the lonely doctor attached himself more and more. He came more and more to feel that Raby was a legacy left by Hetty to him. He had ceased to have any unjust resentment towards the child from his innocent association with her death: he knew that she had loved the boy as if he were her own; and, in his long sad reveries about the future, he found a sort of melancholy pleasure in planning for Raby as he would have done had he been Hetty's child. These plans for Raby, and his own devotion to his profession, were Dr. Eben's only pleasure. He was fast becoming a physician of note. He was frequently sent for in consultation to all parts of the county; and his contributions to medical journals were held in high esteem. The physician, the student, had gained unspeakably by the loss which had so nearly crushed the man.
Development and strength, gained at such cost, are like harvests springing out of land which had to be burned black with fire before it would yield its increase.
Hetty first entered the village of St. Mary's at sunset. The chapel bell was ringing for the Angelus, and as the nondescript little vehicle, half diligence half coach, crept through the sandy streets, Hetty, looking eagerly out, saw men, women, and children falling on their knees by the road-side. She recollected having noted this custom when she was in St. Mary's before: then it had seemed to her senseless mummery; now it seemed beautiful. Hetty had just come through dark places, in which she had wanted help from God more than she had ever in her life wanted it; and these evident signs of faith, of an established relation between earth and heaven, fell most gratefully upon her aching heart. The village of St. Mary's is a mere handful of houses, on a narrow stretch of sandy plain, lying between two forests of firs. Many years ago, hunters, finding in the depths of these forests springs of great medicinal value, made a little clearing about them, and built there a few rough shanties to which they might at any time resort for the waters. Gradually, the fame of the waters was noised abroad, and drew settlers to the spot. The clearing was widened; houses were built; a village grew up; line after line, as a new street was needed, the forests were cut down, but remained still a solid, dark-green wall and background to the east and the west. On the outskirts of the village, in the edge of the western forest, stood the Roman Catholic chapel,—a low wooden building, painted red, and having a huge silver cross on the top.
At the moment of Hetty's arrival, a burial service was just about to take place in this little chapel, and the procession was slowly approaching: the priest walking in front, lifting up a high gilt crucifix; a little white-robed acolyte carrying holy water in a silver basin; a few Sisters of Charity with their long black gowns and flapping white bonnets; behind these the weeping villagers, bearing the coffin on a rude sort of litter. As Hetty saw this procession, she was seized with an irresistible desire to join it. She was the only passenger in the diligence, and the door was locked. She called to the driver, and at last succeeded in making him hear, and also understand that she wished to be set down immediately: she would walk on to the inn. She wished first to go into the church. The driver was a good Catholic; very seriously he said: "It is bad luck to say one's prayers while there is going on the mass for the dead; there is another chapel which Madame would find less sad at this hour. It is only a short distance farther on."
But Hetty reiterated her request; and the driver, shrugging his shoulders, and saying in an altered tone:
"As Madame pleases; it is all the same to me: nevertheless, it is bad luck;" assisted her to alight.
The procession had just entered the church. Dim lights twinkled on the altar, and a smell of incense filled the place. Hetty fell on her knees with the rest, and prayed for those she had left behind her. Her prayer was simple and short, repeated many times: "Oh God, make them happy! make them happy!" When the mass was over, Hetty waited near the door, and watched anxiously to see if the priest were the same whom her father had known so well twenty years before. Yes, it was—no—could this be Father Antoine? This fat, red-faced, jovial-looking old man? Father Antoine had been young, slender and fair; but there was no mistaking the calm and serious hazel eyes. It was Father Antoine, but how changed!
"If I have changed as much as that," thought Hetty, "he'll never believe I am I; and I dare say I have. Dear me, what a frightful thing is this old age!"
Hetty had resolved, in the outset, that she would take Father Antoine into her confidence. She knew the sacredness of secrecy in which Roman Catholic priests are accustomed to hold all confessions made to them. She felt that her secret would be too heavy to bear unshared, and that times might arise when she would need advice or help from one knowing all the truth.
Early the next morning, she went to Father Antoine's house. The good old man was at work in his garden. His little cottage was surrounded by beds which were gay with flowers from June till November. Nothing was left in bloom now, except asters and chrysanthemums: but there was no flower, not even his July carnations, in which he took such pride, as in his chrysanthemums. As he heard the little gate shut, he looked up; saw that it was a stranger; and came forward to meet her, bearing in his hand one great wine-colored chrysanthemum blossom, as large as a blush rose:
"Is it to see me, daughter?" he said, with his inalienable old French courtesy. Father Antoine had come of a race which had noble blood in its veins. His ancestry had worn swords, and lived at courts, and Antoine Ladeau never once, in his half century of work in these Canadian forests, forgot that fact. Hetty looked him full in the face, and colored scarlet, before she began to speak.
"You do not remember me," she said.
Father Antoine shook his head. "It is that I see so many faces each year," he replied apologetically, "that it is not possible to remember;" and he gazed earnestly into Hetty's expressive face.
"It is twenty years since I was here," Hetty continued. She felt a great longing that Father Antoine should recollect her. It would seem to make her task easier.
A reminiscence dawned on the priest's mind. "Twenty years?" he said, "ah, but that is long! we were both young then. Is it—ah, is it possible that it is the daughter with the father that I see?" Father Antoine had never forgotten the beautiful relation between Hetty and her father.
"Yes, I came with my father: you knew him very well," replied Hetty, "and I always thought then that, if I had any trouble, I would like to have you help me."
Father Antoine's merry face clouded over instantly. "And have you trouble, my daughter? If the good God permits that I help you, I shall be glad. I had a love for your father. He is no longer alive, or you would not be in trouble;" and, leading Hetty into his little study, Father Antoine sat down opposite her, and said:
"Tell me, my daughter."
Hetty's voice trembled, and tears filled her eyes: sympathy was harder to bear than loneliness. The story was hard to tell, but she told it, without pause, without reserve. Father Antoine's face grew stern as she proceeded. When she ceased speaking, he said:
"My daughter, you have sinned; sinned grievously: you must return to your husband. You have violated a holy sacrament of the Church. I command you to return to your husband."
Hetty stared at him in undisguised wonder. At last she said:
"Why do you speak to me like that, sir? I can obey no man: only my own conscience is my law. I will never return to my husband."
"The Church is the conscience of all her erring children," replied Father Antoine, "and disobedience is at the peril of one's soul. I lay it upon you, as the command of the Church, that you return, my daughter. You have sinned most grievously."
"Oh," said Hetty, with apparent irrelevance. "I understand now. You took me for a Catholic."
It was Father Antoine's turn to stare.
"Why then, if you are not, came you to me?" he said sternly. "I am here only as priest."
Hetty clasped her hands, and said pleadingly:
"Oh no! not only as priest: you are a good man. My father always said so. We were not Catholics; and I could not be of any other religion than my father's, now he is dead," (here Hetty unconsciously touched a chord in Antoine Ladeau's breast, which gave quick response): "but I recollected how he trusted you, and I said, if I can hide myself in that little village, Father Antoine will be good to me for my father's sake. But you must not tell me to go back to my home: no one can judge about that but me. The thing I have done is best: I shall not go back. And, if you will not keep my secret and be my friend, I will go away at once and hide myself in some other place still farther away, and will ask no one again to be my friend, ever till I die!"
Father Antoine was perplexed. All the blood of ancient knighthood which was in his veins was stirred with chivalrous desire to help Hetty: but, on the other hand, both as man and as priest, he felt that she had committed a great wrong, and that he could not even appear to countenance it. He studied Hetty's face: in spite of its evident marks of pain, it was as indomitable as rock.
"You have the old Huguenot soul, my daughter," he said. "Antoine Ladeau knows better than to try to cause you to swerve from the path you have chosen. But the good God can give you light: it may be that he has directed you here to find it in his true Church. Be sure that your father was a good Catholic at heart."
"Oh, no! he wasn't," exclaimed Hetty, impetuously. "There was nothing he disliked so much as a Catholic. He always said you were the only Catholic he ever saw that he could trust."
Father Antoine's rosy face turned rosier. He was not used among his docile Canadians to any such speech as this. The unvarnished fashions of New England honesty grated on his ear.
"It is not well for men of one religion to rail at the men of another," he said gravely. "I doubt not, there are those whom the Lord loves in all religions; but there is but one true Church."
"Forgive me," said Hetty, in a meeker tone. "I did not mean to be rude: but I thought I ought not to let you have such a mistaken idea about father. Oh, please, be my friend, Father Antoine!"
Father Antoine was silent for a time. Never had he been so sorely perplexed. The priest and the man were arrayed against each other.
Presently he said:
"What is it that you would have me do, my daughter? I do not see that there is any thing; since you have so firm a will and acknowledge not the Church."
"Oh!" said Hetty, perceiving that he relented, "there is not any thing that I want you to do, exactly. I only want to feel that there is one person who knows all about me, and will keep my secret, and is willing to be my friend. I shall not want any help about any thing, unless it is to get work; but I suppose they always want nurses here. There will be plenty to do."
"Daughter, I will keep your secret," said Father Antoine, solemnly: "about that you need have had no fear. No man of my race has ever betrayed a trust; and I will be your friend, if you need aught that I can do, while you choose to live in this place. But I shall pray daily to the good God to open your eyes, and make you see that you are living in heinous sin each day that you live away from your husband;" and Father Antoine rose with the involuntary habit of the priest of dismissing a parishioner when there was no more needful to be said. Hetty took her leave with a feeling of meek gratitude, hitherto unknown in her bosom. Spite of Father Antoine's disapproval, spite of his arbitrary Romanism, she trusted and liked him.
"It is no matter if he does think me wrong," she said to herself. "That needn't disturb me if I know I am right. I think he is wrong to pray to the Virgin and the saints."
Hetty had brought with her a sum of money more than sufficient to buy a little cottage, and fit it up with all needful comforts. She had no sentimental dispositions towards deprivation and wretchedness. All her plannings looked toward a useful, cheery, comfortable life. Among her purchases were gardening utensils, which she could use herself, and seeds and shrubs suited to the soil of St. Mary's. Strangely enough, the only cottage which she could find at all adapted to her purpose was one very near Father Antoine's, and almost precisely like it. It stood in the edge of the forest, and had still left in its enclosure many of the stumps of recently felled trees. All Hetty's farmer's instincts revived in full force; and, only a few days after Father Antoine's conversation with her, he found her one morning superintending the uprooting of these stumps, and making preparations for grading the land. As he watched her active movements, energetic tones, and fresh open face, he fell into a maze of wondering thought. This was no morbid sentimentalist; no pining, heart-broken woman. Except that truthfulness was stamped on every lineament of Hetty's countenance, Father Antoine would have doubted her story; and, except that her every act showed such vigorous common sense, he would have doubted her sanity. As it was, his perplexity deepened; so also did his interest in her. It was impossible not to admire this brisk, kindly, outspoken woman, who already moved about in the village with a certain air of motherly interest in every thing and everybody; had already begun to "help" in her own sturdy fashion, and had already won the good-will of old and young.
"The good God will surely open her eyes in his own time," thought Father Antoine, and in his heart he pondered much what a good thing it would be, if, when that time came, Hetty could be persuaded to become the Lady Superior of the Convent of the Bleeding Heart, only a few miles from St. Mary's. "She is born for an abbess," he said to himself: "her will is like the will of a man, but she is full of succor and tender offices. She would be a second Angelique, in her fervor and zeal." And the good old priest said rosaries full of prayers for Hetty, night and day.
There were two "Houses of Cure" in St. Mary's, both under the care of skilful physicians, who made specialties of treatment with the waters of the springs. One of these physicians was a Roman Catholic, and employed no nurses except the Sisters from the Convent of the Bleeding Heart. They came in turn, in bands of six or eight; and stayed three months at a time. In the other House, under the care of an English physician, nurses were hired without reference to their religion. As soon as Hetty's house was all in order, and her shrubs and trees set out, she went one morning to this House, and asked to see the physician in charge. With characteristic brevity, she stated that she had come to St. Mary's to earn her living as a nurse, and would like to secure a situation. The doctor looked at her scrutinizingly.
"Have you ever nursed?"
"What do you know about it then?"
"I have seen a great many sick people."
"How was that?"
Hetty hesitated, but with some confusion replied:
"My husband was a doctor, and I often went with him to see his patients."
"You are a widow then?"
"What then?" said the physician, severely.
Poor Hetty! She rose to her feet; but, recollecting that she had no right to be indignant, sat down, and replied in a trembling voice:
"I cannot tell you, sir, any thing about my trouble. I have come here to live, and I want to be a nurse."
"Father Antoine knows me," she added, with dignity.
Father Antoine's name was a passport. Doctor Macgowan had often wished that he could have all his nurses from the convent.
"You are a Catholic, then?" he said.
"No, indeed!" exclaimed Hetty, emphatically. "I am nothing of the sort."
"How is it that you mention Father Antoine, then?"
"He knew my father well, and me also, years ago; and he is the only friend I have here."
Dr. Macgowan had an Englishman's instinctive dislike of unexplained things and mysterious people. But Hetty's face and voice were better than pedigrees and certificates. Her confident reference to Father Antoine was also enough to allay any immediate uneasiness, and, "for the rest, time will show," thought the doctor; and, without any farther delay, he engaged Hetty as one of the day nurses in his establishment. In after years Dr. Macgowan often looked back to this morning, and thought, with the sort of shudder with which one looks back on a danger barely escaped:
"Good God! what if I had let that woman go?"
All Hetty's native traits especially adapted her to the profession of nursing; and her superb physical health was of itself a blessing to every sick man or sick woman with whom she came in contact. Before she had been in Dr. Macgowan's house one week, all the patients had learned to listen in the morning for her step and her voice: they all wanted her, and begged to be put under her charge.
"Really, Mrs. Smailli, I shall have to cut you up into parcels," said the doctor one day: "there is not enough of you to go round. You have a marvellous knack at making sick people like you. Did you really never nurse before?"
"Not with my hands and feet," replied Hetty, "but I think I have always been a nurse at heart. I have always been so well that to be sick seems to me the most dreadful thing in the world. I believe it is the only trouble I couldn't bear."
"You do not look as if you had ever had any very hard trouble of any kind," said the doctor in a light tone, but watching keenly the effect of his words.
Dr. Macgowan was beginning to be tormented by a great desire to know more in regard to his new nurse. Father Antoine's guarded replies to all his inquiries about her had only stimulated his curiosity.
"She is a good woman. You may trust her with all your house," Father Antoine had said; and had told the doctor that he had known both her and her father twenty years ago. More than this he would not say, farther than to express the opinion that she would live and die in St. Mary's, and devote herself to her work so long as she lived.
"She has for it a grand vocation, as we say."
Father Antoine exclaimed, "A grand vocation! Ah! if we but had her in our convent!"
"You'll never get her there as long as I'm alive, Father Antoine!" Dr. Macgowan had replied. "You may count upon that."
When Dr. Macgowan said to Hetty:
"You do not look as if you had ever had any very hard trouble of any kind," Hetty looked in his face eagerly, and answered:
"Do I not, really? I am so thankful, doctor! I have always had such a dread of looking woe-begone, and making everybody around me uncomfortable. I think that's a sin, if one can possibly help it."
And by no sudden surprise of remark or question, could the doctor ever come any nearer to Hetty's trouble than this. Her words always glanced off from direct personal issues, as subtlely and successfully as if she had been a practised diplomatist. Sometimes these perpetual evadings and non-committals seemed to Dr. Macgowan like art; but they were really the very simplicity of absolute unselfishness; and, gradually, as he came to perceive and understand this, he came to have a reverence for Hetty. He began to be ashamed of the curiosity he had felt as to the details of the sorrow which had driven her to this refuge of isolation and hard work. He began to feel about her as Father Antoine did, that there was a certain sacredness in her vocation which almost demanded a recognition of title, an investiture of office. Hetty would have been astonished, and would have very likely laughed, had she known with what a halo of sentiment her daily life was fast being surrounded in the minds of people. To her it was simply a routine of good, wholesome work; of a kind for which she was best fitted, and which enabled her to earn a comfortable living most easily to herself, and most helpfully to others; and left her "less time to think," as she often said to herself, "than any thing else I could possibly have done." "Time to think" was the one thing Hetty dreaded. As resolutely as if they were a sin, she strove to keep out of her mind all reminiscences of her home, all thoughts of her husband, of Raby. Whenever she gave way to them, she was unfitted for work; and, therefore, her conscience said they were wrong. While she was face to face with suffering ones, and her hands were busy in ministering to their wants, such thoughts never intruded upon her. It was literally true that, in such hours, she never recollected that she was any other than Hibba Smailli, the nurse. But, when her day's work was done, and she went home to the little lonely cottage, memories flocked in at the silent door, shut themselves in with her, and refused to be banished. Hence she formed the habit of lingering in the street, of chatting with the villagers on their door-steps, playing with the children, and often, when there was illness in any of the houses, going into them, and volunteering her services as nurse.
The St. Mary's people were, almost without exception, of French descent, and still kept up many of the old French customs of out-door fetes and ceremonies. Hetty found their joyous, child-like ways and manners singularly attractive and interesting. After the grim composure, and substantial, reflective methods of her New England life, the abandon and unthinkingness of these French-Canadians were bewildering and delightful to her.
"The whole town is every night like a Sunday-school picnic in our country," she said once to Father Antoine. "What children all these people are!"
"Yes, daughter, it is so," replied the priest; "and it is well. Does not our good Lord say that we cannot enter into His kingdom except we become as little children?"
"Yes, I know," replied Hetty; "but I don't believe this is exactly what he meant, do you?"
"A part of what he meant," answered the priest; "not all. First, docility; and, second, joy: that is what the Church teaches."
"Your Church is better than ours in that respect," said Hetty candidly: "ours doesn't teach joy; it is pretty much all terror."
"Should a child know terror of its mother?" asked Father Antoine. "The Church is mother, and the Holy Virgin is mother. Ah, daughter! it will be a glad day when I see you in the beautiful sheltering arms."
Tears sometimes came to Hetty's eyes at such words as these; and good Father Antoine went with renewed fervor to his prayers for her conversion.
In the centre of the village was a square laid out in winding paths, and surrounded by fir trees. In the middle of this square was a great stone basin, in which a spring perpetually bubbled up; the basin had a broad brim, on which the villagers sat when they came of an evening to fill jugs and bottles with the water. On a bright summer night, the circle would often widen and widen, by men throwing themselves on the ground; children toddling from knee to knee; groups standing in eager talk here and there, until it seemed as if the whole village were gathered around the spring. These were the times when all the village affairs were discussed, and all the village gossip retailed from neighbor to neighbor. The scene was as gay and picturesque as you might see in a little town of Brittany; and the jargon of the Canadian patois much more confusing than any dialect one would hear on French soil. Hetty's New England tongue utterly refused to learn this new mode of speech; but her quick and retentive ear soon learned its meanings sufficiently to follow the people in their talk. She often made one of this evening circle at the spring, and it was a pleasant sight to see the quick stir of welcome with which her approach was observed.
"Here comes the good Aunt Hibba from the Doctor's House," and mothers would push children away, and gossips would crowd, and men would stand up, all to make room for Hetty: then they would gather about her, and those who could speak English would translate for those who could not; and everybody would have something to tell her. It was an odd thing that lovers sought her more than any one else. Many a quarrel Aunt Hibba's good sense healed over; and many a worthless fellow was sent about his business, as he deserved to be, because Aunt Hibba took his sweetheart in hand, and made her see the rights of things. If a traveller, strolling about St. Mary's of a June night, had come upon these chattering groups, and seen how they centred around the sturdy, genial-faced woman, in a straight gray gown and a close white cap, he would have been arrested by the picture at once; and have wondered much who and what Hetty could be: but if you had told him that she was a farmer's daughter from Northern New England, he would have laughed in your face, and said. "Nonsense! she belongs to some of the Orders." Very emphatically would he have said this, if it had chanced to be on one of the evenings when Father Antoine was walking by Hetty's side. Father Antoine knew her custom of lingering at the great spring, and sometimes walked down there at sunset to meet her, to observe her talk with the villagers, and to walk home with her later. Nothing could be stronger proof of the reverence in which the whole village held Hetty, than the fact that it seemed to them all the most fitting and natural thing that she and Father Antoine should stand side by side speaking to the people, should walk away side by side in earnest conversation with each other. If any man had ventured upon a jest or a ribald word concerning them, a dozen quick hands would have given him a plunge head-foremost into the great stone basin, which was the commonest expression of popular indignation in St. Mary's; a practice which, strangely enough, did not appear to interfere with anybody's relish of the waters.
Father Antoine had an old servant woman, Marie, who had lived in the Ladeau family since before he was born. She had been by the death-bed of his mother, his father, his grandmother, and of an uncle who had died at some German watering-place: wherever a Ladeau was in any need of service, thither hasted Marie; and if the need were from illness, Marie was all the happier; to lie like a hound on the floor all night, and watch by a sick and suffering Ladeau, was to Marie joy. When the young Antoine had set out for the wildernesses of North America, Marie had prayed to be allowed to come with him; and when he refused she had wept till she fell ill. At the last moment he relented, and bore the poor creature on board ship, wondering within himself if he would be able to keep her alive in the forests. But as soon as there was work to do for him she revived; and all these years she had kept his house, and cared for him as if he were her son. From the day of Hetty's first arrival, old Marie had adopted her into her affections: no one, not born a Ladeau, ever had won such liking from Marie. Much to Hetty's embarrassment, whenever she met her, she insisted on kissing her hand, after the fashion of the humble servitors of great houses in France. Probably, in all these long years of solitary service with Father Antoine, Marie had pined for the sight of some one of her own sex, to whom she could give allegiance, for she was fond of telling long stories about the beautiful ladies of the house of Ladeau; and how she had attired them for balls, and had seen them ride away with cavaliers. There was neither splendor nor beauty in Hetty to attract Marie's fancy; but Marie had a religious side to her nature, almost as strong as the worldly and passionate one. She saw in Hetty's labors an exaltation of devotion which reminded her of noble ladies who had done penances and taken pilgrimages in her own country. Father Antoine's friendship for Hetty, so unlike any thing Marie had seen him feel towards any woman he had met in these wilds, also stimulated her fancy.
"Ah! but it is good that he has at last a friend to whom he may speak as a Ladeau should speak. May the saints keep her! she has the good heart of one the Virgin loves," said Marie, and many a candle did she buy and keep burning on the convent's shrines for Hetty's protection and conversion.
One night Marie overheard Father Antoine say to Hetty, as he bade her good-night at the garden gate:
"My daughter, you look better and younger every day."
"Do I?" replied Hetty, cheerfully: "that's an odd thing for a woman so old as I am. My birthday is next month. I shall be forty-six."
"Youth is not a matter of years," replied Father Antoine. "I have known very young women much older than you."
Hetty smiled sadly, and walked on. Father Antoine's words had given her a pang. They were almost the same words which Dr. Eben had said to her again and again, when she had reasoned with him against his love for her, a woman so much older than himself. "That is all very well to say," thought Hetty in her matter-of-fact way, "and no doubt there are great differences in people: but old age is old age, soften it how you will; and youth is youth; and youth is beautiful, and old age is ugly. Father Antoine knows it just as well as any man. Don't I see, good as he is, every day of my life, with what a different look he blesses the fair young maidens from that with which he blesses the wrinkled old women. There is no use minding it. It can't be helped. But things might as well be called by their right names."
Marie sat down on a garden bench, and reflected. So the good Aunt Hibba's birthday was next month, and there would be nobody to keep it for her in this strange country. "How can we find out?" thought Marie, "and give her a pleasure."
In summer weather, Father Antoine took his simple dinners on the porch. It was cool there, and the vines and flowers gave to the little nook a certain air of elegance which Father Antoine enjoyed without recognizing why. On this evening Marie lingered after she had removed the table. She fidgeted about, picking up a leaf here and there, and looking at her master, till he perceived that she had something on her mind.
"What is it, Marie?" he asked.
"Oh, M'sieur Antoine!" she replied, "it is about the good Aunt Hibba's birthday. Could you not ask her when is the day? and it should be a fete day, if we only knew it; there is not one that would not be glad to help make it beautiful."
"Eh, my Marie, what is it then that you plan? The people in the country from which she comes have no fetes. It might be that she would think it a folly," answered Father Antoine, by no means sure that Hetty would like such a testimonial.
"All the more, then, she would like it," said Marie. "I have watched her. It is delight to her when they dance about the spring, and she has the great love for flowers."
So Father Antoine, by a little circumlocution, discovered when the birthday would come, and told Marie; and Marie began straightway to go back and forth in the village, with a pleased air of mystery.
The birthday fell on a day in June. It so happened that Hetty was later than usual in leaving her patients that night; and her purpose had been to go home by the nearest way, and not pass through the Square. The villagers had feared this, and had forestalled her; at the turning where she would have left the main road, she found waiting for her the swiftest-footed urchin in all St. Mary's, little Pierre Michaud. The readiest witted, too, and of the freest tongue, and he was charged to bring Aunt Hibba by the way of the Square, but by no means to tell her the reason.
"And if she say me nay, what is it that I am to tell her, then?" urged Pierre.
"Art thou a fool, Pierre?" said his mother, sharply, "Thou'rt ready enough with excuses, I'll warrant, for thy own purposes: invent one now. It matters not, so that thou bring her here." And Pierre, reassured by this maternal carte blanche for the best lie he could think of, raced away, first tucking securely into a niche of the stone basin the little pot with a red carnation in it which he had brought for his contribution to the birthday fete.
When Hetty saw Pierre waiting at the corner, she exclaimed:
"What, Pierre, loitering here! The sunset is no time to idle. Where are your goats?"
"Milked an hour ago, Tantibba, and in the shed," replied Pierre, with a saucy air of having the best of the argument, "and my mother waits in the Square to speak to thee as thou passest."
[Footnote 1: "Tante Hibba."]
"I was not going that way, to-night," replied Hetty. "I am in haste. What does she wish? Will it not do as well in the morning?"
Alarmed at this suggestion, young Pierre made a master-stroke of invention, and replied on the instant:
"Nay, Bo Tantibba, that it will not; for it is the little sister of Jean Cochot which has been badly bitten by a fierce dog, and the mother has her there in her arms waiting for thee to dress her wounds. Oh, but the blood doth run! and the little one's cries would pierce thy heart!" And the rascally Pierre pretended to sob.
[Footnote 2: The French Canadians often contract "bonne" and "bon" in this way. "Bo Tantibba" is contraction for "Bonne Tante Hibba."]
"Eh, eh, how happened that?" said Hetty, hurrying on so swiftly towards the Square that even Pierre's brisk little legs could hardly keep up with her. Pierre's inventive faculty came to a halt.
"Nay, that I do not know," he replied; "but the people are all gathered around her, and they all cry out for thee by thy name. There is none like thee, Tantibba, they say, if one has a wound."
Hetty quickened her pace to a run. As she entered the Square, she saw such crowds around the basin that Pierre's tale seemed amply corroborated. Pressing in at the outer edge of the circle, she exclaimed, looking to right and left, "Where is the child? Where is Mere Michaud?" Every one looked bewildered; no one answered. Pierre, with an upward fling of his agile legs, disappeared to seek his carnation; and Hetty found herself, in an instant more, surrounded by a crowd of children, each in its finest clothes, and each bearing a small pot with a flowering-plant in it.
"For thee! For thee! The good saints bless the day thou wert born!" they all cried, pressing nearer, and lifting high their little pots.
"See my carnation!" shouted Pierre, struggling nearer to Hetty. "And my jonquil!" "And my pansies!" "And this forget-me-not!" cried the children, growing more and more excited each moment; while the chorus, "For thee! For thee! The good saints bless the day thou wert born!" rose on all sides.
Hetty was bewildered.
"What does all this mean?" she said helplessly.
Then, catching Pierre by the shoulder so suddenly that his red carnation tottered and nearly fell, she exclaimed:
"You mischievous boy! Where is the child that was bitten? Have you told me a lie?"
At this moment, Pierre's mother, pushing through the crowd, exclaimed:
"Ah! but thou must forgive him. It was I that sent him to lie to thee, that thou shouldst not go home. We go with thee, to do our honor to the day on which thou wert born!"
And so saying, Mere Michaud turned, and swinging high up in the air one end of a long wreath of feathery ground-pine, led off the procession. The rest followed in preconcerted order, till some forty men and women, all linked together by the swinging loops of the pine wreath, were in line. Then they suddenly wheeled and surrounded the bewildered Hetty, and bore her with them. The children, carrying their little pots of flowers, ran along shouting and screaming with laughter to see the good "Tantibba" so amazed. Louder and louder rose the chorus:
"For thee! For thee! May the good saints bless the day thou wert born!"
Hetty was speechless: her cheeks flushed. She looked from one to the other, and all she could do was to clasp her hands and smile. If she had spoken, she would have cried. When they came to Father Antoine's cottage, there he stood waiting at the gate, wearing his Sunday robes, and behind him stood Marie, also in her best, and with her broad silver necklace on, which the villagers had only two or three times seen her wear. Marie had her hands behind her, and was trying to hold out her narrow black petticoat on each side to hide something. Mysterious and plaintive noises struggled through the woollen folds, and, at each sound, Marie stamped her foot and exclaimed angrily:
"Bah! thou silly beast, be quiet! Wilt thou spoil all our sport?"
The procession halted before the house, and Father Antoine advanced, bearing in his hands a gay wreath of flowers. The people had wished that this should be placed on Hetty's head, but Father Antoine had persuaded them to waive this part of the ceremony. He knew well that this would be more than Hetty could bear. Holding the wreath in his hands, therefore, he addressed a few words to Hetty, and then took his place by her side. Now was Marie's moment of joy. Springing to one side as quickly as her rheumatic old joints would permit, she revealed what she had been trying to hide behind her scant petticoat. It was a white lamb, decorated from ears to tail with knots of ribbon and with flowers. The poor little thing tugged hard at the string by which it was held, and shook its pretty head in restless impatience under its load of finery, and bleated piteously: but for all that it was a very pretty sight; and the broken English with which Marie, on behalf of the villagers, presented the little creature to Hetty, was prettier still. When they reached Hetty's gate, all the women who had hold of the long pine wreath gave their places to men; and, in the twinkling of an eye, the lithe vigorous fellows were on the fences, on the posts of the porch, nailing the wreath in festoons everywhere; from the gateway to the door in long swinging loops, above the porch, in festoons over the windows, under the eaves, and hanging in long waving ends on the walls. Then they hung upon the door the crown which Hetty had not worn, and the little children set their gay pots of flowers on the window-sills and around the porch; and all was a merry hubbub of voices and laughter. Hetty grasped Father Antoine by the arm.
"Oh, do you speak to them, and thank them for me! I can't!" she said; and Father Antoine saw tears in her eyes.
"But you must speak to them, my daughter," he replied, "else they will be grieved. They cannot understand that you are pleased if you say no word. I will speak first till you are more calm."
When Father Antoine had finished his speech, Hetty stepped forward, and looking round on all their faces, said:
"I do not know how to thank you, friends. I never saw any thing like this before, and it makes me dumb. All I can say is that you have filled my heart with joy, and I feel no more a stranger: your village is my home."
"Thanks to thee, then, for that! Thanks to thee! And the good saints bless the day thou wert born," shouted the people, and the little children catching the enthusiasm, and wanting to shout something, shouted: "Bo Tantibba! Bo Tantibba!" till the place rang. Then they placed the pet lamb in a little enclosed paddock which had been built for him during the day, and the children fed him with red clover blossoms through the paling; and presently, Father Antoine considerately led his flock away, saying,—"The good Aunt is weary. See you not that her eyes droop, and she has no words? It is now kind that we go away, and leave her to rest."
As the gay procession moved away crying, "Good-night, good-night!" Hetty stood on the porch and watched them. She was on the point of calling them back. A strange dread of being left alone seized upon her. Never since she had forsaken her home had she felt such a sense of loneliness, except when she was crouched under the hemlock-trees by the lake. She watched till she could no longer see even a fluttering motion in the distance. Then she went into the house. The silence smote her. She turned and went out again, and went to the paddock, where the little lamb was bleating.
"Poor little creature!" she said, "wert thou torn from thy mother? Dost thou pine for one thou see'st not?" She untied it, led it into the house, and spread down hay and blankets for it, in one corner of her kitchen. The little creature seemed cheered by the light and warmth; cuddled down and went to sleep.
Hetty's heart was full of thoughts. "Oh! what would Eben have said if he could have seen me to-night?" "How Raby would have delighted in it all!" "How long am I to live this strange life?" "Can this be really I?" "What has become of my old life, of my old self?" Like restless waves driven by a wind too powerful to be resisted, thoughts and emotions surged through Hetty's breast. She buried her face in her hands and wept; wept the first unrestrained tears she had wept. Only for a few moments, however. Like the old Hetty Gunn of the old life, she presently sprang to her feet, and said to herself, "Oh, what a selfish soul I am to be spending all my strength this way! I shan't be fit for any thing to-morrow if I go on so." Then she patted the lamb on its head, and said with a comforting sense of comradeship in the little creature's presence, "Good-night, little motherless one! Sleep warm," and then she went to bed and slept till morning.
I have dwelt on the surface details of Hetty's life at St. Mary's, and have said little about her mental condition and experiences: this is because I have endeavored to present this part of her life, exactly as she lived it, and as she would tell it herself. That there were many hours of acute suffering; many moments when her courage wellnigh failed; when she was almost ready to go back to her home, fling herself at her husband's feet, and cry, "Let me be but as a servant in thy house,"—it is not needful to say.
Hearts answer to hearts, and no heart could fail to know that a woman in Hetty's position must suffer keenly and constantly. But this story would do great injustice to her, and would be essentially false, if it spoke often of, or dwelt at any length upon the sufferings which Hetty herself never mentioned, and put always away from her with an unflinching resolution. Year after year, the routine of her days went on as we have described; unchanged except that she grew more and more into the affections of the villagers among whom she came and went, and of the hundreds of ill and suffering men and women whom she nursed. She was no nearer becoming a Roman Catholic than she had been when she sat in the Welbury meeting-house: even Father Antoine had given over hoping for her conversion; but her position in St. Mary's was like the position of a Lady Abbess in a religious community; her authority, which rarely took on an authoritative shape, was great; and her influence was greater than her authority. In Dr. Macgowan's House of Cure, she was second only to the doctor himself; and, if the truth were told, it might have been said she was second to none.
Patients went away from St. Mary's every year who stoutly ascribed their cure to her, and not to the waters nor to the physicians. Her straightforward, kindly, common sense was a powerful tonic, morally and physically, to all invalids whom she nursed. She had no tolerance for any weakness which could be conquered. She had infinite tenderness for all weakness which was inevitable; and her discriminations between the two were always just. "I'd trust more to Mrs. Smailli's diagnosis of any case than I would to my own," said Dr. Macgowan to his fellow-physicians more than once. And, when they scoffed at the idea, he replied: "I do not mean in the technicalities of specific disease, of course. The recognition of those is a matter of specific training; but, in all those respects, a physician's diagnosis may be faultless; and yet he be much mistaken in regard to the true condition of the patient. In this finer, subtler diagnosis of general conditions, especially of moral conditions, Mrs. Smailli is worth more than all the doctors in Canada put together. If she says a patient will get well, he always does, and vice versa. She knows where the real possibility of recuperation lies, and detects it often in patients I despair of."
And now this story must again pass over a period of ten years in the history of Eben and Hetty Williams. During all these years, Hetty had been working faithfully in St. Mary's; and Dr. Eben had been working faithfully in Welbury. Hetty was now fifty-six years old. Her hair was white, and clustered round her temples in a rim of snowy curls, peeping out from under the close lace cap she always wore. But the snowy curls were hardly less becoming than the golden brown ones had been. Her cheeks were still pink, and her lips red. She looked far less old for her age at fifty-six than she had looked ten years before.