Part 2 out of 4
and did not speak for a moment. Then she said:
"Yes; but nobody need be alone: there are always plenty of people to
take into one's house. If you are lonely, why don't you get somebody
to live with you, or you might be married," she added, in as purely
matter-of-fact a tone, as she would have said, "you might take a
journey," or "you might build on a wing to your house."
This suggestion sounded oddly enough, coming so soon from the lips of
the woman whom the doctor had just been ardently wishing he could marry;
but its cool and unembarrassed tone was sufficient to corroborate his
"Ah!" he thought, "I knew she didn't care any thing for me!" and he fell
into a silent brown study which Hetty did not attempt to break. This was
one among her many charms to Dr. Eben, that she was capable of sitting
quietly by a person's side for long intervals of silence. The average
woman, when she is in the company of even a single person, seems to
consider herself derelict in duty, if conversation is not what she calls
"kept up;" an instinctive phrase, which, by its universal use, is the
bitterest comment on its own significance. Men have no such feeling.
Two men will sit by each other's side, it may be for hours, in silence,
and feel no derogation from good comradeship. Why should not women? The
answer is too evident. Women have a perpetual craving to be recognized,
to be admired; and a large part of their ceaseless chatter is no more
nor less than a surface device to call your attention to them; as little
children continually pull your gown to make you look at them. Hetty was
incapable of this. She was a vivacious talker when she had any thing to
say; but a most dogged holder of her tongue when she had not. In this
instance she had nothing to say, and she did not speak: the doctor had
so much to say that he did not speak, and they sat in silence till the
shrill bell from the farm-house door called them to dinner. As they
walked slowly up to the house, the doctor said:
"You don't wonder that I hate to go away from this lovely place, do you,
Any other woman but Hetty would have felt something which was in his
tone, though not in his words. But Hetty answered bluntly:
"Yes, I do wonder; it is very lovely here: but I should think you'd want
to be at work; I do. I think we've had play-spell enough; for, after
all, it hasn't been any thing but play-spell for you and me."
"Now she despises me," thought poor Dr. Eben. "She hasn't any tolerance
in her, anyhow," and he was grave and preoccupied all through dinner.
It was settled that they should set out for home a week from that day.
"Only seven days left," said the doctor. "What can I do in that time?"
Never was man so baffled in attempts to woo. Hetty saw nothing, heard
nothing, understood nothing; unwittingly she defeated every project he
made for seeing her alone; unconsciously she chilled and dampened and
arrested every impulse he had to speak to her, till Dr. Eben's temper
was tried as well as his love. Sally, the baby, the nurse, all three,
were simply a wall of protection around Hetty. Her eyes, her ears, her
hands were full; and as for her heart and soul, they were walled about
even better than her body. Nothing can be such a barrier to love's
approach as an honest nature's honest unconsciousness. Dr. Eben was
wellnigh beside himself. The days flew by. He had done nothing, gained
nothing. How he cursed his folly in having let two whole months slip
away, before he found out that he loved this woman, whom now he could
no more hope to impress in a few hours' time than a late afternoon sun
might think to melt an iceberg.
"It would take a man a lifetime to make her understand that he loved
her," groaned the doctor, "and I've only got two days;" and more than
ever his anxiety deepened as he wondered whether, after they returned
home, she would allow him to continue these friendly and familiar
relations. This uncertainty led to a most unfortunate precipitation on
his part. The night before they were to go, he found Hetty at sunset
sitting under the trees, and looking dreamily out to sea. Her attitude
and her look were pensive. He had never seen such an expression on
Hetty's face or figure, and it gave him a warmer yearning towards her
than he had ever yet dared to let himself feel. It was just time for the
lamp in the lighthouse to be lit, and Hetty was watching for it. As the
doctor approached her, she said, "I am waiting for the lighthouse light
to flash out. I like so to see its first ray. It is like seeing a new
planet made." Dr. Eben sat down by her side, and they both waited in
silence for the light. The whole western and southern sky glowed red; a
high wind had been blowing all day, and the water was covered with foamy
white caps; the tall, slender obelisk of the lighthouse stood out black
against the red sky, and the shining waves leaped up and broke about its
base. But all was quiet in the sheltered curve of the beach on which
Hetty and Dr. Eben were sitting: the low surf rose and fell as gently as
if it had a tide of its own, which no storm could touch. Presently the
bright light flashed from the tower, shone one moment on the water of
the river's mouth, then was gone.
"Now it is lighting the open sea," said Hetty. In a few moments more the
lantern had swung round, and again the bright rays streamed towards the
beach, almost reaching the shore.
"And now it is lighting us," said Dr. Eben: "I wish it were as easy
to get light upon one's path in life, as it is to hang a lantern in a
"Are you often puzzled?" she asked lightly.
"No," said the doctor, "I never have been, but I am now."
"What about?" asked Hetty, innocently: "I don't see what there is to
puzzle you here."
"You, Miss Gunn," stoutly answered Dr. Eben, feeling as if he were
taking a header into unfathomed waters. "Me!" exclaimed Hetty, in a tone
of utmost surprise. "Why, what do you mean?"
Dr. Eben hesitated a single instant. He had not intended to do this
thing, but the occasion had been too much for him. "I may as well do it
first as last," he said; "she can but refuse me:" and, in a very few
manly words, Dr. Eben Williams straightway asked Hetty Gunn to marry
him. He was not prepared for what followed, although in a soliloquy,
only a few days before, he had predicted it to himself. Hetty laughed
merrily, unaffectedly, in his very face.
"Why, Dr. Williams!" she said, "you can't know what you're saying. You
can't want to marry me: I'm not the sort of woman men want to marry"--
He interrupted her. His voice was husky with deep feeling.
"Miss Gunn," he said, "I implore you not to speak in this way. I do know
what I am saying, and I do love you with all my heart."
"Nonsense," answered Hetty in the kindliest of tones; "of course you
think you do: but it is only because you have been shut up here two
whole months, with nothing else to do but fancy that you were in love.
I told you it was time we went home. Don't say any thing more about it.
I'll promise you to forget it all," and Hetty laughed again, a merry
little laugh. A sharp suspicion crossed the doctor's mind that she was
coquetting with him. In a constrained tone he said:
"Miss Gunn, do you really wish me to understand that you reject me?"
"Not at all," said Hetty, gayly. "I wish you to understand that I
haven't permitted you to offer yourself. I have simply assured you that
you are mistaken: you'll see it for yourself as soon as we get home. Do
you suppose I shouldn't know if you were really in love with me?"
"I didn't know it myself till a week ago," replied Dr. Eben: "I did not
understand myself. I never loved any woman before."
"And no man ever asked me to marry him before," answered the honest
Hetty, like a child, and with an amused tone in her voice. "It is very
odd, isn't it?"
Dr. Eben was confounded. In spite of himself, he felt the contagion of
Hetty's merry and unsentimental view of the situation; and it was with
a trace of obstinacy rather than of a lover's pain in his tones that he
"But, Miss Gunn, indeed you must not make light of this matter in this
way. It is not treating me fairly. With all the love of a man's heart I
love you, and have asked you to be my wife: are you sure that you could
not love me?"
"I don't really think I could," said Hetty; "but I shall not try,
because I am sure you are mistaken. I am too old to be married, for one
thing: I shall be thirty-seven in the fall. That's reason enough, if
there were no other. A man can't fall in love with a woman after she's
as old as that."
Dr. Eben laughed outright. He could not help it.
"There!" said Hetty, triumphantly; "that's right; I like to hear you
laugh now; for goodness' sake, let's forget all this. I will, if you
will; and we will be all the better friends for it perhaps. At any rate,
you'll be all the more friend to me for having saved you from making
such a blunder as thinking you were in love with me."
Dr. Eben was on the point of persisting farther; but he suddenly thought
"I'd better not: I might make her angry. I'll take the friendship
platform for the present: that is some gain."
"You will permit me then to be your friend, Miss Gunn," he said. "Why,
certainly," said Hetty, in a matter-of-fact way: "I thought we were very
good friends now."
"But you recollect, you distinctly told me I was to come only as
physician to Mrs. Little," retorted the doctor.
Hetty colored: the darkness sheltered her.
"Oh! that was a long time ago," she said in a remorseful tone: "I should
be very ungrateful if I had not forgotten that."
And with this Dr. Eben was forced to be contented. When he thought the
whole thing over, he admitted to himself that he had fared as well as he
had a right to expect, and that he had gained a very sure vantage,
in having committed the loyal Hetty to the assertion that they were
friends. He half dreaded to see her the next morning, lest there should
be some change, same constraint in her manner; not a shade of it. He
could have almost doubted his own recollections of the evening before,
if such a thing had been possible, so absolutely unaltered was Hetty's
treatment of him. She had been absolutely honest in all she said: she
did honestly believe that his fancied love for her was a sentimental
mistake, a caprice born of idleness and lack of occupation, and she did
honestly intend to forget the whole thing, and to make him forget it.
And so they went back to the farm, where the summer awaited them with
overflowing harvests of every thing, and Hetty's hands were so full that
very soon she had almost ceased to recollect the life at "The Runs."
Sally and the baby were strong and well. The whole family seemed newly
glad and full of life. All odd hours they could snatch from work, Old
Caesar and Nan roamed about in the sun, following the baby, as his nurse
carried him in her arms. He had been christened Abraham Gunn Little;
poor James Little having persistently refused to let his own name be
given to the child, and Hetty having been cordially willing to give her
father's. To speak to a baby as Abraham was manifestly impossible, and
the little fellow was called simply "Baby" month after month, until,
one day, one of Norah's toddlers, who could not speak plain, hit upon a
nickname so fortunate that it was at once adopted by everybody. "Raby,"
little Mike called him, by some original process of compounding
"Abraham" and "Baby;" and "Raby" he was from that day out. He was a
beautiful child: his mother's blue eyes, his father's dark hair, and a
skin like a ripe peach, but not over fair,--made a combination of color
which was rarely lovely. He was a joyous child, as joyous as if no
shadow had ever rested on his mother's heart. Sally watched him day by
day with delight; but the delight was never wholly free from pain: the
wound she had received, the wound she had inflicted on herself, could
never wholly heal. A deep, moral hurt must for ever leave its trace, as
surely as a deep wound in a man's flesh must leave its scar. It is of
no use for us to think to evade this law; neither is it a law wholly
of retribution. The scar on the flesh is token of nature's process of
healing: so is the scar of a perpetual sorrow, which is left on a soul
which has sinned and repented. Sally and Jim were leading healthful and
good lives now; and each day brought them joys and satisfactions: but
their souls were scarred; the fulness of joy which might have been
theirs they could never taste. And the loss fell where it could never
be overlooked for a moment,--on their joy in their child. In the very
holiest of holies, in the temple of the mother's heart, stood for ever a
veiled shape, making ceaseless sin-offering for the past.
As the winter set in, an anxiety fell on the family which had passed
so sunny a summer. With the first sharp cold winds, little Raby
developed a tendency to croup. Neither Sally nor Hetty had ever seen a
case of this terrible and alarming disease; and, in Raby's first attack
of it, they had both thought the child dying. Now was Doctor Eben
brought again into close and intimate relations with Hetty. During the
months of the summer, he had, in spite of all his efforts, in spite
of his frequent visits to her house, in spite of all Hetty's frank
cordiality of manner, felt himself slowly slipping away from the
vantage-ground he hoped he had gained with her. This was the result of
two things,--one which he knew, and one which he did not dream of: the
cause which he knew, was a very simple and evident one, Hetty's constant
preoccupation. Hetty was a very busy woman: what with Raby, the farm,
the house, her social relations with the whole village, she had never a
moment of leisure. Often when Dr. Eben came to the house, he found her
away; and often when he found her at home, she was called away before he
had talked with her half an hour. The other reason, which, if Dr. Eben
had only known it, would have more than comforted him for all he felt he
had lost on the surface, was that Hetty, in the bottom of her heart, was
slowly growing conscious that she cared a great deal about him.
No woman, whatever she may say and honestly mean, can entirely dismiss
from her thoughts the memory of the words in which a man has told her he
loves her. Especially is this true when those words are the first words
of love which have ever been spoken to her. Morning and night, as Hetty
came and went, in her brisk cheery way, in and out of the house and
about the farm, she wore a new look on her face. The words, "I love you
with all my heart," haunted her. She did not believe them any more now
than before; but they had a very sweet sound. She was no nearer now than
then to any impulse to take Dr. Williams at his word: nothing could be
deeper implanted in a soul than the conviction was in Hetty's that no
man was likely to love her. But she was no longer so sure that she
herself could not love. Vague and wistful reveries began to interrupt
her activity. She would stand sometimes, with her arms folded, leaning
on a stile, and idly watching her men at work, till they wondered what
had happened to their mistress. She lost a little of the color from her
cheeks, and the full moulded lines of her chin grew sharper.
"Faith, an' Miss Hetty's goin' off, sooner 'n she's any right to," said
Mike to Norah one day. "What puts such a notion in your head thin,
Mike?" retorted Norah, "sure she's as foine a crayther as's in all the
county, an' foiner too."
"Foine enough, but I say for all that that she's a goin' off in her
looks mighty fast," replied the keen-eyed Mike. "You don't think she'd
be a pinin' for anybody, do you?"
Norah gave a hearty Irish laugh.
"Miss Hetty a pinin'!" she repeated over and over with bursts of
"Ah, but yez are all alike, ye men. Miss Hetty a pinin'! I'd like to see
the man Miss Hetty wud pine fur."
Mike and Norah were both right. There was no "pining" in Hetty's busy
and sensible soul; but there had been planted in it a germ of new
life, whose slow quickening and growth were perplexing and disturbing
elements: not as yet did she recognize them; she only felt the
disturbance, and its link with Dr. Eben was sufficiently clear to make
her manner to him undergo an indefinable change. It was no less cordial,
no less frank: you could not have said where the change was; but it was
there, and he felt it. He ought to have understood it and taken heart.
But he was ignorant like Hetty, only felt the disturbance, and taking
counsel of his fears believed that things were going wrong.
Sometimes he would stay away for many days, and then watch closely
Hetty's manner when they met. Never a trace of resentment or even wonder
at his absence. Sometimes he would go there daily for an interval; never
a trace of expectation or of added familiarity. But now things were
changed. Little Raby's illness seemed to put them all back where they
were during the days of the sea-side idyl. Now the doctor felt himself
again needed. Both Hetty and Sally lived upon his words, even his looks.
Again and again the child's life seemed hanging in even balances, and
it was with a gratitude almost like that they felt to God that the two
women blessed Dr. Eben for his recovery. Night after night, the three,
watched by the baby's bed, listening to his shrill and convulsive
Morning after morning, Dr. Eben and Hetty went together out of the
chamber, and stood in the open door-way, watching the crimson dawn on
the eastern hills. At such times, the doctor felt so near Hetty that he
was repeatedly on the point of saying again the words of love he had
spoken six months before. But a great fear deterred him.
"If she refuses me once more, that would settle it for ever," he
said to himself, and forced the words back.
One morning after a night of great anxiety and fear, they left Sally's
room while it was yet dark. It was bitterly cold; the winter stars shone
keen and glittering in the bleak sky. Hetty threw on a heavy cloak, and
opening the hall-door, said:
"Let us go out into the cold air; it will do us good."
Silently they walked up and down the piazza. The great pines were
weighed down to the ground by masses of snow. Now and then, when the
wind stirred the upper branches, avalanches slid noiselessly off, and
built themselves again into banks below. There was no moon, but the
starlight was so brilliant that the snow crystals glistened in it. As
they looked at the sky, a star suddenly fell. It moved very slowly, and
was more than a minute in full sight.
"One light-house less," said Dr. Eben.
"Oh," exclaimed Hetty, "what a lovely idea! who said that? Who called
the stars lighthouses?"
"I forget," said the doctor; "in fact I think I never knew; I think it
was an anonymous little poem in which I saw the idea, years ago. It
struck me at the time as being a singularly happy one. I think I can
repeat a stanza or two of it."
When night falls on the earth, the sea
From east to west lies twinkling bright
With shining beams from beacons high,
Which send afar their friendly light.
The sailors' eyes, like eyes in prayer,
Turn unto them for guiding ray:
If storms obscure their radiance,
The great ships helpless grope their way.
When night falls on the earth, the sky
Looks like a wide, a boundless main;
Who knows what voyagers sail there?
Who names the ports they seek and gain?
Are not the stars like beacons set,
To guide the argosies that go
From universe to universe,
Our little world above, below?
On their great errands solemn bent,
In their vast journeys unaware
Of our small planet's name or place
Revolving in the lower air.
Oh thought too vast! oh thought too glad:
An awe most rapturous it stirs.
From world to world God's beacons shine:
God means to save his mariners!
Hetty was silent. The mention of light-houses had carried her thoughts
back to that last night at "The Runs," when, with Dr. Eben by her side,
she had watched the great revolving light in the stone tower on the bar.
Dr. Eben was thinking of the same thing; he wondered if Hetty were not:
after a few moments' silence, he became so sure of it that he said:
"You have not forgotten that night, have you?"
"Oh, no!" replied Hetty, in a low voice.
"I should like to think that you did not wish to forget it," said the
doctor, in a tender tone.
"Oh, don't, please don't say any thing about it," exclaimed Hetty, in a
tone so full of emotion, that Dr. Eben's heart gave a bound of joy. In
that second, he believed that the time would come when Hetty would love
him. He had never heard such a tone from her lips before. Her hand
rested on his arm. He laid his upon it,--the first caressing touch he
had ever dared to offer to Hetty; the first caressing touch which Hetty
had ever received from hand of man.
"I will not, Hetty, till you are willing I should," he said. He had
never called her "Hetty" before. A tumult filled Hetty's heart; but all
she said was, in a most matter-of-fact tone: "That's right! we must go
in now. It is too cold out here."
Dr. Eben did not care what her words were: nature had revealed herself
in a tone.
"I'll make her love me yet," he thought. "It won't take a great while
either; she's beginning, and she doesn't know it." He was so happy that
he did not know at first that Hetty had left him alone in front of the
fire. When he found she had gone, he drew up a big arm-chair, sank back
in its depths, put his feet on the fender, and fell to thinking how, by
spring, perhaps, he might marry Hetty. In the midst of this lover-like
reverie, he fell asleep in the most unlover-like way. He was worn out
with his long night's watching. In a few minutes, Hetty came back with
hot broth which she had prepared for him. Her light step did not rouse
him. She stood still by his chair, looking down on his face. His
clear-cut features, always handsome, were grand in sleep. The solemnity
of closed eyes adds to a noble face something which is always very
impressive. He stirred uneasily, and said in his sleep, "Hetty." A great
wave of passionate feeling swept over her face, as, standing there, she
heard this tender sound of her name on his unconscious lips.
"Oh what will become of me if I love him after all," she thought.
"Why not, why not?" answered her heart; wakened now and struggling for
its craved and needed rights. "Why not, why not?" and no answer came to
Moving noiselessly, she set the broth on a low table by the doctor's
side, covered him carefully with her own heavy cloak, and left the room.
On the threshold, she turned back and looked again at his face. Her
conscious thoughts were more than she could bear. In sudden impatience
with herself, she exclaimed, "Pshaw! how silly I am!" and hastened
upstairs, more like the old original Hetty than she had been for many
days. Love could not enthrone himself easily in Hetty's nature: it was
a rebellious kingdom. "Thirty-seven years old! Hetty Gunn, you're a
goose," were Hetty's last thoughts as she fell asleep that night. But
when she awoke the next morning, the same refrain, "Why not, why not?"
filled her thoughts; and, when she bade Dr. Eben good-morning, the rosy
color that mounted to her very temples gave him a new happiness.
Why prolong the story of the next few days? They were just such days as
every man and every woman who has loved has lived through, and knows far
better than can be said or sung. Love's beginnings are varied, and
his final crises of avowal take individual shape in each individual
instance: but his processes and symptoms of growth are alike in all
cases; the indefinable delight,--the dreamy wondering joy,--the half
avoidance which really means seeking,--the seeking which shelters itself
under endless pleas,--the ceaseless questioning of faces,--the mute
caresses of looks, and the eloquent caresses of tones,--are they not
written in the books of the chronicles of all lovers? What matter how or
when the crowning moment of full surrender comes? It came to Eben and
Hetty, however, more suddenly at last than it often comes; came in a way
so characteristic of them both, that perhaps to tell it may not be a
sin, since we aim at a complete setting forth of their characters.
For three days little Raby had been so ill that the doctor had not
left the house day nor night, except for imperative calls from other
patients. Each night the paroxysms of croup returned with great
severity, and the little fellow's strength seemed fast giving way under
them. Sally and Hetty, his two mothers, were very differently affected
by the grief they bore in common. Sally was speechless, calm, almost
dogged in her silence. When Dr. Eben trying to comfort her, said:
"Don't feel so, Mrs. Little: I think we shall pull the boy through all
right." She looked up in his face, and shook her head, speaking no
word. "I am not saying it merely to comfort you; indeed, I am not, Mrs.
Little," said the doctor. "I really believe he will get well. These
attacks of croup seem much worse than they really are."
"I don't know that it comforts me," replied Sally, speaking very slowly.
"I don't know that I want him to live; but I think perhaps he might be
allowed to die easier, if I didn't need so much punishing. It is worse
than death to see him suffer so."
"Oh, Mrs. Little! how can you think thus of God?" exclaimed the doctor.
"He never treats us like that, any more than you could Raby."
"The minister at the Corners said so," moaned Sally. "He said it was
till the third and fourth generations."
At such moments, Dr. Eben, in his heart, thought undevoutly of
ministers. "A bruised reed, he will not break," came to his mind, often
as he looked at this anguish-stricken woman, watching her only child's
suffering, and morbidly believing that it was the direct result of her
own sin. But Dr. Eben found little time to spare for his ministrations
to Sally, when Hetty was in such distress. He had never seen any thing
like it. She paced the house like a wounded lioness. She could not bear
to stay in the room: all day, all night, she walked, walked, walked; now
in the hall outside his door; now in the rooms below. Every few moments,
she questioned the doctor fiercely: "Is he no better?" "Will he have
another?" "Can't you do something more?" "Do you think there is a
possibility that any other doctor might know something you do not?"
"Shan't I send Caesar over to Springton for Dr. Wilkes; he might think
of something different?" These, and a thousand other such questions,
Hetty put to the harassed and tortured Dr. Eben, over and over, till
even his loving patience was wellnigh outworn. It was strengthened,
however, by his anxiety for her. She did not eat; she did not drink; she
looked haggard and feverish. This child had been to her from the day of
his birth like her own: she loved him with all the pent-up forces of the
great womanhood within her, which thus far had not found the natural
outlet of its affections.
"Doctor," she would cry vehemently, "why should Raby die? God never
means that any children should die. It is all our ignorance and
carelessness; all the result of broken law. I've heard you say a hundred
times, that it is a thwarting of God's plan whenever a child dies: why
don't you cure Raby?"
"That is all true, Hetty," Dr. Eben would reply; "all very true: it is a
thwarting of God's plan whenever any human being dies before he is fully
ripe of old age. But the accumulated weight of generations of broken law
is on our heads. Raby's little life has been all well ordered, so far as
we can see; but, farther back, was something wrong or he would not be
ill today. I have done my best to learn, in my little life, all that is
known of methods of cure; but I have only the records of human ignorance
to learn from, and I must fail again and again."
At last, on the fourth night, Raby slept: slept for hours, quietly,
naturally, and with a gentle dew on his fair forehead. The doctor sat
motionless by his bed and watched him. Sally, exhausted by the long
watch, had fallen asleep on a lounge. The sound of Hetty's restless
steps, in the hall outside, had ceased for some time. The doctor sat
wondering uneasily where she had gone. She had not entered the room for
more than an hour; the house grew stiller and stiller; not a sound was
to be heard except little Raby's heavy breathing, and now and then one
of those fine and mysterious noises which the timbers of old houses have
a habit of making in the night-time. At last the lover got the better
of the physician. Doctor Eben rose, and, stealing softly to the door,
opened it as cautiously as a thief. All was dark.
"Hetty," he whispered. No answer. He looked back at Raby. The child was
sleeping so soundly it seemed impossible that he could wake for some
time. Doctor Eben groped his way to the head of the great stairway, and
listened again. All was still.
"Hetty!" he called in a low voice, "Hetty!" No answer.
"She must have fallen asleep somewhere. She will surely take cold," the
doctor said to himself; persuading his conscience that it was his duty
to go and find her. Slowly feeling his way, he crept down the staircase.
On the last step but one, he suddenly stumbled, fell, and barely
recovered himself by his firm hold of the banisters, in time to hear
Hetty's voice in a low imperious whisper:
"Good heavens, doctor! what do you want?"
"Oh Hetty! did I hurt you?" he exclaimed; "I never dreamed of your being
on the stairs."
"I sat down a minute to listen. It was all so still in the room, I was
frightened; and I must have been asleep a good while, I think, I am so
cold," answered Hetty; her teeth beginning to chatter, and her whole
body shaking with cold. "Why, how dark it is!" she continued; "the hall
lamp has gone out: let me get a match."
But Dr. Eben had her two cold hands in his. "No, Hetty," he said, "come
right back into the room: Raby is so sound asleep it will not wake him;
and Sally is asleep too;" and he led her slowly towards the door. The
night-lamp was burning low; its pale flame, and the flickering blaze of
the big hickory logs on the hearth, made a glimmering twilight, whose
fantastic lights and shadows shot out through the door-way into the
gloom of the hall. As the first of these lights fell on Hetty's face,
Dr. Eben started to see how white it was. Involuntarily he put his arm
around her; and exclaimed "How pale you are, my poor Hetty! you are all
worn out;" and, half supporting her with his arm, he laid his free hand
gently on her hair.
Hetty was very tired; very cold; half asleep, and half frightened. She
dropped her head on his shoulder for a second, and said: "Oh, what a
comfort you are!"
The words had hardly left her lips when Doctor Eben threw both his arms
around her, and held her tightly to his breast, whispering:
"Indeed, I will be a comfort to you, Hetty, if you will only let me."
Hetty struggled and began to speak.
"Hush! you will wake Raby," he said, and still held her firmly, looking
unpityingly down into her face. "You do love me, Hetty," he whispered
The front stick on the fire broke, fell in two blazing upright brands to
right and left, and cast a sudden flood of light on the two figures in
the door-way. Sally and Raby slept on. Still Doctor Eben held Hetty
close, and looked with a keen and exultant gaze into her eyes.
"It isn't fair when I am so cold and sleepy," whispered Hetty, with a
half twinkle in her half-open eyes.
"It is fair! It is fair! Any thing is fair! Every thing is fair,"
exclaimed the doctor in a whisper which seemed to ring like a shout,
and he kissed Hetty again and again. Still Sally and Raby slept on: the
hickory fire leaped up as in joy; and a sudden wind shook the windows.
Hetty struggled once more to free herself, but the arms were like arms
"Say that you love me, Hetty," pleaded the doctor.
"When you let me go, perhaps I will," whispered Hetty.
Instantly the arms fell; and the doctor stood opposite her in the
door-way, his head bent forward and his eyes fixed on her face.
Hetty cast her eyes down. Words did not come. It would have been easier
to have said them while she was held close to Doctor Eben's side.
Suddenly, before he had a suspicion of what she was about to do, she had
darted away, was lost in the darkness, and in a second more he heard her
door shut at the farther end of the hall.
Dr. Eben laughed a low and pleasant laugh. "She might as well have said
it," he thought: "she will say it to-morrow. I have won!" and he sank
into the great white dimity-covered chair, at the head of Raby's bed,
and looked into the fire. The very coals seemed to marshal themselves
into shapes befitting his triumph: castles rose and fell; faces grew,
smiled, and faded away smiling; roses and lilies and palms glowed ruby
red, turned to silver, and paled into spiritual gray. The silence of the
night seemed resonant with a very symphony of joy. Still Sally and Raby
slept on. The boy's sweet face took each hour a more healthful tint;
and, as Doctor Eben watched the blessed change, he said to himself:
"What a night! what a night! Two lives saved! Raby's and mine." As the
morning drew near, he threw up the shades of the eastern window, and
watched for the dawn. "I will see this day's sun rise," he said with a
thrill of devout emotion; and he watched the horizon while it changed
like a great flower calyx from gray to pearly yellow, from yellow to
pale green, and at last, when it could hold back the day no longer, to a
vast rose red with a golden sun in its centre.
That morning's light could have fallen on no happier house, the world
over, than "Gunn's." A little child brought back to life, out of the
gates of death; two hearts entering anew on life, through the gates of
love; half a score of hearts, each glad in the gladness of each other,
and in the gladness of all,--what a morning it was!
Doctor Eben and Hetty met at the head of the stairs.
"Oh, Hetty!" exclaimed the doctor.
"Well?" said Hetty, in a half-defiant tone, without looking up. He came
nearer, and was about to kiss her.
She darted back, and lifting her eyes gave him a glance of such mingled
love and reproof that he was bewildered.
"Why, Hetty, surely I may kiss you?" he exclaimed.
"I was asleep last night," she answered gravely, "and you did very
wrong," and without another word or look she passed on.
Doctor Eben was thoroughly angry.
"What does she mean?" he said to himself. "She needn't think I am to be
played with like a boy;" and the doctor took his seat at the breakfast
table, with a sterner countenance than Hetty had ever seen him wear. In
a few moments she began to cast timid and deprecating looks at him. His
displeasure hurt her indescribably. She had not intended to offend or
repel him. She did not know precisely what she had intended: in fact
she had not intended any thing. If the doctor had understood more about
love, he would have known that all manifestations in Hetty at this time
were simply like the unconscious flutterings of a bird in the hand in
which it is just about to nestle and rest. But he did not understand,
and when Hetty, following him into the hall, stood shyly by his side,
and looking up into his face said inquiringly, "Doctor?" he answered
her as she had answered him, a short time before, with the curt
monosyllable, "Well?" His tone was curter than his words. Hetty colored,
and saying gently, "No matter; nothing now," turned away. Her whole
movement was so significant of wounded feeling that it smote Doctor
Eben's heart. He sprang after her and laid his hand on her arm. "Hetty,"
he said, "do tell me what it was you were going to say; I did not mean
to hurt your feelings: but I don't know what to make of you."
"Not--know--what--to--make--of--me!" repeated Hetty, very slowly, in a
tone of the intensest astonishment.
"You wouldn't say you loved me," replied the doctor, beginning to feel a
little ashamed of himself.
Hetty's eyes were fixed on his now, with no wavering in their gaze. She
looked at him, as if her life lay in the balance of what she might read
in his face.
"Did you not know that I loved you before you asked me to say so?" she
said with emphasis. It was the doctor's turn now to color. He answered
"A man has no right to know that, Hetty, until a woman tells him so."
"Did you not think that I loved you," repeated Hetty, with the same
emphasis, and a graver expression on her face.
Dr. Eben hesitated. Already, he felt a sort of fear of the incalculable
processes and changes in this woman's mind. Would she be angry if he
said, he had thought she loved him? Would she be sure to recognize any
equivocation, and be angrier at that?
"Hetty," he said, taking her hand in his, "I did hope very strongly that
you loved me, or else I should never have asked you to say so; but you
ought to be willing to say so, if it be true. Think how many times I
have said it to you."
Hetty's eyes did not leave his: their expression deepened until they
seemed to darken and enlarge. She did not speak.
"Will you not say it now, Hetty?" urged the doctor.
"I can't," replied Hetty, and turned and walked slowly away. Presently
she turned again, and walked swiftly back to him, and exclaimed:
"What do you suppose is the reason it is so hard for me to say it?"
Dr. Eben laughed. "I can't imagine, Hetty. The only thing that is hard
for me, is not to keep saying it all the time."
"There must be something wrong in me. I think I shall never say it. But
I suppose"--She hesitated, and her eyes twinkled. "I suppose you might
come to be very sure of it without my ever saying it?"
"I am sure of it now, you darling," exclaimed the doctor; and threw both
his arms around her, and this time Hetty did not struggle.
When Welbury heard that Hetty Gunn was to marry Doctor Ebenezer
Williams, there was a fine hubbub of talk. There was no half-way opinion
in anybody's mind on the question. Everybody was vehement, one way or
the other. All Doctor Eben's friends were hilarious; and the greater
part of Hetty's were gloomy. They said, he was marrying her for her
money; that Hetty was too old, and too independent in all her ways, to
be married at all; that they would be sure to fall out quickly; and
a hundred other things equally meddlesome and silly. But nobody so
disapproved of the match that he stayed away from the wedding, which was
the largest and the gayest wedding Welbury had ever seen. It went sorely
against the grain with Hetty to invite Mrs. Deacon Little, but Sally
entreated for it so earnestly that she gave way.
"I think if she once sees me with Raby in my arms, may be she'll feel
kinder," said Sally. James Little had carried the beautiful boy, and
laid him in his grandmother's arms many times; but, although she showed
great tenderness toward the child, she had never yet made any allusion
to Sally; and James, who had the same odd combination of weakness and
tenacity which his mother had, had never broken the resolution which
he had taken years ago: not to mention his wife's name in his mother's
presence. Mrs. Little had almost as great a struggle with herself before
accepting the invitation, as Hetty had had before giving it. Only her
husband's earnest remonstrances decided her wavering will.
"It's only once, Mrs. Little," he said, "and there'll be such a crowd
there that very likely you won't come near Sally at all. It don't look
right for you to stay away. You don't know how much folks think of Sally
now. She's been asked to the minister's to tea, she and James, with
Hetty and the doctor, several times."
"She hain't, has she?" exclaimed Mrs. Little, quite thrown off her
balance by this unexpected piece of news, which the wary deacon had been
holding in reserve, as a good general holds his biggest guns, for some
special occasion. "You don't tell me so! Well, well, folks must do as
they like. For my part, I call that downright countenancing of iniquity.
And I don't know how she could have the face to go, either. I must say,
I have some curiosity to see how she behaves among folks."
"She's as modest and pretty in her ways as ever a girl could be,"
replied the deacon, who had learned during the past year to love his
son's wife; "you won't have any call to be ashamed of her. I can tell
you that much beforehand."
When Mrs. Little's eyes first fell upon her daughter-in-law, she gave
an involuntary start. In the two years during which Mrs. Little had not
seen her, Sally had changed from a timid, nervous, restless woman to a
calm and dignified one. Very much of her old girlish beauty had returned
to her, with an added sweetness from her sorrow. As she moved among the
guests, speaking with gentle greeting to each, all eyes followed her
with evident pleasure and interest. She wore a soft gray gown, which
clung closely to her graceful figure: one pale pink carnation at her
throat, and one in her hair, were her only ornaments. When Raby, with
his white frock and blue ribbons, was in her arms, the picture was one
which would have delighted an artist's eye. Mrs. Little felt a strange
mingling of pride and irritation at what she saw. Very keenly James
watched her: he hovered near her continually, ready to forestall any
thing unpleasant or to assist any reconciliation. She observed this;
observed, also, how his gaze followed each movement of Sally's: she
understood it. "You needn't hang round so, Jim," she said: "I can see
for myself. If it's any comfort to you, I'll say that your wife's the
most improved woman I ever saw; and I 'm very glad on't. But I ain't
going to speak to her: I 've said I won't, and I won't. People must lie
on their beds as they make 'em."
James made no reply, but walked away. It seemed to him that, at that
instant, a chord in his filial love snapped, and was for ever lost.
Moment by moment, Sally watched and waited for the recognition which
never came. Bearing Raby in her arms, she passed and repassed, drawing
as near Mrs. Little as she dared. "Surely she must see that nobody else
here wholly despises me," thought the poor woman; and, whenever any one
spoke with especial kindness to her, she glanced involuntarily to see if
her mother-in-law were observing it. But all in vain. Mrs. Little's pale
and weak blue eyes roamed everywhere, but never seemed to rest on Sally
for a second. Gradually Sally comprehended that all her hopes had been
unfounded, and a deep sadness settled on her expressive face. "It's no
use," she thought, "she'll never speak to me in the world, if she won't
Even during the moments of the marriage ceremony, Hetty observed the woe
on Sally's countenance; and, strange as it may seem,--or would seem in
any one but Hetty,--while the minister was making his most impressive
addresses and petitions, she was thinking to herself: "The hard-hearted
old woman! She hasn't spoken to Sally. I wish I hadn't asked her. I'll
pay her off yet, before the evening is over."
After the ceremony was done, and the guests were crowding up to
congratulate Hetty, she whispered to James:
"Bring Sally up here."
When Sally came, Hetty said:
"Stand here close to me, Sally. Don't go away."
Presently Deacon Little approached with Mrs. Little. Hetty kissed the
good old man as heartily as if he had been her father; then, turning to
Mrs. Little, she said in a clear voice:
"I am very glad to see you in my house at last, Mrs. Little. Have you
seen Sally yet? She has been so busy receiving our friends, that I
am afraid you have hardly had a chance to talk with her. Sally," she
continued, turning and taking Sally by the hand, "I shall be at liberty
now to attend to my friends, and you must devote yourself to Mrs.
Little;" and, with the unquestioning gesture of an empress, Hetty passed
Mrs. Little over into Sally's charge.
Nobody could read on Hetty's features at this moment any thing except
most cordial good-will and the tender happiness of a bride; but her
heart was fighting like a knight in a tournament for rescue of one
beset, and she was inwardly saying: "If she dares to refuse speak to her
now, I'll expose her before this whole roomful of people."
Mrs. Little did not dare. More than ever she dreaded Hetty at this
moment, and her surprise and fear added something to her manner towards
Sally which might almost have passed for eagerness, as they walked away
together; poor Sally lifting one quick deprecating look at Hetty's
smiling and inexorable face. Deacon Little hastily retreated to a
corner, where he stood wiping his forehead, endeavoring not to look
alarmed, and thinking to himself:
"Well, if Hetty don't beat all! What'll Mrs. Little do now, I wonder?"
And presently, as cautiously as a man stalking a deer, he followed the
couple, and tried to judge, by the expression of his wife's face, how
things were going. Things were going very well. Mrs. Little had, in
common with all weak and obstinate persons, a very foolish fear of ever
being supposed to be dictated to or controlled by anybody. She was
distinctly aware that Hetty had checkmated her. She had strong
suspicions that there might be others looking on who understood the
game; and the only subterfuge left her, the only shadow of pretence of
not having been outwitted, was to appear as if she were glad of the
opportunity of talking with Sally. Sally's appealing affectionateness
of manner went very far to make this easy. She had no resentment to
conceal: all these years she had never blamed Jim's mother; she had only
yearned to win her love, to be permitted to love her. She looked up in
her face now, and said, as they walked on:
"Oh! I did so want to speak to you, but I did not dare to."
It consoled weak Mrs. Little, for her present consciousness of being
very much afraid of Hetty, to hear that she herself had inspired a great
terror in some one else; and she answered, condescendingly:
"I have always wished you well,"--she hesitated for a word, but finally
"Thank you," said Sally. "I know you did. I never wondered."
Mrs. Little was much appeased. She had not counted on such humility.
At this moment they were met by the nurse, carrying Raby; and he was a
fruitful subject of conversation. Presently he began to cry; and Sally,
taking him in her arms, said, as if by a sudden inspiration, "I think I
had better take him upstairs. Wouldn't you like to go up with me, and
see what lovely rooms Hetty has given to Jim and me?"
The friendliness of the bedroom, the disarming presence of the baby,
completed Mrs. Little's surrender; and when James Little, missing his
wife, went to her room to seek her, he stood still on the threshold,
mute with surprise. There sat his mother with Raby on her lap; Sally
on her knees by an opened bureau-drawer, was showing her all Raby's
clothes, and the two women's faces were aglow with pleasure. James stole
in softly, came behind his mother, and kissed her as he had not kissed
her since he was a boy. Neither of the three spoke; but little Raby
crowed out a sudden and unexplained laugh, which seemed a fitting sign
and seal of the happy moment, and set them all at ease. When Sally
described the scene to Hetty, she said:
"Oh, I was so frightened when Jim came in! I thought he'd be sure to say
something to his mother that would spoil every thing. But the Lord put
it into Raby's head to go off in one of his great laughs at nothing, and
that made us all laugh, and the first thing that came into my head was
that verse, 'And a little child shall lead them.'"
"Dear me, Sally, does any thing happen that doesn't put you in mind of
some verse in the Bible?" laughed Hetty.
"Not many things, Hetty," replied Sally. "Those years that I was alone
all the time, I used to read it so much that it 's always coming into my
head now, whatever happens."
After the last guest had gone, Doctor Eben and Hetty stood alone before
the blazing fire. Hetty was beautiful on this night: no white lace, no
orange blossoms, to make the ill-natured sneer at the middle-aged bride
attired like a girl; no useless finery to be laid away in chests and
cherished as sentimental mementos of an occasion. A substantial heavy
silk of a useful shade of useful gray was Hetty Gunn's wedding gown; and
she wore on her breast and in her hair white roses, "which will do for
my summer bonnets for years," Hetty had said, when she bought them.
But her cheeks were pink, her eyes bright, and her brown curls lovelier
than ever. Dr. Eben might well be pardoned the pride and delight with
which he drew her to his side and exclaimed, "Oh, Hetty! are you really
mine? How beautiful you look!"
"Do you think so?" said Hetty, taking a survey of herself in the
old-fashioned glass slanted at a steep angle above the mantel-piece. "I
don't. I hate fine gowns and flowers on me. If I'd have dared to, I'd
have been married in my old purple."
"I shouldn't have cared," replied her husband. "But it is better as it
is. Welbury people would have never left off talking, if you had done
They were a beautiful sight, the two, as they stood with their arms
around each other, in the fire-light. Dr. Eben was tall and of a
commanding figure; his head was almost too massive for even his broad
shoulders; his black hair was wellnigh shaggy in its thickness; and his
dark gray eyes looked out from under eyebrows which were like projecting
eaves, and threw shadows on his cheeks below. Hetty's fair, rosy face,
and golden-brown curls, were thrown out into relief by all this dark
coloring so near, as a sunbeam is when it plays on a dark cloud. The
rooms were full of the delicate fragrance of apple blossoms. The corners
were filled with them; the walls were waving with them. Sally had begged
permission to have, for once, all the apple blossoms she desired; and,
despite groans and grumblings from Mike, she had rifled the orchards.
"Faith, an' a good tin bushel she's taken off the russets," Mike said to
Norah; "an' as for thim gillies yer was so fond of, there's none left to
spake of on any o' the trees. Now if she'd er tuk thim old blue pearmain
trees, I wouldn't have said a word. But, 'Oh no!' sez she, 'I must have
all pink uns;' an' it was jest the pink uns that was our best trees;
that's jest as much sinse as ye wimmin 's got."
"Wull, thin, an' I'm thinkin' yer wouldn't have grudged Miss Hetty her
own apples, if it was in barrls ye had 'em," replied the practical
Norah, "an' I don't see where 's the differ."
"Yer don't!" said Mike, angrily. "If it had ha plazed God to make a man
o' yer, ye'd ha known more 'n yer do;" and with this characteristically
masculine shifting of his premises, Mike turned his back on Norah.
Neither Hetty nor Doctor Eben had ever heard that lovers should not wed
in May; and, as they looked up at the great fragrant pink and white
boughs on the walls, Hetty exclaimed: "Nobody ought to be married except
when apple-trees are in bloom. Nothing else could have been half so
lovely in the rooms, and the fire-light makes them all the prettier.
What a genius Sally has for arranging flowers. Who would have thought
common stone jars could look so well?"
Sally had taken the largest sized gray stone jars she could buy in
Welbury, and in these had set boughs six and seven feet long, looking
like young trees. On the walls she had placed deep wooden boxes with
shield-shaped fronts; these fronts were covered with gray lichens from
the rocks; the rosy blossoms waved from out these boxes, looking as much
at home as they did above the lichen-covered trunks of the trees in the
"Poor dear Sally!" Hetty continued, "she had a hard time the first part
of the evening. That stony old woman wouldn't speak to her. But I took
her in hand afterward. Did you observe?"
"Observe!" shouted Dr. Eben. "I should think so. You hardly waited till
the minister had got through with us."
"I didn't wait till then," replied Hetty, demurely. "I was planning it
all the while he was telling me about my duty to you. I didn't believe
he could tell me much about that, anyway; and the duty that weighed on
my mind most at that minute was my duty to Sally."
And thus, in the flickering fire-light and the apple-blossom fragrance,
the two wedded lovers sat talking and dreaming, and taking joy of each
other while the night wore on. There was no violent transition, no great
change of atmosphere, in the beginnings of their wedded life. Dr. Eben
had now lived so much at "Gunn's," that it seemed no strange thing for
him to live there altogether. If it chafed him sometimes that it was
Hetty's house and not his, Hetty's estate, Hetty's right and rule, he
never betrayed it. And there was little reason that it should chafe him;
for, from the day of Hetty Gunn's marriage, she was a changed woman in
the habits and motives of her whole life. The farm was to her, as if it
were not. All the currents of her being were set now in a new channel,
and flowed as impetuously there as they had been wont to flow in the old
ones. Her husband, his needs, his movements, were now the centre around
which her fine and ceaseless activity revolved. There was not a trace
of sentimental expression to this absorption. A careless observer might
have said that her manner was deficient in tenderness; that she was
singularly chary of caresses and words of love. But one who saw deeper
would observe that not the smallest motion of the doctor's escaped her
eye; not his lightest word failed to reach her ear; and every act of
hers was planned with either direct or indirect reference to him. In
his absence, she was preoccupied and uneasy; in his presence, she was
satisfied, at rest, and her face wore a sort of quiet radiance hard to
describe, but very beautiful to see. As for Dr. Eben, he thought he had
entered into a new world. Warmly as he had loved and admired Hetty, he
had not been prepared for these depths in her nature. Every day he said
to her, "Oh, Hetty, Hetty! I never knew you. I did not dream you were
like this." She would answer lightly, laughingly, perhaps almost
brusquely; but intense feeling would glow in her face as a light shines
through glass; and often, when she turned thus lightly away from him,
there were passionate tears in her eyes. It very soon became her habit
to drive with him wherever he went. Old Doctor Tuthill had died some
months before, and now the county circuit was Doctor Eben's. His love of
his profession was a passion, and nothing now stood in the way of his
gratifying it to the utmost. Books, journals, all poured in upon him.
Hetty would have liked to be omniscient that she might procure for him
all he could desire. Every morning they might be seen dashing over the
country with a pair of fleet, strong gray horses. In the afternoon, they
drove a pair of black ponies for visits nearer home. Sometimes, while
the doctor paid his visits, Hetty sat in the carriage; and, when she
suspected that he had fallen into some discussion not relative to the
patient's case, she would call out merrily, with tones clear and ringing
enough to penetrate any walls: "Come, come, doctor! we must be off." And
the doctor would spring to his feet, and run hastily, saying: "You see I
am under orders too: my doctor is waiting outside." Under the seat, side
by side with the doctor's medicine case, always went a hamper which
Hetty called "the other medicine case;" and far the more important it
was of the two. Many a poor patient got well by help of Hetty's soups
and jellies and good bread. Nothing made her so happy as to have the
doctor come home, saying: "I've got a patient to-day that we must feed
to cure him." Then only, Hetty felt that she was of real help to her
husband: of any other help that she might give him Hetty was still
incredulous; intangible things were a little out of Hetty's range. Even
her great and passionate love had not fully opened her eyes to all
love's needs and expressions. All that it meant to her was a perpetual
doing, ministration, a compelling of the happiness of the loved object.
And here, as everywhere else in her life, she was fully content only
when there was something evident and ready to be done. If her husband
had taken the same view of love,--had insisted on perpetual ministerings
to her in tangible forms,--she would have been bewildered and
uncomfortable; and would, no doubt, have replied most illogically: "Oh,
don't be taking so much trouble about me. I can take care of myself; I
always have." But Doctor Eben was in no danger of disturbing Hetty in
this way. Without being consciously a selfish man, he had a temperament
to which acceptance came easy. And really Hetty left him no time, no
room, for any such manifestations towards her, even had they been
spontaneously natural. Moreover, Hetty was a most difficult person for
anybody to help in any way. She never seemed to have needs or wants: she
was always well, brisk, cheery, prepared for whatever occurred. There
really seemed to be nothing to do for Hetty but to kiss her; and that
Doctor Eben did most heartily, and of persistence; and Hetty liked it
better than any thing in this world. With his whole heart and strength,
Eben Williams loved his wife; and he loved her better and better, day
by day. But she herself, by her peculiar temperament, her habits of
activity, and disinterestedness, made it, in the outset, out of the
question that any man living with her as her husband should ever fully
learn a husband's duties and obligations.
And now we shall pass over an interval of eight years in the history of
"Gunn's." For it is only the "strange history" of Eben and Hetty that
was to be told in this story, and in these years' history was nothing
strange; unless, indeed, it might be said that they were strangely happy
years. The household remained unchanged, except that there were three
more babies in Mike's cottage, and Hetty had been obliged to build on
another room for him. Old Nan and Caesar still reigned. Caesar's head
was as white and tight-curled as the fleece of a pet lamb. He was now
a shining light in the Methodist meeting; but he had not yet broken
himself of his oaths. "Damn--bress de Lord" was still heard on occasion:
but everybody, even Nan, had grown so used to it that it did not pass
for an oath; and, no doubt, even the recording angel had long since
ceased to put it down. James Little and his wife were now as much a part
of the family as if they had had the old Squire's blood in their veins;
and nobody thought about the old time of their disgrace,--nobody but Jim
and Sally themselves. From their thoughts it was never absent, when they
looked on the beautiful, joyous face of Raby. He had grown beyond his
years, and looked like a boy of twelve. He was manly, frank, impulsive;
a child after Hetty's own heart, and much more like her than he was like
his father or his mother. It was a question, also, if he did not love
her more than he loved either of his parents: all his hours with her
were unclouded; over his intercourse with them, there always hung the
undefined cloud of an unexpressed sadness.
Hetty was changed. Her hair was gray; her fair skin weather-beaten; and
the fine wrinkles around the corners of her merry eyes radiated like the
spokes of a wheel. She had looked young at thirty-seven; she looked old
at forty-five. The phlegmatic and lazy sometimes seem to keep their
youth better than the sanguine and active. It is a cruel thing that
laughter should age a woman's face almost as much as weeping; but it
does. Sunny as Hetty's face was, it had come to have a look older than
it ought, simply because the kindly eyes had so often twinkled and half
closed in merry laughter.
Time had dealt more kindly with Doctor Eben. He was a handsomer man at
forty-one than he had been at thirty-three: the eight years had left no
other trace upon him. Face, figure, step, all were as full of youth
and vigor as upon the day when Hetty first met him walking down
the pine-shaded road. The precise moment when the first pang of
consciousness of the discrepancy between her husband's looks and her own
entered Hetty's mind would be hard to determine. It began probably in
some thoughtless jest of her own, or even of his; for, in his absolute
loyalty of love, his unquestioning and long-established acceptance of
their relation as a perfect one, it would never have crossed Doctor
Eben's mind that Hetty could possibly care whether she looked older or
younger than he. He never thought about her age at all: in fact, he
could not have told either her age or his own with exactness; he was
curiously forgetful of such matters. He did not see the wrinkles around
her eyes. He did not know that her skin was weather-beaten, her figure
less graceful, her hair fast turning gray. To him she was simply
"Hetty:" the word meant as it always had meant, fulness of love,
delight, life. Doctor Eben was a man of that fine fibre of organic
loyalty, to which there is not possible, even a temptation to forsake or
remove from its object. Men having this kind of uprightness and loyalty,
rarely are much given to words or demonstrations of affection. To them
love takes its place, side by side with the common air, the course of
the sun, the succession of days and nights, and all other unquestioned
and unalterable things in the world. To suggest to such a man the
possibility of lessening in his allegiance to a wife, is like proposing
to him to overthrow the whole course of nature. He simply cannot
conceive of such a thing; and he has no tolerance for it. He is by the
very virtue of his organic structure incapable of charity for men who
sin in that way. There are not many such men, but the type exists; and
well may any woman felicitate herself to whom it is given to rest her
life on such sure foundations. If there be some lack of the daily
manifestations of tenderness, the ready word, the ever-present caress,
she may recollect that these are often the first fruits of a passion
whose early way-side harvest will be scorched and shrivelled as soon
as the sun is high; while the seed which bringeth forth a hundred, nay
a thousand fold, of true grain, sleeps in long silence, and grows up
noiseless and slow.
Doctor Eben did not know that he was in many small ways an unloverlike
husband. He did not know that his absorption in his professional studies
made him often seem unaware of Hetty's presence for hours together,
when she was watching and waiting for a word. He did not know that he
sometimes did not hear when she spoke, and did not answer when he heard.
He did not know a hundred things which he would have known, if he
had been a less upright and loyal man, and if Hetty had been a less
unselfish woman. Neither did Hetty know any of these things, or note
them, until the poisoned consciousness awoke in her mind that she was
fast growing old, and her face was growing less lovely. This was the
first germ of Hetty's unhappiness. It had been very hard for her in the
beginning to believe herself loved: now all her old incredulity returned
with fourfold strength; and now it was not met as then by constant and
vehement evidence to conquer it. Here again, had Hetty been like other
women, she might have been spared her suffering. Had it been possible
for her to demand, to even invite, she would have won from her husband,
at any instant, all that her anxiety could have asked; but it was not
possible. She simply went on silently, day after day, watching her
husband more intently; keeping record, in her morbid feeling, of every
moment, every look, every word which she misapprehended. Beyond this
morbidness of misapprehension, there was no other morbidness in Hetty's
state. She did not pine or grieve; she only began slowly to wonder what
she could do for Eben now. Her sense of loss and disappointment, in that
she had borne him no children, began to weigh more heavily upon her. "If
I were mother of his children," she said to herself, "it would not
make so much difference if I did grow old and ugly. He would have the
children to give him pleasure." "I don't see what there is left for me
to do," she said again and again. Sometimes she made pathetic attempts
to change the simplicity of her dress. "Perhaps if I wore better
clothes, I should look younger," she thought. But the result was not
satisfactory. Her severe style had always been so essentially her own
that any departure from it only made her look still more altered. All
this undercurrent of annoyance and distress added continually to the
change in her face: gradually its expression grew more grave; she smiled
less frequently; had fits of abstraction and reverie, which she had
never been known to have before.
In a vague way, Doctor Eben observed these, and wondered what Hetty was
thinking about; but he never asked. Often they drove for a whole day
together, without a dozen words being spoken; but the doctor was buried
in meditations upon his patients, and did not dislike the silence. Hetty
did not realize that the change here was more in her than in him: in the
old days it had been she who talked, not the doctor; now that she was
silent, he went on with his trains of thought undisturbed, and was
as content as before, for she was by his side. He felt her presence
perpetually, even when he gave no sign of doing so.
Many months went by in this way, a summer, a winter, part of a spring,
and Hetty's forty-fifth birthday came, and found her a seriously unhappy
woman. Yet, strange to say, nobody dreamed of it. So unchanged was the
external current of her life: such magnificent self-control had she, and
such absolute disinterestedness. Little Raby was the only one who ever
had a consciousness that things were not right. He was Hetty's closest
comrade and companion now. All the hours that she did not spend driving
with the doctor (and she drove with him less now than had been her
custom) she spent with Raby. They took long rambles together, and long
rides, Raby being already an accomplished and fearless little rider. By
the subtle instinct of a loving child, Raby knew that "Aunt Hetty" was
changed. A certain something was gone out of the delight they used to
take together. Once, as they were riding, he exclaimed:
"Aunt Hetty, you haven't spoken for ever so long! What's the matter? you
don't talk half so much as you used to."
And Hetty, conscience-stricken, thought to herself: "Dear me, how
selfish it makes one to be unhappy! Here I am, letting it fall on this
dear, innocent darling. I ought to be ashamed." But she answered gayly:
"Oh, Raby! Aunty is growing old and stupid, isn't she? She must look
out, or you'll get tired of her."
"I shan't either: you're the nicest aunty in the whole world," cried
Raby. "You ain't a bit old; but I wish you'd talk."
Then and there, Hetty resolved that never again should Raby have
occasion to think thus; and he never did. Before long he had forgotten
all about this conversation, and all was as before. This was in May. One
day, in the following June, as Hetty and the doctor were driving through
Springton, he said suddenly:
"Oh, Hetty! I want you to come in with me at one place this morning.
There is the most perfectly beautiful creature there I ever saw,--the
oldest daughter of a Methodist minister who has just come here to
preach. Poor child! she cannot sit up, or turn herself in bed; but she
is an angel, and has the face of one, if ever a human creature had. They
are very poor and we must help them all we can. I have great hopes
of curing the child, if she can be well fed. It is a serious spinal
disease, but I believe it can be cured."
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
"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
"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,
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
"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
Hetty persisted, and Rachel, with great reluctance, answered her as
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Can't go to-day, possibly," the doctor had said. "I have to go the
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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