or, Nobody's Bairn
ROSA MULHOLLAND (LADY GILBERT)
I. FOUR YEARS OLD
II. UNDER THE HORSES' FEET
IV. MRS. KANE IN TROUBLE
V. A LONELY CHILD
VI. HETTY AND HER "COUSINS"
VII. HETTY'S FIRST LESSONS
VIII. HETTY DESOLATE
IX. WHAT TO DO WITH HER?
X. THE NEW HOME
XI. HETTY TURNS REBEL
XII. A COTTAGE CHILD AGAIN
XIII. A TRICK ON THE GOVERNESS
XIV. HETTY'S CONSTANCY
XV. THE CHILDREN'S DANCE
XVI. A TRIAL OF PATIENCE
XVII. HETTY'S FUTURE IS PLANNED
XVIII. REINE GAYTHORNE
XIX. IF SHE WAS DROWNED, HOW CAN SHE BE HETTY?
XX. HAPPY HETTY
FOUR YEARS OLD.
In all England there is not a prettier village than Wavertree. It has no streets; but the cottages stand about the roads in twos and threes, with their red-tiled roofs, and their little gardens, and hedges overrun with flowering weeds. Under a great sycamore tree at the foot of a hill stands the forge, a cave of fire glowing in the shadows, a favourite place for the children to linger on their way to school, watching the smith hammering at his burning bars, and hearing him ring his cheery chimes on the anvil. Who shall say what mystery surrounds the big smith, as he strides about among his fires, to the wide bright eyes that peer in at him from under baby brows, or what meanings come out of his clinking music to four-year-old or eight-year-old ears?
Little Hetty was only four years old when she stood for five or ten minutes of one long summer day looking in at the forge, and watching and listening with all the energy that belonged to her. She had a little round pink face with large brown eyes as soft as velvet, and wide open scarlet lips. Her tiny pink calico frock was clean and neat, and her shoes not very much broken, though covered with dust. Altogether Hetty had the look of a child who was kindly cared for, though she had neither father nor mother in the world.
Two or three great strong horses, gray and bay, with thick manes and tails, came clattering up to the door of the forge, a man astride on one of them. Hetty knew the horses, which belonged to Wavertree Hall, and were accustomed to draw the long carts which brought the felled trees out of the woods to the yard at the back of the Hall. Hetty once had thought that the trees were going to be planted again in Mrs. Enderby's drawing-room, and had asked why the pretty green leaves had all been taken off. She was four years old now, however, and she knew that the trees were to be chopped up for firewood. She clapped her hands in delight as the great creatures with their flowing manes came trotting up with their mighty hoofs close to her little toes.
"You little one, run away," cried the man in care of the horses; and Hetty stole into the forge and stood nearer to the fire than she had ever dared to do before.
"Hallo!" shouted Big Ben the smith; "if this mite hasn't got the courage of ten! Be off, you little baggage, if you don't want to have those pretty curls o' yours singed away as bare as a goose at Michaelmas! As for sparks in your eyes, you sha'n't have 'em, for you don't want 'em. Eyes are bright enough to light up a forge for themselves."
"Aye," said the carter, "my missus and I often say she's too pretty a one for the likes of us to have the bringing up of on our hands. And she's a rare one for havin' her own way, she is. Just bring her out by the hand, will you, Ben, while I keep these horses steady till she gets away?"
Big Ben led the little maid outside the forge, and said, "Now run away and play with the other children"; and then he went back to set about the shoeing of John Kane's mighty cart-horses, or rather the cart-horses of Mr. Enderby of Wavertree Hall.
Little Hetty, thus expelled, dared not return to the forge, but she walked backwards down the road, gazing at the horses as long as she could see them. She loved the great handsome brutes, and if she had had her will would have been sitting on one of their backs with her arms around his neck. Coming to a turn of the road from which a path led on to an open down, she blew a farewell kiss to the horses and skipped away across the grass among the gold-hearted, moonfaced daisies, and the black-eyed poppies in their scarlet hoods.
There were no other children to be seen, but Hetty made herself happy without them. A large butterfly fluttered past her, almost brushing her cheek, and Hetty threw back her curly head and gazed at its beauty in astonishment. It was splendid with scarlet and brown and gold, and Hetty, after a pause of delighted surprise, dashed forward with both her little fat arms extended to capture it. It slipped through her fingers; but just as she was pulling down her baby lips to cry, a flock of white and blue butterflies swept across her eyes, and made her laugh again as she pursued them in their turn.
At last she stumbled into a damp hollow place where a band of golden irises stood among their tall shafts of green like royal ladies surrounded by warriors. Hetty caught sight of the yellow wing-like petals of the flag-lilies and grasped them with both hands. Alas! they were not alive, but pinned to the earth by their strong stems. The butterflies were gone, the flowers were not living. The little girl plucked the lilies and tried to make them fly, but their heads fell heavily to the ground.
A big plough-boy came across the downs, and he said as he passed Hetty,
"What are you picking the heads off the flowers for, you young one?"
"Why won't they fly like the butterflies?" asked Hetty.
"Because they were made to grow."
"Why can't I fly, too?"
"Because you were made to run."
When Hetty went into the school she had a scratch from a briar all across her cheek.
"You are quite late, Hetty Gray," said the schoolmistress. "And what have you been doing to scratch your face?"
"I was trying to make the flowers fly," said Hetty; and then she was put to stand in the corner in disgrace with her face to the wall.
UNDER THE HORSES' FEET.
Mrs. Kane's cottage stood on a pretty bend of one of the village roads, and belonged to an irregular cluster of little houses with red gables and green palings. It was among the poorest dwellings in Wavertree, but was neat and clean. The garden was in good order, and a white climbing rose grew round the door, that sweet old-fashioned rose with its delicious scent which makes the air delightful wherever it blows.
The cottage door stood open, and the afternoon sunlight fell across the old red tiles of the kitchen floor. The tiles were a little broken, and here and there they were sunk and worn; but they were as clean as hands could make them, as Mrs. Kane would have said. A little window at one side looked down the garden, and across it was a frilled curtain, and on the sill a geranium in full flower. On the other side was the fire-place, with chintz frill and curtains, and the grate filled with a great bush of green beech-leaves. A table set on the red tiles was spread for tea, and by it sat Mrs. Kane and her friend Mrs. Ford enjoying a friendly cup together.
"She is late this evening," Mrs. Kane was saying; "but she'll turn up all right by and by. If she's wild she's sharp, which is still something. She never gets under horses' feet, nor drops into the pond, or anything of that sort. If she did those sort of things, being such a rover, Mrs. Ford, you see I never should have an easy moment in my life."
"I must say it's very good of you to take to do with her," said Mrs. Ford, "and she nobody belonging to you. If she was your own child—"
"Well, you see, my own two dears went to heaven with the measles," said Mrs. Kane, "and I felt so lonesome without them, that when John walked in with the little bundle in his arms that night, I thought he was just an angel of light."
"It was on the Long Sands he found her, wasn't it?" asked Mrs. Ford, balancing her spoon on the edge of her cup.
"On the Long Sands after the great storm," said Mrs. Kane; "and that's just four years ago in May gone by. How a baby ever lived through the storm to be washed in by the sea alive always beats me when I think of it, it seems so downright unnatural; and yet that's the way that Providence ordered it, Mrs. Ford."
"I suppose all her folks were drowned?" said Mrs. Ford.
"Most like they were, for it was a bad wreck, as I've heard," said Mrs. Kane. "Leastways, nobody has ever come to claim her, and no questions have been asked. Unless it was much for her good I would fain hope that nobody ever will claim her now. Wild as she is, I've grown to love that little Hetty, so I have. Ah, here she is coming along, as hungry as a little pussy for her milk, I'll be bound!"
Hetty came trudging along the garden path, her curls standing up in a bush on her head, her little fat fingers stained green with grass, and her pinafore, no longer green, filled with moon-daisies. She was singing with her baby voice lifted bravely:
"Dust as I am I come to zee—"
"Dust indeed!" cried Mrs. Kane, "I never saw such dust. Only look at her shoes that I blacked this morning!"
"Poor dear, practising her singing," said Mrs. Ford. "Well, little lass, and what have you been seeing and doing all day long?"
"I saw big Ben poking his fire," answered Hetty after a moment's reflection. "He put me out, and then I saw him hurting the horses' feet with his hammer. I wanted the horses to come along with me, but they shook their heads and stayed where they were. Then I tried to catch the butterflies, and they flew right past my eyes. And I thought the yellow lilies could fly too, and they wouldn't. Then I pulled their heads off—"
"And were you not at school at all?" asked Mrs. Ford. "Well, well, Hetty, you are wild. If you saw my little boys going so good to their school! What more did you do, Hetty?"
"I went into school, and schoolmistress put me in a corner. Then I drew marks with my tears on the wall; and afterwards I said my spelling. And I came home and got some daisies; and I saw Charlie Ford standing in the pond with his shoes and stockings on."
"Oh my! oh my! well I never!" cried Mrs. Ford, snatching up her bonnet, and getting ready to go home in a hurry. "Charley in the pond with his shoes and stockings on! It seems, Mrs. Kane, that I've been praising him too soon!"
While Mrs. Ford was running down the road after Charley, Mrs. Enderby, up at Wavertree Hall, was directing her servants to carry the table for tea out upon the lawn under the wide-spreading beech-trees; and her two little daughters, Phyllis aged eight and Nell aged seven, were hovering about waiting to place baskets of flowers and strawberries on the embroidered cloth. Mrs. Rushton, sister-in-law of Mrs. Enderby and aunt of the children, was spending the afternoon at the Hall, having come a distance of some miles to do so.
Mrs. Enderby was a tall graceful lady, with a pale, gentle, but rather cold face; her dress was severely simple and almost colourless; her voice was sweet. Mrs. Rushton was unlike her in every respect, low in size, plump, smiling, and dressed in the most becoming and elegant fashion. Mrs. Enderby spoke slowly and with deliberation; Mrs. Rushton kept chattering incessantly.
"Well, Amy," said the former, "I hope you will talk to William about it, and perhaps he may induce you to change your mind. Here he is," as a gentleman was seen coming across the lawn.
Mrs. Rushton shrugged her shoulders. "My dear Isabel," she said, "I do not see what William has to do with it. I am my own mistress, and surely old enough to judge for myself."
The two little girls sprang to meet their father, and dragged him by the hands up to the tea-table.
"William," said Mrs. Enderby, "I want you to remonstrate with Amy."
"It seems to me I am always remonstrating with Amy," said Mr. Enderby smiling; "what wickedness is she meditating now?"
Mrs. Rushton laughed gaily, dipped a fine strawberry into cream and ate it. Her laugh was pleasant, and she had a general air of good humour and self-complacency about her which some people mistook for exceeding amiability.
"Isabel thinks I am going to destruction altogether," said she, preparing another strawberry for its bath of cream; "only because I am thinking of going abroad with Lady Harriet Beaton. Surely I have a right to arrange my own movements and to select my own friends."
Mr. Enderby looked very grave. "No one can deny your right to do as you please," he said; "but I hope that on reflection you will not please to go abroad with Lady Harriet Beaton."
"Surely you know she is not a desirable companion for you, Amy. I hope you have not actually promised to accompany her."
"Well, I think I have, almost. She is very gay and charming, and I cannot think why you should object to her. If I were a young girl of sixteen, instead of a widow with long experience, you could not make more fuss about the matter."
"As your brother I am bound to object to such a scheme," said Mr. Enderby.
Mrs. Rushton pouted. "It is all very well for you and Isabel to talk," she said, "you have each other and your children to interest you. If I had children—had only one child, I should not care for running about the world or making a companion of Lady Harriet."
Mrs. Enderby looked at her sister-in-law sympathetically; but Mr. Enderby only smiled.
"My dear Amy," he said, "you know very well that if you had children they would be the most neglected little mortals on the face of the earth. Ever since I have known you, a good many years now, I have seen you fluttering about after one whim or another, and never found you contented with anything long. If Phyllis and Nell here were your daughters instead of Isabel's, they would be away at school somewhere, whilst their mother would be taking her turn upon all the merry-go-rounds of the world."
"Thank you, you are very complimentary," said Mrs. Rushton; and then she laughed carelessly:
"After all, the merry-go-rounds, as you put it, are much better fun than sitting in a nursery or a school-room. But I assure you I am not so frivolous as you think; I have been going out distributing tracts lately with Mrs. Sourby."
"Indeed, and last winter I know you were attending lectures on cookery, and wanted to become a lecturer yourself."
"Yes, and only for something that happened, I forget what, I might now be a useful member of society. But chance does so rule one's affairs. At present it is Fate's decree that I shall spend the next few months at Pontresina."
Mr. Enderby made a gesture as if to say that he would remonstrate no more, and went off to play lawn tennis with his little girls. Mrs. Rushton rose from her seat, yawned, and declared to Mrs. Enderby that it was six o'clock and quite time for her to return towards home, as she had a drive of two hours before her.
Shortly afterwards she was rolling along the avenue in her carriage, and through the village, and out by one of the roads towards the open country.
Now little Hetty Gray ought to have been in her bed by this time, or getting ready for it; but she was, as Mrs. Kane told Mrs. Ford, a very wild little girl, though sharp; and while Mrs. Kane was busy giving her husband his supper Hetty had escaped from the cottage once more, and had skipped away from the village to have another little ramble by herself before the pretty green woods should begin to darken, and the moon to come up behind the trees.
Hetty had filled her lap with dog-roses out of the hedges, and wishing to arrange them in a bunch which she could carry in her hand, she sat down in the middle of the road and became absorbed in her work.
Near where she sat there was a sharp turning in the road, and Hetty was so busy that she did not hear the sound of a carriage coming quite near her. Suddenly the horses turned the corner. Hetty saw them and jumped up in a fright, but too late to save herself from being hurt. She was flung down upon the road, though the coachman pulled up in time to prevent the wheels passing over her.
Poor Hetty gave one scream and then nothing more was heard from her. The footman got down and looked at her, and then he went and told the lady in the carriage that he feared the child was badly hurt.
"Oh dear!" said the lady, "what brought her under the horses' feet? Can you not pick her up?"
The footman went back to Hetty and tried to lift her in his arms, but she uttered such pitiful screams at being touched that he was obliged to lay her down again.
Then the lady, who was Mrs. Rushton, got out and looked at her.
"You must put her in the carriage," she said, "and drive back to the village. I suppose she belongs to some of the people there."
"I know her, ma'am," said the footman; "she is Mrs. Kane's little girl,—little Hetty Gray."
Mrs. Rushton got into the carriage again and held the child on her lap while they were being driven back to the village to Mrs. Kane's cottage door. It was quite a new sensation to the whimsical lady of fashion to hold a suffering child in her arms, and she was surprised to find that, in spite of her first feelings of impatience at being stopped on the road, she rather liked it. As Hetty's little fair curly head hung back helplessly over her arm, and the round soft cheek, turned so white, touched her breast, Mrs. Rushton felt a motherly sensation which she had never before known in all her frivolous life.
Mrs. Kane was out at the garden gate looking up and down the road for the missing Hetty. When she saw Hetty lifted out of the carriage she began to cry.
"Oh my! my!" she sobbed, "I never thought it would come to this with her, and she so sharp. Thank you, madam, thank you, I'm sure. She's not my own child, but I feel it as much as if she was."
Mrs. Rushton then sent the carriage off for the doctor and went into the cottage with Mrs. Kane. The child was laid as gently as possible on a poor but clean bed covered with a patchwork quilt of many colours, and the lady of fashion sat by her side, bathing the baby forehead with eau de Cologne which she happened to have with her. It was all new and unexpectedly interesting to Mrs. Rushton. Never had she been received as a friend in a cottage home before, the only occasions when she had even seen the inside of one were those on which she had accompanied Mrs. Sourby on her mission of distributing tracts; and on those occasions she had felt that she was not looked on as a friend by the poor who received her, but rather as an intruder. It was evident now that good, grieved Mrs. Kane took her for an angel as she sat by the little one's bed, and it was new and delightful to Mrs. Rushton to be regarded as a benefactress by anyone.
The doctor arrived, set the child's arm, which was found to be broken, and gave her something to make her fall asleep. Then he charmed Mrs. Rushton by complimenting that lady on her goodness of heart.
"Remember, all the expense is to be mine," she said to him, "and I hope you will order the little one everything she can possibly require. I will come to see her to-morrow, Mrs. Kane, and bring her some flowers and fruit."
The pretty green woods which Hetty loved had grown dark, the butterflies had flown away to whatever dainty lodging butterflies inhabit during the summer nights, the yellow wings of the flag-lilies fluttered unseen in the shadows, and the moon had risen high above the tall beech-trees and the old church tower. Mrs. Rushton stepped into her carriage once more, and was driven rapidly through the quiet village, away towards her own luxurious home, feeling more interested and excited than she had felt for a long time.
Little Hetty Gray, her scare of fright and pain gone for the time like a bad dream, lay sound asleep upon her humble bed, and Mrs. Kane, trimming her night-light, paused to listen, with that fascination which many people feel at the sound, to the hoarse boom of the old church clock calling the hour of midnight, across the chimneys of the village and away over the silent solemn woods.
Mrs. Kane felt with a sort of awe that another day had begun, but she little knew that with it a strange new leaf had been turned in the story of her little Hetty's life.
Mrs. Rushton returned the next day with a basket of ripe peaches and a large bouquet of lovely flowers such as Hetty had never seen before. The yellow lilies might stand now in peace among their tall flag leaves without fearing to have their heads picked off, for Hetty had got something newer and more delightful to admire than they. Odorous golden roses and pearl-white gardenias scented and beautified the poor little room where Hetty lay. Where had they come from, she wondered, and who was the pretty lady who sat by her side and kept putting nice-smelling things to her nose? At first she was very shy and only looked at her with half-closed eyes, but after some time she took courage and spoke to her.
"What kind lady are you?" asked Hetty boldly.
"I am a good fairy," said Mrs. Rushton, "and when you are well I am going to carry you off to see my house."
"Hetty has got a house," said the little girl complacently. "Have you got a house too?"
"A splendid large house, Hetty," said Mrs. Kane. "You never saw such a house."
"Is it bigger than the post-office?" said Hetty doubtingly.
"Bigger than the forge?"
"Don't be foolish, child, and stop your biggers," said Mrs. Kane; "Mrs. Rushton's house is the size of the church and more."
Hetty winked with astonishment, and she lay silent for some time, till at last she said:
"And do you sit in the pulpit?"
Mrs. Rushton laughed more than she was accustomed to laugh at Lady Harriet Beaton's comic stories. This child's prattle was amusing to her.
"And do you have grave-stones growing round your door?" persisted Hetty.
"There, ma'am!" cried Mrs. Kane, "she'll worry you with questions if you give her a bit of encouragement. She'll think of things that'll put you wild for an answer, so she will. John and I give her up."
Mrs. Rushton was not at all inclined to give her up, however, for she kept coming day after day to visit the little patient. Hetty became fond of her pleasant visitor, and watched eagerly for her arrival in the long afternoons when the flies buzzed so noisily in the small cottage window-panes, and the child found it hard to lie still and hear the voices of the village children shouting and laughing at their play in the distance. As soon as Mrs. Rushton's bright eyes were seen in the doorway, and her gay dress fluttering across the threshold, Hetty would stretch out her one little hand in welcome to the delightful visitor, and laugh to see all the pretty presents that were quickly strewn around her on the bed. After spending an afternoon with the child, Mrs. Rushton often went on to Wavertree Hall and finished the evening there with her brother's family. Mr. and Mrs. Enderby were greatly astonished to find how completely their lively sister had interested herself in the village foundling.
"Take care you do not spoil her," said Mr. Enderby.
Mrs. Rushton shrugged her shoulders.
"I can never please you," she said. "One would suppose I had found a harmless amusement this time at least, and yet you do not approve."
"I do approve," said her brother, "up to a certain point. I only warn you not to go too far and make the child unhappy by over-petting her. In a few weeks hence you will have forgotten her existence, and then the little thing will be disappointed."
"But I have no intention of forgetting her in a few weeks," said Mrs. Rushton indignantly.
"No; you have no intention—" said Mr. Enderby.
"You certainly are a most unsympathetic person," said Mrs. Rushton; and she went away feeling herself much ill-used, and firmly believing herself to be the only kind-hearted member of her family.
"After all, William," said Mrs. Enderby to her husband, "you ought not to be too hard upon Amy, for you see she has given up talking of going abroad with Lady Harriet."
"True; I have noticed that. Yet I fear she will not relinquish one folly without falling into another."
"Her present whim is at all events an amiable one," said Mrs. Enderby gently. "Let us hope no harm may come of it.'
"I should think it all most natural and right if any other woman than Amy were in question," said Mr. Enderby; "but one never knows to what extravagant lengths she will go."
The warnings of her brother had the effect of making Mrs. Rushton still more eager in her attendance on the child, and a few days after she had been "lectured" by him, as she put it to herself, she astonished good Mrs. Kane by saying:
"I think she is quite fit to be moved now, Mrs. Kane, and the doctor says so. I am going to take her home with me for a week for change of air."
"Laws, ma'am, you never mean it!"
"But I do mean it. I am going to fatten her up and finish her cure."
"Well, ma'am, I'm sure you are the kindest of the kind. To think of you troubling yourself and putting yourself out, and all for our little Hetty."
"That is my affair," said Mrs. Rushton laughing; "I don't think a mite like that will disturb my household very much. Just you pack her up, and I will carry her off with me to-morrow at three."
The next day the lady carried off her prize, greatly delighted to think of how shocked her brother would be when he heard of her new "folly." As soon as she had introduced Hetty to all her dogs, and cats, and rabbits, Mrs. Rushton went to her desk and wrote a note to her sister-in-law inviting the entire Wavertree family to spend a day at Amber Hill, which was the name of her charming dwelling-place.
When, on a certain morning, therefore, the Wavertree carriage stopped at the foot of the wide flight of steps, flanked by urns of blooming flowers, which led up to Mrs. Rushton's great hall door, the mistress of Amber Hill was seen descending the stone stair leading a little child by the hand. This was Hetty, dressed in a white frock of lace and muslin, and decked with rose-coloured ribbons.
"Isn't she a little beauty?" said Mrs. Rushton, smiling mischievously at her grave brother and sister-in-law. "Look up, my darling, and show your pretty brown velvet eyes. Did you ever see such a tint in human cheeks, Isabel, or such a crop of curling hair?"
"Do you really mean that this is the village child, Amy?" asked her brother.
"Yes, little Hetty is here!" said Amy with a gleeful laugh; "but then, William, Lady Harriet is gone. If I had asked you to meet her to-day instead of little Miss Gray from Wavertree, I wonder what you would have done to find a more disagreeable expression of countenance."
"Do you wish us to understand that you have adopted this 'nobody's child,' Amy?" said Mr. Enderby, looking more and more troubled.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I did not mean that quite," said Mrs. Rushton; "but now that you suggest it—"
"I suggest it!" cried Mr. Enderby.
"How horrified you look! But all the same you have suggested it, and I think it is a capital idea."
"Do not come to any hasty conclusion, I implore you, Amy. Think over it well. Consider the child's interests more than your own momentary self-indulgence!"
Mrs. Rushton coloured with displeasure.
"I see you are determined to be as disagreeable as usual," she said angrily. "As if the monkey could fail to be benefited by my patronage! Pray, will she not be better in my drawing-room than getting under horses' feet about the Wavertree roads, or losing herself in the Wavertree woods?"
"Frankly, I think not," said Mr. Enderby stiffly.
Mrs. Rushton's eyes flashed, and she did her brother the injustice of thinking that he feared her adoption of little Hetty would in some way interfere with the worldly interests of his own children. She was not accustomed to seek far for other people's meanings and motives, and generally seized on the first which presented itself to her mind. She knew that she only wanted to amuse herself, and had no intention of wronging her nieces and nephew by playing with this charming babe. Why, then, should William take such fancies in his head? In this flash of temper she instantly decided on keeping little Hetty always with her. Was there any reason in the world why she should not do just as she pleased? Hetty should certainly stay with her and be as her own child from this day forth.
"What have you to say about my adopting little Hetty?" she said, turning to her sister-in-law with a slightly defiant and wholly triumphant smile.
"I shall say nothing," said Mrs. Enderby, "until I see how you treat her. I trust it may turn out for the best."
Thus, all in a moment, and merely because Mrs. Rushton would not be contradicted, was little Hetty's future in this world decided. Before her brother had spoken, the lady of Amber Hill had had no intention of keeping Hetty for more than a week in her house. And now she felt bound (by the laws of human perversity) to take her and bring her up as her own child.
In the meantime Mrs. Enderby's three children and Hetty Gray were standing by, gazing at one another. The little Enderbys, Mark, Phyllis, and Nell, had taken in the whole conversation, and understood perfectly, with the quick perception of children, the strangeness of the situation, and their own peculiar position with regard to Mrs. Kane's little girl from Wavertree.
The little Enderbys were thinking how very odd it was that the little girl whom they had often seen, as they walked with their nurse or drove past in the carriage with their mother, playing on the roads in a soiled pinafore, should be now presented to them as a new cousin. Phyllis, the eldest, was much displeased, for pride was her ruling fault. Mark and Nell were charmed with the transformation in Hetty and very much disposed to accept her as a playfellow, though they remembered all the time that she was not their equal.
Hetty, being only four years old, was supremely unconscious of all that was being said, and meant, and thought over her curly head. She gazed at the three other children, and, repelled by Phyllis's cold gaze, turned to Mark and Nell, and stretched out a little fat hand to each of them.
"Come and see the beautiful flowers!" she said gleefully; "you never saw such lovely ones!"
MRS. KANE IN TROUBLE.
"Now, tell me all about it, for as I am going to be her mother in future I must know everything that concerns my child."
Mrs. Rushton was talking to Mrs. Kane, having come to the cottage to announce her intention of adopting Hetty. Mrs. Kane was crying bitterly.
"You'll excuse me, ma'am. I would not stand in the way of my darling's good fortune, not for ever so, I'm sure. And yet it's hard to give her up."
"I should not have thought it could make much difference to you. I believe she was generally running about the roads when not at school."
"Well, you see, ma'am, that is true; but at night and in the mornings she would kneel on my lap to say her prayers, and put her little soft arms round my neck. And those are the times I'll mostly miss her."
Mrs. Rushton coughed slightly. She herself liked the sight of Hetty's pretty face, and was amused by her prattle; but she was not a woman to think much about the feel of a child's arms around her neck. Mrs. Kane, perceiving that she was not understood, sprang up from her seat and went to fetch a parcel from an inner room.
"This is the little shift she wore when I first set eyes on her. It is the only rag she brought with her; though not much of a rag, I'm bound to say; for so pretty an article of the kind I never saw," said the good woman, spreading out on the table an infant's garment of the finest cambric embroidered delicately round the neck and sleeves.
In the corner was a richly wrought monogram of the initials H.G.
"And that's why we called her Hetty Gray," said Mrs. Kane. "John and I made up the name to suit the letters. If ever her friends turn up they'll know the difference, but in the meantime we had to have something to call her by."
"Why, this is most interesting!" said Mrs. Rushton, examining the monogram; "she probably belonged to people of position. It is quite satisfactory that she should prove to be a gentlewoman by birth."
"And that is why I feel bound to give her up, ma'am," said Mrs. Kane, wiping her overflowing eyes. "I've always put it before me that some day or other her folks would come wanting her, and I've said to myself that it would be terrible if she had grown up in the meantime with no better education than if she was born a village lass. And yet what better could I have done for her than I could have done for a daughter of my own if I had had one?"
"Just so," said Mrs. Rushton; "and now you may be sure that she will be educated, trained, dressed, and everything else, just as if she had been in her mother's house. As for her own people coming for her, I am not sure that I shall give her up if they do. Not unless I have grown tired of her in the meantime."
"Tired of her!" echoed Mrs. Kane, looking at her visitor in great surprise; "surely, madam, you do not think you will get tired of our little Hetty!"
"I hope not, my good woman; but even if I do you cannot complain, as in that case I shall give her back to you; that is, if it happens before her friends come to fetch her. Unless you are pretending to grieve now, you cannot be sorry at the prospect of having her again."
"That's true," said the poor woman in a puzzled tone, and she still looked wistfully at the handsome visitor sitting before her. She did not know how to express herself, and she was afraid of offending the lady who was going to be Hetty's mother; yet she felt eager to make some remonstrance against the injustice of the proceeding which Mrs. Rushton spoke of as within the bounds of possibility. She believed in her heart that a great wrong would be done if the child, having been educated and accustomed to luxury for years, were to be carelessly thrown back into a life of lowly poverty. However, the trouble that was in her heart could not find its way through her lips, and she tried to think that Mrs. Rushton spoke only in jest.
"It is altogether like a romance," that lady was saying as she folded up the baby garment and put it away in a pretty scented satchel which she wore at her side. "I have not met with anything so interesting for years, and I promise myself a great deal of pleasure in the matter."
"May Hetty come to see me sometimes?" asked Mrs. Kane, humbly curtseying her good-bye, when her visitor was seated in her pony phaeton and gathering up the reins for flight.
"Oh, certainly, as often as you please," answered Mrs. Rushton gaily, and touching the ponies with her whip she was soon out of sight; while poor Mrs. Kane retreated into her cottage to have a good motherly cry over the tiny broken shoes and the little washed-out faded frocks which were now all that remained to her of her foster-daughter.
A LONELY CHILD.
Mrs. Rushton having adopted Hetty, set about extracting the utmost amount of amusement possible from the presence of the child in her home. She soon grew anxious to get away from her brother's "unpleasantly sensible remarks," and Isabel's gentle excuses for her conduct, which annoyed her even more, as they always suggested motives for her actions which were far beyond her ken, and seemed far-fetched, over-strained, and absurd. So she took the child to London, where she introduced her to her friends as her latest plaything.
Hetty had frocks of all the colours of the rainbow, and learned to make saucy speeches which entertained Mrs. Rushton's visitors.
She sat beside her new mamma as she drove in her victoria in the park; and on Mrs. Rushton's "at home" days was noticed and petted by fashionable ladies and gentlemen, her beauty praised openly to her face, her pretty clothes remarked upon, and her childish prattle laughed at and applauded as the wittiest talk in the world.
Certainly there were many days when Hetty's presence was wearisome and intolerable to her benefactress, and then she was banished to a large gloomy room at the top of the London house, and left to the tender mercies of a maid, who did not at all forget that she was only Mrs. Kane's little girl from the village of Wavertree, and treated her accordingly. She was often left alone for hours, amusing herself as best she could, crying when she felt very lonely, or leaning far out of the window to feel nearer to the people in the street. The consequence of all this was to spoil the child's naturally sweet temper, to teach her to crave for excitement, and to suffer keenly, when, after a full feast of pleasure, she was suddenly snubbed, scolded, deserted, and forgotten. She began to hate the sight of the bare silent nursery upstairs, where there were no pretty pictures to bear her company, no pleasant little adornments, no diversions such as a mother places in the room where her darlings pass many of their baby hours. It was a motherless, blank, nursery, where the only nurse was the maid, who came and went, and looked upon Hetty as a nuisance; an extra trouble for which she had not been prepared when she engaged to live with Mrs. Rushton.
"Sit down there and behave yourself properly, if you can, till I come back," she would say, and seat Hetty roughly in a chair and go away and leave her there, shutting the door. At first Hetty used to weep dolefully, and sometimes cried herself to sleep; but after a time she became used to her lonely life, and only thought of how she could amuse herself during her imprisonment. She counted the carriages passing the window till she was tired, and watched the little children playing in the garden of the square beyond; but at last she would get bolder, sometimes, and venture out of her nursery to take a peep at the other rooms of the house. One day she made her way down to Mrs. Rushton's bed-room; that lady had gone out and the servants were all downstairs. Hetty contrived to pull out several drawers and played with ribbons and trinkets. At last she opened a case in which was her foster-mother's watch, and as this ticking bit of gold was like a living companion, Hetty pounced upon it at once.
She played all sorts of tricks with the watch, dressed it up in a towel and called it a baby; and making up her mind that baby wanted a bath, popped the watch into a basin of water and set about washing it thoroughly.
Just as she was working away with great energy the door opened and Mrs. Rushton came in. Seeing what the child was doing she flew at her, snatched the watch from her hands, and slapped her violently on the arms and neck. Hetty screamed, beat Mrs. Rushton on the face with both her little palms, and then was whirled away shrieking into the hands of the negligent maid, who shook her roughly as she carried her off to the miscalled "nursery."
The little girl, who had never been instructed or talked to sensibly by any one, was quite unconscious of the mischief she had done; and only felt that big people were hateful to-day, as she lay kicking and screaming on the floor upstairs.
The end of it all was, however, that, upon reflection, Mrs. Rushton found she did not care so much after all about the destruction of her watch, and that the whole occurrence would make a capital story to tell to her friends; and so she sent for Hetty, who was then making a dismal play for herself in the twilight with two chairs turned upside down and a pinafore hung from one to another for a curtain. The child was seized by Grant, the maid, dressed in one of her prettiest costumes, and taken down to the drawing-room to Mrs. Rushton, who had quite recovered her temper and forgotten both the beating she had given Hetty and the beating Hetty had given her. The culprit was overwhelmed with kisses, and praises of her pretty eyes; and soon found herself the centre of a brilliant little crowd who were listening with smiles to the story of Hetty's ill-treatment of the watch.
Each year Mrs. Rushton went abroad for amusement and Hetty was taken with her, and in foreign hotels was even more shown about, flattered and snubbed, petted and neglected, than she had been when at home in London. Everything that could be done was done to make her vain, wilful, ill-tempered; and the little creature came to know that she might have anything she pleased if only she could make Mrs. Rushton laugh.
Four or five years passed in this way, during which time Mrs. Rushton had very little intercourse with her brother's family at Wavertree. Her country house had been shut up and her time had been spent between London, Brighton, and fashionable resorts on the Continent. In the meantime the education which she had promised Mrs. Kane should be given to her nursling had not been even begun. Mrs. Rushton had had no leisure to think of it. She looked upon Hetty as still only a babe, a marmoset born to amuse her own hours of ennui. In her brother's occasional letters he sometimes devoted a line to Hetty. "I hope you are not spoiling the little girl," he would add as a postscript; or, "I hope the child is learning something besides monkey-tricks." These insinuations always annoyed Mrs. Rushton, and she never condescended to answer them. The suggestion that she had incurred a great responsibility by adopting Hetty was highly disagreeable to her.
It is hard to say how long this state of things might have gone on had not Mrs. Rushton's health become delicate. She suddenly found herself unable to enjoy the gay life which was so much to her natural taste. The doctors recommended her a quiet sojourn in her native air, and warned her that she ought to live near friends who felt a real interest in her.
Of what these hints might mean Mrs Rushton did not choose to think, but physical weakness made her long for the rest of her own country home.
HETTY AND HER "COUSINS"
One cool fresh evening in October Mrs. Rushton, Hetty, Grant the maid, and an old man-servant who followed his mistress everywhere, arrived at the railway-station near Wavertree, and were driven along the old familiar country road with the soft purpled woods on one side, and the green plains and distant view of the sea on the other. They arrived at Amber Hill just as lights began to spring up in the long narrow windows of the comfortable old gray house, lights more near and bright than the stars burning dimly above the ancient cedar-trees in the avenue.
Hetty, dressed in a costly pelisse trimmed with fur, leaned forward, looking eagerly for the first glimpse of her new home. The child had now only faint recollections of Wavertree, and of her life with Mrs. Kane in the village, and except for Grant's ill-natured remarks from time to time she would have forgotten them altogether and imagined herself to be Mrs. Rushton's niece, as that lady called her when speaking of her to strangers. Hetty hated Grant, who always took a delight in lowering her pride, for by this time, it must be owned, pride had become Hetty's besetting sin.
Mrs. Rushton had perceived Grant's disposition to snub and annoy the child, and with her usual determination to uphold and justify her own conduct and disappoint those who disapproved of her views, she had put down the maid's impertinence with a high hand, and had grown more and more careful of late to protect Hetty's dignity before the servants.
"I hope Miss Gray's room is as nice as I desired you to make it," she said to the housekeeper who was welcoming her in the hall. "I hope you have engaged a maid from the village to attend on her. I require all Grant's attentions now myself," she added wearily, falling into a chair in a state of exhaustion. "Hetty, my love, give me a kiss, and go and have a pretty frock put on for dinner."
Polly, the new maid, had already unpacked the little girl's trunks and was waiting in her room to dress her in white muslin and lace and arrange her soft dark curls in a charming wreath round her head. Hetty's room was an exquisite little nest draped in pale blue chintz covered with roses, and with fantastic little brackets here and there bearing pretty statuettes and baskets of flowers. The housekeeper had not indeed neglected Mrs. Rushton's instructions with regard to the decoration of this apartment.
"My, miss, but you have grown a fine tall girl!" said Polly admiringly; "and won't Mrs. Kane be glad to see you again? I suppose you will be going to see her to-morrow?"
"I am not sure," said Hetty; "I don't remember Mrs. Kane."
"Don't you, miss? Then you ought to, I am sure, for it was she that took care of you before Mrs. Rushton had you."
"Yes, I believe so," said Hetty frowning, for she dreaded that Polly was going to make a practice of taunting her with being a foundling, just as Grant had always done.
"And you ought to be very thankful to her," persisted Polly, "although you are such a grand young lady now."
"Please to mind your own business," said Hetty proudly; "you were engaged by Mrs. Rushton to dress me and not to give me lectures."
Polly was astonished and aggrieved. She did not know how Hetty had been goaded on the subject of her past life by Grant, and had fancied that as she had only a child to deal with she could say anything she chose quite freely. But though Hetty was only nine, her experiences of the world had made her old beyond her years. Polly only thought her a hard-hearted, haughty little wretch, too proud to be grateful to those who had been good to her.
"Far be it from me to think of lecturing you, Miss Hetty," she said; "but mind, I tell you, pride always gets a fall."
"Be silent!" cried Hetty, stamping her small foot imperiously; "if Mrs. Rushton knew of your impertinence she would send you away to-night."
It was thus that poor Hetty already began to make enemies, while much requiring friends.
Next morning Mrs. Rushton and Hetty drove over to Wavertree to spend a few days at the Hall, and on the way the lady stopped at Mrs. Kane's door in the village, and bade Hetty alight and go in to pay a visit to her old protectress. With Grant's taunts rankling in her memory and Polly's reproaches fresh in her mind, Hetty got out of the carriage reluctantly and went up to the door with a slow step.
Mrs. Kane was busy over a tub in her little wash-house, and came out into the kitchen on hearing some one at the door. She wore a print short-gown and petticoat, and a poky sun-bonnet; and her bare arms were reeking with soap-suds. Hetty shrank from her a little, and could not realize that she had ever belonged to a person with such an appearance as this.
Poor Mrs. Kane looked at her young visitor with a stare of wonder, and could never have guessed it was Hetty had she not espied Mrs. Rushton's face through the open doorway, nodding pleasantly at her from the carriage.
"Why, little miss, you're never my little Hetty?" cried the good woman, wiping her hands in her apron.
"My name is Hetty Gray," said the little girl, holding up her pretty head adorned with a handsome hat and feathers.
"And don't you remember me, my darling?" said Mrs. Kane, extending her arms; "me that used to nurse you and take care of you like my own! Oh, don't go to say you forget all about your poor old mammy!"
Hetty hung her head. "I don't remember you at all," she said in a low trembling voice. Her pride was stung to the quick at the thought that she had belonged to this vulgar person.
"Well, well! you were only a baby, to be sure, when you were taken away from me. But oh, my dear, I loved you like my own that went to heaven, so I did. And my John, he loved you too. Come in here till I show you the bed you used to sleep in; and always you would be happier if you had a jugful of flowers on the window-sill to look at, falling asleep and coming awake again in the morning. To think of it being full five years ago, my pretty; and you turned into an elegant young lady in the time!"
"Did I really ever live here?" asked Hetty; "really ever sleep in that bed?"
"That you did; and slept well and were happy," said Mrs. Kane, beginning to feel hurt at the child's coldness. "Come now, have you never a kiss to give to the poor old mammy that nursed you?"
Hetty held up her round sweet face, as fair and fresh as a damask rose, to be kissed, and submitted to Mrs. Kane's caresses rather from consciousness that she ought to do so, than from any warmth of gratitude in her own heart. So far from being grateful to the homely sun-burned woman who hugged her, she felt a sort of resentment towards her for finding her on the sea-shore and making a cottage child of her. It ought to have been Mrs. Rushton who found her, and perhaps she might have done so if Mrs. Kane or her husband had not been in such a hurry to take her in. Then Grant could not have taunted her with being a village foundling, and nobody could have declared she was not intended to be a lady.
After her one embrace Mrs. Kane wiped her eyes and led the child out of the cottage to the carriage door.
"Ah, Mrs. Rushton!" she said, "this is your Hetty now and not mine any more. What does a fine young lady like this want to know of a poor old mammy like me? I gave her to you, body and soul, five years ago, and may the good God grant that I did right! My little Hetty, that loved the big moon-daisies and the field-lilies like her life, is as dead as my other children who are in heaven. It lies in your hands, ma'am, to make good or bad out of this one."
"You are a curious woman, Mrs. Kane. I thought you would have been delighted to see what a little queen I have made of her."
"Queens require kingdoms, ma'am, and I make free to wish that your little lady may sit safe on her throne. And after that I can only hope that she has more heart for you than for me."
"Come, come, Mrs. Kane! you must not expect memory from a baby. Hetty will soon renew her acquaintance with you, and you and she will be excellent friends."
But Mrs. Kane was not slow to read the expression of Hetty's large dark-fringed eyes, which, with all the frankness of childhood, betrayed their owner's thoughts; and she knew that Hetty would find no pleasure in learning to recall the inglorious circumstances of her infancy.
Hetty had still less recollection of the Enderby family than of Mrs. Kane, but she felt very much more willing to be introduced to its members than to the cottage woman. Looking upon herself as Mrs. Rushton's only child, she considered the Wavertree children as her cousins and their father and mother as her uncle and aunt. Mrs. Rushton had always talked to her of them in such a way as to lead her to regard them in this light. Occasionally a strange little laugh or a few sarcastic words from Mrs. Rushton had grated on the child's ear in the midst of her foster-mother's pleasantly expressed anticipations of Hetty's future intercourse with her own relations; and the little girl had, on such occasions, felt a chill of vague fear, and a momentary pang of anxiety as to the reception she might possibly meet with from these people, none of whom had ever been found by a poor labouring man alone on a wild sea-shore, or had lived with a humble woman in a cottage. That the "disgrace" of such a past clung round herself, Grant's disagreeable eyes would never allow her to forget. Such were poor Hetty's disordered ideas with regard to herself and her little world, when Mrs. Rushton's carriage drew up that day before the door of Wavertree Hall.
Mrs. Enderby was seated at her embroidery in the drawing-room beside her small elegant tea-table, and looked the very ideal of an English gentlewoman in her silver-gray silk and delicate lace ruffles, and with her fair, almost colourless hair twisted in neat shining braids round the back of her head. With her own faint sweet smile she welcomed her sister-in-law and inquired kindly for her health; and then she turned to Hetty, who stood gazing steadily in her face, utterly unconscious of her own look of anxious inquiry.
Mrs. Rushton had taken pains to make the most of Hetty's uncommon beauty on this occasion, determined to take her friends by surprise and force them into an acknowledgment of the superiority of her own taste in adopting such a child. Hetty was dressed in a dark crimson velvet frock, trimmed with rich old yellow lace, which enhanced the warmth and richness of her complexion, and gave a reflected glow to her dark and deep-fringed eyes. A crop of crisp short curls of a dusky chestnut colour was discovered when her hat was removed. No ungenerous prejudice prevented Mrs. Enderby from acknowledging at the first glance that Hetty had a most charming countenance.
"And this is Hetty! how she has grown!" said Mrs. Enderby, taking the child's little hand between her own and looking at her in a friendly manner. With a swift pain, however, Hetty remarked that she did not kiss her; but she was not aware that Mrs. Enderby, though a kind, was not a demonstrative woman, and that kisses were rarely bestowed by her on anyone. If Hetty had put up her little face for a caress, Mrs. Enderby would have been very well pleased to lay her own cool cheek against the child's scarlet lips; but Hetty's was one of those natures that desire tokens of love and are yet too proud to seek for them. She flushed to her hair, therefore, with mortification as Mrs. Enderby dropped her hand and turned away once more to her sister-in-law.
"How tired you are! you look quite faint. Allow me to take your bonnet; and do lie down on this couch while I make you a cup of tea. Hetty must amuse herself with a piece of cake till my little girls come in from their walk. I have got such a nice governess for them, Amy. Mark, you know, is gone to Eton."
The ladies continued to converse, and Hetty sat forgotten for the moment, eating her cake. She ate it very slowly, anxious to make it last as long as possible, for she felt that when it was finished she should not know what to do with herself. When even the crumbs were gone she folded her hands and counted the flowers on the wall-paper, and discovered among them a grinning face which certainly had been no acquaintance of the designer's, but had started suddenly out of the pattern merely to make cruel fun of Hetty's uneasiness.
At last, after some time which seemed to the little girl quite a year at least, Mrs. Enderby rang the bell and asked if the young ladies had come in from walking. The servant said they were just going to tea in the school-room, and Mrs Enderby turned to Hetty, saying:
"Go, my dear, with Peter, and he will show you the school-room. Tell Phyllis and Nell that I sent you to play with them."
Hetty followed the servant; but as she went across the hall and up the staircase she felt with a swelling heart that had she been the real cousin of these children, and not an "upstart" (Grant's favourite word), they would perhaps have been sent for to the drawing-room to be presented to her.
Accustomed as she was to be alternately petted and snubbed, she had acquired the habit of watching the movements of her elders with suspicion, and now concluded that because no fuss was made about her she must therefore be despised. A hard proud spirit entered into her on the moment, and she resolved that though she had been humble in her demeanour towards Mrs. Enderby she would hold her head high with girls who were not very much older than herself.
Peter was a young footman who had been brought up in the village and trained by the butler at the Hall, and who consequently knew all about Hetty's history. He did not intend to do more than just show the little girl which was the school-room door, and was amused and surprised when the child said to him with great dignity,
"Please announce Miss Gray."
Peter hid his smile, and throwing open the door very wide he pronounced her name, as she desired, in an unusually loud tone of voice.
Miss Davis, the governess, had just raised the tea-pot in her hand to fill the cups, and her two pupils had each a thick piece of bread and butter in hand, when the door was flung open as described and Hetty in all her magnificence appeared on the threshold.
"My mamma has brought me to see you," said Hetty boldly, her chin very high, "and Mrs. Enderby sent me here to you"; and she remarked as she spoke that the Enderby girls wore plain holland dresses with little aprons and narrow tuckers, no style or elegance whatever about their attire.
Miss Davis looked in surprise at the young stranger, not knowing her story, and thinking her a very handsome, but haughty looking little girl, while Phyllis and Nell put down their bread and butter on their plates, and rose slowly from their seats.
"How do you do?" they said, each just touching her hand, and then the three girls stood looking at one another.
The words "my mamma" had already annoyed Phyllis, who was one of those persons who even from childhood cherish an extraordinary degree of quiet pride in their good birth. She was willing that Hetty should be treated with kindness, but had often told herself that she would never be persuaded to look upon her as her own cousin. Nell only thought of how pretty their new playfellow was, and how nice it would be to have her sometimes with them.
"I am very glad you have come," she said, looking at Hetty with welcoming eyes.
"Nell, you ought not to speak before your elder sister," said Miss Davis, who, though an excellent lady, was rather prim in her ways and ideas.
"I hope you are quite well," said Phyllis politely; "will you take some tea?"
"I have just had some," said Hetty, "thank you. Do you never have tea with your mamma?"
"Oh, no," said the girls, with a smile of surprise.
"Little girls never do," said Miss Davis emphatically.
"I do always," said Hetty; she might have added, "except when she forgets all about me," but she did not think of that now.
"I did not know you had any mamma," said Phyllis coldly, not exactly meaning to be cruel, but feeling that Hetty was pretentious, and therefore vulgar, and that she ought to be kept down.
"How odd that you should not know your own aunt," said Hetty, a warm crimson rising in her cheeks, and her eyes kindling.
"My aunt never had a child," said Phyllis quietly.
"Not till she got Hetty," broke in Nell. "Phyllis, how can you be so unkind?"
"My dear Nell, I am not unkind, I only meant to correct Miss Gray's mistake."
"You had better go into the drawing-room and correct Mrs. Rushton's mistakes," said Hetty angrily. "It is by her desire that I call her my mother."
By this time Miss Davis knew who Hetty was, as she had heard something about Mrs. Rushton's having adopted a village child.
"My dears," she said, "don't let us be unkind to each other. Come, we must have our tea, and Miss Gray will be social and join us, even though she has had some before." And she handed a cup to the little visitor.
"Now, Hetty," continued Miss Davis, "I suppose I may call you Hetty, instead of Miss Gray, as you are only a little girl?"
"Yes," said Hetty slowly, half liking Miss Davis, but feeling afraid she was laughing at her.
Tea was finished almost in silence, not all Miss Davis's efforts making Hetty and Phyllis feel at ease with each other. Nell, being rather in awe of her elder sister, of whose general propriety of conduct and good sense she had a high opinion, was not very successful in her attempts at conversation. When the meal was over Miss Davis proposed a walk in the garden before study time.
"Can you play lawn tennis?" asked Nell as they walked towards the tennis-ground.
"No, I never play at anything," said Hetty sadly, "When not with—my mamma," she said with a flash of the eyes at seeing Phyllis looking at her, "I have always been alone."
Miss Davis glanced at the child with pity, but Hetty, catching her eye, would not bear to be pitied.
"It is much pleasanter to be with grown people in the drawing-room," she said. "I should not like at all to live as you do."
"Do you always wear such splendid frocks?" asked Phyllis, examining her from head to foot with critical eyes.
"Yes," said Hetty. "I have much finer ones than this; I am always dressed like a lady. How can you bear to be such a sight in that ugly linen thing?"
"My dear, simple clothes are more becoming to children," said Miss Davis, while Phyllis only curled her lip. "If you lived more among those of your own age," continued the governess, "as I hope you will henceforth do, you would find that little girls are much happier and more free to amuse themselves when dressed suitably to their age. You shall see how we enjoy ourselves at tennis, as we could not do in dresses as rich as yours."
Miss Davis and her pupils began to play tennis, and Hetty tried to join; but her dress was too warm and too tight to allow of her making much exertion, and so she was obliged to stand by and watch the game. Seeing the great enjoyment of the players, Hetty began to feel the spirit of the game, and remembered how she had often longed to be one of the happy children whom she had seen at play in other scenes than this. However, her belief that Phyllis was unfriendly towards her prevented her acknowledging what she felt. Had only Nell and Miss Davis been present she would have begged the loan of a holland blouse and joined in the game with all her heart. But Phyllis had a freezing effect upon her.
When the game was over they went indoors and Hetty was shown the pretty room prepared for her. Polly had already unpacked her things, and on the bed were laid the handsome gifts which Mrs. Rushton had bought for Hetty to present to "her cousins."
Hetty was now glad to see these presents which she had for a time forgotten, and thought she had now a good opportunity for making friends with the two girls. She was really pleased to give pleasure to Nell, whom she liked, and was not sorry that Phyllis would be obliged to receive something from her hands.
The presents were both beautiful and both useful. One was a desk, the case delicately inlaid, and the interior perfectly fitted up. The other was an exquisitely carved and furnished work-box.
"Oh, give the desk to Phyllis; she is so much more clever than I am, and writes so well. And I am fond of work. Oh, you are a dear to give me such a charming present," said Nell affectionately, examining the beautiful work-box with sparkling eyes.
Hetty was delighted.
"I chose them myself," she said with some pride; and then she took the desk in her arms and asked Nell to show her the way to Phyllis's room.
"It is down at the end of this passage. I will show you. And you must not mind Phyllis if she does not go into raptures like me. She is always so well-behaved, and takes everything so quietly."
Phyllis looked greatly surprised, and not quite pleased, when, having heard a knock at her door and said "Come in," she saw Hetty invade her room. Her first thought was, "This foundling girl is going to be forward and troublesome"; and Hetty was not slow to read her glance.
"I have brought you a present," she said, in quite a different tone from that in which she had made her little speech to Nell.
Phyllis took the desk slowly, and looked at it as if she wished it had not been offered.
"It is very handsome," she said, "and my aunt was very good to think of it. Please give her my best thanks."
And then Phyllis deposited the present on a table, and turned away and began to change her shoes.
Nell looked at Hetty, but could not see the expression of her face; for she had turned as quickly as Phyllis and was already vanishing through the door.
HETTY'S FIRST LESSONS.
Hetty's bed-room being over the school-room, she was wakened the next morning by somebody practising on the piano, the sound from which ascended through the floor.
"How well they play, and how early they rise!" thought Hetty. "I wonder whether it is Nell or Phyllis who is at the piano? Oh, dear! I do not know even a note."
She longed to ask Polly at what hour the Miss Enderbys had got up, and which of them was practising on the piano, but as she had begun by snubbing Polly she could not now descend from her dignity so far as to ask her questions. Polly on her side was always silent when attending on Miss Gray, and never ventured upon the least freedom with the haughty little foundling.
When Hetty descended to the breakfast-room she found only Mr. and Mrs. Enderby at the table. Mrs. Rushton was still in her room, and was having her breakfast there.
"This is little Hetty," said Mrs. Enderby, presenting her to her husband.
Mr. Enderby put down his paper and looked at Hetty gravely and critically, Hetty thought pityingly.
"How do you do, my dear?" he said, patting her shoulder. "I see you have not been accustomed to early hours."
Hetty hung her head and sat down at the table. Mrs. Enderby supplied her wants and then went on reading her letters; and Hetty ate in silence, wondering why she was not called on to talk and amuse these people as she had been accustomed to amuse Mrs. Rushton's fashionable friends. This quiet wise-looking lady and gentleman seemed to look on her with quite different eyes from those with which the rest of the world regarded her. They neither snubbed nor petted her, only seemed satisfied to allow her to be comfortable beside them.
Presently she plucked up courage to ask:
"Are Phyllis and Nell not coming to breakfast?"
Mrs. Enderby smiled.
"No, my dear, they never breakfast here. They breakfasted an hour ago in the school-room. They are busy at their studies at present."
"Are they always busy at studies?" asked Hetty.
"A great part of the day they are."
"As all little girls ought to be who wish to be educated women some day," said Mr. Enderby, looking over the edge of his newspaper.
"Your education has hardly begun yet I fear," said Mrs. Enderby.
"Mrs. Rushton"—something withheld Hetty from saying "my mamma" before Mr. and Mrs. Enderby—"always says it is time enough for that," said Hetty.
Mr. and Mrs. Enderby exchanged glances, and Mr. Enderby shifted in his seat and shook the newspaper impatiently. Mrs. Enderby said:
"What would you think of joining my girls at their lessons while you stay here? I fear that if you do not you will find yourself very lonely."
"I am often very lonely," said Hetty simply; and again her host and hostess looked at each other.
"Well, which do you prefer?" said the latter; "to be very lonely going about the house and gardens by yourself, or to spend your time usefully with the other children in the school-room?"
"I would rather be with the girls, if they would like to have me," said Hetty after a few moments' reflection. "But I think Phyllis would rather I stayed away."
"Oh, I think not," said Mrs. Enderby; "Phyllis never makes a fuss about anything, but I will answer for her that she will welcome you."
"I think she does not like me," said Hetty, looking steadily at her hostess with large serious eyes.
"Take care you do not dislike her," said Mr. Enderby, with a slight look of displeasure. "In this house we do not indulge such fancies."
"My dear, you must not think that because our manners here in the country may be quieter and perhaps less warm than those of some of the people you have lived with abroad, our hearts are therefore cold. Come, then, if you have finished breakfast, I will take you myself into the school-room."
Half pleased and half unwilling Hetty suffered herself to be led away, and her heart beat fast as she crossed the school-room threshold. Miss Davis sat at the end of the table with an open exercise book before her, and a severely businesslike look upon her face. Phyllis and Nell bent over their books at either side of the same table. Maps hung on the walls and books lay about everywhere. Hetty instantly, and for the first time in her life, felt keenly that she was a dunce.
"Miss Davis, I have brought you another pupil," said Mrs. Enderby; "I am sure you will not mind the trouble of having one more than usual for a little while. I think Hetty will be happier for having something to do."
"I shall be very pleased if she will join us," said Miss Davis; and then Mrs. Enderby left the room, and Hetty was asked to take a seat at the foot of the table.
"What have you been learning, my dear?" asked Miss Davis.
"Nothing," said Hetty; "I can read a little; but that is all."
Phyllis and Nell had not spoken to her, and had looked at her only with sidelong glances. This was because it was their study hour and speaking was not allowed; but Hetty thought it was because they were not glad to see her coming to join them, and she therefore felt all the more careless about trying to make the best of herself. If nobody cared about her, what did it matter whether she was a dunce or not? So she said boldly that she had been learning nothing; and then the two Enderby girls lifted up their heads and stared at her in sheer amazement.
Hetty's face grew crimson, and her pride arose within her.
"After all," she said, "it is much better fun to play and amuse yourself all day than to sit poring over books. Study does not make people prettier or pleasanter."
This last sentence was an echo from one of Mrs. Rushton's silly speeches. When people would ask her about Hetty's education, she was wont to declare that the child was prettier and pleasanter without it.
Phyllis, listening, merely curled her lip, and bent lower in silence over her book. Nell remained looking at Hetty with a wondering expression in her eyes. Miss Davis drew herself up and looked much displeased.
"I hope you are doing yourself great injustice," she said; "I cannot believe you really mean what you say. Study not make people prettier or pleasanter! I scarcely believe that my ears have not deceived me."
"It does not make you prettier or pleasanter," said Hetty persistently. "You were much nicer yesterday when you were playing and running about. Your face is not the same at all now."
Phyllis opened her eyes wide and turned them on Miss Davis, as if to ask, "Is not this too much?" Nell, on the contrary, began to smile as though she thought Hetty's impudence capital fun; and this encouraged Hetty, who had been taught to love to amuse people at any cost. Miss Davis coloured with surprise and annoyance.
"It is of no consequence, my dear, how we look when we are doing our duty," she said, controlling herself.
"Then I hope I shall never do my duty," said Hetty coolly; "nobody loves people who do not look gay."
Phyllis turned to Miss Davis and said, "Will you not send her away now? Mother never meant us to be interrupted like this."
"Patience, my dear!" said Miss Davis; "Hetty is perhaps giving us the worst side of her character only to startle us. I am sure there is a better side somewhere. Come over here to me, Hetty, and let me hear you read."
Hetty obeyed, and took the book Miss Davis placed in her hand. Holding herself very erect and looking very serious she began, after a glance over the paragraph that had been marked for her:—
"Leonora walked on her head, a little higher than usual."
"My dear!" interrupted Miss Davis hastily; and Nell vainly tried to smother a burst of laughter.
"That is what is printed here," said Hetty gravely, but the corners of her mouth twitched. Miss Davis did not notice this as she took the book and prepared to examine the text so startlingly given forth; but Phyllis and Nell saw at once that Hetty was making fun.
"Ah!" said Miss Davis, "it is your punctuation that is at fault. The sentence runs: 'Leonora walked on, her head a little higher than usual.' You see one little comma makes all the difference in the world."
"I wondered how she could manage to walk on her head," said Hetty in the most serious manner; "and why, if she did manage it, it should make her higher. She would be the same length in any case, would she not, Miss Davis?"
Nell laughed again, and Phyllis looked more and more contemptuous. Miss Davis said, "Read on please!" rather severely, at the same time giving Nell a glance of warning.
Hetty read on, making deliberately the most laughable blunders, at some of which Miss Davis herself had to smile. Even Phyllis had to give way on one occasion, and in the midst of a chorus of laughter Hetty stood making a piteous face, pretending not to know what they were laughing at.
"I told you I could read only a little," she said, but at the same time she gave Nell a knowing glance which Phyllis caught.
"She could read better if she pleased. She is only amusing herself," said Phyllis to Miss Davis.
"I hope not, my dear," said the governess; "do not be uncharitable. Well, Hetty, you may put aside your book for to-day. I hope to improve you before your visit is over. Do you know anything of geography? Come, I will give you an easy question. Where is England situated on the map?"
"In the middle of the Red Sea," said Hetty briskly.
"My dear! why do you suppose so?"
"I see it up there on the map," said Hetty; "the sea is marked in red all round it."
Nell tittered again. Phyllis put her fingers in her ears, determined to hear no more of Hetty's absurdities.
"You make a great mistake," said Miss Davis, and spreading a map before Hetty, the governess gave her a lesson on the position of the Red Sea and the relative position of England.
"Have you learned anything at all of numbers?"
"I can count on my fingers," said Hetty; "I add up the fives and I can reckon up to a hundred that way."
"You must learn a better way of counting than that. Have you never learned the multiplication table?"
"My mamma's tables are all ebony or marble," said Hetty, putting on a bewildered air, "but I will count them up if you like. There are six in the drawing-room," she continued, holding up all the fingers of her left hand, and the thumb of the right.
"You ridiculous child! you misunderstand me quite. The multiplication table is an arrangement of numbers. I will give it to you to study. In the meantime, come, how many do three threes make when they are added together?"
"I don't know anything about threes," said Hetty; "I only know about fives."
"I think I must give you up for to-day," said Miss Davis in despair. "Phyllis is waiting with her French exercise. Can you read French at all, Hetty?"
"I can talk French," said Hetty; "but I don't want to read it; 'tis quite bad enough to have to read English, I think. Talking is so much pleasanter than reading."
"You can talk it, can you? Let me hear," and Miss Davis addressed a question to her in French.
In answer to it Hetty poured forth a perfect flood of French, spoken with a pretty accent and grammatically correct. In truth she spoke like a little Frenchwoman, and completely surprised her listeners. She had been asked some question about walking in the Champs Elysees and now gave a vivid description of the scene there on a fine morning, the people who frequented it, their dress, their manners, their conversation.
Miss Davis put down the multiplication table which she had been turning over and stared at the little Frenchwoman chattering and gesticulating before her.
"There, my dear," she said presently, "that will do; I see you can make use of your tongue. Take this book now and study quietly for half an hour."
Hetty felt that she had had her little triumph at last. Neither Phyllis nor Nell could speak French like that. She took the table-book obediently and sat down with it, while Phyllis made an effort to get over the shock of surprise given her by Hetty's clever exhibition, and proceeded to attend to Miss Davis's correction of her French exercise.
That afternoon Hetty was dressed in a holland frock of Nell's, which, though Nell was a year older, was not too large for her, and joined heartily in a game of lawn tennis. Her little success of the morning, when she had surprised her companions and their governess by her cleverness at French, had raised her spirits, and she enjoyed herself as she had never done in her life before, feeling that she could afford to do without Phyllis' good opinion, and taking more and more pleasure in showing how little she cared to have it.
After this the days that remained of her visit passed pleasantly enough. Hetty contrived to turn her lessons into a sort of burlesque, and to impose a good deal on Miss Davis, who was not a humorous, but indeed a most matter-of-fact person. Every day Phyllis grew more and more disgusted with their visitor, who interrupted the even course of their studies and "made fools," as she considered, of Miss Davis and Nell. She thought Hetty's pretentiousness became greater and greater as her first slight shyness wore away and she grew perfectly familiar with every one in the house. Phyllis was sufficiently generous to refrain from complaining of Hetty to her mother or father, but she privately found fault with Nell for encouraging her too much.
"You laugh at her so absurdly that she grows more impudent every day," she said; "she could not dare to give herself such airs only for you."
"But, Phyllis dear, I can't help laughing at her, and indeed I think you make her proud by being so hard upon her; she is not so proud with me."
"She is ridiculous," said Phyllis; "such pretension in a girl of her age is utterly absurd. Besides, it is so vulgar. Well-born people are not always trying to force their importance on you as she does; if I did not try to keep her down a little she would be quite unbearable."
"Perhaps if you did not try to keep her down so much she would not set herself up so much," persisted Nell.
"I am older and wiser than you," said Phyllis coldly.
"Yes, I know you are," said Nell regretfully.
"And I ought to be a better judge of people's conduct. I am not going to complain of her to father or mother; but as she will be coming here again, I suppose, we ought to try to manage her a little ourselves."
Nell did not dare to say any more to Phyllis, but ran away as soon as she could get an opportunity, to play with Hetty and laugh admiringly at all her droll remarks.
One more triumph Hetty enjoyed before her visit to Wavertree came to an end. On a certain evening there was a dinner-party at the Hall, and some one who had been expected to sing and amuse the company failed to appear. After dinner Mrs. Rushton fancied that the party had grown very dull, and a brilliant idea for entertaining the guests occurred to her. She left the drawing-room and went upstairs to where the little girls were preparing for bed.
"Come, Hetty," she said, "I want you to make yourself agreeable. Every one is going to sleep down-stairs and carriages will not arrive till eleven. I have rung for Polly to dress you. Phyllis and Nell can come down also if they please."
The Enderby girls concluded from this speech that their mother had sent for them, and in a short time Mrs. Rushton returned to the drawing-room, accompanied by the three children.
Mrs. Enderby looked exceedingly surprised and not quite pleased, but Mrs. Rushton said,
"I have provided some amusement for your people. Hetty will make them laugh."
Hetty was flushed and trembling with excitement, and at a signal from her adopted mother she stepped into the middle of the room and began her entertainment; Mrs. Rushton having walked about among the guests beforehand, telling them that the child was going to give them some sketches of character, the result of her own observations.
Hetty began with a conversation between a mincing and lackadaisical young lady and a bouncing one who talked noisily; and she changed her attitudes, her accent, the expressions of her face in such droll ways, and altogether contrasted the two characters so well, that a round of applause and laughter greeted and encouraged her. Then followed a ridiculous scene between a cross old lady and an amiable old gentleman in a hotel; and so on. Every odd character Hetty had ever met was reproduced for the amusement of the company.
Most of the guests laughed heartily and lavished praises on Hetty's talent and beauty. Only a few looked shocked, and shook their heads, saying it was sad to see a child so precocious and cynical.
Mr. and Mrs. Enderby, though disliking the exhibition and thinking it very bad for the little girl, were obliged to laugh with the rest, and Mrs. Rushton was delighted and triumphant. Nell laughed more than any one and clapped her hands wildly, but Phyllis looked on all the time with a disdainful smile.
"My girls are up too late," said Mrs. Enderby, as she bade them good night.
"Why did you send for us, then, mother?" said Phyllis.
"I did not, my dear, it was quite your aunt's doing. She wished to amuse you, I believe."
"Then I wish I had known," said Phyllis, "I would rather have gone to bed. I did not want to see that ridiculous performance."
"Hetty took some trouble to make us laugh. And if she has not been very wisely brought up we must not blame her too much for that."
"I do not like her; I wish she would go away," said Phyllis with quiet determination.
"She is going to-morrow," said Mrs. Enderby.
"She is not a lady, mother, and I am quite tired of her restless ways," persisted Phyllis. "I hope she will never come back here."
Mrs. Enderby in her heart echoed this hope, but she controlled her feeling against Hetty and said:
"I fear your aunt is not the sort of person to understand the bringing up of a girl; but remember, Phyllis, that I rely on you to help me to be of service to this poor child. Go to bed now, my daughter, and be wise, as you usually are."
Phyllis looked troubled, and thought over her mother's words as she lay in bed. But hers was not one of those natures that relent easily. She tried to satisfy her conscience by assuring herself that she wished no ill to Hetty, but quite the reverse. "Only she is different from us," she reflected, "and she ought to keep away with the people who suit her. I hope aunt Amy will not bring her here again."
Mrs. Rushton and Hetty departed. Phyllis was satisfied, and everything went on as usual at Wavertree Hall. No one was sorry to lose the visitors, except Nell, who was secretly rather fond of Hetty. She was not a very brave child, and was much influenced by the opinion of others, especially of those whom she loved and admired; so, though there was a soft corner in her heart for Hetty, she was a little ashamed of the fact, seeing that none of the rest of the family shared her feeling. With Phyllis especially she was careful to be silent about Hetty, having a high opinion of her sister's good sense, and being greatly afraid of her contempt. And so it came that after a few days had passed Hetty's name was mentioned no more in the house.
Meantime Hetty at Amber Hill was enjoying her life more than she had ever enjoyed it before. She had her own pony, and went out to ride as often as, and at any hour she pleased. Half-a-dozen dogs and as many cats belonged to her, and they all loved her. Almost her entire time was spent out of doors, for Mrs. Rushton was too great an invalid now to care for much of her company. Grant was almost always in attendance on her mistress, and so had very little opportunity for interference with Hetty. Polly was easily kept in order, and the housekeeper always took the child's part if any of the other servants annoyed or neglected her.
This wild uncontrolled life, spent chiefly in the open air, wandering through the woods, running races with the dogs, or galloping up hill and down hill with them all flying after the pony's heels, suited Hetty exactly. She thought the world delightful because she was allowed to live a healthy active life, and nobody thwarted her. When Mrs. Rushton sent for her to the drawing-room or to her bed-room Hetty would steal in quietly, and, bringing a story-book with her, would sit down at her adopted mother's feet, and remain buried in her book till notice was given her that it was time for her to depart. In this way she gave very little trouble, and Mrs. Rushton was more than ever convinced that she had made an excellent choice in adopting Hetty, and that she was the most satisfactory child in the world.
One day Hetty had come in from her ride, and was sitting in her own room with her story-book waiting for the usual evening summons from Mrs. Rushton. The days were now very short, and the little girl's head was close to the window-pane as she tried to read. The door opened and she started up, shutting the book and preparing to go down-stairs; but there was something unusual about Polly's look and manner as she came into the room.
"Mrs. Rushton is taken very ill," she said, "and the doctor is sent for. So you will please come down and have your tea in the drawing-room by yourself, Miss Hetty."
"Is she more ill than usual? Much more?" asked Hetty. "The doctor was here this morning."
"She's as ill as can be," said Polly, "and all of a sudden. But you can't do her any good. And you'd better come down to your tea."
Hetty followed Polly without saying more, though she felt too anxious to care about her tea. She was greatly frightened, yet hardly knew why, as Mrs. Rushton was often ill, and the doctor was often sent for. There was a general impression in the household that the mistress sometimes made a great fuss about nothing, fainted, and thought she was going to die, and in a few hours was as well as usual. But no one in the house felt as anxious about her as Hetty. During the pleasant weeks that had lately passed over her head Hetty had been more drawn to her benefactress than she had ever been before. No longer snubbed and neglected in strange uncomfortable places, she had, in becoming more happy, also become more loving. She knew that she owed all the enjoyments of her present life to Mrs. Rushton, and if she was not allowed to be much in the company of her adopted mother she thought it was not because she was forgotten, but because Mrs. Rushton was too ill to see her. She believed herself really very greatly beloved by her benefactress, and had begun to love her very much in return. Seeing her lying on her couch, quiet and gentle, making no cruel remarks and laughing no cynical laughs, Hetty had constructed a sort of ideal mother out of the invalid, and endowed her with every lovable and admirable quality. This comfortable little dream had added much to the child's happiness in her life of late; and now she felt a wild alarm at the thought of the increased illness of her protectress.
The doctor came and was shut up in the sick-room, and after some time Grant came out and spoke to the housekeeper, and a messenger was sent off on horseback to Wavertree Hall.
When Grant came back to Mrs. Rushton's door Hetty was there with her face against the panel.
"Oh, Grant, do tell me what is the matter!" she whispered.
"Illness is the matter," said Grant. "There! we don't want children in the way at such times. Go up to your bed, miss. You'll be better there than here."
"I can't go to bed till I know if she is better," said Hetty. "Why have you sent a message to Wavertree?"
But Grant pursed up her lips and would say no more, and Hetty saw her pass into Mrs. Rushton's room and close the door.
The child crept back to the drawing-room, where no lamps had been lighted and there was only a little firelight to make the darkness and emptiness of the large room more noticeable. She knelt down on the hearth-rug and buried her face in the seat of Mrs. Rushton's favourite arm-chair. The dearest of all her dear dogs, Scamp, came and laid his black muzzle beside her ear, as if he knew the whole case and wanted to mourn with her. Two hours passed; Hetty listened intently for every sound, and wondered impatiently why Mr. and Mrs. Enderby did not arrive. She got up and carefully placed some lumps of coal on the fire, making no noise lest some one should come and order her off to bed. She was resolved to stay there all night rather than go to bed without learning something more.
At last a sound of wheels was heard, and Hetty went and peeped out of the drawing-room door and saw Mr. and Mrs. Enderby taking off their wraps in the hall. Their faces were very solemn and they spoke in whispers. She saw them go upstairs, and though longing to follow them, did not dare. Then she retreated back into the drawing-room and buried her face once more in the depths of the chair.