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HETTY'S STRANGE HISTORY


By Anonymous

THE AUTHOR OF "MERCY PHILBRICK'S CHOICE."


"IS THE GENTLEMAN ANONYMOUS? IS HE A GREAT UNKNOWN?"

Daniel Deronda.



1877.


_I._


_What lover best his love doth prove and show?
The one whose words are swiftest, love to state?
The one who measures out his love by weight
In costly gifts which all men see and know?
Nay! words are cheap and easy: they may go
For what men think them worth: or soon or late,
They are but air. And gifts? Still cheaper rate
Are they at which men barter to and fro
Where love is not!_

_One thing remains. Oh, Love,
Thou hast so seldom seen it on the earth,
No name for it has ever sprung to birth;
To give one's own life up one's love to prove,
Not in the martyr's death, but in the dearth
Of daily life's most wearing daily groove_.


_II_.

_And unto him who this great thing hath done,
What does Great Love return? No speedy joy!
That swift delight which beareth large alloy
Is guerdon Love bestowed on him who won
A lesser trust: the happiness begun
In happiness, of happiness may cloy,
And, its own subtle foe, itself destroy.
But steadfast, tireless, quenchless as the sun
Doth grow that gladness which hath root in pain.
Earth's common griefs assail this soul in vain.
Great Love himself, too poor to pay such debt,
Doth borrow God's great peace which passeth yet
All understanding. Full tenfold again
Is found the life, laid down without regret!_




HETTY'S STRANGE HISTORY




I.

When Squire Gunn and his wife died, within three months of each other,
and Hetty their only child was left alone in the big farm-house,
everybody said, "Well, now Hetty Gunn'll have to make up her mind to
marry somebody." And it certainly looked as if she must. What could
be lonelier than the position of a woman thirty-five years of age sole
possessor of a great stone house, half a dozen barns and out-buildings,
herds of cattle, and a farm of five hundred acres? The place was known
as "Gunn's," far and wide. It had been a rich and prosperous farm ever
since the days of the first Squire Gunn, Hetty's grandfather. He was
one of Massachusetts' earliest militia-men, and had a leg shot off at
Lexington. To the old man's dying day he used to grow red in the face
whenever he told the story, and bring his fist down hard on the table,
with "damn the leg, sir! 'Twasn't the leg I cared for: 'twas the not
having another chance at those damned British rascals;" and the
wooden leg itself would twitch and rap on the floor in his impatient
indignation. One of Hetty's earliest recollections was of being led
about the farm by this warm-hearted, irascible, old grandfather, whose
wooden leg was a perpetual and unfathomable mystery to her. Where the
flesh leg left off and the wooden leg began, and if, when the wooden leg
stumped so loud and hard on the floor, it did not hurt the flesh leg
at the other end, puzzled little Hetty's head for many a long hour. Her
grandfather's frequent and comic references to the honest old wooden pin
did not diminish her perplexities. He was something of a wag, the old
Squire; and nothing came handier to him, in the way of a joke, than a
joke at his own expense. When he was eighty years old, he had a stroke
of paralysis: he lived six years after that; but he could not walk about
the farm any longer. He used to sit in a big cane-bottomed chair
close to the fireplace, in winter, and under a big lilac-bush, at the
north-east corner of the house, in summer. He kept a stout iron-tipped
cane by his side: in the winter, he used it to poke the fire with; in
the summer, to rap the hens and chickens which he used to lure round his
chair by handfuls of corn and oats. Sometimes he would tap the end of
the wooden leg with this cane, and say, laughingly, "Ha! ha! think of a
leg like that's being paralyzed, if you please. Isn't that a joke? It 's
just as paralyzed as the other: damn those British rascals." And only a
few hours before he died, he said to his son: "Look here, Abe, you put
on my grave-stone,--'Here lies Abraham Gunn, all but one leg.' What do
you suppose one-legged men're going to do in the resurrection, hey, Abe?
I'll ask the parson if he comes in this afternoon," he added. But, when
the parson came, the brave, merry eyes were shut for ever, and the old
hero had gone to a new world, on which he no doubt entered as resolutely
and cheerily as he had gone through nearly a century of this. These
glimpses of the old Squire's characteristics are not out of place here,
although he himself has no place in our story, having been dead and
buried for more than twenty years before the story begins. But he lived
again in his granddaughter Hetty. How much of her off-hand, comic,
sturdy, resolute, disinterested nature came to her by direct inheritance
from his blood, and how much was absorbed as she might have absorbed it
from any one she loved and associated with, it is impossible to tell.
But by one process or the other, or by both, Hetty Gunn was, as all the
country people round about said, "Just the old Squire over again," and
if they sometimes added, as it must be owned they did, "It's a thousand
pities she wasn't a boy," there was, in this reflection on the Creator,
no reflection on Hetty's womanliness: it was rather on the accepted
theory and sphere of woman's activities and manifestations. Nobody in
this world could have a tenderer heart than Hetty: this also she had
inherited or learned from her grandfather. Many a day the two had spent
together in nursing a sick or maimed chicken, or a half-frozen lamb,
even a woodchuck that had got its leg broken in a trap was not an
outcast to them; and as for beggars and tramps, not one passed "Gunn's,"
from June till October, that was not hailed by the old squire from under
his lilac-bush, and fed by Hetty. Plenty of sarcastic and wholesome
advice the old gentleman gave them, while they sat on the ground eating;
and every word of it sank into Hetty's wide-open ears and sensible soul,
developing in her a very rare sort of thing which, for want of a better
name, we might call common-sense sympathy. To this sturdy common-sense
barrier against the sentimental side of sympathy with other people's
sufferings, Hetty added an equally sturdy, and she would have said
common-sense, fortitude in bearing her own. This invaluable trait she
owed largely to her grandfather's wooden leg. Before she could speak
plain, she had already made his cheerful way of bearing the discomfort
and annoyance of that queer leg her own standard of patience and
equanimity. Nothing that ever happened to her, no pain, no deprivation,
seemed half so dreadful as a wooden leg. She used to stretch out her own
fat, chubby, little legs, and look from them to her grandfather's. Then
she would timidly touch the wooden tip which rested on the floor, and
look up in her grandfather's face, and say, "Poor Grandpa!"

"Pshaw! pshaw! child," he would reply, "that's nothing. It does almost
as well to walk on, and that's all legs are for. I'd have had forty
legs shot off rather than not have helped drive out those damned British
rascals."

Not even for sake of Hetty's young ears could the old Squire mention
the British rascals without his favorite expletive. Here, also, came
in another lesson which sank deep into Hetty's heart. It was for his
country that her grandfather had lost that leg, and would have gladly
lost forty, if he had had so many to lose, not for himself; for
something which he loved better than himself: this was distinct in Hetty
Gunn's comprehension before she was twelve years old, and it was a most
important force in the growth of her nature. No one can estimate the
results on a character of these slow absorptions, these unconscious
biases, from daily contact. All precepts, all religions, are
insignificant agencies by their side. They are like sun and soil to a
plant: they make a moral climate in which certain things are sure to
grow, and certain other things are sure to die; as sure as it is that
orchids and pineapples thrive in the tropics, and would die in New
England.

When old Squire Gunn was buried, all the villages within twenty miles
turned out to his funeral. He was the last revolutionary hero of the
county. An oration was delivered in the meeting-house; and the brass
band of Welbury played "My country, 'tis of thee," all the way from the
meeting-house to the graveyard gate. After the grave was filled up, guns
were fired above it, and the Welbury village choir sang an anthem.
The crowd, the music, the firing of guns, produced an ineffaceable
impression upon Hetty's mind. While her grandfather's body lay in the
house, she had wept inconsolably. But as soon as the funeral services
began, her tears stopped; her eyes grew large and bright with
excitement; she held her head erect; a noble exaltation and pride shone
on her features; she gazed upon the faces of the people with a composure
and dignity which were unchildlike. No emperor's daughter in Rome could
have borne herself, at the burial of her most illustrious ancestor, more
grandly and yet more modestly than did little Hetty Gunn, aged twelve,
at the burial of this unfamed Massachusetts revolutionary soldier: and
well she might; for a greater than royal inheritance had come to her
from him. The echoes of the farewell shots which were fired over the old
man's grave were never to die out of Hetty's ears. Child, girl, woman,
she was to hear them always: signal guns of her life, they meant
courage, cheerfulness, self-sacrifice.

Of Hetty's father, the "young Squire," as to the day of his death he was
called by the older people in Welbury, and of Hetty's mother, his
wife, it is not needful to say much here. The young Squire was a lazy,
affectionate man to whom the good things of life had come without his
taking any trouble for them: even his wife had been more than half wooed
for him by his doting father; and there were those who said that pretty
Mrs.



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