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Hetty by Mrs. W. J. Hays

 

They were all in the sitting-room. Matilda Ann was trimming a bonnet to wear to the concert which was to take place that very evening in the Town-hall, and the roses did look so pretty that Hetty wished she was grown up enough to have some one come for her in a brand-new buggy, and take her to a concert; but where was the use of wishing? Every one told her she must not be too childish, and then every one said she mustn't think herself a young woman, and want long gowns and trains, and big braids and puffs—that there was "time enough yet." She wondered what "time enough" meant. It seemed to her as if it must be the time of freedom, and certainly that was a long way off.

Jane was sewing strips of woollen cloth together for the big balls that were to make carpet, and their mother was darning stockings, and they were all talking about the school-teacher who had lately come to the little brown house next to the district school. Jane said she was "hity-tity," mother said she didn't like to see so many furbelows, and Matilda Ann criticised her manner of wearing her hair; so Hetty ventured to say, "I don't think it matters much what she wears, or how she looks, if she can teach the children."

"Yes," said the mother, "it does matter; for children, need a good example."

"Of course she ought to be neat," said Hetty.

"Yes, and simple, and not be sticking on jewelry every day."

"For that matter, Aunt Maria says people in the city wear diamonds when they go to market."

"That does not make it any more sensible; fools are to be found everywhere."

"But, mother, Miss Martin isn't a fool; she is very nice. I think you would like her."

"Perhaps so," said the mother, somewhat doubtfully; adding: "She had on a flounced skirt the last time I saw her. It takes a great deal of time to do them up nicely. Only rich folk ought to wear them."

"Suppose some one gave her her fine clothes?" said Hetty.

"Not very likely; but that would make it a little better."

Hetty went out to take a swing under the elm-tree, wondering why big people couldn't find something better to talk about than what other people wore. Then Jane spoke up:

"Hetty always hates to hear others spoken of when they can't take their own part."

"She's a good little thing, anyhow," said Matilda Ann, who was standing before the looking-glass, in high good humor, with the new bonnet on, and turning her head from side to side, so that she could the better survey the trimmings.

"Well," said Mrs. Hall, "you've stood there long enough, Matilda Ann. I never did see such an amazin' amount of vanity as there is nowadays."

"Oh, mother, I dare say you were just as silly when you were young," said Jane.

"No," said the mother, severely, "I never was given to fineries; my heart was set on higher things."

"I don't see, then, how father ever got the chance to do any courting."

"Jane," said Mrs. Hall, "Jedediah Hall would never have married me if I had been like the girls of the present day, who scorn to churn, and to wash, and to do housework of any sort. He respected a woman who could make her family comfortable."

"But the courting—did he ever talk nonsense, mother?"

"The courting was over in short meter, I can tell you. Nonsense?—no, there was no nonsense about him. Well, well, it's a long time ago." And she arose, and went out into the kitchen. The table was set for tea, and the biscuits were ready for the oven. She went to the cellar to skim the cream, and found a large bowl of custard had been left over from the dinner. There was more than would be eaten on their own table. What would she do with it? Pretty soon Hetty heard her mother calling her: "Hetty! Hetty!"

She ran in quickly from the garden.

"How would you like to take some of this custard to Miss Martin?"

"Splendid!" said Hetty. "But, mother," she said, hesitating, "I thought you didn't like her?"

"Pshaw, child, I didn't say so. I said I didn't approve of too much dress. Get your hat and a tin pail. Here;" and she poured out the custard. "Now go, and mind you come home in time for tea."

HETTY AND JIM—Drawn by T. Robinson. HETTY AND JIM—Drawn by T. Robinson.

It was a level road, and the afternoon a pleasant one late in the fall. Hetty could not chase the squirrels, for fear of upsetting her pail; neither could she pick berries, for they were all gone. And so she trudged on silently, wishing she were as old as Matilda Ann, so that she might go to the concert. As she passed a lot which was covered with stubble, a boy appeared, leaning over the fence. He was a big fellow, and the son of an old neighbor, and Hetty liked him, but there were people who said he was mischievous, and told tales of him, which perhaps made him somewhat shy. He nodded pleasantly enough to her, however, and asked her where she was going.

"Down to Miss Martin's," was Hetty's reply.

"I say, Hetty," said Jim, "do you think Miss Martin thought it was me who tried to frighten her the other night?"

"No," said Hetty.

"Well, I was afraid she did. Give a dog a bad name, you know, and he never gets rid of it."

"But, Jim, you don't mean to speak of yourself that way?" said Hetty.

"Yes, I do; people believe anything of me, and I half the time get the credit of doing things that never came into my head."

"I only heard a little about Miss Martin's fright; some one chased her, I believe."

"Yes, Sam Tompkins made believe he was a tramp, and scared her 'most out of her wits. He ought to have been shot. I licked him when I heard he had tried to make out it was me who did it, and I'll lick him again, too."

"Oh, don't, Jim; you had better forget all about it."

"Indeed I won't; I mean to make him repent it. See here, Hetty, I've got some tickets for the concert. Don't you want to go?"

"Don't I?" said Hetty; "I guess I do; but I can't, you know."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I am not big enough yet," said Hetty, blushing.

"Now I'll tell you what I'll do. If you will ask Miss Martin to go, I'll take you both, for, you see, I want to be sure that she doesn't hold any ill-will against me; and if she goes, all the people hereabouts will know that I was not the mean sneaking coward who tried to frighten her."

"All right," said Hetty. "I understand; and I will go on now as fast as I can, and coax Miss Martin to go."

"Let me know what she says when you come back, and I'll get the horse hitched, for father said he'd let me have the wagon."

"I will," said Hetty, already hastening on her way.

The teacher was sitting in rather a lonely and dejected mood at her window as Hetty's bright face appeared before her. She was a young girl, with soft brown eyes and a patient expression. It was her first experience at district-school teaching, and she found it laborious. Hetty soon told her errand, and in her eagerness so mixed up the concert and the custard and Matilda Ann's new bonnet that Miss Martin was bewildered, but after a while made out what it all meant.

"So James Stokes wants me to go to the concert?"

"Yes, ma'am, and me too."

"Have you permission?"

"I'll get it, Miss Martin. I'm sure mother'll say 'yes,' and I sha'n't tell any one but her. I want to surprise Matilda Ann, and I will get ready and come here, so that Jim Stokes needn't go to our house."

"Please thank your mother kindly, Hetty, for the custard; it is so nice. And tell James I shall be happy to go. I knew he was not the one who frightened me."

Away Hetty flew, as fast as possible, to arrange the matter at home. Mrs. Hall could not say no, and Hetty soon exchanged her every-day clothes for her best gown and ribbons.

The Town-hall was crowded, and Hetty heard some one in a pink bonnet say, "Why, there's our Hetty; how did the child get here?" Then she turned her smiling face upon Matilda Ann in triumph.

When the concert was half over, and the singers were taking a rest, a very grand-looking person came to Miss Martin and said: "How do you do, my dear Amy? I am so glad to see you! And who is this little friend with you?"

Then the teacher spoke very kindly of Hetty as one of her best pupils, and Jim was also introduced, and the grand-looking lady said some very pleasant things to them.

"Who is that?" whispered Hetty.

"It is my aunt," replied Miss Martin—"the one who gives me so many pretty things. She would like me to live with her, but I prefer to maintain myself. I could never dress half so tastefully if she did not give me such nice clothes."

"Oh," said Hetty, much pleased to hear this confirmation of her own charitable supposition. "May I tell mother about it?" she asked.

"Certainly," said Miss Martin; "I wish you would, for I don't want to be thought extravagant."

From that time Miss Martin had no stancher friends than Jim and Hetty; and when one day Jim's big brother led her up the aisle of the village church as a bride, there were two young people behind her in white gloves and ribbons who looked almost as bright and happy as the chief actors of the day.