Read CHAPTER I - Four years old of Hetty Gray, Nobody's Bairn, free online book, by Rosa Mulholland, on

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.