Read CHAPTER XIII - A trick on the governess of Hetty Gray, Nobody's Bairn, free online book, by Rosa Mulholland, on

Two years passed over Hetty’s head, during which she had plenty of storms and struggles, with times of peace coming in between. There were days when, but for Mrs. Kane’s good advice, she would have run away to escape from her trials; and yet she had known some happy hours too, and had gained many a little victory over her temper and her pride. The pleasantest days had been those when Mark Enderby, brother of Phyllis and Nell, was at home for his holidays, for he always took Hetty’s part, not in an uncertain way like Nell’s, but boldly and openly, and often with the most successful results. He was the only boy Hetty had ever known, and she thought him delightful; though like most boys he would be a little rough sometimes, and would expect her to be able to do all that he could do, and to understand all that he talked about. He sometimes, indeed, got her into trouble; but Hetty did not grudge any little pain he cost her in return for the protection which he often so frankly afforded her.

Not that anyone meant to be unkind to her. Mr. and Mrs. Enderby continued to take a friendly interest in everything that concerned her, though strictly following their well-meant plan of not showing her any particular personal affection. “We must not bring her up in a hothouse,” they said, “only to put her out in the cold afterwards.” In this they thought themselves exceptionally wise people; and who shall say whether they were or not? It suited Phyllis admirably to follow in the footsteps of her father and mother; but what was merely prudence on the part of her elder benefactors often appeared something much more unamiable when practised towards Hetty by a girl not many years her senior. Miss Davis, who was a rigid disciplinarian and trusted as such by her employers, thought chiefly of breaking down the pride and temper of the child, and of bending her character so as to fit her for the hard life that was before her; a life whose difficulties and trials had been bitterly experienced, and not yet all conquered or outlived by the conscientious governess herself. Nellie, who was Hetty’s only comfort in the great and, as it seemed to her, unfriendly house, too often showed her sympathy in a covert way which made Hetty feel she was half ashamed of her affection; and this deprived such tenderness of the value it would otherwise have had.

Hetty, now above eleven years old, was very much grown and altered. Her once short curly hair was long, and tied back from her face with a plain black ribbon. Her face was singularly intelligent, her voice clear and quick, her eyes often much too mournful for the eyes of a child, but sometimes flashing with fun, as, for instance, when Mark engaged her in some piece of drollery. Then the old spirit that she used to display when she performed her little mimicries for Mrs. Rushton’s amusement would spring up in her again, and she would take great delight in seeing Mark roll about with laughing, and hearing him declare that she was the jolliest girl in the world.

One Easter time, just two years after Hetty’s return to the Hall, when Mark was at home for his holidays, he proposed to Hetty to play a trick on Miss Davis. Hetty’s eyes danced at the thought of a trick of any kind. She did not have much fun as a rule, and Mark’s tricks were always so funny.

“It isn’t to be a bad trick, I hope,” she said, however.

“Oh! no, not at all. Only to dress up and pretend to be people from her own part of the world coming to see her and to bring her news. We will be an old couple who know her friends, and are passing this way.”

“She will find us out.”

“No; we must come in the twilight and go away very soon. She will be so astounded by what I shall tell her that she won’t think about us at all.”

“What will you tell her?”

“Oh! news about her old uncle. She has a rich uncle and she expects to be his heiress. Somebody told me of it. I will tell her he is married, and you will see what a state she will be in.”

“I don’t believe Miss Davis wants anybody’s money,” said Hetty; “she works hard for herself, and I think she supports her mother. I shall have to work some day as she does, and I mean to copy her. Only I shall have no mother to support,” said Hetty, swallowing a little sigh because Mark could not bear her to be sentimental.

“Oh! well, we shall have some fun at all events,” said Mark; “and don’t you go spoiling it, proving that Miss Davis is a saint.”

“Where can we get clothes to dress up in?” asked Hetty.

“Farmer Dawson’s son is going to bring them to me, and you will find yours in your room just at dusk. Hurry them on fast and I shall be waiting in the passage.”

That evening two rather puny figures of an old man and woman were shown up into the school-room where Miss Davis was sitting alone, looking into the fire and thinking of her distant home. Hetty was supposed to be arranging her wardrobe in her own room, and the other girls were with their mother. The governess was enjoying the treat of an hour of leisure alone, when she was informed that Mr. and Mrs. Crawford from Oldtown, Sheepshire, wished to see her.

“Show them up,” said Miss Davis, and waited in surprised expectation. “Who are they?” she thought; “I do not know the name. But any one from dear Sheepshire ah, what a strange-looking pair!”

They were odd-looking indeed. Mark was tall enough to dress up as a man, and he wore a rough greatcoat, and a white wig, and spectacles. Hetty had little gray curls, and gray eyebrows under a deep bonnet, and was wrapped in a cloak with many capes. In the uncertain light their disguise was complete.

“I have not the pleasure ” began Miss Davis.

“No, you don’t know us,” said Mark, “but your friends do, and we know all about you. We were passing this way and have brought you a message from your mother.”

“Indeed!” said Miss Davis, and her heart sank. A letter she had been expecting all the week had not arrived. Her mother was sick and poor. What dreadful thing had happened at home?

“Oh, she is not worse than usual,” put in Hetty, in the shrill piping tone which she chose to give to Mrs. Crawford. “Don’t be alarmed.”

Miss Davis did not easily recover from her first shock of alarm. She remained quite pale, and Hetty wondered to see so much feeling in a person whom she had often thought to be almost a mere teaching-machine.

“The news is about your uncle,” went on Mark. “Perhaps you have not heard that he is married.”

“No, I had not heard,” murmured Miss Davis; and she looked as if this indeed was a terrible blow to her. Hetty was immediately annoyed at her and disappointed in her. Was Mark right in his estimate of her character? Hetty had thought her a wonder of high-mindedness and independence of spirit, if very formal and cold. Was she now going to be proved mercenary and mean?

“Your mother did not write to you about it, fearing it would be a disappointment to you.”

“My uncle has a right to do as he pleases,” said Miss Davis, “and I hope he will be happy”; but her lips were trembling and she looked pained and anxious. “I thank you very much for your trouble in coming to tell me. I daresay my mother will write immediately.”

Now Mark was not satisfied with the result of his trick. He had hoped that Miss Davis would have got very angry, and have said some amusing things. Her quiet dignity disappointed him, and with an impulse of wild boyish mischief he resolved to try if he could not startle her.

“I am sorry to say I have not told you everything,” he blurted out suddenly. “I ought to prepare you for the worst, but I don’t know how.”

“Speak, I beg of you,” faltered Miss Davis.

“Your uncle is dead, and has left all his fortune, every penny, to his wife.”

A look came over Miss Davis’s face which the children could not understand.

“My brother!” she said, “can you tell me what has become of my little brother?”

“Run away,” said Mark, who had not known till this moment that she had a brother.

Miss Davis gasped and leaned her face forward on the table. The next moment they saw her slip away off her chair to the floor. She had fainted.

Mark was greatly alarmed, and struck with sudden remorse. Hetty sprang up crying, “Oh, Mark, how could you?”

“What are we to do?” said Mark in despair.

“Here,” said Hetty, “take away all this rubbish of clothes, and hide them.” And she pulled off her disguise and flew to raise Miss Davis from the floor.

“No, lay her flat,” said Mark; “and here is some water, dash it on her well. I will come back in a few moments.”

He cast off his own disguise and vanished with his arms full of the articles he and Hetty had worn. When he returned he found Miss Davis beginning to breathe again, and Hetty crying over her.

“Oh! Mark, I will never play a trick again as long as I live,” whispered Hetty; “we were near killing her. How could we dare to meddle with her affairs?”

“How was I to know she had a brother?” grumbled Mark under his breath. “And what has he to do with the joke of her uncle’s marrying?”

“And dying?” said Hetty. “But that’s just it, you see, we don’t know anything about it.”

“Children,” murmured Miss Davis, “what has happened to me? Give me your hands, Mark, and help me to rise.”

They raised her up and laid her on the sofa.

“What was the matter?” repeated Miss Davis, seeing the tears flowing down Hetty’s cheeks.

“Oh! two nasty old people came to see you and frightened you,” said Mark, “and then they walked off, and Hetty and I found you on the floor.”

Hetty gave Mark a reproachful look, coloured deeply, and hung her head. Mark cast a warning glance at her over Miss Davis’s shoulder. He did not want to be discovered.

“Oh! I remember,” moaned Miss Davis. “My poor mother!”

Mark could not bear the unhappy tone of her voice, and turned and fled out of the room.

“Don’t believe any news those people brought you, Miss Davis,” said Hetty. “I am sure they were impostors.”

She was longing to say, “Mark and I played a trick for fun,” but did not dare until she had first spoken to Mark.

“Why do you think so? Hetty, is it possible you are crying for me? I did not think you cared so much about me, my dear.”

“I am sorry, I am sorry,” cried Hetty, bursting into a fresh fit of crying; “I did not know you had a little brother, Miss Davis.”

“I have, Hetty; next to my mother he is the dearest care of my life. I could not have told you this but for your tears. My mother and I are very poor, Hetty, and my uncle had lately taken my boy and promised to put him forward in the world. He is rather a wilful lad, my poor darling, and is very delicate besides. Now, it seems, by my uncle’s marriage and death he has lost all the prospect he had in life. And worst of all he has run away. And my mother is so ill. It will kill her.”

Miss Davis bowed her pale worn face on her hands, and Hetty, young as she was, seemed to feel the whole meaning of this poor woman’s life, her struggles to help others, her unselfish anxieties, her love of her mother and brother hidden away under a quiet, grave exterior. What a brave part she was playing in life, in spite of her prim looks and methodical ways. Hetty was completely carried away by the sight of her suffering, and could no longer contain her secret. She forgot Mark’s warning looks, and his sovereign contempt, always freely expressed, for those who would blab; and she said in a low eager voice:

“Oh, Miss Davis, I must tell the truth. It was all a trick of me and Mark. He made it up out of his head, without really knowing anything about your people. Only for fun, you know.”

“What do you mean, Hetty?”

“We were the old man and woman, Mr. and Mrs. Crawford. Indeed we were, and there are no such people. And your uncle is neither married nor dead. And your brother has not run away. And your mother will be all right; and do not grieve any more, dear Miss Davis.”

Hetty put her arms round the governess’s neck as she spoke, and laughed and sobbed together. Miss Davis seemed quite stunned with the revelation.

“Are you sure you are not dreaming, Hetty? I want a few moments to think it all over. None of these dreadful things have really happened! Well, my dear, I must first thank God.”

“Oh, Miss Davis, I wish you would beat me.”

“No, dear, I won’t beat you. Only don’t another time think it good fun to cut a poor governess to the heart. Perhaps you thought I had not much feeling in me.”

“Not very much,” said Hetty. “I knew you were very good, and strong, and wise, and learned; but I did not know you could love people.”

“You know it now. For the future do not think that because people are colder in their manner than you are they are therefore heartless. Persons who lead the life that I lead, have to keep many feelings shut up within themselves, and to accustom themselves to do without sympathy.”

Hetty pondered over these words. She wanted to say that she thought it would do quite as well to show more feeling, and look for a little more sympathy. She was now sure that she could always have loved Miss Davis, had she only known her from the first to be so warm-hearted and so truly affectionate. But she did not know how to express herself and remained silent.

“Miss Davis,” she said presently; “must governesses always keep their hearts shut up, and try to look as if they loved nobody? You know I am going to be a governess some day, and that is why I ask.”

Miss Davis was startled. “Do I look as if I loved nobody?” she asked.

“A little,” said Hetty.

“Then I must be wrong. It cannot be good to look as if one loved nobody. At the same time it is very necessary to curb all one’s feelings. Phyllis, for instance, would not respect me if she thought me what she would call sentimental. And even Nell would perhaps smile at me as a simpleton if she saw me looking for particular affection. Even you, Hetty you who think so much about love! could I manage you at all if I did not know how to look stern?”

“You could,” said Hetty; “you could manage me better by smiling at me; just try, Miss Davis. But oh, I forgot; I have got to be a governess too, and perhaps I had better be hardened up.”

Miss Davis was silent, thinking over Hetty’s words. That this ardent child found her “hardened up” was an unpleasant surprise to her; but she was not above taking a hint even from one so young and faulty as Hetty. She would try to be warmer, brighter with this girl. And then she reflected sadly on the prospect before Hetty. With a nature like hers, how would she ever become sufficiently disciplined to be fit for the life of toil and self-repression that lay before her?

The next day Hetty looked out anxiously for an opportunity of speaking privately to Mark.

“I have something to say to you, Mark,” she said; “I had to tell Miss Davis that we played the trick.”

“You had to tell her!” said Mark scornfully; “well, if ever I trust a tell-tale of a girl again. You are just as sneaky as Nell after all.”

“Nell is not sneaky; and you ought not to call me a tell-tale. You ran away and left me with all Miss Davis’s trouble on my shoulders. I didn’t want to tell; but it was better than having her suffer so dreadfully.”

“Oh, very well. You can make a friend of her. Go away and sit up prim like Phyllis. You shall have no more fun with me, I can tell you.”

A lump came in Hetty’s throat. She knew Mark was in the wrong, and was very unkind besides; but still he had so often been good to her that she could not bear to quarrel with him.

“I am very sorry,” she said; “but I don’t think you need be afraid that Miss Davis will complain to anyone about us.”

This made Mark more angry; for he did not like to hear the word “afraid” applied to himself; and yet his chief uneasiness had been lest the occurrence of last evening should come to the ears of his father, who had a great dislike for practical jokes.

“Afraid? I am not afraid of anything, you little duffer. She can tell all about it to the whole house if she likes,” he said, and turning on his heel went off whistling.

Hetty was right in the guess she had made regarding Miss Davis, who did not say a word to anyone about the trick that had been played on her. She was too thankful to know that she had suffered from a false alarm, that her beloved brother was safe under the protection of the uncle who had promised to befriend him, and that her dear mother was spared the terrible anxiety that had seemed to have overtaken her; she was much too glad thinking of all this to feel disposed to be angry with anyone. Besides, this accident had brought to light a side of Hetty’s character which she had hardly got a glimpse of before. The child had evinced a warmth of feeling towards herself which neither of her other two pupils had ever shown her, and this in forgetfulness of the somewhat hard demeanour with which she had been hitherto treated. The little girl was, it appeared, capable of knowing that certain things she did not like were yet for her good, and of respecting the persons who were to her rather a stern providence. Her extreme sorrow for giving pain was also to be noted, and the fact that she had realized the work that was before her in life. All these things sank deeply into Miss Davis’s mind, and made her feel far more interested in Hetty than she had ever felt before.

But Hetty did not know anything of all this. She saw Miss Davis precise and cold-looking as ever, going through the day’s routine as if the events of that memorable evening had never happened; and she thought that everything was just as it had been before, except that Mark had quarrelled with her and would scarcely speak to her. She felt this a heavy trial, and but for occasional visits to Mrs. Kane and Scamp would have found it harder than she could bear.