Short Stories

Lucky Leg (The) by Hesba Stretton

Published in Charles Dicken's Household Words, March 19, 1859.



by Hesba Stretton


"What unaccountable things people do in the way of marrying!" I said to four or five of the ladies belonging to our chapel, who had met at the minister's house, to form a sort of supplementary Doreas meeting; and, as there were so few of us, we considered it unnecessary to attend to the rule for appointing a reader, and forbidding gossip; a rule which considerably lessened the interest and popularity of our meetings.

The only single lady among us looked up upon hearing my remark, and dropping her work, as if for a long speech, began:

"What you say is very true: I do think the conduct of people at other times really sensible, during their engagements, and in their choice of husbands or wives, to be the most incomprehensible and contradictory of all human actions. If a woman has a decided prejudice, she is certain to act in direct opposition to it. Last spring I was at the wedding of one of my cousins—you remember her, Mrs. Turner, she was over here two or three autumns ago—and, being a high Churchwoman, she would not so much as put her foot inside our chapel. She is a fine majestic-looking girl, and has taken lessons in Deportment, so that it is quite imposing to see her enter a room or sail down the street; she used to vow she would never marry a little man, a draper, or a dissenter; and now she has just married a very small abject looking draper, who is such a rabid Methodist, that he will preach, though he has to stand on two bosses to raise his head sufficiently above the panels of the pulpit."

"Marriages are quite beyond our own management and contrivance," said Mrs. Turner musingly: "my mother's was very romantic. In travelling from her father's house to her grandmother's, where she was going to live with the old lady, she had to stay a night in Hereford—it was in the time of coaches, you know—and her father wrote to a glover there, to meet her at the coach-office, and recommend her to an inn. He invited her to stay with his sister instead; and she was so smitten with his manners and appearance, that she said to herself, "If ever I marry, I hope it may be to Mr. Harper." She went on the next morning to her grandmother's, and lived with her fourteen years, never seeing or hearing anything of Mr. Harper of Hereford; and she actually refused several good offers during that time. At last her grandmother died; and Mr. Harper being connected with her family, he was invited to the funeral; and an acquaintance followed, which ended in their marriage."

"I am afraid," chimed in Mrs. Hyde, a lady who was a comparative stranger to all of us, "that if I confess the singular circumstances of my marriage, you will none of you think so well of me as I should wish you; but as we are talking of extraordinary matches, I am sure you will be amused at mine. When I was five-and-thirty, I had not had a single offer; partly, I fancy, because I had a twin sister so like me, that no one was sure which he was in love with. Well, I was one of the few women who give up the idea of being married after they have turned thirty, and I settled myself down into a comfortable old-maidism. One afternoon, I was out on some errand or other, when a tradesman, whom I had known all my life, a confirmed bachelor, over forty years of age, overtook me in the street. Before we reached the end of it, he had said, "Miss Mary, I've had you in my eye a long time: do you think you could be happy as my wife?" and I had answered, "Yes I really think I should." "Well, then," he added, "let us be married without any fuss: and if you want lots of clothes and things as women do, let them come out of my pocket, instead of your poor mother's," And we were married in three weeks, though, I assure you, I had not the remotest notion of such a thing before that afternoon."

"I will tell you the most marvelous occurrence that ever came under my observation," said our minister's wife, who is a little, merry, talkative woman. "My husband and I were, next to the parties themselves, chief actors in it; so I know all the circumstances well. It was in the town where my husband first entered upon the ministry, and where we had what is called it very united people, which often means," she said, shrewdly, "that everybody knows and deplores everybody else's failings and inconsistencies. Some years after our call there, a young lady came with her mother to establish, if they could, a millinery business. They belonged to us, and before they arrived a sister of the elder lady called upon us, to announce their intention, and to prepare us for the reception of new members. She told us quite a melancholy story of losses and misfortunes: and, amongst other things, that of the amputation of Miss Wigley's leg. You know my husband is not an unfeeling man; but he had had a very fatiguing Sabbath the day before, and his spirits were in that state of reaction which made him inclined to laugh at anything, and he so completely puzzled poor Mrs. James with allusions to Miss Kilmansegg and the merchant of Rotterdam, that the worthy old lady began seriously to recapitulate their pedigree, to prove there was no connection between their families, unless it were on Mr. Wigley's side. For a long time we called Mary Wigley Miss Kilmansegg, when talking to each other. She was a pretty sweet-looking girl, and so long as she sat still she looked unusually attractive; but when she walked, and you saw her obvious limp, or heard the stump of her wooden leg, you no longer wondered that she was unmarried, for she was poor as well, and very far above her present station. She was altogether unsuited for the business they had commenced, for she had lived in a kind of elegant seclusion until her father's death: indeed he impoverished himself to surround her with recreations and luxuries, to prevent her feeling her deprivation. Excepting that she had quite an artistic appreciation of the harmonies and contrasts of colours, which enabled her to arrange the windows and showrooms with great skill, she had not a single qualification for her work. I have noticed her face flush painfully at the too openly expressed pity of their customers; and their whims and caprices in dress used to surprise and annoy her. Mrs. Wigley, however, was a thorough, clever business woman. She had been a tradesman's daughter, and the fluctuations and anxieties of business were like a game of chance to her. She soon established herself in the good graces of the ladies of our town; and, though my husband preached a very powerful sermon on dress (which I made him put off for some months, lest it should injure the strangers), it had no chance against Mrs. Wigley's taste, and the pews in our chapel looked like the gorgeous flower-beds in a summer garden.

"Mary Wigley soon became one of my dearest friends; she knew a great deal more than I did, and was very accomplished in music and painting, and it really was an incongruity to think of her sitting behind a counter all her life. I remember her coming to sit with me one evening after my little Mary was born, when my husband had an appointment at a missionary meeting. I suppose we were in an unusually happy frame of mind that evening, for my husband was glad to see me up again, and he paid me some of those quiet tender attentions which we who are married, understand so well, and being few and far between, prize so highly. We made no stranger of Mary, and she sat smiling at our affectionate expressions to one another. But when he was gone, and I returned to the study after seeing the children in bed, I found her burying her face in her hands, and crying. Of course I insisted on knowing the cause, and among other things she said, I distinctly remember this: