Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From Little Folks Vol. XXVI No. 4 (February, 1923)

Billetta was young, not ten years old, but already she had tasted something of the bitterness of life. Her name, Billetta Bates, had been a trial to her since she had first learned to lisp it.

Fancy a pretty little girl, replying when asked her name, “Billetta Bates,” and invariably being asked over, and being obliged to repeat it, with tears welling up in her blue eyes, and red mounting in her dimpled cheeks. Then always hearing either a chuckle of mirth, or a downright roar of laughter!

Billetta's uncle Billy, and her grandmother, Mrs. Etta Bates, had each deposited a nice little sum in the bank for her, on account of her name, and Billetta's parents felt it their duty to bestow it upon her although neither of them liked it.

Also, Billetta had many presents from her uncle and grandmother: a numerous family of dolls, gold chains, rings, silver spoons — many things for which she did not care very much with the exception of the dolls. She had so many of them she was rather bewildered.

In one respect Uncle Billy and Grandmother Bates failed in generosity: they did not realize that a pretty little girl needs pretty little clothes. The Uncle was a bachelor and Grandmother Bates did not approve of fine clothes for children.

“As long as she is dressed warm in winter and cool in summer, and is neat and clean, and behaves pretty, that is enough,” she said.

Billetta had a married sister Emily. Emily was a good woman, but she did not know much about children, and she agreed with Grandmother Bates. Poor Billetta's dresses were all made out of Emily's old ones. She never had a pretty new dress.

Billetta did not go to school until she was nearly ten. She had always been delicate and her mother had taught her at home. She was to begin school in the fall term, and Emily gave her a plum-colored silk to be made over for a school dress.

“I suppose silk is almost too dressy for school,” Emily said, “but it is a sober color. Only Billetta must not be proud.”

Billetta's mother looked rather sadly at the plum-colored silk. “It will have to do for her,” she said. “Her father cannot afford to buy her a new dress. The taxes are very high this year.”

Billetta was inclined to be pleased with having a silk dress — although she did not like the color. It was a very dingy plum-color.

“It is a beautiful piece of silk, dear,” her mother said consolingly. “Emily was kind. This is to be her Christmas present to you, you know, dear.”

“Yes'm,” said Billetta. She eyed the silk rather doubtfully. Her mother was trying it on, and her grandmother was watching.

Billetta's mother was turning the skirt very short, but her grandmother protested. “You don't mean to cut that beautiful silk as short as that,” she said, “She will outgrow it in no time.”

Billetta's mother did not dare oppose her mother-in-law. The skirt was hung well below Billetta's little boot-tops.

Billetta was late, the morning school opened, because her mother had some last stitches to put in the dress. She started off happily thinking she looked very nice, indeed. When Billetta entered the schoolroom she faced the rows of desks at which were seated the little boys and girls. Some she knew, some she did not know at all. One, Annie Miggs, was her very dear friend.

Billetta beamed at all the faces staring at her. She thought she must not be proud because her dress was silk.

The teacher, Miss Betty Carrol, asked her name, and when Billetta replied in a low tone, she asked over.

Then Miss Betty, who was young herself, could not refrain from an amused twitch of her pretty lips, and an unmistakable chuckle ran over the room. Only little Annie Miggs did not laugh. She frowned and looked savagely at the others.

Miss Betty pointed out Billetta's seat to her, and Billetta started to walk up the aisle.

Then the chuckle increased to a roar of merriment. Poor Billetta was slender and inclined to stoop. She walked up her plum-colored skirt, stumbled and nearly fell down.

Then she was so taken aback by the uproar, that she crouched low and fairly ran to her seat, and the plum-colored silk swept the floor all around. Billetta looked like a topsy-turvy morning-glory racing.

Miss Betty Carrol quieted the children with difficulty, because she could hardly refrain from laughing, herself.

Billetta sat, straight and grave at her desk, studying. Her face was white. She looked at nobody, not even Annie Miggs.

The while she studied she covertly hitched up her skirt under her sash. She had no pins, and she had to keep the skirt firmly clutched in both hands when she went to recite. The girls looked and giggled, but she did not pay any attention to them.

When the session was over Annie Miggs crept to her side, as she was going out of the schoolroom.

“What did you do?” she whispered.

“Hitched it up.”

“You can't keep it up so all the way home, and Billetta it does look awfully funny, the way you walk holding onto it. What's that you've got in your hand?”

“Teacher's scissors.”

“Where did you get them?”

“She dropped them, and I picked them up.”

“You going to?”

Billetta nodded.

“I'll help,” said Annie Miggs.

There was a large closet with a window, where the girls hung their wraps.

The two went in there, and Annie Miggs locked the door. Then Billetta cut and Annie Miggs cut. The plum-colored skirt hung short and in uneven lengths.

“That looks better,” said Annie Miggs. “Now you'd better run along home.” Annie Miggs unlocked the door.

Billetta began to cry.

“What's the matter?”

“I don't know what mother and grandmother will say,” sobbed Billetta.

“Want me to go home with you?”

“Oh, Annie!”

Billetta went home in her shortened skirts, and Annie Miggs marched beside with an air of tragic protection and defiance. Several persons stared at Billetta's dress and Annie Miggs scowled at them.

Both little girls entered the sitting-room where were Billetta's mother and grandmother, one sewing, the other knitting.

Billetta's grandmother looked, then she changed her spectacles and looked again.

“Do you see?” she asked Billetta's mother, who was staring, white-faced.

“Billetta!” she gasped.

“That beautiful plum-colored silk,” said the grandmother in an awful voice. “It is ruined.”

“It is all ragged,” Billetta's mother remarked faintly.

“Who cut that off?” demanded the grandmother.

“Miss Carrol had her scissors there,” stated Annie Miggs. “She always brings fancy work to school.”

“If Betty Carrol did such an awful thing as that, I shall speak to the Trustees,” said the grandmother.

“I cut it off, myself,” said Billetta.

“You didn't either, not the whole of it,” said Annie Miggs. “I helped. I cut off quite a lot.”


“They all laughed,” sobbed Billetta.

“Enough to make a cat laugh,” said Annie Miggs, little, dark, angry child. “It was bad enough to give her such an awful name without sending her to school looking like an old lady.”

Then very unexpectedly, Billetta's grandmother began to laugh.

She laughed until her spectacles fell off and tears ran over her cheeks.

Billetta's mother looked hesitatingly at her. Then she also laughed.

“Look here, child,” said the grandmother to Billetta, “and you, too, you little fibber. I don't blame you one mite for what you did. I wouldn't have blamed you if you had cut off more. It is too long now. And that old plum-colored silk is silly for a school dress. Your mother and Emily ought to be ashamed of themselves for rigging you up so. Emily never did have a mite of taste. Don't you worry, Billetta. I saw some real pretty dresses at Lamson's, and your mother and I will go right down there and buy a blue one and a henna-colored one, and Annie can stay with you while we are gone and you can make molasess candy.

“And as for you, Annie Miggs, you are going to have a Christmas present from me, because you were spunky enough to stand up for Billetta, when her own folks let her be made a laughing stock.”

Billetta's mother caught her in her arms and kissed her. “Mother's lamb,” she whispered.

“As for that plum-colored silk, what is left of it,” said Billetta's grandmother, “I am going to make a sofa pillow out of it for a Christmas present to Emily.”