From The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman (University Press of Mississippi: 1992)
Originally published in Woman's Home Companion 40 (Jan. 1913)
She undoubtedly led a double life, but the life of which nobody knew was wonderful, innocent, and tragic. She, who was known as Miss Keyes, who “did dressmaking,” as the people expressed it, on a very small scale, with only one regular assistant and another at call for emergencies which seldom arose, who lived a life as austere as a nun's, eating meat seldom, and inhabiting a forlorn little house of which the parlor was the fitting-room (all her poor little decorations having been pushed aside to make room for a platform and a looking-glass purchased on the instalment plan), lived unto herself a life which would, if known, have made her a stranger beyond ken to those who thought they knew her best.
Even Marcia Keyes's own mother did not know her in that strange solitary life of hers. To her Marcia was a good daughter who worked hard and honestly, and who ought to have more patronage. She was also called not at all pretty, and had never had a chance to marry, and, moreover, had not thought of marriage to an extent which had made her unhappy. Sometimes old Mrs. Keyes, Marcia's mother, felt a bit mortified because of her daughter's single estate, and calmly and shamelessly lied to any who cared to listen.
“Marcia has had heaps of chances, perfect heaps,” old Mrs. Keyes would say, who was herself a beauty even in old age, and who had in her time numbered lovers by the score. “There was one man threatened to shoot himself, but Marcia wouldn't look at him. I was sort of scared myself. His heart was set on her, and no mistake.”
“Did he shoot himself?” inquired the neighbor to whom she told the tale. She was also an old woman, of an investigative turn of mind, and covertly incensed because of Mrs. Keyes's fragile old loveliness, while she was as if made of leather.
Then would the face of old Mrs. Keyes assume an expression of subtlety, although she was not in the least subtle. Upon the contrary, she was so transparent as to be incredible. “I never knowed, for certain,” said she. “He went right away out West. He didn't have any near relations round these parts. I never knowed, but he certainly acted as if he might be driv to most anything.”
“Was your daughter prettier when she was younger?” inquired the leathery neighbor with open impertinence.
“She always favored her pa's folks,” replied old Mrs. Keyes. “But, as for that, if folks had eyes in their heads and looked sharp, they'd see she's enough sight better-looking than most folks now.”
The neighbor sniffed offensively, but curiously enough old Mrs. Keyes was right. Her daughter Marcia still had a prettiness so regular and delicate and unobtrusive that it remained unrecognized as such. There was no beauty of color. Marcia had no rose-bloom. Her hair was of a negative blond shade. Her features were very small, and no one of them obtruded itself; still her face was in a way faultless. Marcia knew it, but she cherished absolutely no resentment because others did not know it. Her whole heart was in her work. She cared very little for herself, but she was as devoted to her work as any artist might have been. Marcia would have been an artist under different environments. Canvas and paints had not been at hand, needles and thread and fabrics had, hence her form of expression.
It was a trial to Marcia that she hitherto had not been allowed to express herself as fully by these humble means as she wished. Her patrons were for the greater part poor women, or at least women of moderate means, who could afford to pay very small sums for work. And she had never numbered one young beauty among all her patrons, one who could really display her costume to the enhancement of her own charms and the credit of the dressmaker. Sometimes Marcia had fits of despondency because of it. She confided in Emma White, the elderly woman who worked with her. “Miss Daisy Wheelright is the only really young woman we work for,” said she, “and look at her shape!”
“Her shape,” agreed Emma White, who was of a sad disposition and poor digestion, which influenced her temper, “is bad.”
“Bad! Why won't she put her corset on right? That last dress we made for her was pretty, although it didn't cost much, but she spoiled it by putting on her corset wrong. She looked lopsided and round-shouldered. And that was a pretty dress.”
“It was a beauty,” said Emma White with sour enthusiasm. Emma had been married and her husband had deserted her, and she was supporting an anemic little girl with white hair and rather wonderful blue eyes. Marcia employed the child to pick out basting-threads, and she was usually in evidence in the box of a workroom with her mother and Marcia. She had been taken out of school, she was so delicate.
Little Mildred was there the day when Miss Alice Streeter and her mother arrived with the proposition that Marcia make Alice her coming-out dress. Mrs. Streeter had never employed Marcia. Mrs. Julius Streeter had gone to exclusive and fashionable modistes for her own and her daughter's costumes, but she had seen Daisy Wheelright's last dress, and in spite of the ill-fitting corset had appreciated it; and, since there were just then financial straits in the Streeter family, she had made inquiries, and as a result had descended upon Marcia. Alice had wept at the decision. “I would almost rather not come out at all — give up the dance — than not have Madame Soule make my gown,” said she. “I know this new dressmaker will make me look like a perfect fright.”
“My dear,” said her mother, who had firmness, “if you do have Madame Soule you will most assuredly not come out this year, and the dance will be given up, and I for one have not the face to confront Madame Soule with that last long bill unpaid. Your father has lost lately.”
Alice looked alarmedly at her mother. “Not seriously?”
“I don't know about that, but we have to retrench, and I for one thought Daisy Wheelright's gown a creation.”
“I thought she looked a perfect dowdy.”
“That,” said Mrs. Streeter, “was Daisy.”
It ended in the descent of the Streeters in their gleaming limousine upon the little establishment of Marcia Keyes. Old Mrs. Keyes was trembling from head to foot when she made the announcement to her daughter, at work with Emma White on a cheap one-piece suit for a lank elderly girl who worked in a store. “Those Streeters are here in their auto,” quavered Mrs. Keyes. “Oh, Marcia!”
Marcia, although she had always been balked by untoward circumstances, had the poise of a conqueror. She rose calmly and untied her apron. “Are there any threads on the back of my dress, Emma?” said she.
Emma scrutinized her narrowly, thin cheeks flushed, thin mouth pursed. She picked off two white threads. Her little daughter Mildred made a weak spring and seized a long black silk filament dangling from Marcia's shoulder. Mildred's wonderful blue eyes gleamed under her drab crest of hair tied with a perky blue bow. She also was impressed.
When Marcia had gone down-stairs, old Mrs. Keyes and Emma looked at each other. “How Marcia can be so calm, I don't see,” said old Mrs. Keyes.
“I couldn't,” said Emma.
“If the Streeters are coming it will be the making of Marcia,” said Mrs. Keyes.
“They are awful stylish folks. Minnie Snyder says they be,” remarked the little girl in her thin sweet treble.
“I wonder you let her go with that Snyder girl,” said old Mrs. Keyes. “The Snyders ain't much.”
“She sat next her in school when she went,” said Emma in an apologetic voice. The Streeters were inducing her to feel her own need for exclusiveness.
The Streeters came of one of the best old families of the little seaport city. They lived in a really beautiful old mansion-house on The Bluff, and The Bluff was the aristocratic quarter. There had been college, and European travel, even far Eastern travel; and there were friends with famous names from New York who came often. Port Avon had reason to plume itself on the Streeters. In fact, it wore, as it were, the Streeters like a plume upon its urban brow.
But Marcia Keyes, fair hair arranged in tight little crinkles, regular-featured face calm, slender figure erect in well-fitting blue serge, stood before the Streeters, mother and daughter, as more than an equal. The wonderful pride of the artist was upon her. She, in the presence of these who could make her art a possibility, ceased to be Marcia Keyes. It seemed strange that she owned to her own personality when Mrs. Streeter, large and opulent, seated in a wide dark spread of richness as to skirts and fur-lined wrap, questioned her. Alice, young and exquisite, looked at her with sidewise sulkiness.
“Miss Keyes?” said Mrs. Streeter.
“Yes, I am Miss Keyes,” replied Marcia calmly.
She stood looking down upon the Streeters. Mrs. Streeter occupied her little sofa, Miss Alice sat gracefully cross-legged in her best red plush chair. Marcia saw Alice' costume and reflected that a very good tailor must have made it, and not her rival Madame Soule. Madame Soule refused to make tailor gowns. She, however, was sure that Madame had made the exquisite fluffy blouse disclosed by the girl's thrown-open coat.
Alice Streeter was more than a pretty girl. She was a beauty, even a great beauty. She was flawless, face and figure. Marcia, regarding her, realized that to make even one costume for this superb young thing would be bliss. Marcia absolutely required means to the end of her talent, and she had certainly lacked those means. She had made gowns for scrawny women and fat women, for sloppy women and girls. She had never really made one gown for a woman with a perfectly good figure who was well corseted. She was like an artist with poor paints and canvas. She was like a musician with an untuned instrument. Her talent might be a humble one, but of necessity it had only shown dimly under a bushel of untoward circumstance. Now here, for the first time, might be her chance to allow it to show forth its little glory to the full. She waited outwardly calm, to a great extent inwardly calm, but she realized fully what the happenings of the next few minutes might signify to her.
Mrs. Streeter began after a pause of dignity which accentuated all her conversation. “I have heard of you Miss Keyes,” she said, “through Miss Wheelright, or rather through Mrs. E. K. Wheelright. I saw a gown which Miss Wheelright wore at Mrs. Stuyvesant's tea last week, and thought it really quite charming. Mrs. E. K. Wheelright informed me that you made it. It was a blue cloth with touches of silver embroidery.”
She ended her statement with a slightly interrogative accent, and Miss Keyes replied simply, “Yes, I made that dress for Miss Wheelright.”
“My daughter,” said Mrs. Streeter after another pause of dignity, indicating Alice by a slight movement of her feather-crowned head. Alice did not look up, her expression intensified in sulkiness. Alice was in a temper, which, however, she knew how to restrain. She was aware that strenuous outbursts of temper were not desirable; moreover, she was not a bad sort.
“My daughter,” continued Mrs. Streeter, quite unmoved by Alice' sulkiness, — she knew her daughter would give in gracefully when the time arrived, — “is to have a dance, her first dance, in fact, on New Year's eve, and she will require a new gown, something simple and girlish, but of course chic.” Mrs. Streeter made a perceptible hesitation before the last word. She wondered if Miss Keyes knew what chic meant.
“Yes,” said Miss Keyes.
“I liked Miss Wheelright's gown so much that it occurred to me that possibly you might succeed in making one for my daughter. Do you think you could attempt to make a gown of that description?”
“I can try,” said Marcia, and her voice shook slightly. The suspense was becoming intense even for her. Marcia was after all emotional to a high degree. Her self-poise was acquired — well sustained, but in the beginning acquired. Marcia was a very proud woman, and did not wish to endure the contempt for herself which a display of undue excitement and elation would have forced upon her.
When the climax was reached, the decision made, and she knew that she, Marcia Keyes, was to make Miss Alice Streeter's débutante costume, that costume which would be seen by guests from the mighty city as well as by the best of her little native town, that would be described in the papers — when she knew all this, even when she was taking Miss Streeter's lovely measurements, she was perfectly self-possessed, so much so that the Streeters, mother and daughter, commented upon it when they were in their limousine. “She didn't act as if she were at all keen about making that gown for me,” said Alice. She was still pouting, but a pleasant look had crept into her eyes. She had taken a fancy to Marcia, whose evident admiration of herself, although unexpressed, had conveyed the subtlest and most delicate flattery. She had caught a look in those blue eyes of the dressmaker which would have befitted a lover.
“Well, she has reason to be,” said Mrs. Streeter. “Even if we do not pay her Madame's price, the mere fact of your débutante costume being made by her is a great benefit to an unknown dressmaker.”
“Of course,” acquiesced Alice easily, nestling the rose tip of her chin in her furs; “still, she was not in the least obsequious, not as much so as Madame, and I liked her for it. I simply detest obsequious people. Of course one knows one's position, that one is not a dressmaker, but I never want anybody to make a door-mat of herself on my account. I feel vicious, like really using her for one.”
“I don't like those expressions, Alice,” said Mrs. Streeter.
“What is there besides door-mat, Mama?” asked Alice.
Marcia, after the great luxurious car had glided away, sat down alone in her miserable little crowded parlor. She did not quite realize what had come to her. She above all wished to be alone for a few minutes. She had never before known what it was to be perfectly happy — happy with a sense of riotous freedom. Marcia's life had contained few emotional experiences; she was now passing through one, and she felt as if her sense of spiritual modesty would be outraged were anybody to spy upon her. It was only a few minutes, however, before her mother came tiptoeing in with a curious expression as of peaked solemnity upon her pretty old face. Behind came Emma White, with the face of a scenting hound; behind Emma came her little girl, pulling out basting-threads.
“Be you goin' to?” asked old Mrs. Keyes.
“Yes,” answered Marcia.
Old Mrs. Keyes laughed with a sort of triumphant cackle. “Sakes, I wonder what Madame Soule will say!” said she.
Emma laughed too, triumphantly but gratingly.
Marcia rose abruptly and left the room. Emma's little girl ran after her, clutching a fold of her dress.
“She acts as if it was nothing at all,” said old Mrs. Keyes fretfully.
“She ain't given to saying much, is she?” said Emma White.
“She takes after her father's folks,” replied old Mrs. Keyes. “My husband could talk, but he had two brothers that acted as dumb as posts; and as for Grandfather Keyes, he would set and set by the hour together and never open his mouth. For my part, I like folks to speak out when something is on their minds. Of course Marcia is tickled most to death, and she knows what the Streeters coming to her is going to mean. The Wheelrights never meant so much. I guess they've got more money than the Streeters, but they ain't quite so much in it; and, besides, old man Wheelright is as close as the bark to a tree; and that Daisy don't show off her clothes no matter how much pains Marcia takes with them. She's awful slouchy. Marcia is tickled enough, but what I want to know is, why can't she tell her own mother how she feels?” Old Mrs. Keyes, although she spoke fretfully, did not scowl. Her delicately aged face remained smirkingly serene, always intent upon its own prettiness. It was even more smirkingly serene that afternoon when Marcia had gone to New York to purchase material for Alice Streeter's gown, and the neighbor came in.
“So Marcia has went to New York,” observed the neighbor with a little tense, spiteful smile. She spoke bad English with an elegantly defiant air. Mrs. Keyes had once corrected her, and she had maintained that her use of verbs was entirely right, and had taken much pleasure since in not departing from her accustomed ways.
“Yes,” said old Mrs. Keyes, “Marcia has gone to New York.”
“I thought she had went when I see the depot carriage had came for her,” said the neighbor.
“Marcia was obliged to go in a hurry,” said Mrs. Keyes. “The Streeters came this morning and want her to make a dress for Alice Streeter to wear to her party New Year's eve.”
“For Alice Streeter?” gasped the neighbor.
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Keyes calmly. “Marcia has gone to buy the material.”
“I thought the Streeters had Madame Soule dressmake for them,” said the neighbor feebly.
“I rather think they have had, but now they have come to Marcia. Seems they saw that last dress she made for the Wheelright girl.”
“Was they so took with that, they had to came to Marcia?”
“I think,” said old Mrs. Keyes precisely, “that they did admire Miss Wheelright's dress so much that they felt as if they must come to Marcia.”
The neighbor did not stay long after that. She went home with a subdued air. She belonged to the large class whom the triumph of others subdues.
As for Marcia, she came home late. She was tired, but her face was radiant. She had planned a gown for Alice Streeter, and it was to her as if she had written a great poem or composed a sonata. Mrs. Streeter had said that she was to use her own taste in the planning of the gown — she had only fixed the price. Marcia knew that she would far exceed the price, that she would lose money on the gown, but what was money to this, her first real jar of precious ointment? Mrs. Streeter had stipulated that the gown was to be of white; that is, of white primarily; otherwise Marcia had her way, and she reveled. Alice Streeter, although a beauty, was in reality a beauty of a somewhat difficult type to dress when it came to a question of white. She was a blonde, with fair hair showing no gold lights, but rather shadows in its folds. Still she was not an ash-blonde. Her complexion was radiant, her eyes of the intensest living blue. “Just pure white would kill her hair,” Marcia reflected, “and nobody would notice how blue her eyes are.”
When Alice went home from her second trying-on — the first had been a mere matter of linings — she was enthusiastic. “Mother, that gown will be a dream, I do believe,” she said. “Of course it is not finished, but I do think it will be a dream.”
When the costume arrived the day before the dance, and was lifted tenderly from its box, and its tissue wrappings removed, Mrs. Streeter looked triumphantly at her daughter. “What did I tell you?” she inquired.
Alice was rapt over the lovely thing. It was in fact rather marvelous. Marcia had gone without some furs and shoes to purchase more expensive materials and trimmings than the price agreed upon would admit. It was a poem, a symphony, of white lace, white chiffon, silver, gold, and touches of blue. With it was a great blue butterfly with silver and gold spangles on his quivering gauze wings, fastened to a silver band for the hair. Marcia had, with the revelation of an artist, seen that a brilliant bit of color was essential in that wonderful shadowy fair head to complete the effect of the whole. “Mother,” said Alice before the looking-glass, “look at me with this lovely band on my hair!”
Alice looked at her mother, and the blue butterfly danced in her lovely hair, and her blue eyes shone. “It is charming,” assented Mrs. Streeter, “but it will have to be included in the price.”
“Oh, Mother, do you think it is fair?”
“Fair or not, it will have to be. I simply will not ask your father to give me another dollar for the occasion.”
“Then,” said Alice, “Miss Keyes is coming to the dance.”
“Alice, are you crazy?”
“No, I am not. Of course I don't mean really coming. How could she? But she is coming to look on. There is the little bay window out of the south chamber that looks on the conservatory on one side and the drawing-room on the other. Nobody will see her there if she sits back. She can see everything and hear the music, and supper can be sent up to her; and you know we are not to use the south chamber except for Aunt Ellen Streeter, and she is so good-natured she will never mind. Anyway, Miss Keyes asked if she might come to help Belle dress me. She said she was anxious to see if everything was right about the gown, and of course I said yes.”
“That is a good plan,” said Mrs. Streeter. “Something might be wrong with the dress at the last minute, especially with a new dressmaker. If she were Madame Soule it would be different.”
“Mother,” said the girl, gazing at the lovely shimmer of colors on her bed, “this is prettier than anything Madame ever made for me. Why, you know it is! Look at the detail on the neck, that is all hand-work; and that panel is one mass of hand-embroidery, and that is real lace.”
Mrs. Streeter gazed rather suspiciously at the gown. “I do hope she hasn't taken advantage and added to the bill,” said she.
“Mother, I know she has not. But, Mother, she will not make one penny on this. What is more, you know she will lose.”
“You forget, my dear, how much our patronage means to her,” said Mrs. Streeter with her serene smile of confident power.
Alice flushed. She was an honest young creature. “Well, it must mean something, and it shall,” said she, “if I have to wear her tag like a brooch on the front of this beautiful gown. Everybody shall know she made it.”
“I hope you will not be foolish enough to tell the price; if you do she will go up immediately.”
“I would tell the price if I thought it would benefit her,” declared Alice hotly, “but I can't see how it would. I will say she charges much less than Madame Soule, anyhow.”
“Yes, Mother, I will.”
“Then you are very foolish.” Mrs. Streeter went out of the room, filling the doorway with a flounce of silken drapery.
Soon she saw Alice' own little electric car glide out of the drive. “She has gone to invite Miss Keyes,” she told herself, and she felt a curious mixture of anger and respect. She knew her own daughter to be of a nobler strain than herself, but was herself noble enough to adore her for it. Besides, the mental vision of the girl in that costume filled her heart with the sweetest anticipation and pride. “Alice will be a dream in her coming-out dress,” she told her husband that night.
He smiled; matters had gone a little better with him that day. There had been a change for the better in the market. “If you need more money, Margaret,” he said, “I can spare it.”
“No, the costume is perfect, and costs just about half what it would have if Madame Soule had made it. It is really rather wonderful, and Alice in it. Well, you will be proud of our daughter, John.”
“She will be so pretty that some other man will relieve me of her, I suppose,” said the husband a little wistfully. His wife did not understand. She was one of the women to whom marriage is the ultimatum for a girl. She had married off Alice in her cradle, and without a qualm. With the man it was different. “Of course you want Alice to be married to the right sort of man, don't you?” asked the wife wonderingly.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said the man with a sigh. He lit a cigar and resumed his reading of the evening paper. Mrs. Streeter took up a magazine. “Miss Keyes furnished a blue butterfly to be worn in the hair, which is the finishing-touch,” said she.
“A blue butterfly?” said Alice' father with absent interrogation.
“Yes, a blue butterfly.”
Up-stairs Alice at that minute was displaying her new gown to two of her intimate friends, who were exclaiming over it. “You don't mean to say that an unknown dressmaker made that?” cried one, a pretty, nervous, thin girl with eyes like black diamonds, and with a mist of curly black hair over childishly rounded temples.
“Miss Keyes made it,” replied Alice. “She made that lovely blue for Daisy Wheelright.”
“I thought that was imported,” said the other girl, who looked much older than she was, by reason of a stately, mature figure, and the serious gaze of womanhood under smooth folds of hair.
“Fancy E. K. Wheelright having anything imported!” said the dark girl.
“It was imported from 124 Front Street, Port Avon,” said Alice. “Miss Keyes made it, and she does not charge anything like Madame; but her prices will go up of course. They ought. I know perfectly well she is losing money on this gown.”
“Why?” asked the first girl. “To get custom?”
“No,” said Alice, “because of her pride in her work. She is an artist.”
“She certainly is,” said the second girl thoughtfully. “I don't like my own dress that I'm to wear to your dance — not at all. That is a French thing mother brought over in September, and Madame has been altering it, but I simply don't like it. If there were time I would go to Miss Keyes and have another dress made.”
“There isn't, or I would too,” said the dark girl. “I don't like my own dress very well. I will get Miss Keyes to make one for your February tea, if you don't mind, Alice.”
“Why should I mind?” said Alice. “I want her to get customers. She is the sweetest thing.”
Going home, one girl said to the other that certainly Alice Streeter was a dear. “So many would not have told who made that ravishing thing,” she said.
“Or wanted others to go to her and have ravishing things made cheaply at first and then send up the price,” said the dark girl. “Do you know what will happen, Genevieve, when my brother Tom sees Alice in that gown?”
“No — what?”
“He will wake up,” replied the dark girl with a laugh.
“You mean —?”
“I mean that Alice likes him, though she has been a modest violet, and all that sort of thing; and Tom likes her, only he has kept right on seeing a long-legged little schoolgirl intimate with his little sister. But you wait till he sees her in that blue and white and gold and silver.”
“You would like it?”
“Like it, my dear Genevieve! Whom would I like for a sister except Alice, unless I could have you, and you are engaged.”
“I certainly am,” said the womanly girl with a happy laugh. “That is one reason why I want the new dress. I have a green one which Dick doesn't like, and he adores me in blue; and if I can have one for a moderate price for that tea I shall be glad.”
Next day the two went to see Miss Keyes. Marcia was pleased, but not enrapt as she had been in the case of Alice. Here was certainly prosperity coming toward her with leaps; these girls also would do her credit. She could lavish upon them with good result, her artist skill, but never again could anything move her as that first gown. She had overdrawn her little bank balance for the materials, but she did not give that a thought. All she lived for was the triumph of New Year's eve, when she would see her lovely work displayed and appreciated. Alice had been charming when she had invited her. She had even been loving, but Marcia had been cold to that. In her was the almost pitiless strain of the great artist. The girl was a darling. She was like an angel for kindness without condescension, but the one thing for Marcia was the fact that she had made her art a possibility. She was sublimely selfish. She was not moved even by her mother's delight over her new customers and the beauty of the coming-out costume. She was not moved even by her own delight, but by something very much beyond all whom she loved and her own self. She lived only for New Year's eve, when she for the first time would see her own art.
The Streeters' limousine was sent for her quite early. Mrs. Streeter had still some doubt. There was a little note suggesting that Marcia bring her sewing implements, in case of possible alterations at the last moment. Marcia put the things in a bag, smiling. As if that work could need alteration! It was perfect, and she knew it.
Marcia Keys had lived a hard, monotonous life, but after she had fastened the gown on Alice and stood regarding the effect, her life seemed to blossom. She felt for the first time a riotous joy in the fact that she was in the world. She saw for the first time wonderful vistas beyond the world. It was absurd, perhaps, of a dressmaker living in a shabby, hideous little house on a shabby street, a dressmaker under-educated, who had always trodden the narrowest of paths; but she knew the pure joy of a creator as she looked at the girl. Alice was in fact wonderful. Even her own mother gasped when she saw her. Her father passed his hand across his eyes. The maid stared with open mouth; the elderly aunt Ellen exclaimed, then was silent and looked. As for Alice herself, she was not unconscious in one way, but in another. She stood before the long glass, and she recognized herself as being very beautiful, but she was scarcely conscious of the beauty as being her own undisputed possession. It pleased her — she was radiant, she was triumphant, but it was the radiance and triumph of a looker-on. She gazed at herself in the glass as she might have gazed at a portrait of another girl, with the frankest admiration, but quite innocently. She was in reality thinking more of the gown than of herself in the gown. She turned to Marcia.
“You dear thing,” she said. “Why, you have made me look like a real beauty!”
Marcia smiled, and her smile was so satisfied, so rapt, that it was almost fatuous. This woman without the usual life of a woman, who had never been wedded, nor borne children, knew in one instant all the joy and sorrow which she had missed. The girl with the blue butterfly atilt in her fair hair, with the beautiful face and figure accentuated by her own beautiful work, was to her more than any daughter could ever have been. She more than loved her; she gained through her the self which she had hitherto missed, the heights of clear joy prophetic of joy to come which she had only dimly sensed upon her little horizon.
“The dress is perfect, Miss Keyes,” said Mrs. Streeter finally. She gazed at Marcia with a slightly awed expression. She herself was magnificent in a gown of Madame Soule's, which caused her to glitter and shine with externals, but did not make of herself and itself a true harmony. Alice in her gown was a musical chord ringing perfectly true.
Alice' father went out of the room. When he was in his study he lit a cigar and stood before the open fire. He thought over all Alice' life from babyhood, and a great love, and sadness, and premonition of loss and loneliness, was over him. The child was dancing away from him into the world in her white and blue and silver and gold; she was flying gaily away like a blue butterfly, and he could do nothing. He felt vaguely angry at his wife. She ought to have kept the girl at home for her own parents a while longer. What ailed women, he wondered, that they were so eager to get rid of their daughters?
When his wife came to the door, seeking him, he turned sulkily like a boy. “Come,” said she, “it is time. Doesn't Alice look a dream?” And the wondering man went with the triumphant woman to the great drawing-room, decorated and beautiful, where his dearest daughter in her wonderful attire stood, her little gold-slippered foot upon the threshold of the world.
The Streeters' house, very plain as to its exterior, was rather magnificent otherwise. Much money had been spent upon it, and considerable architectural and decorative talent. It had many unusual features: one was the interior bay window opening from the inner wall of the yellow room on the second floor. It was an octagonal window, with leaded panes of almost orange glass. When the window was closed the effect was as of a great glowing lantern of gold; when open, nearly the same, for the yellow room was a blaze of golden color, electric-lighted. Two thirds of this window gave upon the drawing-room, the remaining third upon the conservatory, which was really a part of the drawing-room, screened from it by great palms and tapestries instead of doors. That night the window was open, and the golden light of the room shone out, and Marcia, sitting far to one side, could see, but could not be seen except vaguely as a dark, slender shadow.
When the music began she leaned forward and watched. She never saw anything except the girl, the beautiful girl, in her beautiful dress. She watched every movement of the lovely young thing. She began to frown several times when she feared lest Alice might not swirl her train gracefully; once when a lace flounce caught on a chair her heart stood still. Then she smiled, and the smile of that hidden watcher of the festivity of others was full of infinite delight and pathos. Marcia had never had any real youth of her own. She had never in all her life participated in a scene like this. The festivity, the merrymaking of the world had never been for her; but now she entered into it more truly than any young girl stepping in time to the music. Every dance of the girl whom she had adorned she danced, every smile of joy she smiled, and later on came something more. Marcia, watching, saw a young man dancing with the girl, and she knew what the look in his eyes meant. She recognized him. He was the brother of the girl who had come to her for a dress: he was Tom Liston, older than Alice. Marcia thought him handsome as a prince. A queer vicarious love for him leapt into her own heart as she saw the face over which the blue butterfly fluttered, upturned to his in the dance. “She loves him, and he loves her. He has just found it out, and it is because she is beautiful in my dress. They are in love, and they will be married, and it is because of my dress,” thought Marcia. A maid brought a supper tray to her, and she thanked her, but she did not eat. She waited until Alice and the young man returned from the dining-room. They strolled into the little side room, or conservatory, and sat down near the palms and tapestry. Marcia listened as one who had the right.
“Alice, you are a revelation,” she heard Tom Liston say.
And then she heard the girl, her voice raised purposely.
“It is the dress, Tom.”
“It is you revealed by the dress perhaps.”
“No, the dress.”
“Have it the dress then. Alice, I was going right on, never knowing what you were, how I loved you. Why, I might have lost you!”
“If,” said Alice very tenderly, and so low then that Marcia could hardly hear, “you would never have known if I had not worn this lovely thing Miss Keyes made, if that is all the reason! If you would never have known otherwise —”
“Heavens,” cried Tom Liston, “I knew well enough, only I did not know that I knew, and you in that wonderful harmony of blue and silver and gold and white opened my eyes. Oh, Alice dear, how blue your eyes are!”
“They have always been as blue,” said Alice. “It is only the blue butterfly.”
“Bless the blue butterfly. Then, Alice, you do, and you will?”
“Perhaps, Tom dear, by and by. Let's not talk more about it to-night. Why, this is my coming-out dance, Tom! By and by.”
“You dear!” said Tom, and Marcia heard him, and blushed as if he had spoken to her; but when the blond head and the dark head under the window came close together, Marcia shuddered lest the blue butterfly be crushed. She drew a long breath of relief when the girl and the man came out from under the palms and ferns and swung into a waltz, and the butterfly fluttered intact, and the girl's graceful skirts swept about the flying golden feet, quite unrumpled.
Marcia was sent home in the limousine just after midnight, but before the maid came for her, Alice came hurrying into the room and bent over her, whispering. “Dear Miss Keyes,” she whispered, “it is a great secret, although you have heard something while you sat in this window. It is a great secret, not to be known for ever so long, because it will break poor father's heart to lose me anyway, I am afraid, but some time I am going to marry Mr. Liston, and he only found out he wanted me to-night, when I wore for the first time your beautiful dress. And you must promise to make all my dresses after this.” Then the girl's soft lips had been on Marcia's cheeks, and she had gone; and for the first time a throb of love for the girl herself warmed the woman's heart, and she realized something really more precious than art.
Marcia realized that as well as art as she lay awake all that night until the sun of the New Year shone in her east window. All night she had lain awake and dreamed of the girl's future joys. Marcia was like a violinist with his first great violin; like a harpist with a harp of heaven; like an artist who sees for the first time upon the canvas the realization of his ideal; like a singer who flings out for the world a voice so sweet she knows it not for her own. Marcia, while the girl slept, composed symphonies of her future joys, and costumes befitting them. She planned wedding garments; she even went farther, and lay with the tiniest delicacies of apparel floating before her vision like shreds of harmonies. The girl slept while the woman whose inspiration she was painted, and sang, and composed, all wonderful combinations of beauty which her future might hold; and so great an artist was she, although but a humble wielder of needle and thread, she knew it all a part of herself, even when the sun of the New Year shone in her east window.