Flora and Hannah

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From Short Story Masterpieces (Jamieson-Higgins Co.; Chicago: 1900)

It happened a number of years ago, when valentines were made more account of than they are now. Why, in those days some valentines were almost as good as an offer of marriage. I am sure Jonty's was. He meant it for one, and I knew he did. Jonty — his name was Jonathan, but we always called him Jonty, was my husband's youngest brother, and he had lived with me ever since his father died, when he wasn't much more than a baby.

He was twenty years younger than my husband, and we both of us, since we didn't have any children of our own, looked upon him as a son. My husband just set his eyes by his little brother, and he was a pretty boy, with the reddest cheeks and curliest light hair, and he was just as good as he could be, always ready to run errands, get a pail of water, and bring in kindling-wood, starting the minute he was told, and goin' laughin' as if he was tickled to death at havin' a chance to do somethin' for somebody. The way he used to wait on Grandma Page, find her glasses for her, and hold her yarn, was really wonderful in a boy. Grandma Page was his and Caleb's — my husband's, great grandmother. She was pretty old when Jonty came to live with us, and when that happened about the valentine she was near ninety, but one of the prettiest old ladies you ever saw, cheeks as pink as a girl's, and her white hair all wavy, and she wore the nicest white caps, with lavender ribbons on them. We were proud of Grandma Page, and she was one of those little gentle, delicate, clinging creatures, that everybody loves and pets. People used to say she didn't have much force, and couldn't do anything but knit and look peaceful and pretty, but she wasn't half the care that most old people are. When my husband died, Jonty was most twenty-five years old, and it was the greatest comfort to me that I had him and Grandma Page. Jonty he took hold and run the farm just as smart, and we got along well, and had plenty of everything, though I was sad enough sometimes.

I felt dreadful sober when Jonty came to me that afternoon about the valentine. It made me think of the time when Caleb sent me a valentine, for one thing; and then I couldn't help feeling a little sad that Jonty should be thinkin' of some other woman beside his grandma and me, though I knew it was for the best if he got a good wife, and helpmeet.

But I tried to look as cheerful as I could. Jonty didn't act half as silly and ashamed in asking me, as some boys would have acted. He was always real honest and simple and outspoken, and never seemed to see any reason for being ashamed of anything that was right. He never colored up a mite, though his cheeks were always like roses, as bright as a girl's, and he laughed kind of sweet and pleasant when he showed me the little sheet of gilt edged paper with a bunch of rose-buds in the corner, that was to go with the handsomest valentine I ever laid my eyes on. There was paper cut somehow so you could lift it up in a sort of spiral twist and see underneath a couple seated in an arbor all covered with roses. What Jonty wanted was a little poem, written on that sheet of paper. “Can't you do it, Aunt Jane?” said he in his coaxing way. He always called me Aunt, though I was really his sister-in-law.

“Why, my land, Jonty, I don't believe I can,” said I. “I'm afraid I'll spoil this beautiful paper.”

“Oh, no, you won't,” said he. “Do, Aunt Jane.”

Now I have really had quite a name for writing poetry, and once a piece on the death of Deacon Briggs' wife was published in the paper, but I have written mostly in albums and for people on the deaths of relatives and friends, and then they would keep them in their family Bibles. Why, there was one spell when it seemed to me that nobody died that I wasn't called upon to write a poem about it. But I hadn't never written a valentine in my life, and I was dreadful doubtful. I was afraid of spoiling that handsome paper. But I wrote it all off on a slate first, and finally I wrote quite a good piece, though I do say so, and Jonty he copied it, and signed his name.

“I s'pose I know who it's going to,” said I.

“Yes, it's Flora,” said Jonty laughing, but just as honest as if he was a child. Grandma Page was knittin' in the corner, and she hadn't paid any attention to what was going on. She had grown so dreadful hard of hearin' within a year, we had to shout to make her hear anything.

I knew well enough that the valentine was going to Flora before I asked Jonty. She was the prettiest girl in the town, and all the young men were wild about her. Nobody looked at her sister Hannah, though she was a nice girl. Sometimes I used to think maybe she would be full as nice to get along with as Flora, though she did have a dull skin, and dull colored hair, and a homely nose. Hannah hadn't a good feature in her face except her eyes, which were as brown and honest as a good dog's. Flora, beside her, looked all shine and pink and white and gold. She was tall and of a fine shape, too, and Hannah was under size. Both girls used to be in our house a good deal, and grandma and I thought a lot of them. Grandma used to say that Flora was a pretty cretur.

Well, after Jonty's valentine was finished he left it on the sitting room table, and went out to see a man who had come to ask about some wood, and I went out in the kitchen to bake some cake. Pretty soon I saw Grandma Page with her big gray shawl on, and her white hood, kind of rockin' down the front walk in a way she had. She was quite stout. I thought to myself I guessed she was goin' to run into Mrs. Atkins'. She used to do that quite often, it was only a step down the street and she wasn't feeble at all.

In a little while Jonty came through the kitchen on his way to the sitting-room to get his valentine. Then he come runnin' back. “Why, where is it, Aunt Jane?” said he.

“Why, ain't it there on the table where you left it?” said I.

“No, it ain't,” said he.

“Why, that's dreadful funny,” said I. I wiped the flour off my hands, and went in to look, but there was no valentine there. We searched everywhere, but we couldn't find it. When Grandma came back we questioned her, then the mystery was solved, as we supposed. She said in her little soft innocent way, like an old baby's, that she had been down to the postoffice thinking there might be a letter from Edward — Edward was her son out west — and she had posted the valentine. Well, there wasn't anything so strange about it. The postoffice was next door to Mrs. Atkins'. Grandma often went there, and often posted letters, but it did seem a little odd that she should have taken the valentine. However, Jonty thanked her in his sweet way, and we supposed everything was all right.

After supper that night Hannah came in. Grandma had gone to bed, and Jonty had run down to the store on an errand. I saw in a minute that something had happened. Hannah didn't look like herself. Her dull cheeks were pink, her eyes shone, and she looked almost pretty.

“Oh, Aunt Jane,” she said — she always called me Aunt Jane, “I saw him go past and knew he wasn't here, or I wouldn't have come.”

“What do you mean, what is the matter, child?” said I, for she was laughing and crying all together.

“I had to tell somebody, I was so happy,” said she, “and Flora has got Mark Williams calling on her, and mother is away, and —”

“Why, what is it, what has happened?” said I.

“Oh, don't you, don't you know?” said she.

“No, I don't,” said I.

“Jonty has sent me a valentine,” she whispered. Then down her head went on my lap, and she cried and cried for pure joy. “Oh, Aunt Jane,” she sobbed out, “I never thought anybody would love me. I thought it would always be Flora and now it's me, and — I've always thought Jonty was better than anybody else. Oh, Aunt Jane, I'm not half good enough for him, I wish I was pretty like Flora, but I do love Jonty and I will try to make him happy.”

I was so bewildered I didn't know what to do. I put my hand on the girl's head, and tried to hush her, and then I heard a noise, and looked up and there was Jonty standing in the door, and he had heard every word. And Hannah looked up and saw him, and sprang to her feet, and ran straight to him, and was sobbing on his shoulder.

I shall never forget Jonty's face as he looked at me over her head. He was so kind and gentle that in all his bewilderment, his arm had gone 'round the poor little thing, and he was stroking her head as if she had been a lost kitten. And I shall never forget the sound of my own voice, it was so queer and faint as I said to him:

“Hannah says she's got a valentine from you, Jonty.”

Well, Jonty soothed and coaxed her, and took her home, and when he came back his face was as white as a sheet. He sat down opposite me, and looked at me, and I at him.

“What be you goin' to do, Jonty?” said I.

“I ain't goin' to break that poor little thing's heart, and Mark Williams is over there with Flora, and — I don't believe she has ever had much choice betwixt us, and — and — she ain't never acted as if she thought so much of me as this.”

“You ain't goin' to marry Hannah, when it's Flora you want?” said I, for I thought he was carryin' it too far.

“Yes, I be, unless I see that Flora is goin' to be upset over it,” said he.

And he did. Mark Williams married Flora, but I always suspected she would full as soon have had Jonty, but she was never a girl to cry for one fiddle when she could get another, and Jonty married Hannah. Hannah has made him a splendid wife, and there ain't been a happier family in the village than ours.

But one thing always puzzled Jonty and me, though we never said a word to Hannah about it. We could not understand how Jonty ever happened to direct that valentine envelope to Hannah instead of Flora. He said he could almost take his Bible oath that he hadn't. He used often to talk to me about it, and say that he knew now that Hannah was the wife for him and made him happier than Flora could ever have done, but he couldn't understand about that valentine. “Hannah has got it and I have seen it,” said he, “but she took it out of the envelope and made a little silk case for it with two doves and a sprig of myrtle embroidered on the outside, like one her cousin had, and the envelope is gone, but I must have written Hannah instead of Flora. Sometimes it seems supernatural when I look at Hannah and see what a dear good wife I've got,” said Jonty.

Well, we never discovered the mystery of that valentine till Grandma died two years after Jonty and Hannah were married. She had a shock and lost her speech, and lay so five days before she died. One day about a week after the funeral, Jonty was lookin' at her old Bible, the one she always kept in her room on the little stand by her bed, and he gave a great start. “What is it, Jonty?” said I. Hannah was out in the kitchen getting supper, and we were in the sitting-room.

“Look here, Aunt Jane,” said Jonty.

And I looked and there in Grandma's Bible pinned to the chapter of Proverbs, where it says that — “The heart of her husband can safely trust in her” — was the envelope of the old valentine directed to Flora.

p. 241 changed [ Why, aint it there ] to [ Why, ain't it there ]
p. 241 changed [ next door to Mrs. Atkins.' ] to [ next door to Mrs. Atkins'. ]
p. 242 changed [ cried for pure joy.” ] to [ cried for pure joy. ]
p. 243 changed [ she aint never acted ] to [ she ain't never acted ]
p. 243 changed [ there aint been a happier ] to [ there ain't been a happier ]