An Easter Story

Mary E. Wilkins

From Rochester Democrat and Chronicle May 10, 1901

(Copyright 1901 by the National Press Agency.)

Lauretta was my third cousin on my mother's side. She was a real pretty girl, one of the prettiest girls that ever lived, I don't care where, but she was very prim. As I remember her, Lauretta was about the primmest girl I ever saw. All the village girls were modest and well-behaved, but Lauretta went a step beyond everybody; she wouldn't do this and she wouldn't do that, and she didn't act fairly natural about beaux. When Lauretta was 18 years old she had never let a young man go home with her, and I can see her face now when her sister Louisa told her how John Mitchell had seen her home from meeting and kissed her good night. Louisa married John Mitchell afterwards, but that didn't make any difference. “O Louisa, you didn't allow such a dreadful thing!” said Lauretta, and she colored up as if John Mitchell had kissed her instead of Louisa. Louisa didn't like it very well. “Yes, I did, and I'm going to marry John if he asks me, and I can't see as I've done anything so very dreadful,” said she.

“I don't see how you could, Louisa,” said Lauretta, and she still had that shocked kind of look and her face and neck were red. Lauretta had the softest, finest skin, and colored red as a rose in a minute, and her blue eyes would widen and grow round. I can see them now.

“You are too particular to live,” said Louisa. She told me afterwards, that she didn't believe Lauretta was like other girls. “I've seen her coming out of meeting actually hanging on to mother's arm, for fear somebody would ask to go home with her,” said Louisa. Louisa always had a great many admirers and did not resort to subterfuges to keep them at bay.

“Edward Adams would be glad to go home with her, I guess,” I said.

“He's just dying to,” replied Louisa. “I can see him hanging around every Sunday night after meeting, but he can't go home with Lauretta unless he goes with mother, too. I never saw a girl like Lauretta. I don't believe she ever will get married. She won't give anybody a chance.”

I felt sort of sorry for Edward Adams because he was a good fellow and real intimate with Joseph Green, the man I married three years afterwards. Joseph used to tell me about how Edward felt. “I never saw a man so used up as he is over Lauretta,” said he, “but she won't look at him.”

“She won't look at anybody else any more,” said I.

“No, that's some comfort,” said Joseph, “but what is it, what has she got against Edward?”

“I'm sure I don't know,” said I.

I told Joseph I would try to talk to Lauretta, and see if I could find out what the trouble was; and so I did, but I didn't make out much. I got a sort of idea that perhaps it wasn't so much because she was prim as we had always thought, as because she didn't really believe any young man wanted her, or loved her as much as her mother did, but I wasn't sure that I was right. She did bring up Hattie Jones getting jilted, after Amos Stetson had been keeping company with her for two years, and Caroline Anderson, after Jim Ladd had been ready to die for her for five. “I don't believe men are apt to care very much about girls,” said Lauretta. “They go home with them, and they go to see them, but I don't believe they care so very much more for one girl than another, and I don't see what people want to get married for, anyway. I like my mother better than any man I ever saw.”

I got sort of indignant at that. “I think men are just as good as women,” said I.

“I didn't say they weren't,” said Lauretta, in her scared, meek sort of way. “I just said I didn't believe they cared so much about girls as their mothers do.”

“There's Edward Adams ready to worship the ground you walk on,” said I.

“He went home with Annie Whitman last night,” said Lauretta; but she colored up, and I sort of chuckled, for I reasoned it out that she must have been watching to know that Edward went home with Annie, for all she was going out of meeting herself, clinging as tight to her mother as if she couldn't walk alone.

“Well, he showed his sense if he did, as long as you wouldn't let him go with you,” said I; “and Annie is a real pretty girl.”

“I don't think she's pretty at all,” said Lauretta; “her cheeks are too red, and she's too stout. But I don't want any man going home with me. I don't like men.”

So it ended. I couldn't make out for the life of me whether Lauretta was really so prudish that she didn't want any attention, or was afraid of being jilted, and did not believe that anyone cared for her. Lauretta always was a very modest, meek little thing; she never pushed and scrambled for anything. I don't believe that even when she was a child she ever thought of the biggest piece of cake or pie, and she gave away all her apples and candy and never teased for ours.

Well, time went on, and Louisa and I were both married, though Lauretta was older. She lived with her mother, and clung to her just as tightly as ever. Edward Adams wasn't married either, though he had paid attention to several. He acted as if he had given up Lauretta.

Lauretta was 28 years old when the new school teacher came to Ferrisville. She was a beauty and no mistake. I don't know that she was any prettier than Lauretta; but you could see her farther, and she came from the city, and knew how to dress. Edward from the first acted devoted to her. He was on the school committee, and so had a good excuse to visit her school often; and he used to walk home with her from meeting, and take her sleigh riding, and Mrs. Lansing, the woman where she boarded, said he called on her real often. Folks began to think it would be a match. That was the winter when Lauretta's mother died, and she was left all alone. Louisa couldn't come to live with her, because her husband had his business in Morristown, and couldn't leave; and Lauretta, though she had enough to live on herself, couldn't afford to hire help. She settled down to live alone, and it did seem real pitiful, she was always such a timid little thing. For a while I used to go over and stay all night with her; but, of course, I couldn't keep it up always. I said to Joseph that it was such a pity that she and Edward hadn't got married, but he said he guessed he'd got over it, that the new school teacher suited him pretty well.

“I don't know,” said I, “I've always thought Edward Adams wasn't one to shift about very easily from one to the other; and Mrs. Lansing says he hasn't been to call on the teacher quite so often lately. I know he didn't go home with her from meeting last Sunday night, and I saw him looking at Lauretta. I don't believe but he has a good deal of feeling for her, left alone the way she is.”

“More feeling than she would have for him, I guess,” said Joseph, rather grimly. He was a little inclined to be severe on Lauretta; he had always thought so much of Edward. “I guess Edward is pretty well suited with the school teacher,” he said again; “and she's handsome as a picture, a sight prettier than Lauretta.”

“I don't know,” said I; “and I don't know about her being handsomer. You men always think if a girl has blazing red cheeks, her beauty is settled. Lauretta is more delicate looking, but it seems to me she is much prettier.”

“Not according to my way of thinking,” said Joseph. Joseph is a good man, but he never trusts one woman's opinion of another's beauty.

It was some three months after Lauretta's mother died, and the poor girl had lived alone through one of the hardest winters we had ever known; snowstorm after snowstorm, and bitter cold, and she did have a lonesome time of it. I went in there all I could; but much of the time it was too bad for me to walk. I lived half a mile away, and we didn't keep a horse, and it was before the electric cars were put in.

Well, poor Lauretta got along somehow; she never complained, she was always just as sweet, and meek, and gentle; but she grew thin, and there was a sad little droop at the corners of her mouth, and her blue eyes seemed to be always looking past you, though she was prettier than ever. Black was very becoming to Lauretta.

It was Easter Sunday when that happened which no one has ever been able to explain. I, for one, have never tried to. It has always seemed to me just as well to leave some things unexplained. Easter Sunday was a beautiful day, the first real mild day we had had. The air was soft as June, the snow had gone except for patches here and there, the trees began to look green and filmy, and once in a while you could hear a bird. I may as well tell it just as it happened, as Lauretta told it to me. That Easter Sunday, when Lauretta came downstairs in the morning to build her kitchen fire, she noticed a very strong, sweet fragrance all over the house, and she could not imagine what it was; but when she opened the sitting-room door, she saw. There on the table, stood a great pot of Easter lilies. The lamp was on the table, and the Bible, and her sewing, and the pot of Easter lilies scenting the whole room and the whole house.

She just stared at it. She did not know what to think for a minute. Then she saw that the window was open — the window close to the table — and she reasoned it out that somebody must have opened it and set the pot of lilies inside. Then all at once it flashed upon her that Edward Adams must have done it, for he had a little greenhouse, though he did not sell flowers. He was in the Savings Bank. She was sure that Edward did it, and I was, too, when she called me in and showed me the flowers. I went to church that Sunday, and had to pass her house, and she stood in the doorway and called me. “Won't you come in just a minute?” said she; “there's time enough.”

So I let Joseph go on, and I went in. “What have you got here so sweet?” said I, the minute I stepped inside.

“Look here,” said Lauretta, and she led me into the sitting room and pointed to the pot of lilies.

I had never seen such beautiful lilies. I can't begin to tell how many blossoms there were, and the quantity of buds, and anything like the fragrance. “Why, who sent them?” said I.

“I found them here this morning,” said Lauretta.

“Why, who sent them?”

“Who do you suppose?” asked Lauretta.

We looked at each other, then I began to laugh. I remembered Edward Adams's greenhouse. “I guess it doesn't require a very sharp wit to tell,” said I, and Lauretta colored beautifully, and I saw that she thought as I did.

“Don't tell anybody,” said she. She put her arms around me when she said that, and hid her face on my shoulder.

“Don't you worry, dear child,” said I, and stroked her pretty light hair. Lauretta was older than I, but she always seemed younger.

Well, I had to hurry out and catch up with Joseph, but when I saw Lauretta come into the church a little later, I thought I had never seen her look so pretty. Her long black veil swept back from her fair hair, and her face was as delicate as a lily, with just such clear curves, and she moved with such a shy grace that people turned to look at her — and I didn't wonder. To my mind, the school teacher, in a new Easter hat all covered with roses, was tawdry beside her; and I once caught Edward Adams looking at Lauretta, and I had my own opinion.

It was such a beautiful Sunday, full moonlight, that Joseph and I went to meeting in the evening, and Lauretta was there. When meeting was over, I expected that she would do what she had always done whenever she had happened to be at evening meeting since her mother died — edge up to me, and cling to me going out, as she used to do to her mother; but that night she did not. I looked around for her, and never was so astonished in my life. I could not believe it was Lauretta. She was actually moving in that gentle, imperceptible gliding fashion of hers, close to Edward Adams, and she actually moved on ahead of the school teacher. The school teacher's roses brushed Lauretta's black veil they were so close together. Then I heard Lauretta say: “Good evening, Mr. Adams,” of her own accord; and I could not believe my ears. And I could not believe my eyes, when the school teacher passed me, walking very fast with Mrs. Lansing; it turned out afterwards that she had been engaged to somebody in Boston all the time, and never told; and Lauretta followed behind us, leaning on Edward Adams's arm.

I looked around and nudged Joseph to look. “Good Lord!” said he, so loud that I was afraid that they would hear him; and I had to hush him up.

Well, it wasn't a month before it was all over the village that Edward Adams and Lauretta were engaged; and they were married in the course of the summer. Lauretta let her house and went to live in Edward's. But that isn't the strange part of it all. Lauretta did not say much to Edward about the pot of lilies for some little time; she had a sort of feeling since he had brought them so secretly, as she supposed, that there was something sacred about it, that she would not even thank him. So all she did was to say how beautiful the lilies were when he came into the room, which was so sweet with them; and he said yes, as well he might. There never were such lilies. But after a while, when the blossoms had all faded, and the buds had bloomed and died, she wondered what to do with the plant, so she said something to Edward about it. She thanked him for sending it, and asked if it would not be best for him to take it back to his green house and keep it over until another year. Then it transpired that Edward had never sent that pot of Easter lilies, that he had none like it, that the pot was unlike anything he had ever had, that he had never seen the plant until that Easter Sunday when he came into Lauretta's sitting room.

They never found out where that great pot of lilies came from. Edward tried to keep the plant, but it died before the next Easter. He questioned all the florists for miles about; but none of them knew anything about it. No one knew, and no one ever will know. We can surmise and question, but we shall never know; but there is no doubt that those lilies have sweetened Lauretta's whole life, for she would never have married Edward Adams had not someone set them on her table.