Miss Felicia's Bonnet

Mary E. Wilkins

From Congregationalist Vol. 85 No. 48 (December 1, 1900)

Amelia was having her hair curled. She stood meekly before her mother, who was brushing her reddish-brown locks separately over a curling stick. Amelia's hair was being curled in two rows, because it was Sunday and she was going to meeting; week days she had only one.

“Now, Amelia,” said her mother, “there's something I'm going to tell you, and you must remember it. If you laugh at Miss Felicia's bonnet today, I'm going to shut you up in the closet without any dinner when you come home.”

Amelia was silent. She twitched her head a little as if the last curl pulled.

“Hold your head still,” said her mother. “Do you hear what I say?”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Well, you remember it. I'm not going to have you act the way you did last Sunday. I was ashamed of you.”

Amelia, when she was all ready for church, did not look as if she would laugh easily. She held her head, with its two tiers of shining curls and its best hat with the rosettes over the ears, stiffly, she kept her two hands in her little squirrel muff, and her blue eyes looked large and round and serious. She sat in her little chair and waited until her father and mother and grandmother were ready, then they all set out for church. Amelia was full of childish dignity as she trotted up the aisle after her elders. She sat down gravely in the pew between her mother and grandmother, and her little dangling feet in their shiny boots and rubbers toed out primly. She stared ahead at the minister and the folks in the singing seats and did not look to the right or the left.

But Miss Felicia Carr, who sat in the pew in front, had not yet arrived. She always came late. The singing had begun when she stepped mincingly up the aisle and took her seat all alone in her pew. Then Amelia laughed. She put her muff up to her face and shook. Her mother gave her a severe nudge on one side and her grandmother on the other, but it made no difference; she could not stop. Miss Felicia herself turned around and surveyed her, and the three green plumes on the new winter bonnet nodded toward her, and she chuckled out loud.

“If you don't behave yourself you shall go home,” whispered her mother, and there was a momentary calm.

Amelia put down her muff and raised her poor little red face toward the minister. The green plumes danced grotesquely over Miss Felicia's long, mild face. Amelia giggled again. She giggled at short intervals all through the meeting. Her mother and grandmother whispered, now and then they nudged; Amelia was all in a quiver of distress and shame, but she could not stop laughing.

After meeting, when they were all on the homeward road and her mother had her firmly by the hand, Amelia, pulling back a little, began to cry.

“I — couldn't help it,” she sobbed.

“Stop crying out loud,” said her mother, severely.

“I don't know what my father'd said to me if I cut up so in meeting,” said her grandmother.

And Amelia's father walked ahead soberly. Amelia, drawing her breath in short sniffs, followed on draggingly.

Amelia's mother never had a warm dinner on Sunday, but the cold dinner was a very nice one. There was always jelly with it and plum pudding. But all Amelia got that day was a piece of bread before she was shut up in the closet. She entered with a great wail of protest, and her mother shut the door all but a crack. It seemed to Amelia that she stayed in the closet a week; but it was only an hour. Then her mother came to the door and asked if she would try to be a good girl and not laugh at Miss Felicia's bonnet again; and she said chokingly that she would, and was released.

She had some more bread and some milk, but there was no jelly or plum pudding that day. While Amelia ate, her mother and grandmother talked to her.

“If you ever live to be as old as Miss Felicia, and are all alone in the world, with nobody to fix your bonnets for you, perhaps you won't look any better than she does,” said her mother.

“Maybe you won't,” echoed her grandmother, severely.

“She can't afford to take her bonnet to a milliner and have it trimmed, and she has to do it herself,” continued her mother. “And she doesn't have money to buy new trimmings. I remember her wearing those same green feathers years ago, when I was a little girl. I suppose that the poor woman has kept those green feathers just as choice all these years, and trimmed up her bonnet with them the best she knew how this winter; and here you have been laughing at them, and hurting her feelings.”

“I don't believe she saw me,” said Amelia, miserably.

“I saw her looking right at you, and she always was sensitive,” said her mother.

The next Sunday Miss Felicia appeared at church without the feathers. In their stead was a poor skimpy black velvet bow, and that was all the trimming on the bonnet. Amelia gave one dismayed glance at it, then she tried to keep her eyes away from it, but she could not. It was between her and the minister and preaching a silent little sermon of its own to her childish heart.

After meeting she heard her mother and grandmother talk it over.

“She must have taken them off on that account, I know just as well as I want to,” said her mother.

“By good rights Amelia ought to go over to Felicia's and ask her forgiveness,” said her grandmother.

Amelia went to school the next morning with a purpose in her mind of which she said nothing. She kept screwing herself to it all day. Miss Felicia lived half a mile from the schoolhouse, and it was a bitter day; but after school Amelia started to ask her pardon. She did not carry her squirrel muff on a week day, and her hands in her little mittens ached with the cold, her ears tingled; it was all she could do to struggle against the icy north wind. When she reached Miss Felicia's house she was quite blue, and trembled from head to foot with cold and fear.

“Why!” said Miss Felicia, with gentle astonishment, “did your mother send you for anything?”

“No, ma'am,” said Amelia.

She hung her head, then slipped into Miss Felicia's warm kitchen. Miss Felicia set a chair for her beside the stove, and asked her how her mother and grandmother were, and Amelia collected her courage.

“I'm sorry I laughed at your bonnet,” she said, suddenly, in a queer, monotonous mumble.

Miss Felicia did not hear.

“What?” she asked. And Amelia repeated.

Miss Felicia's mild, thin old face flushed.

“I looked in the glass when I got home, and I didn't much wonder you laughed,” said she. “You needn't fret over it, child.”

Miss Felicia's voice was slow, with a patient drawl at the end of a sentence. She went across the kitchen to the pantry. Presently she came back with a little seed cake, which she gave to Amelia. “Maybe you'd like a cooky,” she said. “You'd better get your hands and feet real warm before you start for home.”

And Amelia warmed her hands and feet, but she could not eat the cooky then. She thanked Miss Felicia and put it in her pocket.

It was quite dark when she reached home. Her mother was standing in the door looking for her.

“Where have you been?” said she, hurrying her into the house.

Amelia explained that she had been to tell Miss Felicia that she was sorry.

“You didn't tell her you laughed at her bonnet, child!” cried her grandmother, laying down her knitting.

“Yes, ma'am,” said Amelia.

Her mother and grandmother looked at each other.

“I don't know but I'd better go over and see Felicia,” said her mother.

“I shouldn't say another word about it,” said her grandmother. “‘Least said, the soonest mended.’”

And nothing more was ever said about it, but Miss Felicia never wore the green feathers to church again, and somehow she got into the habit of bringing a caraway cooky every Sunday for Amelia, and Amelia became very fond of Miss Felicia. She used sometimes to take her patchwork and make her a call, and Sundays she used to slip the caraway cooky into the pocket of her best dress and take it home and eat it thoughtfully. Nervous little girl, with a strong sense of humor, that she was, she was quite cured of laughing at her neighbors in church, for all through her life it was as if a poor bonnet, with a nodding tuft of green feathers, slipped suddenly over and smothered untimely and indecorous mirth.