From Woman's Home Companion Vol. XXXIV No. 4 (April, 1907)
Mrs. Olive McKensie's millinery store was in a hum, like a beehive before swarming. She, in one sense, was herself about to swarm. The next day was her opening for Easter bonnets and hats. Her assistants, in the rear of the store, behind the screens, labored for their lives, perking bows, adjusting flowers, twisting crisp new ribbons. Mrs. McKensie herself hovered hither and yon. Her show cases in the front of the store were being rapidly filled with hats done up in tissue paper, to keep them from being prematurely seen.
Mrs. McKensie had had her trials in her life — her legitimate, fully recognized trials. Her husband had deserted her, and she had been deeply in love with him. He had left her without a penny to care for two young children. She had made a brave struggle, and succeeded; and then, worst of all, the children had died within a week of each other. Mrs. McKensie, in rather late middle life, still kept a firm clutch upon the remnant of her youth. She was prosperous in her business, her health was robust, she had plenty of creature comforts, and she was of the sort to enjoy them. But now she was harassed by minor annoyances, one of which, perhaps the most trying, was the curiosity of the feminine portion of the little city of Reedville concerning her Easter hats. This curiosity was commendable, and much to be desired upon the opening day — she did not even object to it before, if a customer really made a purchase — but to have women coming into her store, and pulling off the tissue-paper coverings of the new head gear, handling and commenting, and then going forth, perhaps to purchase of Miss Annie Case, the rival milliner across the street, almost drove her beyond the bounds of courtesy. She had none of the haughtiness of most American milliners. She was suave, not to the point of subserviency, but admiration, and the most delicate admiration. She more than made up for her mirror standing in a cross light. When a lady purchased a hat, she had always the conviction that Mrs. McKensie's appreciative eyes did her justice, and that the mirror was wholly responsible for what she seemed to see in it. But when a lady entered her store the day before the opening, and proceeded to examine the new hats and rob them of their glory of mystery, and inmost cases without the slightest idea of a purchase, her admiring smile became set, and her eyes did not match it.
This particular day had been a very trying one. It was pleasant after a stormy week, and everybody was abroad. Her store had been besieged since early morning by ladies, and not one had bought a hat, but she had been forced to allow them to see the new ones, for fear of losing customers in the future. Then two ladies were seen approaching.
“It's Mrs. Sackett and her daughter,” whispered Miss Lee, Mrs. McKensie's assistant, and the other trimmers nodded understandingly, and looked pleased. They all liked Mrs. McKensie. She was a kind woman, and sure pay, and disposed to be lenient over mistakes. They listened with pleasure to her unaffectedly cordial voice echoing from the front of the store. The other voices — there were two of them — were so low that only a gentle murmur could be distinguished. Presently Mrs. McKensie came hurrying to the rear. “That bonnet with purple roses,” said she in an excited whisper.
Miss Lee produced a band box from a corner, where it was half hidden by a snow of paper and odds and ends of ribbon. “Here it is,” said she. They all knew that Mrs. Sackett had come to buy, and this was a very different thing. Mrs. McKensie had often urged her in a cautious tone of secrecy to drop in just before the opening, before the bonnets had been handled, and other people had had their pick. “I wouldn't ask everybody,” she always added, and Mrs. Sackett always looked extremely pleased and flattered. Mrs. Sackett had a gentle soul, which was childishly pleased with attention from any source. She was one of the few who can be praised without losing their butterfly bloom. She was as old as Mrs. McKensie, but a very beautiful woman, and had been told all her life that she was beautiful, without acquiring the slightest unpleasant trace of self-consciousness. She was lovely as she sat before the mirror trying on bonnets. Her daughter, Viola, who people often said looked as old or older than her beautiful mother, was with her. Viola herself needed a new hat for Easter, but was giving it up that her mother might have her new bonnet. A new Easter bonnet was Mrs. Sackett's one yearly excitement, and extravagance. Viola taught school, and so supported herself and mother. They owned a very good house, and had enough money from a life insurance to pay for keeping it up. Viola's school money did the rest.
That afternoon Mrs. Sackett, her lovely face flushed like a girl's with the fresh wind and joyous anticipation, had met Viola at the post office, and now they were waiting to see the bonnet trimmed with the purple roses. Mrs. Sackett was holding a bonnet made entirely of violets; on her head was another trimmed with pale pink roses in a soft puff of gray silk. “I fear this is almost too young for me,” she was saying of the rose-trimmed bonnet, as Mrs. McKensie returned.
The milliner laughed. “You really ought not to wear a bonnet at all, but a hat,” said she.
“A hat!” Mrs. Sackett cried with gentle horror.
“Yes, a hat. Really a bonnet is too old for you. I only make a few bonnets anyway for very old ladies, and some like you, who think they must wear a bonnet because they always have. Now, I wouldn't be seen in a bonnet, and I am every day as old as you are.”
Mrs. Sackett looked at the milliner and the thought was plainly evident on her transparent face that she, too, ought to wear a bonnet. Then she flushed like a girl at her rudeness, and said mildly that she had always worn a bonnet, and that perhaps Mrs. McKensie's hair made a hat more becoming to her.
“Perhaps it does,” assented Mrs. McKensie with a complacent glance at her brown puffs.
Mrs. Sackett wore her blond hair, which was ash blond, and did not therefore show that it was slightly gray, in two soft loops over her ears. Scarcely a triangle of smooth white forehead was visible between these delicate loops. Beneath them her sweet, rather long, rosy face and tender blue eyes gleamed with something finer than the gleam of youth. Mrs. Sackett was a tall woman, but her shoulders were sloping, and she always sat with a droop of gentle languor which took from her height. She might have stepped out from an old steel engraving of an old-time beauty in an ancient Godey's Magazine, as she sat trying on her bonnets. She let the milliner remove the pink rose-trimmed bonnet, and substitute the one with purple roses. She eyed that rather doubtfully, turning her head from side to side, and holding the hand glass this way and that. “The purple seems very suitable,” she said finally, “not too young, but — I never heard of purple roses. It does not seem quite right to have roses of a color which they never are in Nature.”
“There are so few purple flowers, except violets,” remarked the milliner apologetically, as if she were aware of Nature's remissness.
“The violets are very pretty,” said Mrs. Sackett, “but I had my last Easter bonnet trimmed with pansies, and they always do seem first cousins to violets.”
“That is so,” said the milliner, “violets and pansies do seem a good deal alike. It is very hard to get purple flowers. Now and then there are asters, but they are rather stiff.”
“They don't seem suitable for a spring bonnet, anyway,” said Mrs. Sackett. “The roses are pretty, but I don't believe there are purple roses.”
“They may bloom in foreign countries,” said the milliner hopefully. “These are French flowers, and the French have so many things that we don't. They may have purple roses.”
“Now, mother,” Viola interposed, “you know perfectly well that if you must have a bonnet instead of a hat, the bonnet with the pink roses is by far the prettiest and the most becoming, and I agree with you that I don't like even artificial roses of a color that Nature never made. You are just hesitating about that lovely bonnet with the pink roses because you are afraid it is too young, and it is perfect nonsense, isn't it, Mrs. McKensie?”
“No color is too young for your mother, not even red,” replied the milliner, removing the bonnet trimmed with purple roses and replacing the one trimmed with pink. Then she stood with her head at a true angle of admiration.
“You do look sweet in that, Mrs. Sackett,” she said. “Your daughter is right.”
Mrs. Sackett cast a pathetically wistful look at the reflection in the glass. “I used to wear pink when I was a girl,” she said.
“You can wear pink just as well as you ever could,” said Viola decidedly. “Now, mother, make up your mind, and take that lovely bonnet.”
“Perhaps it is too dear,” murmured Mrs. Sackett, turning her head and gazing at her lovely drooping profile crowned with pink roses.
Mrs. McKensie had always a certain form which she observed when asked the price of any of her wares. She always examined the little label attached, frowned undecidedly, asked to be excused, and retired to the rear of the shop to consult with her head trimmer. Thereby was implied that under the existing circumstances, and the having such a desirable customer, she really wondered if she could not afford to let the article go for a little less than it had been marked, and so retired for a consultation. She always returned, as she did now, with a cheerful and benignant expression.
“It is ten dollars,” said she, and the Sacketts were perfectly justified in assuming that the original price had been fifteen.
“Do you think —” began Mrs. Sackett, but Viola stopped her. “We will take the bonnet,” she said, although her statement was received by a little exclamation half of ecstasy, half of terror from her mother. Viola paid for the bonnet, and Mrs. McKensie promised to send it home that afternoon within an hour.
“Don't you want to look at an Easter hat for yourself, Miss Sackett?”
“I think not to-day, thank you, Mrs. McKensie.”
“Don't you think you had better, dear?” asked Mrs. Sackett. A little qualm of doubt as to whether or not she was not selfish, in spite of her long-established custom of Easter bonnets, and also another custom which she did not fairly know herself, of receiving as her birthright the softest and best, suddenly seized her. When they were out on the street, she pressed close to her daughter, like a school girl. “Viola dear,” she said.
“I could have worn my last year's bonnet for once.”
“I know the pansies are a little faded, but —”
“Of course they are.”
“Then you could have had a new hat.”
“My old hat is just as pretty as a new one.”
“Do you really think so, Viola dear?”
“Yes, I do,” said Viola stoutly. She made herself believe what she said. She was constantly, as it were, hammering equivocation into truth with love. She had always been so in the habit of putting her beautiful mother first that she would not admit to herself her own perpetual dimness of background, and the possible pathos of it, in her one youth on the face of the earth. Sometimes, being convinced, as she was, of her own lack of personal charm, she did have the faintest unacknowledged longing for certain exterior adornments such as other girls had, which might possibly go a little way toward remedying her own lack of beauty. She had caught a glimpse that afternoon of a hat of soft black trimmed with red cherries, and the fancy had crossed her mind that she might look very well wearing that hat with a black voile trimmed with touches of red, which was the best gown she owned. But the fancy passed away like the shadow of bird wings. She listened happily as her mother talked about her new bonnet as they walked along the sunny street.
“I hope it is not too young,” said Mrs. Sackett in a soft, pleased murmur.
“Mother, you are so lovely,” Viola cried with sudden fervor.
Mrs. Sackett blushed. “Now, Viola dear,” she said, “you always see me just the way your father did. You must remember that I don't look the same way to everybody as I do to you.”
“You look perfectly lovely to everybody. If you only knew the things I hear people say about you.”
Mrs. Sackett blushed again, and went on smiling as a child might have done. Viola glanced at her with a sort of loving wonder. She in reality did wonder what it must be like to be beautiful all one's life, and always hear people say so. Then again she thought of the black hat trimmed with cherries, and another thought crossed her mind — a thought which she always meant to banish from her mental threshold, but did not always succeed in doing. That was the thought of a man — Henry Allston, the principal of the school where she taught. Self-immolating as Viola was, accustomed to thinking of herself as a person of no color, once in a while her youth asserted itself. The grave young principal of the school stood out in her foreground of life and consciousness of life always, although she did not know it. When she had thought of the hat with the red cherries she had seen herself in that foreground with him. She had a fancy of herself, crowned with the soft black tulle and cherries, bowing demurely to Mr. Allston as they passed out of church or as he met her on the street. She even imagined herself lifting her black skirt daintily, and giving a coquettish glimpse of a red silk petticoat which she owned, and which matched the cherries. Viola was one of those girls who know instinctively the wiles of a coquette, but who never employ them unless stimulated by love. Viola had never had a lover, and had even stifled her dreams of love. She might not have done so had her mother not been so beautiful. But after looking at that wonderful face of her mother's, she fairly scorned herself because she had even allowed the shadow of a dream to cross her fancy. In the act of looking, she quite lost sight of her eyes, which were really more beautiful than her mother's, large and brown, at once wistful and brave. She simply saw her plain face with these lovely eyes. She never thought of seeing the eyes themselves. She thought that there never had been such wonderful eyes as her mother's of dark violet. Viola was herself so unconscious of her special charm of feature that she made most people also unconscious of it. A certain amount of self-consciousness is essential to drive home facts to the majority of people who are not quick-sighted, and are apt to hold yourself at your own price. Once Henry Allston had said something about Miss Sackett's remarkably beautiful eyes to the French teacher, who had laughed. “No woman has beautiful eyes who does not know it,” said he. “Mademoiselle Sackett is of the most ordinaire. One looks at her, and looks away.”
“She has remarkable eyes,” maintained Allston stoutly. He was an opinionated young man. It took more than a French teacher, who scandalized and delighted the young girls of the school by kissing their hands, to change his point of view.
The French teacher shrugged his shoulders. “Madame Sackett is a grande dame,” said he. “She is the Ninon de L'Enclos of this century, but the daughter, she is the good instructress, she has virtue; when she dies she will go to paradise, but —” he shrugged again.
Henry Allston walked off without another word. He was not in love with Viola Sackett, he was not in love with any one, but he was in that state of mind and body which only requires a stimulus to awaken love. He was ready. He had dreams of a home of his own. Sometimes he felt as if the fried beefsteak, soggy buckwheat cakes and unlimited sweets of his boarding place were undermining his mind and his morals. He hated his solitary room, too, which had a view of a garage, and was directly opposite a trolley switch, on which cars were grating all day. He detested the other boarders, or rather he had nothing in common with them. There were a merchant and his wife, who were frivolously inclined, and afield nearly every evening. There was a solitary female who got a living by giving readings, for which people bought tickets out of pity, then endeavored to give them away, the readings were so atrocious. There was a young woman with three children, whose husband was a traveling man, and who was flirtatious in spite of being kept awake nights by the wailing of her youngest. Most of the other boarders were transients; Allston had nothing to do with any of them. He ate his meals at one end of the long table, and esteemed himself fortunate if he were able to be so early or so late that he could be alone. The other boarders wavered between the opinions that he was proud and shy. The elocutionist considered him proud, the young married woman shy. Allston did not care what they thought. He was in his room always when not at meals, when he was in the house at all. He was fond of long, solitary walks. This day, when returning from a longer one than usual, he met Viola and her mother. He bowed, and passed on, thinking how pretty the gleam of the girl's gentle eyes was.
Viola colored softly as she bowed and smiled. “He is very good looking,” her mother observed after he was out of hearing. She did not make the observation, as many mothers would have done, with the slightest thought of her daughter. Somehow it had never occurred to her that Viola might like to marry, as she herself had done. Viola seemed to her simply her daughter. She had no imagination for her as a wife.
The next day Mrs. Sackett was on the watch for her new bonnet. She was as full of pleased anticipation as a child. When Viola returned at noon from school, the first thing her mother said was, “It has not come yet.”
“What?” asked Viola. Then she remembered. “Oh, your bonnet,” she said. “It will be along this afternoon. You know it is Mrs. McKensie's opening, and they must be very busy.”
But when Viola returned in the afternoon, she found her mother sitting beside the window with a plaintive, injured expression on her lovely face. “It has not come yet,” said she.
“It will come all right,” said Viola cheerfully. “Mrs. McKensie never has disappointed you, you know, mother. I dare say she has waited until evening to send it. She must be so busy.”
The next day was Saturday and a holiday, and Viola had to go to New York on business. When she returned late in the afternoon, her mother was quite disheartened. “It has not come yet,” said she. “I had half a mind to go to the store and see about it, but Mrs. Metcalf came in. Then I thought you would be home, and you didn't take the key.”
“I would go down to the store myself and see about the bonnet if I really thought it wouldn't come,” Viola said hesitatingly, “but I have a frightful headache —”
“No, maybe it will come.”
“I am quite sure it will. You know, mother, Mrs. McKensie must be very much driven sending home purchases the day after her opening.”
“I think it will be along,” Mrs. Sackett said, looking out of the window.
It was a beautiful evening, almost too warm for the season. After supper Viola and her mother sat down on their front doorstep and watched for the messenger with the Easter bonnet. The Sackett house was near some unoccupied low land, and they heard, as they sat there, the chorus of the frogs for the first time. It was odd how the little unseen, jewel-like things hidden in glimmering water shallows among the slender spears of new marsh herbage should have affected the two women — the one to tender, romantic reminiscences, the other to tender, romantic imaginings. Mrs. Sackett recalled distinctly an old spring before Viola was in the world at all, when she and her husband had sat on that same doorstep and listened to the frogs, and Viola imagined herself sitting there listening in some distant future with some one who looked like Henry Allston. Then the girl shut a damper resolutely upon her imagination, and immediately her mother spoke, leaving her reminiscences for the present little feminine anticipations in life, her little minor joys which took the places of larger ones, in her sweet, somewhat shallow nature. “It ought to come before long, if it is coming to-night,” said she.
Viola replied cheerfully. “Mrs. McKensie won't close until late to-night,” she said. “I think the bonnet will come.”
Mrs. Sackett gazed wistfully down the road. She no longer heard the frogs. She no longer remembered past sweetness, with its little after-sting like honey. She was thinking solely about her new Easter bonnet; and she saw her own lovely face crowned with it. Presently she sighed.
“Are you tired, mother?” Viola asked quickly.
“A little. I walked to Mrs. Emmett's this morning, and you know that is a good half mile.”
“Go to bed, mother,” urged Viola.
“I don't like to. The bonnet might come.”
Finally, however, Mrs. Sackett went to bed, and Viola, wrapped in a white wool shawl, sat on the doorstep waiting. The frogs shrilled louder and louder. The damp, sweet air, rather than wind, redolent of young growing things, came in Viola's face. With the soft flush of air came a vague anticipation of unknown future joy, which she could not shake off. She felt as if something wonderful and beautiful was about to come to her, and the message of its coming was borne on the wings of spring, and she could not gainsay it, since the messenger was divine. For the first time in her life the girl gave herself up to the anticipation of the joy of life. She smiled as she sat there. Her soft cheeks were cool, her eyes searched the shadows of the night. There was no moon, and the stars floated in thin veils of mist which clung to the trees like shreds of silver. About a quarter of a mile down the road was an electric light, with its white flaring nimbus, cutting the shadows sharply, defining their edges with acute blackness. Viola, even as she held her certain hope of joy close to her heart, watched this road. She had her mother's Easter bonnet always in mind. Then suddenly she saw a dark figure cross the nimbus of light cast by the electric lamp, and said to herself, “There it comes now.”
Very soon a small running object drew into nearer vision. Viola rose. A young girl emerged panting out of the shadows. She carried a large square white box. “Is this Mrs. Sackett's?” she gasped.
“Yes,” replied Viola. “Is that from Mrs. McKensie's?”
“Yes'm.” The girl disappeared, and Viola turned into the house.
When Viola went upstairs bearing the box, and entered her mother's room, Mrs. Sackett's face looked eagerly from the pillow at the box. “Put it on the table,” she said. “I won't open it to-night.”
Viola placed the box on the table. Her mother gave a pleased sigh. “I am glad it has come,” said she, “but it does seem ridiculous, too, to place so much stress on hats and bonnets to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.”
Viola laughed, but not at all satirically. She would as soon have employed satire with a child as with her mother, who in her eyes was beyond all ordinary rules of life, even beyond consistency itself. She kissed her mother, said good-night, and went into her own room. Directly, when she was in bed, that flood of indefinite joy was over her in full force. It had been a little checked by the arrival of the milliner's messenger. Now she let herself be carried away by it, fairly swim in it, as to her spirit, upborne by ineffable waves of something elemental, and before unknown to her. She became sure, more than sure, that some great blessing was coming to her. She felt as if she already possessed it. She had not the slightest doubt or fear lest it should not come. She was happy as she never had been happy, as she had not known that she could be. She had acquiesced in life with a gentle dignity and cheerfulness, but she had never taken it enthusiastically. Now she received her gift of existence with ecstasy. She did not sleep until nearly morning, and then she seemed to sink rather into a rapturous unconsciousness than sleep. But when she opened her eyes, as the Easter sunlight lay in a bar of gold across her bed, she experienced a revulsion. She looked out of her east window at the boughs of a maple which were swollen and rosy with the rising of the new blood of the spring; swift wings crossed her line of vision, and she heard a bird-note. She realized her old self back again in the new wonder of the world on Easter morning. She marveled at herself, as she recalled her mood of the night before. She rose, and looked at her face in her glass, and it was the same which she had always seen there. She realized that last night it had been revealed to her mental vision as something different, but now she saw the same neutral features, neither good nor bad, the same neutral skin, the same eyes, whose beauty seemed eclipsed by the rest of the face, the same dull hair. And yet suddenly, as she gazed, a certain wonder seized her that she was not beautiful. There was in reality nothing whatever the matter with her features, which were quite regular. There seemed no reason why the eyes should be so eclipsed by them. Her skin, although colorless and somewhat thick, was entirely free from blemishes. Her figure was good. Viola wondered why, after all, the whole should not be pleasing, why she was so undeniably plain. Her expression was certainly not lacking in amiability and gentleness. Viola shook her head in a puzzled way at her own reflected image. “There is really nothing the matter, Viola Sackett,” she said to herself, “only you are not pretty. The combination is bad. You are like scarlet and magenta together.” She gave a little laugh at her own foolishness, and dressed herself, and went downstairs. The Sacketts kept no maid, and Viola always prepared breakfast. Her mother did not come down until it was ready.
When the meal was set forth on the pretty table in the pretty dining room Viola went gently to the foot of the stairs. “Breakfast is ready, mother,” she called, and her voice was sweet with a note of pathos in it. Although she had a dainty breakfast, and the table was decorated with a bunch of red carnations which one of her pupils had given her the day before, she could not quite rebound from her fall from her inconsequent happiness of the night before. She stood waiting for her mother, who came down the stairs slowly in a trailing gray wrapper. She was a vision in this lace-trimmed gray wrapper, with her ash blond and pale rose tints. She brought the hat box which had arrived the night before, and she looked distressed and bewildered.
“Breakfast is all ready,” Viola began, but her mother interrupted her. “Viola, do you know what is in this box?” said she with a tragic air.
“Why, your bonnet.”
“Look,” said Mrs. Sackett. She set the box on a corner of the table, and lifted the lid. Then she took out and displayed with the gently caressing touch of almost all women for millinery, not her bonnet, but the black hat trimmed with cherries, which Viola had admired.
Viola gasped. “How in the world?” said she.
“This hat was in the box instead of my bonnet,” Mrs. Sackett said in a voice of vague and gentle accusation.
“Why, Mrs. McKensie must have made a mistake.”
“Yes, she must have.”
Viola took the hat in her hand, and gazed at it, and a curious, almost loving expression came over her face. “It is a beautiful hat,” said she.
Her mother looked at her with a sudden surprise, as if she had never seen her before. “Yes, it is a very pretty hat,” said she. “I did not notice it the day we were in the shop.”
“I did,” said Viola, and her voice was as loving and patiently sad as her face. Again her mother regarded her with a sort of puzzled wonder.
“I will go to Mrs. McKensie's house right after breakfast,” Viola said, still intent upon the hat, “and I know she will either send or go down to her shop and get your bonnet. There will be plenty of time. Don't worry, mother.”
“There's no use in your going to Mrs. McKensie's. Don't you remember she said she was going to spend Easter Sunday in New York?” said Mrs. Sackett.
“So she did. But I know where the head trimmer lives. I will go there.”
“Viola, don't you remember that Mrs. McKensie said she was going to take Miss Lee with her, so she could see the Easter hats in New York, and get ideas?”
“Yes, I do, now you speak of it, mother, and I don't know where any of Mrs. McKensie's girls live.” Viola looked pityingly at her mother. “Poor mother, it is a shame,” said she. “I am so sorry.”
“I wonder if this hat was sold to anybody else, and she has my bonnet?” mused Mrs. Sackett.
“I don't suppose there is any way of knowing about that until Mrs. McKensie comes home. I'll do anything I can. I am so sorry for you, mother dear. I am willing to do everything I can, but —”
“Of course you can't go to every house in Reedville asking if some one has my bonnet,” said Mrs. Sackett. “There's nothing we can do but make the best of it. After all, my last year's bonnet does not look very shabby.”
“Then you are not going to stay home from church,” Viola said with a relieved air.
“Viola Sackett, do you think I would stay home from church Easter Sunday just because I haven't a new bonnet,” replied Mrs. Sackett with gentle indignation.
“After breakfast I will get out your last year's bonnet and see how it looks,” Viola said. “As I remember it, it did not look as if you had worn it at all, and you always were a picture with those pansies.”
“The same picture,” said Mrs. Sackett with a little rueful laugh.
“People would rather have the same picture than a new one, if it is pretty,” said Viola, as she seated herself at the breakfast table.
After breakfast she got down the last year's bonnet from an upper shelf in her mother's closet, and her mother tried it on, and posed before her mirror, with entirely unconscious admiration.
“It does look quite fresh,” she said, “and it always was becoming.”
Her mother smiled, the innocent smile of entirely humble beauty at herself with the pansies crowning her folds of ash-blond hair. “Well, there is nothing to do but to wear it, anyhow,” she said with a little gentle sigh of renunciation, “and, after all, there is a great deal to consider besides new bonnets at Easter.”
Viola had taken the box containing the new hat into her own room. After she had cleared away the breakfast things, she went there to dress. Mrs. Sackett was herself all ready for church, arrayed in her black silk, with a quantity of real white lace around her throat fastened with an amethyst brooch which matched the pansies in her bonnet. She surveyed herself with admiration, which was flavored by a sense of virtue under trying circumstances. She wondered why Viola was so long. She went across the hallway which separated her room from her daughter's. The doors were not exactly opposite, and Viola did not see her. She was standing before her looking glass, which she had tipped so as to reflect her whole figure. She was arrayed in her pretty black voile. She was posing as coquettishly as a spring robin, just lifting her black skirt a trifle to disclose a fluff of red silk underneath, a fluff of red silk which matched the cherry-trimmed hat which she wore, and the bunch of red geraniums fastened to her bodice. Viola's face was as her mother had never seen it. It was fairly radiant with a consciousness of her own beauty, and not of another's. For the first time in her life the mother saw the girl with a happy and innocently pleased consciousness of self. Mrs. Sackett turned pale under her pansies. After all, she was a good woman, and she loved her daughter, but she had been so carefully trained by every one who had loved her — and everybody had loved her — into putting herself first, that she had come to look upon it as a duty. She stood at the door and watched the girl turning this way and that, maneuvering with a hand glass, for a moment. Then she spoke. “Viola dear,” she said, “I am so glad the mistake was made. That hat is just the thing for you.”
Viola gave a great start, and flushed crimson. “Oh, mother, I didn't know you were there,” she stammered. “I just thought I would try it on.”
She began removing the hat, but her mother stepped forward, and adjusted it a little to one side. “It is more becoming this way,” said she. “You are going to keep this hat, Viola.”
“Oh, no, mother, my old hat is good enough.” Viola glanced, as she spoke, toward her old hat on the bed; then, in spite of herself, she looked admiringly and wistfully at her face in the glass.
“You are just going to keep that hat,” her mother said.
“But, mother, your bonnet —”
“I don't want any new bonnet. I have been looking at myself, and I like this much better than that gaudy thing trimmed with pink roses. I knew all the time it was too young for me, and as for purple roses, they are out of Nature. This bonnet looks just as well as it ever did, and I like it better than anything Mrs. McKensie had in her shop, and you are going to keep that hat. I never saw you look so well in anything in my life.”
“But, mother —” Viola said hesitatingly.
“Suppose this hat belongs to somebody else who has your bonnet.”
“I don't believe it does, and if it does, Mrs. McKensie will find some way out of it.” Mrs. Sackett spoke with a curious recklessness. Red lights flamed out on her soft cheeks, her blue eyes darkened to purple under the pansies. Suddenly, from her level of sweet contentment and assurance concerning herself, she had awakened to dreams for her daughter. She had regained at a winged leap her own observation point of youth as she regarded her daughter in that cherry-trimmed hat. She realized with a sense of sweet retasted that Viola was young, and that the sweetness of life was her due. She had never before fairly realized it. She also realized with amazement that Viola as she stood there was pretty, even more than pretty; and it was really so.
Viola wore the cherry-trimmed hat to church, and she also wore her face with its new consciousness of beauty which made beauty evident. When she and her mother went up the aisle, inhaling the strong sweetness of Easter lilies, which seemed to overreach the sense of smell, and assail that of hearing with great harmonies; when they were seated in the pew, and the organ music was vibrating through the whole edifice with great splendid chords of love and triumph, Viola, who had looked first, as was natural, at the great masses of lilies which decorated the chancel, glanced toward her right, and met Henry Allston's eyes, and he looked very much as her mother had done when she espied her gazing at herself in her looking glass. “She is a beauty, a beauty,” thought the young man; and he thought more. For him Viola, and the lilies, and the music, became strangely blended into his own harmony of life for which he longed, and had not heretofore found.
Viola did not notice at all sundry looks of amazement which a girl of her own age sitting not far from Henry Allston cast at her from time to time as the service went on. She taught in the primary department in the same school. However, she did notice something else. The service had not commenced, when her mother gave her a soft poke with her black silk elbow. Viola looked wonderingly at her. Mrs. Sackett's face was a study. She was not a woman with much sense of humor, but now mirth was struggling with amazement in her sweet face. She bent her lips close to Viola's ear, and whispered, then gave a sidelong glance.
Viola started, then followed the direction of her mother's wary glance with her own eyes. What she saw was undeniably funny, although it had its pathetic side. Almost in a line with the Sacketts sat a woman well known to all the congregation. She was possessed of strong church-going proclivities, but of little else. Her wits were not of a keen order, and she was an inmate of the almshouse. She had a quantity of unkempt gray hair and was shabbily dressed as to the rest of her attire, but on her head she wore, rakishly askew, a bonnet of soft gray silk trimmed with pink roses.
“It's my bonnet,” whispered Mrs. Sackett. “Her name is Sally Hackett, you know.”
Viola put her handkerchief to her face, and her shoulders shook in spite of her efforts to restrain her mirth. Mrs. Sackett controlled herself better, but her pretty mouth twitched. She whispered again in Viola's ear, “I am glad that poor soul has it. We can afford it.” Mrs. Sackett glanced across at the woman from the almshouse again, and her face became very tender and sober. The poor old creature was gazing at the lilies. Presently Viola, looking again, felt no more mirth. “She is having her first Easter,” she thought. Indeed, to an acute perception the wild, silly old face was fairly illuminated. The Sacketts heard afterward how delighted she had been when the bonnet had been brought to her and how she considered it an Easter present. She had never had much of the sweets of life, even in her youth. This Easter bonnet seemed the concentrated essence of all she had missed. She felt as if she were crowned at last in her old age, in her poverty and humiliation.
After the service was over, and Viola and her mother were going down the aisle, Mrs. Sackett whispered again, “Viola, I do feel as if the Lord himself had held my hand, and made it give an Easter present.” Mrs. Sackett's violet eyes were misty. “I am so glad,” she said.
The girl who had glanced so often at Viola during the service met her at the church door. She was laughing. “So it was you,” she said. Viola looked at her astonished. The girl, who was stout, with a good-natured pretty face, laughed. “I wondered who had got my Easter hat,” she said. “There I got an old lady's bonnet trimmed with ghastly purple roses late last night, and my beautiful hat with the cherries —”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” Viola cried.
“You needn't be. I had no sooner bought that than I wished I hadn't. I never looked well in red, and I had made up my mind to see if Mrs. McKensie wouldn't take it back. I sat up until almost Sunday morning and trimmed this hat myself with these roses, and I know I look enough sight better in it.” The girl gave her head a laughing toss. She was right. The hat, large and heaped with vari-colored roses, did suit her. She looked like a huge conventional rose herself — all rose tints and overlapping curves. “I am glad you have it,” she said. Then she whispered close to Viola's ear, “You look perfectly stunning. I never knew how you looked before. You are a beauty! I always liked you, but I never knew you were a beauty.”
“Nonsense,” Viola replied, laughing and blushing.
She and her mother were on the sidewalk when Henry Allston overtook them. Mrs. Sackett stepped back to speak to another woman, and Allston walked beside Viola until they reached the street on which he lived. When they parted, he had asked if she were to be at home that evening, and if he might call, and he had looked at her, and Viola had recognized what the look meant. Suddenly Henry Allston had realized that he loved her, and the cherry-trimmed hat had forced the knowledge. It had also forced the knowledge upon Mrs. Sackett that her daughter had her own sacred claim to life, and that her own place was back of that claim. It had also forced the knowledge that her own place was back of even humbler claims. It seemed absurd, but every great harmony must have its keynote, and in this case a little frivolous feminine gaud of an Easter hat had precipitated into their perfect harmony unselfishness and love, and been the keynote of beauty and happiness worthy of Easter itself.