From The Fair Lavinia and Others (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1907)
The two Crosby sisters, Honora and Ellen, their niece Annette, their deceased brother's daughter, and her brother Franklin were all in the sitting-room the day before Christmas, at work on Christmas presents. Franklin was whittling paper-knives out of whitewood, and sniffling painfully and dejectedly the while. He was only ten, and out of school on account of a cold. He did not like to go to school, but it was snowing hard, and he was eager to be out-of-doors.
Honora was crocheting a shawl of pink wool, Annette was dressing a doll, and Ellen was covering a pincushion with blue silk. Later she intended sticking in pins in letters representing, “To Cora.” Ellen was a conservative, and that which always had been seemed the best to her. Pincushions made in such wise had been a fashion of her departed youth. Honora crocheted with her lips set in a curious way which she always maintained when at work. Annette dressed the doll listlessly. She was a pretty girl, although to-day she looked somewhat wan. A young man, Harry Roel, who had been openly attentive to her, had lately deserted her for another girl. That very afternoon she had seen them pass in a sleigh. She had said nothing, but her aunt Honora had spoken.
“It seems to me folks must be in an awful strait to go sleigh-riding in such a storm as this,” said she, with an odd mixture of sympathy for her niece and indignation at the young man.
Franklin considered it a good opening for a plea of his own. He spoke with a hoarse whine. “Can't I just go out and coast down Adkin's hill just twice if I tie my tippet over my ears?” he asked.
“I rather guess you can't,” replied his aunt Honora.
“I'll wear my thick coat, and something under it.”
“Don't you say another word. You keep on with your paper-knives.”
Franklin applied his damp handkerchief to his nose, and the tears trickled down his rasped cheeks. He was a fair little boy, and cold made ravages in his appearance. “I'm sick of these old paper-knives,” he muttered.
“No muttering,” Honora said, sternly. “Christmas is the one time of the year when we ought to think of other people and not of ourselves. Just look at your aunt Ellen and your sister and me working. Maybe we don't feel any more like it than you do.”
Annette, fitting in a fussy little sleeve to the doll's dress, gave a weary sigh. “That is so,” she said. “If ever I hated to do anything, it was to dress a doll.”
“But she knows how tickled little Minnie Green will be with it,” said Honora; “and here is your aunt Ellen making a pincushion for Cora Abbot, and she woke up with a headache; and here I am crocheting a shawl to give away to a lady in Bilchester, when I really need one myself. Christmas isn't the time to think of yourself.”
“Pink was always so becoming to you, too,” said Ellen.
“It used to be,” said Honora. In spite of herself she could not resist placing the fluff of pink wool under her chin and gazing at herself in the glass opposite. Honora was old and her hair was snow white, but she had the tints of youth in her fine skin, and the pink wool cast its roseate hues over her face and thick white locks.
“It's just as becoming as it ever was,” said Ellen.
Honora could not avoid a conscious simper at the charming reflection of herself. She had always been covertly pleased to meet herself in the glass. “Well,” said she, “I shall have to do without a pink shawl.”
Ellen regarded her with a troubled expression. “Oh, dear sister,” said she. “I only wish I had thought, for I could have got a pink shawl for you as well as the present I have.
“So could I,” said Annette.
“Well,” said Honora, in a resigned voice, “I know I shall like what you have for me. It is only that I have always wanted a pink shawl, and I have never seen the time when I felt that I could conscientiously get one for myself.”
“You have made so many for other people, too,” said Annette.
“Yes, I know I have,” agreed Honora, “but it always seemed to me that they needed them more than I did. Here is poor Abby Judd. She has just barely enough money to live on, and she has the prayer-meeting at her house every week since the church burned down, and she has the sewing-circle at least once a month, and her house is always chilly, and she really needs a dressy shawl.”
“You are always thinking of somebody else,” said Annette, and the remark pleased Honora. Annette looked very much as Honora had done at her age. Her hair was a brilliant brown, with red lights in it, and her complexion was really wonderful. Annette, as she worked, cast every now and then a glance out at the storm. It seemed to her that she constantly heard sleigh-bells ever since that sleigh with Harry Roel and the other girl had passed. “It's an awful storm,” she said, with a half-sigh. This was the night of the week — Wednesday — when Harry Roel had been accustomed to call, and she had always made a wood fire in the stove in the best parlor. She would not need to do that to-night.
The next morning Franklin went about carrying the presents on his sled. He was better, and so wrapped up that he could scarcely walk. He had to carry some of the parcels to the post-office and the express-office, and some to houses in the village. He was usually quite a trust-worthy errand-boy, but possibly this morning the quinine which he had taken for the grippe, or the grippe itself, confused his young mind. Instead of taking the pink shawl, which was enveloped daintily in pink tissue-paper tied with pink ribbons, then enclosed in a nice white box, to the express-office, he carried it to Harry Roel's house. Harry lived with his widowed mother, and the maid who came to the door and took the box could not read English, and she had no hesitation about receiving it.
“This is a Christmas present from my aunt Honora,” said Franklin.
The Swedish girl smiled at the beaming eyes above the red tippet. Then she carried the package into the kitchen to her mistress, who was there superintending the pudding. Mrs. Roel was an impetuous soul, and had never gotten over her childish delight in presents. She did not look at the address, but cut the string with the first knife at hand. She unfolded the pink tissue-paper and shook out the shawl.
“Oh, what a pretty shawl!” she cried, “and it's just what I wanted, for I am going to have the sewing-circle next week, and I've got a cold.”
Then she spied the card attached to the shawl with pink ribbon, and read, “To Abby Judd, with loving wishes for Christmas and the New-year, from her old friend, Honora Crosby,” and her face fell.
“Goodness! this isn't mine, after all,” she said. “It's for Abby Judd, in Bilchester. I used to know her. She and Honora Crosby were always intimate. Well, this must be done up again, and when Harry comes in he must take it down to the express-office.”
It thus happened that poor Annette Crosby heard the jingle of sleigh-bells that morning, and she did not know that Harry was carrying the pink shawl which her aunt Honora had crocheted for Abby Judd to the express-office.
In due time Honora received a letter of thanks from Abby Judd, along with a pretty little pious book bound in white and gold. Honora looked very sharply at the book, then she laid it on the table with her other gifts.
“It is very pretty,” said she, “and Abby was very kind to send it.” There was an odd tone in her voice. Franklin and Ellen were in the room. After Franklin went out, Ellen examined the book closely, then she looked at her sister.
“It's one somebody gave her,” she said. “I can see where the name was rubbed out.”
“Well, I don't suppose she could afford to buy a new one,” said Honora, generously. “She has an awful time to make both ends meet, and, of course, she had read it. All I hope is that the one who gave it to her won't see it.”
“That is so,” said Ellen. “I made out the name; didn't you?”
“It was Mrs. Addison Roel.”
“Yes, Etta Roel was the name. She scratched it out, and I suppose she thought nobody would notice it.”
“Well, Mrs. Addison Roel won't be very apt to come in here now,” said Ellen.
“That is so,” assented Honora.
Ellen lowered her voice. She nodded towards the kitchen, where Annette was making some chocolate creams to please Franklin. “Do you suppose she minds much?” she whispered.
“If she does, there won't nobody know it,” said Honora.
She was quite right — nobody did know it. Time went on, and Harry Roel never came to see Annette, and it was reported that he was constant in his attentions to the other girl, that they were engaged, but Annette never lowered her crest. She dressed just as painstakingly and prettily as ever. She went everywhere. She did not in the least avoid meeting her old lover and his new sweetheart. People said that she did not care. It was even rumored that Annette had dismissed him, and that he was paying attentions to Laura Ames out of spite. His mother heard of it and told him. She had just come home from the mission circle one afternoon in December; it was a year later than the first Christmas when she had received Honora's pink shawl by mistake.
“I heard something that made me mad this afternoon,” she said to her son when they sat together at the tea-table. Mrs. Addison Roel was a very pretty woman, astonishingly young for her age, and when she was excited color flushed her cheeks and her eyes sparkled like a girl's. She was prettily dressed, too, in a lace-trimmed silk waist and a black satin skirt.
“What was it?” asked Harry.
“Well, I heard that Annette Crosby had jilted you, and that was the reason you were going with Laura.”
Harry paled a little. He had inherited his mother's good looks, and even her childishness of expression. “Well, maybe it sounds better to have it go so,” he said.
“I don't think it sounds any better for you,” said his mother, hotly.
“It sounds better for Annette,” said Harry, and suddenly his pale face flushed.
Mrs. Addison Roel looked sharply at him. “Goodness! you don't mean to say that you are thinking of Annette now?” she said.
Harry said nothing.
“Well, I'd stick to one thing two minutes,” said his mother.
“Maybe I am not the only one to be accused of that,” said Harry, gloomily.
“Harry Roel!” cried his mother. “Annette Crosby didn't —”
“Never mind what she did or didn't,” Harry returned, and took his hat and went away, leaving his mother staring after him.
“He didn't half eat his supper,” she thought; “and there was that chocolate cake he is so fond of, too.” She wondered if Annette Crosby had really dismissed her son; she felt an active dislike towards her, aroused by the mere imagination of such a thing. “I wonder who she thinks she is?” she thought; and yet she positively disliked Laura Ames, and the anticipation of having to live with her had really caused her to lose some of her pretty, youthful curves. She had always rather looked forward to living with Annette, who was exceedingly sweet-tempered and a good housekeeper, whereas the other girl was openly called a spitfire, if she was pretty, and she had the name of letting her mother do all the work. There was no servant in the Ames house. However, the possibility of Annette's having treated Harry badly served to partly reconcile her with the other girl. She resolved to ask Laura to tea Christmas day, and it so happened that Annette saw Harry drive past with her as she had the year before.
The Crosbys had their gifts all finished and despatched; it was four o'clock in the afternoon, and their little tables were spread with those which they had received. Honora had two which rather nonplussed her. Annette and Ellen each presented her with a pink crocheted shawl. When the gifts were displayed, and they saw that each had chosen the same thing for Honora, they at first looked sober, then they laughed, and Honora joined them.
“Well, I declare, I've got pink shawls now if I never had any before,” said she.
“It all happened because I went to that church fair when I was in Norcross,” said Annette. She had been visiting the married friend for whose little girl she had dressed the doll the preceding Christmas. She had been a little out of health, and they had thought a change might benefit her. “I happened to see that shawl at the fair,” said Annette, “and I knew it was just the shade Aunt Honora liked, so I bought it. I was going to crochet one, but I didn't feel quite up to it, and I thought this would do just as well.”
“I didn't dream you were going to give her a pink shawl or I would have said something to you about it,” said Ellen. “I had made up my mind to give her one, but you know I can't crochet, and I happened to see this one in the Woman's Exchange in Winchester last November when I went there shopping with Mrs. Green; so I got it. I've had it hidden away ever since. I wish they weren't both the same stitch.”
“Never mind. I don't care anything about that,” said Honora. “I always thought this was the prettiest stitch there was, and I am delighted with them. It is a great deal nicer to have two, because I shall feel that I can wear them all I want to. If I had only one, I dare say I should have kept it done up in a towel and hardly ever worn it.”
“Well, there is something in that,” agreed Ellen. She looked admiringly at her sister, who threw one of the shawls over her shoulder.
However, as she sat beside the window, a boy came to the door and left a package for her, and when it was opened her face changed. “I declare, if Mrs. John Eggleston hasn't sent me another pink shawl!” said Honora.
“And it is the same stitch,” said Ellen.
Annette, in spite of her troubles, was young, and had a sense of humor. She sank into a chair and doubled over with laughter. In a moment Honora and Ellen joined her.
Honora had a dainty little note enclosing a Christmas card, and she read it. “At all events, Mrs. Eggleston is honest,” she said. “She tells me right out that she had this shawl sent her three years ago from a friend, and she had never worn it, and she sends it to me with Christmas greetings, because she heard me say once that I wished I had a pink shawl.”
“Yes, she is honest,” said Ellen. “Maria Eggleston always did speak right out.”
“Well, I declare!” said Honora, looking at the shawl with an odd expression.
“You will have to wear pink shawls morning, noon, and night,” said Annette.
It was not long after that when Franklin came home; he had been sent to the office for the night mail, and he brought several packages, evidently presents for the two aunts and the niece. Honora had two. One she opened at once.
“What a lovely dolly!” said she. “Cora sent it to me.”
“What is in your other package?” asked Annette.
Honora hesitated. She sat looking at the unopened package in her lap with an expression of chagrin, amusement, and distress. She had caught a glimpse of rose-color through one end of the parcel. It was not very carefully tied up.
“I declare, it looks like —” began Ellen.
“I do believe it is,” said Annette, with a shriek of laughter.
Honora lifted the parcel. “It is light and soft,” said she, in a resigned voice.
Then Annette caught sight of the pink color at the end. “It is! it is!” she cried.
Honora opened the parcel and shook out another pink shawl.
“Thank the Lord, it is a different stitch,” said Ellen, with a gasp.
“Ellen, you ought to be ashamed, bringing the Lord into it,” said Honora, reproachfully.
“Well, I can't help it. I do feel thankful, and I don't see any sin in being thankful for little things as well as big ones,” said Ellen.
Then they all looked at the shawl and laughed. Franklin was a little bewildered. He did not quite understand what the laughter was about.
“Aunt Honora has got four pink shawls,” explained Annette to him.
Then Franklin bent over with laughter. “Well, she's going to have another,” said he. “Willy Bennet's mother is going to give Aunt Honora a pink shawl. I know, because Willy's got a cold and can't come to bring it over, and Mrs. Bennet wanted me to come over after supper and get it. She hadn't got it done up. Willy's mother said she heard Aunt Honora say last year that she wanted a pink shawl, and she made up her mind she should have one.”
“I wonder if she made it herself?” said Annette.
“She couldn't have,” said Ellen. “Mrs. Bennet doesn't know how to crochet, I know.”
“I remember saying to Mrs. Bennet that I wanted a pink shawl,” remarked Honora, still with that queer expression.
“Good land! five pink shawls,” said Ellen.
“Maybe you will have another,” said Annette. “There is a letter you haven't opened, Aunt Honora.”
“Thank the Lord, there can't be a pink shawl in that, anyhow,” said Ellen.
Honora opened the letter. Then she laughed. “There is something about a pink shawl in it, anyhow,” said she. “It's from Sarah Mills, and she was always honest, too. She says she has had a pink shawl sent her for a Christmas present, but she never wears pink, because it makes her look yellow; she doesn't say who sent it; so she is sending it to me by express.”
“I begin to feel nervous,” said Ellen.
“Yes, there is something awful about so many pink shawls,” said Annette. Then she laughed again, her rather hysterical laugh. She was really very unhappy. She did not get over her unhappiness about Harry Roel, although she held her head high.
“Why don't you have a rummage sale and get rid of them?” said Franklin.
“Franklin Crosby, I am ashamed of you,” said Honora; “a rummage sale of presents which were given me by my friends! You must remember that when anything is given you there is something sacred about it, because it is not only the thing itself, but the love and kindness that go with it from the giver, and it isn't anything to be treated lightly or to be made fun of. Everything I have ever had given me since I was a girl I have treasured up, and I wouldn't part with them for any money, even if they don't happen to be quite what I need. The need is not the main thing.”
Franklin was looking hard at a book which he himself had just received. “Well, I suppose I'll have to treasure up this book,” said he. “I had one just like it year before last. I don't want to read it, so I suppose I'll have to treasure it.”
“Of course you will,” said his aunt, severely, “and you must remember that you treasure up not only the book but your teacher's kind thought of you.”
“Yes'm,” said Franklin, meekly, with inward reservations. “She gave Willy Bennet a great box of candy,” said he. “He's teacher's favorite.”
“Nonsense! Miss Lowny is a good woman, and she hasn't any favorites,” said his aunt Honora, “and the book cost probably more than the candy.”
“No, it didn't,” said Franklin, “for that candy is fifty cents a pound, and there were two pounds of it, and they are selling books just like this for twenty-nine cents at White & Adams's. I saw 'em in the window my own self yesterday.”
“Franklin Crosby, aren't you ashamed of yourself?” cried his aunts and sister as one.
“I don't see why,” returned Franklin, stoutly. He had very good reasoning powers for his age. “I don't see why kind thoughts and a dollar ain't more than kind thoughts and twenty-nine cents. So there!”
“Franklin, you can go out to the woodshed and bring in some wood and start up the fire in the kitchen stove. It is almost time for supper, and let me hear no more of such talk,” said Honora, sternly.
However, she could not quite make up her mind to wear the dainty rose-colored things as often as she had planned. It happened that all six shawls, were for the most of the time packed carefully away, each folded in a clean white towel, and that she only wore one, scented strongly with camphor, on a state occasion. When the next Christmas came, not one shawl was the worse for wear.
“I hope to goodness you won't get any more pink shawls this Christmas,” said Ellen. The two sisters and Annette were, as usual the day before Christmas, engaged in finishing up some presents and packing others to be sent. Franklin had some Christmas duties which were much more acceptable to him than usual. He had developed an amazing ability for a boy in making candy, and the fragrant fumes of his concoctions filled the house.
Honora was crocheting, putting the last stitches to a head-tie for Abby Judd.
Ellen was finishing a centre-piece, and Annette was tying up parcels in dainty white paper with ribbons and writing cards with loving Christmas messages. Annette had grown distinctly wan and thin, although she was still pretty. She had heard that very morning that Harry Roel was to be married in the spring. The reflection of that seemed to be pricking her heart all the time while she was doing up the dainty parcels, but she forced herself to talk and laugh as usual. She was prettily dressed, too. She wore a pink cashmere house-dress which she had made herself, and which suited her wonderfully. Her aunt Honora had looked at her with a little surprise when, after the dinner dishes were cleared away, she had appeared in that gown and settled down to her afternoon work on the Christmas presents.
“Do you expect anybody?” she asked.
“No,” replied Annette. “Why?”
“Why, you are so dressed up.”
Annette laughed. Her thin, sweet face, under her soft puffs of brown hair, flushed. “Oh, I just took a notion to put this dress on,” said she. She did not own the truth, that she wore the dress from a species of self-defiance. Harry Roel had always been accustomed to come Christmas eve, and she had considered that, if things were as they had been, she would have worn that pretty pink dress. Then she said to herself, “Well, I will wear the dress, anyhow.” Therefore she had put it on.
She felt her aunts looking at each other with wonder and some suspicion, but she pretended not to notice it.
“I think you had better put on an apron, anyhow, with that dress,” her aunt Honora said, finally.
Annette obediently got one of her aunt's aprons from the secretary drawer and tied it around her waist. It was of a sheer white material, and the pink of her gown showed faintly through it.
It was about four o'clock when a boy was seen racing past the windows. He ran so fast that he was not seen distinctly by any of them.
It was not two seconds before the flying figure again passed the window, and Franklin entered with a neat parcel.
“Here is something Gus Appleby brought for Aunt Honora,” said he.
Honora took it, and the others gathered around.
“I wonder what it is, and who sent it?” said Annette.
“Another pink shawl, perhaps,” said Ellen. “Honora hasn't had one this year so far.”
Honora opened the nice white parcel, and there was disclosed an inner parcel of white tissue-paper tied with pink ribbon. Through the tissue-paper a rosy gleam was evident.
“I declare, it is another pink shawl,” said Annette.
Honora untied the dainty pink bow, unrolled the tissue-paper, and slowly shook out the pink shawl. She laughed a little, then she looked rather sober.
“Who sent this one?” said Ellen.
Honora took up a card which was tied to the shawl with a bit of narrow pink ribbon. “‘Christmas greetings from Caroline Roel,’” she read. Annette turned pale.
“I shouldn't have thought she would have had the face!” gasped Ellen.
Annette said nothing. She turned again to the table where were the parcels which she was tying up, and she began working on them with her mouth shut tightly.
Meanwhile Honora was closely examining the pink shawl in a grim silence. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then she closed it again; then her desire to reveal something was too much for her. “Franklin, go out in the kitchen,” said she, sharply. “I think that candy is catching on.”
When the door had closed behind the boy she turned to her sister and her niece. “Do you want me to tell you something?” said she.
“For goodness' sake, what is it, Honora?” asked Ellen, and Annette turned a pale, inquiring face from her parcels.
“Well,” said Honora, “I thought at first I wouldn't speak, but I guess I can't help it. This is the very identical shawl I sent to Abby Judd two years ago.”
Ellen gasped. “Why, Honora, how do you know?”
“I know,” replied Honora, conclusively.
“I know. I made a wrong stitch in the lower left-hand corner, and I have some of the wool left, too.”
“I don't believe it.”
Honora went majestically over to the secretary. She took out of the lowest drawer a neat little parcel labelled, “Pink wool left from Abby Judd's shawl.” “Look,” said she.
“Yes, it is the same shade,” said Ellen. “Goodness!”
“But how on earth did Mrs. Roel get hold of it?” asked Ellen, in a bewildered fashion.
“I know,” said Honora, shortly.
“Abby Judd gave it to her for a Christmas present last year.”
“My land!” exclaimed Ellen, gazing blankly at her sister.
“It's so,” said Honora.
“Why, I can't believe it.”
“I can't help it whether you believe it or not; it's so.”
Just then there was a ring at the front door-bell, and a sudden hush pervaded the room.
“There's somebody at the door,” whispered Ellen, agitatedly. She began gathering up scraps of ribbons and strings which littered the floor and thrusting them into the adjoining bedroom. Honora assisted. “This room looks as if it were going to ride out,” said she, “but whoever it is has got to come in here. The parlor isn't warm enough.” Annette hurriedly straightened the things on the table where she was working. Honora peeked out of the side window. “It's she,” said she, in a whisper.
“Who?” whispered Ellen.
Annette made a motion as if to run from the room, then she tied a little blue bow on a package resolutely.
Honora glanced at Annette. “I'll go to the door,” said she, and just as she started the bell rang again. Presently she ushered in Mrs. Roel, who looked fluttered and embarrassed. She did not accept the offer of the best rocking-chair.
“No, thank you,” said she. “I can't stop, but I felt as if I must come over.” She stopped and hesitated, and her pretty, middle-aged face, looking forth from the folds of a blue worsted head-tie, flushed a deep pink. “I felt as if I must come and — explain,” she said again. Then she again stopped and hesitated, and her face was blazing. She glanced at the pink shawl on Honora's table. “I don't know what you thought,” she stammered, “and I — I — felt as if I had better come right over here and tell you the whole story. I felt as if maybe I wasn't quite straightforward, but I didn't want anybody else blamed, and I don't know now, but — well, I can't help it; I'm going to tell you.” She addressed herself directly to Honora, and spoke rapidly. “Well,” said she, “two years ago last Christmas your nephew brought that shawl to my house by mistake. I opened it before I saw the direction on the wrapper. When I saw it afterwards I did it right up again, and my son carried it to the express-office and sent it where it was meant to go; and then the next Christmas Hannah Mills must have had it sent to her for a present from Abby Judd; at least, that's the way I reasoned it out; and this year — Hannah and I always exchange presents — she sent it to me. Hannah meant all right. She never wore pink; it always made her look yellow; and I don't believe either she or Abby Judd ever had this shawl on their backs. It has been kept just as nice, and it's all scented with camphor. You can smell the camphor, though there was a real strong sachet in with it. I kept the sachet. Well, when I got it I knew it the very minute I set my eyes on it. I never saw such a shade of pink before, for one thing, and I always did carry colors in my eyes very well; and then there was another thing. I always notice every little thing, and I happened to notice it when I saw it first — a little tiny bit of white in the pink at the neck; you know how it will happen so sometimes. I suppose the dye don't take, and I knew it was the same shawl. And I'll own up I felt kind of mad at first. There I'd worked and made an afghan for Hannah, and she had sent me a shawl that somebody else had given her; and as for Abby Judd, I didn't think much of her giving it away, either. But my first thought was that I wouldn't tell on them, that I'd just see to it that you had your shawl back again. I thought maybe you wouldn't know it was your shawl. So I called in the Appleby boy and gave him five cents for bringing it over. And then I got to thinking it over, and I felt dreadful mean, and as if you wouldn't know what to make of it; and I began to think that Abby and Hannah meant all right, and Hannah always did look as yellow as saffron in pink, and I dare say Abby Judd does, too — she's something the same complexion — and I thought I'd come over and make a clean breast of the whole thing.”
Annette, very pale, continued tying her parcels, but, in spite of her pallor and the shock of having Harry's mother in the house, her mouth twitched a little. Honora looked at the shawl, then at Mrs. Roel, with an inexplicable face; then she laughed.
“It's all right,” said she, “but I wish you'd keep the shawl, Mrs. Roel.”
“No; you keep it and wear it yourself.”
Then Ellen laughed. “Land! I don't see how she's going to,” said she, “not if she lives to be a hundred; she's got six more pink shawls she had given her last Christmas.”
“Good land!” cried Mrs. Roel.
“Do take it and keep it,” said Honora. “I know pink must be real becoming to you.”
“Yes, it always was becoming,” admitted Mrs. Roel. “It never made me look yellow, but —”
“You've got to take this shawl or I shall feel real hurt,” said Honora. She tried to speak pleasantly, but her manner was a little stiff. She could not help thinking how Harry Roel had treated Annette.
“Well, to tell the truth,” said Mrs. Roel, “when that shawl came, two years ago, it did look so pretty, and I tried it on, and it was so becoming that I sent right away for some worsted and made myself one. I always loved to crochet. And I've kept it real nice, so it is just as good as new. But I thank you just as much.”
“Of course, then, you don't want this,” said Honora.
“I thank you just as much as if I took it,” said Mrs. Roel. She was going out, with a remark about the weather to make her exit easy and graceful, when she stopped as if she had made a sudden resolution, and turned upon Annette. “Well,” said she, “as long as I am here I may as well have it out, and I suppose your aunts know all about it. What made you treat my son so awful mean?”
Annette looked at her. She blushed first, then she looked ready to faint. “I don't know what you mean,” she said.
“Yes, you do; you needn't pretend you don't.”
“I don't,” said Annette. Then she gave way. Her nerves were strained to the utmost. She sank upon a chair and began to weep.
Her aunt Honora came to her rescue. She looked fiercely at Mrs. Roel.
“When it comes to treating mean,” said she, “there may be two ways of looking at it.”
“Don't, Aunt Honora,” sobbed Annette.
“Yes, I am going to have it out, now it is begun,” said Honora. “When it comes to accusing you of treating Harry Roel mean, I am going to say something. I call it treating a girl pretty mean when a young man comes to see her as steady as your son came to see Annette, and then goes with another girl right before her face and eyes, without her giving him any reason.”
“She did give him reason,” declared Mrs. Roel. “She gave him a good deal of reason — reason enough for any young man if he had a mite of pride.”
“I'd like to know what?” said Honora, and even Annette stared inquiringly over her handkerchief at Mrs. Roel.
“I call it reason enough,” said Mrs. Roel, “when a young man who has been going with a girl the way my son Harry had been going with Annette sees her coming out of a store with another young man —”
“What young man?” interpolated Annette, curious in spite of herself.
“John Appleby. You needn't pretend you have forgotten.”
“I don't know what you mean, and I have forgotten,” Annette said, brokenly.
“Well, my son hasn't forgotten. He saw you coming out of Rogers & Gray's with John Appleby, and you had a little package, and when he asked you what it was you just laughed and wouldn't tell him, and made him think it was something John had bought for you — it was two weeks before Christmas — and there you were as good as engaged to my son.”
Annette completely lowered her handkerchief. She looked brighter, although her eyes were still brimming with tears. “I do remember now,” she said, “but I have never thought of it since.”
“Well, my son has thought of it a good deal, I can tell you that.”
“I never thought of it. I did it just to tease him.”
“Some folks don't take to teasing easy,” said Mrs. Roel. “My son is one who doesn't. He takes everything serious.”
“The package was just pink worsted that Aunt Honora sent me for, to finish that pink shawl,” said Annette, and in spite of herself she laughed.
“Well,” said Honora, with acrimony, “your son consoled himself pretty quick. I don't see as he has much reason to find any fault.”
“Who says he consoled himself?”
“Well, I should think he did, if he is going to marry that other girl in the spring.”
“He isn't going to marry her. She's going to marry a man out West.”
“So she's given him the mitten?” said Honora.
“No, she hasn't,” returned Mrs. Roel, angrily. “My son doesn't take mittens. He was never in earnest in going with her, and she knew he wasn't, and he knew he wasn't. He knew all the time about that other man out West. He has felt used up over the whole thing,” said she. “He didn't think that Annette could treat him so.”
“I don't see that Annette has done anything so very much out of the way,” said Honora. “It looks to me as if all the trouble was your son's having a faculty of bringing his foot down on a fly as if it were a sledge-hammer on a rattlesnake. If a man can't take a little joke, why, he's got to take the consequences.”
“Harry always took things just as they were said,” returned his mother, but her face was much softer. She looked at Annette. “Are you going to be at home this evening?” said she.
Annette colored. “I am always at home,” she replied, in a low voice.
Mrs. Roel turned again to Honora. “It's queer, but it does seem as if that shawl was at the root of a good deal,” said she; “I hope you don't think I did anything out of the way coming to you about it.”
“I think you did just right,” said Honora.
That evening after supper Annette made up a fire in the parlor stove. Her face had changed wonderfully in a short time. She looked years younger. Irrepressible dimples showed in her pink cheeks. She fastened a little pink rosette in her brown hair. She was fairly glowing and blooming with youth and happiness. About eight o'clock the door-bell rang, and she went to the door. Then voices were heard in the hall, and the parlor door closed.
“It's he,” said Honora.
“Yes, it is,” said Ellen. “I am glad; the poor child has tried to make the best of it, but she's been real low in her mind, and she has lost flesh.” Ellen was examining happily a handkerchief which she had just received in the mail from Hannah Mills. “It's real fine,” said she. “If there's anything I do like, it's a real nice, fine pocket-handkerchief.”
Franklin was eating one of his chocolate caramels, and enjoying intensely the sweet on his tongue.
Honora looked at the pink shawl which was lying in a rosy fluff on the table by her side. “It seems to me this room is kind of chilly,” said she, “and I've a good mind to put that shawl on.”
“I would,” said Ellen.
“I guess I'll just wear it and get the good of it,” said Honora.
“I would, so long as I had so many laid away,” said Ellen.
Honora took the shawl and put it over her shoulders. Then she looked at her sister and began to speak, and hesitated.
“What is it?” asked Ellen.
“Will you promise me that you will never tell as long as you live if I tell you something, Ellen Crosby?” said Honora.
Ellen looked wonderingly at her. “Of course I won't tell,” said she. “What is it, Honora?”
“Nothing, only I made every one of those pink shawls myself,” said Honora.
“Yes, I did. I know I am right. I can't quite see how some of them got back to me, but they did.”
“It's so. I don't suppose I shall ever know the true inside of it; but there's one thing sure — my friends did want to give me something I wanted for a Christmas present, if they only knew what it was, and that's worth more than anything else.”
Ellen stared, then she laughed, but Honora, in her pink shawl, did not seem amused at all. There was the faintest murmur of voices from the parlor. Honora had never had any love-affair of her own, but as she listened to that low murmur of Annette and her lover, her face took on the expression which it might have worn had she been in Annettes' place. And the pink shawl cast a rosy glow over her silvery hair of age, all like the joy of the giver upon beholding the joy over the gift.