From The Winning Lady and Others (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1909)
Mrs. Adeline Wyatt stood before her long mirror. She held a silver-framed hand-glass, and she surveyed her head crowned with a pretty toque at every possible angle. Adeline was always conscious of exercising stern heroism when she stood before her mirror. She spared herself nothing. She looked unflinchingly at every crease in her chin, every crow's-foot about her eyes, every hollow in her cheeks, also the little sprays of marks, as if made by some tiny besom of time, beneath her ears. She faced the worst, and as far as possible, without the use of arts which she despised, she remedied defects. She practised before her mirror exactly the carriage of head and arrangement of hair which were most becoming. When her gloves were adjusted she was complete, as perfect a figure of a middle-aged woman as one could find. She wore a charming gown of prune color. Her toque was of prune-colored velvet trimmed with a knot of violets, in the midst of which nestled a pink rose. After Ellen had helped her on with her coat she practised holding up her long skirt, for she was to walk to Mrs. Charles Lennox's, where the Whist Club met that afternoon. The Wyatts kept no carriage, and Adeline never hired one from the livery-stable when she could possibly avoid it. Her husband, Thomas Wyatt, was a comparatively rich man, but very parsimonious. Adeline had nothing to spend upon her own personal expenses except the tiny income derived from her inheritance from her father. That was uncertain. She never quite reached two hundred a year at the most, but Thomas Wyatt thought that a very large sum for a woman to spend upon herself. He thought she ought to save some of it. He allowed her ten dollars per week for household expenses, and considered himself very generous. There were only four in the family, including Ellen, the maid. Thomas Wyatt's nephew, Walter Wyatt, had lived with his uncle ever since his parents' death when he was a child, and Thomas loved him as his own son. Walter had opened a tiny law office on the main street of the village, and was struggling hard to succeed and enable himself to marry Violet Ames and support her comfortably.
Thomas Wyatt in one respect was not parsimonious. He had never dreamed of charging young Walter a penny for his board. Adeline, although she would have been distressed had her husband proposed such a measure, was sometimes surprised, and occasionally she did consider, when she saw Walter taking flowers to Violet and smoking cigars, how many things she needed in her home — that is, æsthetic things. All the essentials were hers. She was what is called “a splendid manager.” How Adeline Wyatt contrived to dress and set her table upon her income would have puzzled a financier. She might have made the matter plainer had she told of her sleepless hours of planning, and her supervision of every item purchased, and her countless schemes for saving. The prune-colored gown which she wore the day of the whist party was seven years old. It had been daintily wrapped in tissue-paper and laid away until the wheel of fashion turned. Adeline did not believe in spending money upon remodelling. Now long, tight sleeves had come into vogue again, and everybody would think the gown new. When she was on the street she held it up carefully, almost too carefully, and two little girls playing on the sidewalk stared at her display of black stocking, and giggled delightedly.
Adeline was one of the last to reach the Lennox house. After she had entered the large room and taken a seat, she regarded many of the other ladies with a somewhat pharisaical feeling. She noticed that a hook gaped on the collar of a lady at another table, also that Mrs. John Sears' lace waist bloused much more than the style allowed, and that the sleeves were short, and Mrs. Sears' arms very thin to be displayed. She gave the slightest glance of sweet complacency at her own nice prune-colored sleeves, with their very much up-to-date ornament of fringe which she had made herself. Then Mrs. Ames, Violet's mother, who was her partner, noticed the glance, and also viewed the prune-colored gown admiringly.
“If you will allow me to say so, what a perfectly charming gown you have,” she said.
“Thank you, dear,” replied Adeline, sitting very straight, and conscious in every nerve of her body of her prune-colored daintiness.
“You always have such lovely clothes,” Mrs. Ames went on.
“You have pretty clothes yourself,” said Adeline.
Mrs. Ames gave a slightly self-conscious glance at her own sleeves, which her dressmaker had just remodelled. “I always wear black, and that is the reason why people cannot tell when my gown is old,” replied Mrs. Ames. “But you wear different colors.”
Adeline smiled. She did not state that she wore only two colors — gray and prune. She was a subtle woman, and that choice of two colors had been subtle. She could be as economical and more so in her two colors than Mrs. Ames in her invariable black, and nobody would suspect her of economy. She felt quite superior to Mrs. Ames, although she was fond of her for her own sake, and especially as Walter's prospective mother-in-law. Mrs. Ames' daughter Violet was there that afternoon, but she was not playing. Violet Ames was one of the sweet, unselfish young girls who immolate themselves for the sake of their elders. Violet, with her periwinkle-blue eyes, exactly matched by her little blue-satin gown and her blue feather in her hat, flitted from one table to another, passed the bonbon-dishes, and made herself generally useful. There was more excitement this afternoon than usual, for there were prizes. Generally bridge was played without prizes, because of a covert fear among the ladies that bridge was a wicked gambling game. But Mrs. Charles Lennox had come out openly with prizes, and such prizes! Mrs. Ames had called Adeline's attention to them at the first. “My dear,” she said, “have you seen the prizes?” She had touched upon a childish weakness of the other woman's which had survived the passage of time. In most people there are childish weaknesses, or traits, which survive time, and are unconquerable by it. In Mrs. Adeline Wyatt a love for presents and prizes which had been strong during her childhood endured in full force. If she had worn amid her smooth grayish elderly tresses one round shining curl of babyhood, it could not have been more marked than that trait in her soul.
She turned eyes of a child upon the prizes, which were displayed upon a table between the front windows, then she gasped. “You don't mean,” said she, “that —?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Ames. “That cut-glass punch-bowl is the first prize, and the second prize is that set of Shakespeare. It does seem to me rather funny that Mrs. Lennox should think Shakespeare beneficial to people who play bridge badly.” Mrs. Ames had a fine sense of humor. Adeline Wyatt had none whatever. She took everything very seriously.
“That is a beautiful set of Shakespeare,” said she, “but that punch-bowl!” she gasped.
“Yes,” assented the other woman. “It's a beauty, and it must be good cut-class, too, if Alice Lennox bought it.”
Adeline Wyatt sighed. The charming facets of the glass punch-bowl looked to her admiring eyes like those of a diamond. It stood in a window in full sunlight, and beautiful rose tints gleamed here and there from its convexities. Adeline Wyatt's eyes had a strange expression. All her life she had been good and honest, never consumed by unholy longings, for her childish delight in presents and prizes could not be called unholy. It was simply primitive and naïve. Now, however, it took a different phase. Positive lust for that punch-bowl gleamed in Adeline's eyes. It happened to be the one treasure of all treasures which she immediately coveted. She wished to give soon a reception in honor of her dear Walter and his Violet, and fruit punch was of course a necessity at such a function. Everybody in Rawson had fruit punch at receptions. Adeline had heretofore borrowed Mrs. Frank Jennings' punch-bowl, but upon the last occasion of her doing so she had resolved that it was too much of a sacrifice to her pride. Either Mrs. Jennings had said something disagreeable, or had been reported so to have said, and Adeline had made up her mind not to borrow her punch-bowl again. She had thought of borrowing one belonging to Mrs. Lennox, but that was supposed to represent such enormous value that she was afraid. Mrs. John Sears owned a punch-bowl. Mrs. Sears' daughter Jessie had earned it by scouring Rawson and neighboring towns for subscribers for a certain brand of soap. Mrs. Sears esteemed the bowl highly, but Adeline had doubts. It was decorated crockery, and its origin was so widely known that it was not in much request. Nobody could say positively of a glass bowl that it did not belong to the giver of a tea, but Mrs. Sears' treasure, with its decoration of splashy roses in crude hues, was unmistakable.
Adeline had not seen her way clear toward giving a tea on account of the lack of a punch-bowl. “I ought to give an afternoon tea for Violet, now everybody knows that she and Walter are engaged,” she had remarked, tentatively, to her husband.
“Well, why don't you?” he had replied.
“There are various reasons,” said Adeline. “There are some things I ought to own to give such an affair properly.”
“Why don't you get them?” asked Thomas.
“I need a punch-bowl, and a really good one costs.”
“Oh, get a good one while you are about it,” said Thomas, and he spoke with such entire unconsciousness that Adeline gave a responsive murmur and said no more. She dared not ask Thomas to buy a punch-bowl. He had such entire faith in the inexhaustibility of her small resources that he had infected her own line of thought. She really wondered if she might not have money enough to buy the bowl. She had endeavored to retrench in various ways, but had not been successful. She had had a hard struggle to keep Ellen from leaving, because when she worried about the size of the butter bill, Ellen had imagined that her mistress suspected her of taking it home to her married sister.
It seemed now to Adeline Wyatt (although she shuddered a little at the possible sacrilege of the fancy) that Providence had interposed. There stood the punch-bowl, radiating colors like a diamond. She had only to — play for it. Adeline set her mouth hard, a furrow which she usually suppressed came between her eyes, and she played. The worst of it was, she was neither a good player nor did she hold high cards. As for trumps, she had not even the advantage of chicane. When the first rubber was finished, Adeline had held exactly one honor in trumps, and that a ten-spot, and her partner had not fared much better.
Mrs. Ames, who was optimistic, and did not care about a punch-bowl, who had, in fact, on several occasions given teas, and set out a little table with cups already filled, and a pressed glass pitcher of punch to refill them (she was economizing for Violet's trousseau), only laughed gayly when the two winning ladies passed on to a higher table, and left her and Adeline seated in ignominy. “Small chance we have of that punch-bowl,” she remarked, and laughed again.
Adeline did not laugh. “No human being can win with the cards we have held,” she returned.
“My last hand was not very bad,” said Mrs. Ames. “I think I made a mistake in leading clubs.”
As she spoke she changed her place, and Miss Judith Armstead came to play with Adeline, and Mrs. Austin Freer against her. Adeline tried to speak pleasantly to Judith, who was elderly, always wore her thin hair the same way, and played bridge about as successfully as she could have flown. She knew there was no chance for her as far as her partner was concerned. Judith had acquired bridge too late in life. She was of abnormal conservatism, and might have carried off all honors at checkers played in her teens, but at bridge she was a dismal object.
However, she sat up very straight, showed all her cards to Mrs. Freer, who had a sly, sidewise glance for them, and, it being her deal, passed a no-trump hand of four aces to Adeline. Poor Adeline had one heart and four spades, ten high, and she made it spades, and Mrs. Freer doubled; she had a long heart suit and a guarded king in clubs. When it was over, Adeline glared at Judith.
“Why didn't you make it no trumps — you had four aces?” she demanded.
“I had no side cards,” replied Judith, undisturbed. It was easy for her to be undisturbed. She boarded, and had no need for a punch-bowl. But although a truism, fate is ironic. All that afternoon Judith Armstead, who did not know how to play, held the cards. Adeline, sometimes winning, glanced frequently at Judith's score. It was assuming phenomenal proportions. Violet Ames, moving from one table to another, also kept watch of Judith's score. Each lady had her own score, with a little colored ribbon and pencil attached. The ladies said among themselves that Judith Armstead was sure to win the prize. Adeline, after a little, kept her score hidden, tucked in the lace of her bodice. Her delicate, well-preserved face wore an expression which was almost like a mask. Often the other ladies would glance at her wonderingly and not know why they did so. Adeline had her mouth fixed in a smile; her eyes were always intent, crafty. She played as she had never done before, and her luck was better, but always at the end of a rubber Judith waved her little blue score-card with a fatuous, irritating smile. Judith began to grow excited. Every time she gathered in a trick she chuckled offensively. She antagonized even the ladies who did not care so much about winning the bowl. Adeline, even if she were at another table, never once lost sight of that blue score. She never failed to hear Judith's latest record proclaimed in her high, cackling tone of triumph, and always she evaded a direct answer to inquiries respecting her own, and always she kept the score hidden in her bodice lace. The time drew near for the close of the play. The last rubber had begun, and now Adeline was playing with the worst player in the club, Mrs. Leonidas Bennett, who did not approve of bridge, and felt a qualm of conscience every time she put down a card. Mrs. Bennett had a firmly fixed conviction that she must always play second hand high, and that she was a great sinner even while doing that, and the results were, even with good hands, disastrous. Adeline had for opponents Judith Armstead, flushed with victory, her long score dangling ostentatiously from her passementerie trimming, and Mrs. Austin Freer, who knew how to play. Adeline was lucky enough to secure the deal, but her hand was hopeless, and she knew if she passed it to her partner it would be worse, so she made it spades in her own hand, and Mrs. Freer doubled. Adeline's smile never relaxed, but a deadly animosity shot through her at the sound of Mrs. Freer's quiet card-voice saying that she would double spades.
There was a nervous tension all over the room. The gambling atmosphere reigned. These village women were playing for high stakes, and traits of roystering ancestors who had slumbered for generations awoke. Mild, middle-aged eyes gleamed, red spots appeared upon cheeks, sweet middle-aged mouths grew stern, but Adeline Wyatt wore the face of the true warrior of fate. No red spots upon cheeks betrayed her inward excitement, her mouth never relaxed from its smile, her eyes never lost their expression of sly, calm watchfulness. Toward the last of the rubber Adeline and her partner held such extraordinarily good cards that even stupid play prevailed. Adeline held repeatedly four aces. She always made no trumps on her own and every past make, and doubled her opponent's. She by this last sunset glow of victory made her attempt at deception successful. Yes, poor Adeline Wyatt, who had been all her life a virtuous and God-fearing woman, now fell for the first time before the snare of a glass punch-bowl. It was only a very, very little thing which she did — merely the changing of the numeral six to eight. It required only one little curving stroke of her pencil. It was not exactly a perfect eight, but it could not be mistaken for anything else, and it raised her score to an amount sufficient to overbalance Judith Armstead's.
Mrs. Lennox came around to collect the scores then, and Violet Ames and Mrs. Lennox's maid and a niece of Judith Armstead spread the tables with nice little embroidered cloths, and served ice-cream and cake and coffee. Afterward there was a hush, and Mrs. Lennox's slightly affected although pleasant voice arose.
She announced that Mrs. Thomas Wyatt, as the winning lady, had a claim to the first prize, and Miss Judith Armstead to the second. There was a booby prize, a book on bridge, which Mrs. Leonidas Bennett won, and there was a subdued titter as her name was read. Adeline did not titter. She had her mind intent upon the figures of the scores as read by Mrs. Lennox. Judith Armstead, after all her boasting, had either been misunderstood by her, or those last no-trumpers had counted for more than she had reckoned. Adeline had cheated at cards. She had added to her score, and for no purpose. She would have won in any case. Judith's score would not have equalled hers by many points. When the great glass bowl was brought and set carefully on the table before Adeline, she rose and bowed vaguely in response to the murmur of congratulation. Judith Armstead was also rising and bowing. Adeline heard her remark that she had always wanted to own a set of Shakespeare, but she heard her as through a mist, and she saw her new punch-bowl as through a mist. She began to realize what she had done, now that the excitement of the deed was over. She had not only done a dishonest deed, but she had done it without need. She would have been the winner in any case. It was bad enough to have fallen from her standard of self-respect, but to have fallen without any reason! Adeline realized that she was not only a sinner, but a fool, and her realization brought her agony. When she had entered Mrs. Lennox's house that afternoon she had been a good, handsome, happy, self-satisfied, within-the-limits-of-virtue woman. She would leave it a fool and a sinner; that she was becomingly clad in prune-color would make not a whit of difference. Adeline lost all sight of her external self; she saw only her miserable naked soul, which had sold itself for a miserable glass bowl that it could have owned without perjury.
Ever afterward Adeline's memory of that terrible afternoon seemed to stare her in her mental eyes like a concentrated light. She could never forget the smallest detail. No matter what came to her afterward of joy or sorrow, the dinning memory of that time sounded always within her consciousness. She remembered exactly what this one said, what that one said, the various expressions of the various faces regarding her and her dishonestly acquired bowl. She remembered how Judith Armstead looked with her set of Shakespeare. Mrs. Lennox sent Adeline and Judith home with their prizes in her carriage, drawn by a sleek bay horse and a sleek gray, and driven by a coachman in green livery. The bowl and the set of Shakespeare were upon the seat opposite the two ladies. Neither talked much; indeed, it was only a short drive to Adeline's home. Judith lived farther. All that either woman said was to exchange remarks upon the pleasantness of the occasion. Neither said a word about her prize. When Adeline reached home she saw her husband looking out of a sitting-room window and beckoned, and he came out at once to the carriage.
“Will you please take this in?” said Adeline, in a strained voice.
Thomas stared. “Did you stop at the store on your way home?” he inquired.
“No,” replied Adeline. “This is — a prize.”
Thomas reached in and lifted out the bowl. He glanced at the books. “Did you win these too?” he inquired of his wife, after speaking to the other woman.
“No,” said Adeline. “Miss Armstead won those.”
“Oh!” said Thomas.
When he and Adeline were in the house, and he had set the bowl on the table, he looked rather wonderingly at his wife. “I thought you women never played for prizes,” he observed.
“We don't, generally,” said Adeline, “but Mrs. Lennox had prizes this afternoon.”
“I don't see why you didn't buy a punch-bowl if you wanted one, instead of getting one after this fashion,” said Thomas, examining the prize. “I don't think much of this, anyway; don't believe it cost more than three dollars and ninety-eight cents. You ought to have paid at least five dollars and got something worth while.”
“Thomas Wyatt!” gasped Adeline. “You don't suppose Mrs. Charles Lennox would give a bowl that cost only three dollars and ninety-eight cents for a prize!”
“I don't believe it cost a cent more,” said Thomas, stoutly. “It is always the people with most means who buy the cheapest things.” Then he settled down to his newspaper, while Adeline went up-stairs to take off her things, with her mind dwelling upon this new contingency. She knew absolutely nothing about cut glass. Could it be possible that she had bartered away her honor and self-respect for three dollars and ninety-eight cents? An old bit of pious doggerel of her childhood came into her mind:
“It is a sin to steal a pin,
Much more to steal a greater thing.”
Had she stolen the pin?
When Walter Wyatt came home he examined the bowl, and he differed with his uncle. He thought the bowl had cost more than three dollars and ninety-eight cents. “She may have paid five dollars for it,” he said, examining it critically. Adeline, who knew what good cut glass was worth, shivered.
After supper Walter went out as usual to call upon Violet Ames. He came home in a short time. He had not been gone half an hour when he entered the house, slammed the front door after him, and rushed heavily up-stairs to his room.
“What is the matter?” said Thomas.
“I am sure I don't know,” replied Adeline, uneasily. She had no reason for her surmise, but somehow she connected this unusual circumstance with the bowl.
“Maybe they have had a falling out,” said Thomas. “Well, they will get over it.” Then he resumed reading and smoking.
Adeline was doing some fancy-work. The bowl had been put away in the parlor, but always she saw it, every point in the rosettes and whorls gleaming out with their colored lights. She worried about Walter. After a while she went up-stairs, and Walter opened his door and spoke to her. He was pale, and his hair was ruffled wretchedly with his despairing fingers.
“Violet has broken our engagement, Aunt Adeline,” he said, in a choking voice — “that is, she has made a condition which I can't agree to for years to come, and it isn't fair to her to make her wait. I never was cut out to be a dog in the manger.”
Adeline was as pale as he. “What is the condition?” she asked.
“She says she will not come here to live, as we have planned. She is as set as can be about it. And I can't keep her decently for years unless she does. I won't take a girl like her to live in any old place, though she did say she didn't care where she lived as long as it wasn't here, and I won't be taken into her house to live, either.”
Adeline listened, standing very stiff.
“Did she give you any reason?” she said.
Walter shook his head angrily. “No; she was as obstinate as a mule. A girl is the very dickens when she gets anything into her head.”
“If I were you I would go to bed, and try and keep calm to-night and get some sleep,” said Adeline. “Maybe she will think better of it.”
“Oh, Aunt Adeline, will you see her, and try to make her listen to reason? She has always thought everything of you.”
“Yes, I will,” replied Adeline.
The next morning Adeline sent Ellen with a note to Violet, and soon the young girl came, walking wearily. Adeline was at the front door to greet her.
“Good-morning,” she said, in a curious, scared voice.
“Good-morning, Mrs. Wyatt,” replied Violet. Her young face was pale and wan. She evidently endeavored to speak with dignity, but succeeded only in speaking piteously. Adeline knew that Violet knew.
“Come up-stairs to my room, please,” said she.
The sitting-room door stood open, and Adeline saw the young girl glance in as she passed, and she knew what she feared to see there. When they were in her room she closed the door, and she and Violet stood looking at each other. It was strange, but the innocent eyes fell before the guilty ones, fell with a sort of horror and shame at what she saw.
Adeline was very pale, but she spoke firmly. “Did you tell Walter that you would not come here to live on account of me?” she asked.
“Yes,” replied Violet, in a dull voice; but as she spoke the crimson flooded her soft young cheeks. “Yes, I was standing behind you.”
“And you saw?”
“And you don't feel as if you could bear to come here and live, and must break with Walter?”
Violet nodded, her lips quivered, but she did not weep.
“I don't blame you,” said Adeline, “but I have to live with myself. I can't help it.”
“Oh, what made —” began the girl, in a piteous voice.
“I don't know — What makes any one do wrong? The devil, perhaps.”
Suddenly Violet threw her arms around the older woman's neck and clung to her. “Oh!” she moaned, “it is awful. Poor Walter! He looked so, but it did seem as if I couldn't.”
Adeline looked at the fluffy head upon her shoulder, and stood very stiff and straight. “You would not need to see much of me,” she said. “I think Thomas would finish off another kitchen. You know this is a large house.”
“Oh, say you are sorry.”
“Sorry!” echoed the older woman. “You don't doubt that! Why, I would gladly die this minute to undo it. But how can I?”
“I lay awake all night thinking how I could make amends,” said Adeline. “God knows I am perfectly willing as far as I am concerned to tell Thomas, and then to tell the whole club, and give that awful bowl up. But how can I? It would kill Thomas. I am not afraid of his anger, but I am afraid of making him miserable all the rest of his life. It must be my punishment that I can't tell. There is only one thing I can think of to make amends — that is, partial amends.”
“What is it?” sobbed Violet. “Oh, dear Aunt Adeline, I know you didn't mean to do it!”
“Yes, I did. Don't excuse me that way, my dear. The minute I saw that bowl I meant to have it by hook or crook. I never felt so in all my life before. Now I know how people who break laws and do wrong feel. I shall never be hard on anybody again.”
“But you are sorry?”
“Sorry!” said Adeline, and her voice was almost scornful. “Sorry is a poor word for what I feel. If I do the one thing I thought of that I can do, I doubt if it will make any difference.”
“What is that?”
“I can tell Judith Armstead and give her the bowl.”
“But you would have been ahead, anyway.”
“That makes no difference. My intention to rob her was the same.”
After Violet went away, Adeline put on her black serge gown and her bonnet and coat, and went to see Judith Armstead. Judith saw her coming. She boarded with her niece at Mrs. Sarah Love's. Mrs. Love kept an exclusive boarding-house wherein were stranded many feminine bits of home-wreckage. Judith ran down-stairs and opened the door. She had much the same scared expression that Adeline had worn at the sight of Violet.
“Oh, it is you, Mrs. Wyatt,” she said, in a whisper. “Come up to my room.”
Judith had two rooms: one was a bedroom, the other was a sitting-room with a divan bed. Adeline glanced involuntarily at the table, and Judith noticed it.
“No, you won't see them there,” she said, in a voice quite hoarse with repressed emotion. “I have put them away. I couldn't stand it. I was coming over to see you.”
“I came to tell you that the bowl is yours by good rights,” said Adeline, jerking out her words. “I cheated yesterday, I changed a figure six to eight.”
To Adeline's surprise, Judith nodded.
“Yes, I knew,” said she; “that has been all the comfort I have had — that you cheated too.”
Adeline was mystified. “As it turned out, I found that I would have won, after all,” she said. “I had a better score, though I didn't know it, but what I did was just as bad. I meant to cheat.”
“You didn't have a better score,” said Judith. “You would have lost if I hadn't cheated too, even if you hadn't changed that six to eight.”
Adeline stared at her.
“I didn't want that great punch-bowl,” said Judith. “What could I do with such a thing? But I have wanted a nice set of Shakespeare ever since I can remember, so I didn't add to my score when I saw I would get the bowl if I did. We both cheated, Adeline Wyatt. There is no getting around it.”
The two poor women, convicted of actual sin for the first time in their gentle lives, stared at each other in a sort of duet of horror.
“What can we do?” stammered Adeline.
“I don't see anything to do, except to keep still and bear it,” said Judith. “I wish I were free to tell it from the housetops, but I am not. I must think of my poor niece. It would kill her.”
“And I have to think of Thomas,” said Adeline.
“That will have to be our punishment — keeping still,” said Judith; “but there is one comfort.”
“What?” asked Adeline, hopelessly.
“We can forgive each other.”
Adeline brightened a little. “Do you forgive me for wanting to cheat you?”
“I rather think I do; and do you forgive me?”
“Of course I do, but I didn't want that great big punch-bowl, anyway.”
“And I didn't want the Shakespeare.”
“But we meant to cheat, just the same, and we did,” said Judith, solemnly, “and we forgive each other, and I don't see but that is about the only comfort we can get out of it.”
The two women wept a little, and when Adeline left she and Judith kissed each other. The two broken reeds clung to each other for support, the two foolish sinners for strength to bear their sin.
When Adeline reached home she went into the parlor and gazed at the great bowl, which would prick her with its facets all her life. She would have liked to take the hammer to it. She hated it. She determined that she, like Mrs. Ames, would use a pitcher for her fruit punch, and then the door opened, and Mrs. Charles Lennox entered. Adeline had not heard the bell ring, and Ellen admitted her with no ceremony. Mrs. Charles Lennox, who was rather magnificently arrayed in a long mink coat, cast an embarrassed glance at the bowl.
“Good-morning, Mrs. Wyatt,” she said. Then she plunged directly into her subject. “I am glad I caught you looking at that miserable bowl,” said she, “for I have been feeling very uneasy ever since you won the prize yesterday. I knew you thought it was a cut-glass bowl, and — well, it isn't. It is just imitation, and I got it at a sale in the city for one dollar and ninety-eight cents; and the Shakespeare Judith Armstead got was a bargain, too. The set is not complete. There is no Hamlet, and there are two As You Like Its. I got that for a dollar and forty-nine cents. I can't tell you how mean I have been feeling. I got the prizes as a sort of joke, anyway. You know we have objected to having prizes, but I happened to come across the bowl and Shakespeare, and got them. Then when I realized that you and Judith had gone off thinking you had real cut glass and a beautiful set of Shakespeare, I knew I would have to make a clean breast of it. Can you ever forgive me, Mrs. Wyatt?”
Adeline sighed a queer little relieved sigh. She was thankful, after all, that it was a pin, and not the greater thing. “I would much rather have this than a real cut-glass bowl,” she said. “I sha'n't have to worry about its being broken.”
After Mrs. Charles Lennox had gone, Adeline even laughed a little a she looked at the bowl. It might, in the nature of things, not endure forever to torment her with visible proof of her false dealing.
Then Violet came running in, and threw her arms around her, and kissed her. “I came back,” said Violet, “to tell you that I remembered, after I went home, how I stole — yes, stole — when I was a little girl, one of my sister Jennie's hair ribbons, and I never told her, because I knew that I should never take another as long as I lived, but she could not know; and we all live in glass houses, and I have sent a note to poor dear Walter, and asked him to come to-night, and I hope he will forgive me.”
“Of course he will. He was about heartbroken last night,” said Adeline. Then she added, wistfully: “You will not mind living in the same house with me, after all?”
Violet laughed. “Didn't I just say we all lived in glass houses?” said she. “Yes, we will live together in our glass house and never throw stones.” Violet was looking sharply at the bowl. “If Mrs. Charles Lennox had not bought that,” said she, “I should say I saw one exactly like it at Jackson's in the city last week for one dollar and ninety-eight cents.”
Adeline said nothing. She gazed soberly at the bowl; but the sunlight reflected from its sides cast over her face a rosy glow, as of the joy which comes after sinning and repentance.