Wrong Side Out

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Utica Observer December 22, 1900

Flora has always had a temper, or rather a will. If Flora ever gets set on anything, she seems to turn into a sort of human fortress, and all the king's horses and all the king's men won't make much of an impression on her, yet it was through this very will that Flora came to marry Albert Eddy. I am Flora's aunt, and I know all about it. There isn't any harm in my telling. I have heard Flora tell it herself dozens of times.

It was quite late in her life before Flora was married, though she was real good looking, and considerably well-to-do. I don't know why the young men didn't seem to care much about her: perhaps some reason was, she never seemed to care enough about them; perhaps another was that she always acted kind of settled down, and satisfied. Flora's eyes were never wandering around in search of husbands, and she used to sit as straight as a gun in meeting, and never turn her head. But then she didn't have to, to see the minister. He was the one she married. However, she used to look at him just to hear the sermon, and she never hung behind after meeting to see him, nor had any questions of conscience that she needed spiritual advice for, like a good many women in the village. She just kept right on in her own way. When he came to call on her, she turned the mats and the tidies, and the pictures, and her apron, just as she did for other callers that she wasn't real intimate with, but that was all. She'd sit and talk with him as calm as a clock.

You see this habit that Flora had of turning things to keep them nice made quite a little talk in the village, though she wasn't the only woman who was a nice housekeeper, who did that. I know lots of women, now, who never have their mats right side out, unless they have particular company, but Flora carried it a good deal farther. Why, I've been into Flora's house, when there was hardly a single thing right side out. She had a new carpet in her parlor, and she put that down wrong side out to begin with, because it had a blue color on the right side, that she was afraid would fade, and all her mats were turned, with the sewed ridges of the braiding showing, and the pictures, all back-to, and the tidies, and the tablecloth, and Flora's apron. She was very thrifty, and a splendid housekeeper. Some said she was the best housekeeper in the village. She couldn't bear a speck of dust or anything out of place; the dishes in her buttery used to look as if they were fairly grown to the shelves. She used to keep even the dishes wrong side out, or rather bottom side up, the plates all piled on their faces, and the cups and saucers turned over, and the covers of the vegetable dishes, and the covers of sugar bowl and tea-pot set in the wrong way.

When Flora had a particular caller, like Mrs. C. F. Belton, who is the richest woman in town, or the minister, she used to fly round and straighten things. Luckily her house set high, and she could see a long way down the road, and had some time, but anyway she had to work quick. I've been in there when she spied somebody coming, and helped her. The way we would whop over those mats, and the tablecloth and the tidies, and the way we'd clap over those pictures, and George Washington would loom up, and Daniel Webster, and a little vase of flowers in pencil that Flora had done when she went to school, and Flora's mother's portrait, was a caution. Sometimes I used to think she was dreadfully silly to make herself so much trouble. I used to tell her that there wasn't any need of her being so careful of things, that she had enough to buy new ones when those gave out, but she wouldn't listen to me.

“I've always done it,” she would say, as if that settled it.

“Good land, Flora,” I said once. “It's lucky you haven't always stolen, and committed murders, and drank, because I do believe you'd think that was reason enough to go right on, and make it good and respectable.” But she couldn't see any sense in my looking at it that way. A person with such a will as Flora hardly ever knows it, the not knowing it makes the will last, I guess.

Well, she kept right on living wrong side out, and upside down, to save things, and it seemed to get worse and worse. I remember once I asked her why she didn't walk on her head so as to save her shoes, and she felt real sort of hurt about it. She was wearing her stockings one side out one day, and the other the next, because she thought they would wear better, and that made me think of it.

Finally people began to whisper that the minister, Albert Eddy, was calling pretty often on Flora, and I joked her about it a little. She blushed and didn't act as if she minded, and that very afternoon when we were sitting there, in the parlor, I saw him coming down the road. “Land, here he is now, Flora,” said I.

She didn't say anything, but she colored, and sort of laughed, and then we both began to fly around to turn things right side out. Flora whopped over the mats, and I swung around the pictures, and by the time the doorbell rang everything was right side out except Flora's apron. She had clean forgotten that. When she came in with the minister I saw right away that she had it on wrong side out. It was ruffled too, and that made it worse. I rose up when the minister came in. I thought I wouldn't be in the way, but I hated to leave and not tell her about that apron. I knew she would feel awfully about it afterward. So I tried to catch her eye, and make a motion toward it, while the minister was asking after my health and my sisters, but I couldn't manage it.

So I went out, but I hadn't more than shut the door, before it opened, and Flora came flying out after me. “Good land,” she whispered, “I forgot to turn my apron, and I had to tell him that I had a book I wanted to send to Aunt Susan; you'd better take that book of Pansy's on the table in the sitting room so I shan't lie quite so bad.” All the time she was whispering that, she was tying on her apron right side out.

“I hope he didn't notice,” said she. “Oh, I guess he didn't; men ain't apt to,” said I.

But he had noticed it, and he thought she had told a falsehood, for he looked out of the window and saw I didn't have the book. I had read it before, and I didn't want it, and beside I don't like covering up a fib with such a flimsy sort of veil; it has always seemed to me worse than telling one right out.

Well, Albert Eddy went home pretty soon, and he didn't come again.

It turned out that somebody had been telling him how Flora kept her things wrong side out, and I guess that had more to do with his staying away than her telling a fib. He said some things, finally, or folks said he did, that came right back to Flora, as in how ridiculous he thought it was. Then I began to think it was all over sure, for it always has seemed to me that when a man begins to make fun of a woman, that is the end of his affection. I was sorry, because I had always thought a good deal of Flora, and I hated to think that she had nothing before her but a solitary old age. But all the time I felt puzzled. I used to sit in meeting and watch Albert Eddy, and I saw his eyes turn in spite of himself to Flora sitting down there, looking as handsome as a picture, if she wasn't as young as some, and I thought to myself that if I didn't know what I knew, I should think he was very far from getting over his liking for her.

But there was no doubt whatever that he had given her up: he told me so himself afterward. He had come to think that she was eccentric, and wouldn't make a good helpmeet. And a minister has to think of that more than other men.

It came to the day before Christmas, and he hadn't called on her for six months, but that afternoon I was in Flora's house, and I saw him coming down the road. He thought he ought to call, and he had made up his mind to make a short formal call, but it didn't come out the way he had planned.

When I saw him coming I turned to Flora, and I said “Flora, I guess Mr. Eddy is coming.”

She turned pale, then a beautiful color came into her cheeks. “Well,” said she, “let him come.”

I jumped up, and began to turn the mats over as usual, and she jumped up too, but she just grabbed my arm to stop me instead of going to work herself. “Don't,” said she. “I don't want them turned over.”

“Why don't you, Flora?” said I.

“Because I don't,” said she. “I don't want them turned over.”

“Nor the pictures either?” said I.

“No,” said she, “nor the tidies nor anything.”

All the time she was talking she was pulling off her dress skirt. Then she got into it again wrong side out, and put on her apron again wrong side out.

I stared at her. “My land, Flora,” said I, “are you gone crazy?”

“No,” said she, “I have not, but there shan't be any more talk about deception, and if he thinks I'm odd, he shall get the full brunt of it.” Then the doorbell rang, and Flora went to the door, with her head high, switching along that wrong-side out skirt and that apron. When she came in, she did look ridiculous. All the seams of her skirt showed the overcasting, and there was the drab cambric facing.

I saw the minister looking at it with the strangest look I ever saw on a man's face. He looked as if he wanted to burst right out laughing and yet he looked sort of admiring. I didn't know what to think of him or her. There were all the pictures with their board sides out, and the tablecloth showing the long stitches. It was one that Flora had worked herself, and all the tidies wrong. Flora talked along just as easy as if everything was all right.

It seemed to me, that I never saw Flora look so handsome, her cheeks were blazing, and her eyes like black stars. Presently she says: “Oh, Mr. Eddy, you have never seen my house! I have heard you are interested in old houses, and old furniture, and this is over a hundred years old, and I have some fine old pieces of furniture. Wouldn't you like to see them?”

Of course he couldn't do any less than say he would, and we all rose up to go. I knew if Flora was going to show him the house, she would want me to stay.

Well, Flora took him into the kitchen, and there was everything wrong side out, and bottom side up, down to the broom. Flora called attention to that. “I always take pains to set my broom with the handle end down,” said she, “otherwise it wears out dreadfully.”

She took him into the buttery, and there were all the upside down dishes. She had baked some pies that morning, and they were upside down in their plates. “If the bottom crust gets the air, they keep longer,” said Flora. I stared at her, for I had never heard of such a thing, but I didn't say a word. I began to think that she had been expecting that he might call, and getting everything ready, that it was all cut and dried, and I guess it was.

She took him all over the house: in the chambers, all the bedspreads were on wrong side out, and even the looking glasses hung faces to the wall. “I can't have the sun shining on the glass,” says Flora. “It spoils it.”

The minister followed after her, and that queer look on his face seemed to deepen and deepen.

We had got around to the spare chamber, and it was a sight; an old-fashioned knitted counterpane on the bed, with all the wrong side of the knots showing and the carpet wrong side out, and the mats, and the covers on the bureau and stand, and the looking-glass face to the wall, and the two pictures, one of Flora's flower drawings, and the other a hair wreath she made when she was a young girl. The curtains had the wrong side to the room, and I declare if even the chairs weren't tipped up, and faced to the wall. That whole room looked as if it were backing off out of sight as fast as it could go.

All of a sudden I saw the minister's mouth begin to twitch, then as if he couldn't hold out a minute longer, he burst into one great roar of laughter. He just doubled up with it. I never thought he could laugh so. Flora looked at him, her mouth twitching, as if she wouldn't give in, then she couldn't help it, and she laughed too.

I went down stairs, it suddenly came to me they might have an understanding. I went off home without saying a word.

I went over there again the next morning, for I must say I was a little curious.

“What made you run off so last night?” says Flora, but she looked as if she was glad enough I did. I didn't answer her for a minute, I was so struck. I couldn't think what had come to the house. Then I saw everything was right side out. There was the sun pouring in on the carpet, and the mats, and the pictures, and everything, and Flora had on her apron right.

“For the land sakes, Flora,” said I, “who's coming?”

“Nobody just yet, that I know of,” says Flora. She blushed all over her face and neck.

“I don't know but the minister and his mother will come to supper, as long as it's Christmas,” says she in a minute, “and I'd be happy to have you come over too.”

“Then you are going to —?” says I.

“Yes, I suppose so,” says Flora.

“But he isn't coming till afternoon,” says I, looking at the pictures and the mats again.

“I know that,” said Flora, “but I'm going to keep things right side out after this. I got up this morning at 4 o'clock and turned the parlor carpet. I had my way yesterday, but this morning I've given it to him for a Christmas present.”