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"Amelia would not be so bad-looking if she were better dressed, Diantha," said she.
Diantha lifted her chin, but she paid heed. "Why, does not Amelia dress perfectly well, mother?" she inquired.
"She dresses well enough, but she needs more ribbons and ruffles."
"I do not approve of so many ribbons and ruffles," said Mrs. Diantha. "Amelia has perfectly neat, fresh black or brown ribbons for her hair, and ruffles are not sanitary."
"Ruffles are pretty," said Grandmother Wheeler, "and blue and pink are pretty colors. Now, that Jennings girl looks like a little picture."
But that last speech of Grandmother Wheeler's undid all the previous good. Mrs. Diantha had an unacknowledged -- even to herself -- disapproval of Mrs. Jennings which dated far back in the past, for a reason which was quite unworthy of her and of her strong mind. When she and Lily's mother had been girls, she had seen Mrs. Jennings look like a picture, and had been perfectly well aware that she herself fell far short of an artist's ideal. Perhaps if Mrs. Stark had believed in ruffles and ribbons, her daughter might have had a different mind when Grandmother Wheeler had finished her little speech.
As it was, Mrs. Diantha surveyed her small, pretty mother-in-law with dignified serenity, which savored only delicately of a snub. "I do not myself approve of the way in which Mrs. Jennings dresses her daughter," said she, "and I do not consider that the child presents to a practical observer as good an appearance as my Amelia."
Grandmother Wheeler had a temper. It was a childish temper and soon over -- still, a temper. "Lord," said she, "if you mean to say that you think your poor little snipe of a daughter, dressed like a little maid-of-all-work, can compare with that lovely little Lily Jennings, who is dressed like a doll! --"
"I do not wish that my daughter should be dressed like a doll," said Mrs. Diantha, coolly.
"Well, she certainly isn't," said Grandmother Wheeler. "Nobody would ever take her for a doll as far as looks or dress are concerned. She may be GOOD enough. I don't deny that Amelia is a good little girl, but her looks could be improved on."
"Looks matter very little," said Mrs. Diantha.
"They matter very much," said Grandmother Wheeler, pugnaciously, her blue eyes taking on a peculiar opaque glint, as always when she lost her temper, "very much indeed. But looks can't be helped. If poor little Amelia wasn't born with pretty looks, she wasn't. But she wasn't born with such ugly clothes. She might be better dressed."
"I dress my daughter as I consider best," said Mrs. Diantha. Then she left the room.
Grandmother Wheeler sat for a few minutes, her blue eyes opaque, her little pink lips a straight line; then suddenly her eyes lit, and she smiled. "Poor Diantha," said she, "I remember how Henry used to like Lily Jennings's mother before he married Diantha. Sour grapes hang high." But Grandmother Wheeler's beautiful old face was quite soft and gentle. From her heart she pitied the reacher after those high-hanging sour grapes, for Mrs. Diantha had been very good to her.
Then Grandmother Wheeler, who had a mild persistency not evident to a casual observer, began to make plans and lay plots. She was resolved, Diantha or not, that her granddaughter, her son's child, should have some fine feathers. The little conference had taken place in her own room, a large, sunny one, with a little storeroom opening from it. Presently Grandmother Wheeler rose, entered the storeroom, and began rummaging in some old trunks. Then followed days of secret work. Grandmother Wheeler had been noted as a fine needlewoman, and her hand had not yet lost its cunning. She had one of Amelia's ugly little ginghams, purloined from a closet, for size, and she worked two or three dainty wonders. She took Grandmother Stark into her confidence. Sometimes the two ladies, by reason of their age, found it possible to combine with good results.
"Your daughter Diantha is one woman in a thousand," said Grandmother Wheeler, diplomatically, one day, "but she never did care much for clothes."
"Diantha," returned Grandmother Stark, with a suspicious glance, "always realized that clothes were not the things that mattered."
"And, of course, she is right," said Grandmother Wheeler, piously. "Your Diantha is one woman in a thousand. If she cared as much for fine clothes as some women, I don't know where we should all be. It would spoil poor little Amelia."
"Yes, it would," assented Grandmother Stark. "Nothing spoils a little girl more than always to be thinking about her clothes."
"Yes, I was looking at Amelia the other day, and thinking how much more sensible she appeared in her plain gingham than Lily Jennings in all her ruffles and ribbons. Even if people were all noticing Lily, and praising her, thinks I to myself, 'How little difference such things really make. Even if our dear Amelia does stand to one side, and nobody notices her, what real matter is it?'" Grandmother Wheeler was inwardly chuckling as she spoke.
Grandmother Stark was at once alert. "Do you mean to say that Amelia is really not taken so much notice of because she dresses plainly?" said she.
"You don't mean that you don't know it, as observant as you are?" replied Grandmother Wheeler.
"Diantha ought not to let it go as far as that," said Grandmother Stark. Grandmother Wheeler looked at her queerly. "Why do you look at me like that?"
"Well, I did something I feared I ought not to have done. And I didn't know what to do, but your speaking so makes me wonder --"
Then Grandmother Wheeler went to her little storeroom and emerged bearing a box. She displayed the contents -- three charming little white frocks fluffy with lace and embroidery.
"Did you make them?"
"Yes, I did. I couldn't help it. I thought if the dear child never wore them, it would be some comfort to know they were in the house."
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Freeman's Short Stories -by- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman