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"That one needs a broad blue sash," said Grandmother Stark.
Grandmother Wheeler laughed. She took her impecuniosity easily. "I had to use what I had," said she.
"I will get a blue sash for that one," said Grandmother Stark, "and a pink sash for that, and a flowered one for that."
"Of course they will make all the difference," said Grandmother Wheeler. "Those beautiful sashes will really make the dresses."
"I will get them," said Grandmother Stark, with decision. "I will go right down to Mann Brothers' store now and get them."
"Then I will make the bows, and sew them on," replied Grandmother Wheeler, happily.
It thus happened that little Amelia Wheeler was possessed of three beautiful dresses, although she did not know it.
For a long time neither of the two conspiring grandmothers dared divulge the secret. Mrs. Diantha was a very determined woman, and even her own mother stood somewhat in awe of her. Therefore, little Amelia went to school during the spring term soberly clad as ever, and even on the festive last day wore nothing better than a new blue gingham, made too long, to allow for shrinkage, and new blue hair-ribbons. The two grandmothers almost wept in secret conclave over the lovely frocks which were not worn.
"I respect Diantha," said Grandmother Wheeler. "You know that. She is one woman in a thousand, but I do hate to have that poor child go to school to-day with so many to look at her, and she dressed so unlike all the other little girls."
"Diantha has got so much sense, it makes her blind and deaf," declared Grandmother Stark. "I call it a shame, if she is my daughter."
"Then you don't venture --"
Grandmother Stark reddened. She did not like to own to awe of her daughter. "I VENTURE, if that is all," said she, tartly. "You don't suppose I am afraid of Diantha? -- but she would not let Amelia wear one of the dresses, anyway, and I don't want the child made any unhappier than she is."
"Well, I will admit," replied Grandmother Wheeler, "if poor Amelia knew she had these beautiful dresses and could not wear them she might feel worse about wearing that homely gingham."
"Gingham!" fairly snorted Grandmother Stark. "I cannot see why Diantha thinks so much of gingham. It shrinks, anyway."
Poor little Amelia did undoubtedly suffer on that last day, when she sat among the others gaily clad, and looked down at her own common little skirts. She was very glad, however, that she had not been chosen to do any of the special things which would have necessitated her appearance upon the little flower-decorated platform. She did not know of the conversation between Madame and her two assistants.
"I would have Amelia recite a little verse or two," said Madame, "but how can I?" Madame adored dress, and had a lovely new one of sheer dull-blue stuff, with touches of silver, for the last day.
"Yes," agreed Miss Parmalee, "that poor child is sensitive, and for her to stand on the platform in one of those plain ginghams would be too cruel."
"Then, too," said Miss Acton, "she would recite her verses exactly like Lily Jennings. She can make her voice exactly like Lily's now. Then everybody would laugh, and Amelia would not know why. She would think they were laughing at her dress, and that would be dreadful."
If Amelia's mother could have heard that conversation everything would have been different, although it is puzzling to decide in what way.
It was the last of the summer vacation in early September, just before school began, that a climax came to Amelia's idolatry and imitation of Lily. The Jenningses had not gone away that summer, so the two little girls had been thrown together a good deal. Mrs. Diantha never went away during a summer. She considered it her duty to remain at home, and she was quite pitiless to herself when it came to a matter of duty.
However, as a result she was quite ill during the last of August and the first of September. The season had been unusually hot, and Mrs. Diantha had not spared herself from her duty on account of the heat. She would have scorned herself if she had done so. But she could not, strong-minded as she was, avert something like a heat prostration after a long walk under a burning sun, nor weeks of confinement and idleness in her room afterward.
When September came, and a night or two of comparative coolness, she felt stronger; still she was compelled by most unusual weakness to refrain from her energetic trot in her duty-path; and then it was that something happened.
One afternoon Lily fluttered over to Amelia's, and Amelia, ever on the watch, spied her.
"May I go out and see Lily?" she asked Grandmother Stark.
"Yes, but don't talk under the windows; your mother is asleep."
Amelia ran out.
"I declare," said Grandmother Stark to Grandmother Wheeler, "I was half a mind to tell that child to wait a minute and slip on one of those pretty dresses. I hate to have her go on the street in that old gingham, with that Jennings girl dressed up like a wax doll."
"I know it."
"And now poor Diantha is so weak -- and asleep -- it would not have annoyed her."
"I know it."
Grandmother Stark looked at Grandmother Wheeler. Of the two she possessed a greater share of original sin compared with the size of her soul. Moreover, she felt herself at liberty to circumvent her own daughter. Whispering, she unfolded a daring scheme to the other grandmother, who stared at her aghast a second out of her lovely blue eyes, then laughed softly.
"Very well," said she, "if you dare."
"I rather think I dare!" said Grandmother Stark. "Isn't Diantha Wheeler my own daughter?" Grandmother Stark had grown much bolder since Mrs. Diantha had been ill.
Meantime Lily and Amelia walked down the street until they came to a certain vacant lot intersected by a foot-path between tall, feathery grasses and goldenrod and asters and milkweed. They entered the foot-path, and swarms of little butterflies rose around them, and once in a while a protesting bumblebee.
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Freeman's Short Stories -by- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman