Jane Lavinia

Jane Lavinia put her precious portfolio down on the table in her room,
carefully, as if its contents were fine gold, and proceeded to unpin
and take off her second-best hat. When she had gone over to the
Whittaker place that afternoon, she had wanted to wear her best hat,
but Aunt Rebecca had vetoed that uncompromisingly.

“Next thing you’ll be wanting to wear your best muslin to go for the
cows,” said Aunt Rebecca sarcastically. “You go right back upstairs
and take off that chiffon hat. If I was fool enough to be coaxed into
buying it for you, I ain’t going to have you spoil it by traipsing
hither and yon with it in the dust and sun. Your last summer’s sailor
is plenty good enough to go to the Whittakers’ in, Jane Lavinia.”

“But Mr. Stephens and his wife are from New York,” pleaded Jane
Lavinia, “and she’s so stylish.”

“Well, it’s likely they’re used to seeing chiffon hats,” Aunt Rebecca
responded, more sarcastically than ever. “It isn’t probable that yours
would make much of a sensation. Mr. Stephens didn’t send for you to
show him your chiffon hat, did he? If he did, I don’t see what you’re
lugging that big portfolio along with you for. Go and put on your
sailor hat, Jane Lavinia.”

Jane Lavinia obeyed. She always obeyed Aunt Rebecca. But she took off
the chiffon hat and pinned on the sailor with bitterness of heart. She
had always hated that sailor. Anything ugly hurt Jane Lavinia with an
intensity that Aunt Rebecca could never understand; and the sailor hat
was ugly, with its stiff little black bows and impossible blue roses.
It jarred on Jane Lavinia’s artistic instincts. Besides, it was very
unbecoming.

I look horrid in it, Jane Lavinia had thought sorrowfully; and then
she had gone out and down the velvet-green springtime valley and over
the sunny birch hill beyond with a lagging step and a rebellious
heart.

But Jane Lavinia came home walking as if on the clear air of the
crystal afternoon, her small, delicate face aglow and every fibre of
her body and spirit thrilling with excitement and delight. She forgot
to fling the sailor hat into its box with her usual energy of dislike.
Just then Jane Lavinia had a soul above hats. She looked at herself in
the glass and nodded with friendliness.

“You’ll do something yet,” she said. “Mr. Stephens said you would. Oh,
I like you, Jane Lavinia, you dear thing! Sometimes I haven’t liked
you because you’re nothing to look at, and I didn’t suppose you could
really do anything worthwhile. But I do like you now after what Mr.
Stephens said about your drawings.”

Jane Lavinia smiled radiantly into the little cracked glass. Just then
she was pretty, with the glow on her cheeks and the sparkle in her
eyes. Her uncertainly tinted hair and an all-too-certain little tilt
of her nose no longer troubled her. Such things did not matter; nobody
would mind them in a successful artist. And Mr. Stephens had said that
she had talent enough to win success.

Jane Lavinia sat down by her window, which looked west into a grove of
firs. They grew thickly, close up to the house, and she could touch
their wide, fan-like branches with her hand. Jane Lavinia loved those
fir trees, with their whispers and sighs and beckonings, and she also
loved her little shadowy, low-ceilinged room, despite its plainness,
because it was gorgeous for her with visions and peopled with rainbow
fancies.

The stained walls were covered with Jane Lavinia’s pictures–most of
them pen-and-ink sketches, with a few flights into water colour. Aunt
Rebecca sniffed at them and deplored the driving of tacks into the
plaster. Aunt Rebecca thought Jane Lavinia’s artistic labours a flat
waste of time, which would have been much better put into rugs and
crochet tidies and afghans. All the other girls in Chestercote made
rugs and tidies and afghans. Why must Jane Lavinia keep messing with
ink and crayons and water colours?

Jane Lavinia only knew that she _must_–she could not help it. There
was something in her that demanded expression thus.

When Mr. Stephens, who was a well-known artist and magazine
illustrator, came to Chestercote because his wife’s father, Nathan
Whittaker, was ill, Jane Lavinia’s heart had bounded with a shy hope.
She indulged in some harmless manoeuvring which, with the aid of
good-natured Mrs. Whittaker, was crowned with success. One day, when
Mr. Whittaker was getting better, Mr. Stephens had asked her to show
him some of her work. Jane Lavinia, wearing the despised sailor hat,
had gone over to the Whittaker place with some of her best sketches.
She came home again feeling as if all the world and herself were
transfigured.

She looked out from the window of her little room with great dreamy
brown eyes, seeing through the fir boughs the golden western sky
beyond, serving as a canvas whereon her fancy painted glittering
visions of her future. She would go to New York–and study–and work,
oh, so hard–and go abroad–and work harder–and win success–and be
great and admired and famous–if only Aunt Rebecca–ah! if only Aunt
Rebecca! Jane Lavinia sighed. There was spring in the world and spring
in Jane Lavinia’s heart; but a chill came with the thought of Aunt
Rebecca, who considered tidies and afghans nicer than her pictures.

“But I’m going, anyway,” said Jane Lavinia decidedly. “If Aunt Rebecca
won’t give me the money, I’ll find some other way. I’m not afraid of
any amount of work. After what Mr. Stephens said, I believe I could
work twenty hours out of the twenty-four. I’d be content to live on a
crust and sleep in a garret–yes, and wear sailor hats with stiff bows
and blue roses the year round.”

Jane Lavinia sighed in luxurious renunciation. Oh, it was good to be
alive–to be a girl of seventeen, with wonderful ambitions and all the
world before her! The years of the future sparkled and gleamed
alluringly. Jane Lavinia, with her head on the window sill, looked out
into the sunset splendour and dreamed.

Athwart her dreams, rending in twain their frail, rose-tinted fabric,
came Aunt Rebecca’s voice from the kitchen below, “Jane Lavinia! Jane
Lavinia! Ain’t you going for the cows tonight?”

Jane Lavinia started up guiltily; she had forgotten all about the
cows. She slipped off her muslin dress and hurried into her print; but
with all her haste it took time, and Aunt Rebecca was grimmer than
ever when Jane Lavinia ran downstairs.

“It’ll be dark before we get the cows milked. I s’pose you’ve been
day-dreaming again up there. I do wish, Jane Lavinia, that you had
more sense.”

Jane Lavinia made no response. At any other time she would have gone
out with a lump in her throat; but now, after what Mr. Stephens had
said, Aunt Rebecca’s words had no power to hurt her.

“After milking I’ll ask her about it,” she said to herself, as she
went blithely down the sloping yard, across the little mossy bridge
over the brook, and up the lane on the hill beyond, where the ferns
grew thickly and the grass was beset with tiny blue-eyes like purple
stars. The air was moist and sweet. At the top of the lane a wild plum
tree hung out its branches of feathery bloom against the crimson sky.
Jane Lavinia lingered, in spite of Aunt Rebecca’s hurry, to look at
it. It satisfied her artistic instinct and made her glad to be alive
in the world where wild plums blossomed against springtime skies. The
pleasure of it went with her through the pasture and back to the
milking yard; and stayed with her while she helped Aunt Rebecca milk
the cows.

When the milk was strained into the creamers down at the spring, and
the pails washed and set in a shining row on their bench, Jane Lavinia
tried to summon up her courage to speak to Aunt Rebecca. They were out
on the back verandah; the spring twilight was purpling down over the
woods and fields; down in the swamp the frogs were singing a silvery,
haunting chorus; a little baby moon was floating in the clear sky
above the white-blossoming orchard on the slope.

Jane Lavinia tried to speak and couldn’t. For a wonder, Aunt Rebecca
spared her the trouble.

“Well, what did Mr. Stephens think of your pictures?” she asked
shortly.

“Oh!” Everything that Jane Lavinia wanted to say came rushing at once
and together to her tongue’s end. “Oh, Aunt Rebecca, he was delighted
with them! And he said I had remarkable talent, and he wants me to go
to New York and study in an art school there. He says Mrs. Stephens
finds it hard to get good help, and if I’d be willing to work for her
in the mornings, I could live with them and have my afternoons off. So
it won’t cost much. And he said he would help me–and, oh, Aunt
Rebecca, can’t I go?”

Jane Lavinia’s breath gave out with a gasp of suspense.

Aunt Rebecca was silent for so long a space that Jane Lavinia had time
to pass through the phases of hope and fear and despair and
resignation before she said, more grimly than ever, “If your mind is
set on going, go you will, I suppose. It doesn’t seem to me that I
have anything to say in the matter, Jane Lavinia.”

“But, oh, Aunt Rebecca,” said Jane Lavinia tremulously. “I can’t go
unless you’ll help me. I’ll have to pay for my lessons at the art
school, you know.”

“So that’s it, is it? And do you expect me to give you the money to
pay for them, Jane Lavinia?”

“Not give–exactly,” stammered Jane Lavinia. “I’ll pay it back some
time, Aunt Rebecca. Oh, indeed, I will–when I’m able to earn money by
my pictures!”

“The security is hardly satisfactory,” said Aunt Rebecca immovably.
“You know well enough I haven’t much money, Jane Lavinia. I thought
when I was coaxed into giving you two quarters’ lessons with Miss
Claxton that it was as much as you could expect me to do for you. I
didn’t suppose the next thing would be that you’d be for betaking
yourself to New York and expecting me to pay your bills there.”

Aunt Rebecca turned and went into the house. Jane Lavinia, feeling
sore and bruised in spirit; fled to her own room and cried herself to
sleep.

Her eyes were swollen the next morning, but she was not sulky. Jane
Lavinia never sulked. She did her morning’s work faithfully, although
there was no spring in her step. That afternoon, when she was out in
the orchard trying to patch up her tattered dreams, Aunt Rebecca came
down the blossomy avenue, a tall, gaunt figure, with an uncompromising
face.

“You’d better go down to the store and get ten yards of white cotton,
Jane Lavinia,” she said. “If you’re going to New York, you’ll have to
get a supply of underclothing made.”

Jane Lavinia opened her eyes.

“Oh, Aunt Rebecca, am I going?”




“You can go if you want to. I’ll give you all the money I can spare.
It ain’t much, but perhaps it’ll be enough for a start.”

“Oh, Aunt Rebecca, thank you!” exclaimed Jane Lavinia, crimson with
conflicting feelings. “But perhaps I oughtn’t to take it–perhaps I
oughtn’t to leave you alone–”

If Aunt Rebecca had shown any regret at the thought of Jane Lavinia’s
departure, Jane Lavinia would have foregone New York on the spot. But
Aunt Rebecca only said coldly, “I guess you needn’t worry over that. I
can get along well enough.”

And with that it was settled. Jane Lavinia lived in a whirl of delight
for the next week. She felt few regrets at leaving Chestercote. Aunt
Rebecca would not miss her; Jane Lavinia thought that Aunt Rebecca
regarded her as a nuisance–a foolish girl who wasted her time making
pictures instead of doing something useful. Jane Lavinia had never
thought that Aunt Rebecca had any affection for her. She had been a
very little girl when her parents had died, and Aunt Rebecca had taken
her to bring up. Accordingly she had been “brought up,” and she was
grateful to Aunt Rebecca, but there was no closer bond between them.
Jane Lavinia would have given love for love unstintedly, but she never
supposed that Aunt Rebecca loved her.

On the morning of departure Jane Lavinia was up and ready early. Her
trunk had been taken over to Mr. Whittaker’s the night before, and she
was to walk over in the morning and go with Mr. and Mrs. Stephens to
the station. She put on her chiffon hat to travel in, and Aunt Rebecca
did not say a word of protest. Jane Lavinia cried when she said
good-by, but Aunt Rebecca did not cry. She shook hands and said
stiffly, “Write when you get to New York. You needn’t let Mrs.
Stephens work you to death either.”

Jane Lavinia went slowly over the bridge and up the lane. If only Aunt
Rebecca had been a little sorry! But the morning was perfect and the
air clear as crystal, and she was going to New York, and fame and
fortune were to be hers for the working. Jane Lavinia’s spirits rose
and bubbled over in a little trill of song. Then she stopped in
dismay. She had forgotten her watch–her mother’s little gold watch;
she had left it on her dressing table.

Jane Lavinia hurried down the lane and back to the house. In the open
kitchen doorway she paused, standing on a mosaic of gold and shadow
where the sunshine fell through the morning-glory vines. Nobody was in
the kitchen, but Aunt Rebecca was in the little bedroom that opened
off it, crying bitterly and talking aloud between her sobs, “Oh, she’s
gone and left me all alone–my girl has gone! Oh, what shall I do? And
she didn’t care–she was glad to go–glad to get away. Well, it ain’t
any wonder. I’ve always been too cranky with her. But I loved her so
much all the time, and I was so proud of her! I liked her
picture-making real well, even if I did complain of her wasting her
time. Oh, I don’t know how I’m ever going to keep on living now she’s
gone!”

Jane Lavinia listened with a face from which all the sparkle and
excitement had gone. Yet amid all the wreck and ruin of her tumbling
castles in air, a glad little thrill made itself felt. Aunt Rebecca
was sorry–Aunt Rebecca did love her after all!

Jane Lavinia turned and walked noiselessly away. As she went swiftly
up the wild plum lane, some tears brimmed up in her eyes, but there
was a smile on her lips and a song in her heart. After all, it was
nicer to be loved than to be rich and admired and famous.

When she reached Mr. Whittaker’s, everybody was out in the yard ready
to start.

“Hurry up, Jane Lavinia,” said Mr. Whittaker. “Blest if we hadn’t
begun to think you weren’t coming at all. Lively now.”

“I am not going,” said Jane Lavinia calmly.

“Not going?” they all exclaimed.

“No. I’m very sorry, and very grateful to you, Mr. Stephens, but I
can’t leave Aunt Rebecca. She’d miss me too much.”

“Well, you little goose!” said Mrs. Whittaker.

Mrs. Stephens said nothing, but frowned coldly. Perhaps her thoughts
were less of the loss to the world of art than of the difficulty of
hunting up another housemaid. Mr. Stephens looked honestly regretful.

“I’m sorry, very sorry, Miss Slade,” he said. “You have exceptional
talent, and I think you ought to cultivate it.”

“I am going to cultivate Aunt Rebecca,” said Jane Lavinia.

Nobody knew just what she meant, but they all understood the firmness
of her tone. Her trunk was taken down out of the express wagon, and
Mr. and Mrs. Stephens drove away. Then Jane Lavinia went home. She
found Aunt Rebecca washing the breakfast dishes, with the big tears
rolling down her face.

“Goodness me!” she cried, when Jane Lavinia walked in. “What’s the
matter? You ain’t gone and been too late!”

“No, I’ve just changed my mind, Aunt Rebecca. They’ve gone without me.
I am not going to New York–I don’t want to go. I’d rather stay at
home with you.”

For a moment Aunt Rebecca stared at her. Then she stepped forward and
flung her arms about the girl.

“Oh, Jane Lavinia,” she said with a sob, “I’m so glad! I couldn’t see
how I was going to get along without you, but I thought you didn’t
care. You can wear that chiffon hat everywhere you want to, and I’ll
get you a pink organdy dress for Sundays.”

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