Jane Lavinia (1906)

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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.

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