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- A Daughter Of The Land - 20/71 -
It was while visiting with this teacher that Kate spoke of attending Normal again in an effort to prepare herself still better for the work of the coming year. Her new friend advised against it. She said the course would be only the same thing over again, with so little change or advancement, that the trip was not worth the time and money it would cost. She proposed that Kate go to Lake Chautauqua and take the teachers' course, where all spare time could be put in attending lectures, and concerts, and studying the recently devised methods of education. Kate went from her to Nancy Ellen and Robert, determined at heart to go.
She was pleased when they strongly advised her to, and offered to help her get ready. Aside from having paid Agatha, and for her board, Kate had spent almost nothing on herself. She figured the probable expenses of the trip for a month, what it would cost her to live until school began again, if she were forced to go to Walden, and then spent all her remaining funds on the prettiest clothing she had ever owned. Each of the sisters knew how to buy carefully; then the added advantage of being able to cut and make their own clothes, made money go twice as far as where a dressmaker had to be employed. When everything they had planned was purchased, neatly made, and packed in a trunk, into which Nancy Ellen slipped some of her prettiest belongings, Kate made a trip to a milliner's shop to purchase her first real hat.
She had decided on a big, wide-brimmed Leghorn, far from cheap. While she was trying the effect of flowers and ribbon on it, the wily milliner slipped up and with the hat on Kate's golden crown, looped in front a bow of wide black velvet ribbon and drooped over the brim a long, exquisitely curling ostrich plume. Kate had one good view of herself, before she turned her back on the temptation.
"You look lovely in that," said the milliner. "Don't you like it?"
"I certainly do," said Kate. "I look the best in that hat, with the black velvet and the plume, I ever did, but there's no use to look twice, I can't afford it."
"Oh, but it is very reasonable! We haven't a finer hat in the store, nor a better plume," said the milliner.
She slowly waved it in all its glory before Kate's beauty-hungry eyes. Kate turned so she could not see it.
"Please excuse one question. Are you teaching in Walden this winter?" asked the milliner.
"Yes," said Kate. "I have signed the contract for that school."
"Then charge the hat and pay for it in September. I'd rather wait for my money than see you fail to spend the summer under that plume. It really is lovely against your gold hair."
"'Get thee behind me, Satan,'" quoted Kate. "No. I never had anything charged, and never expect to. Please have the black velvet put on and let me try it with the bows set and sewed."
"All right," said the milliner, "but I'm sorry."
She was so sorry that she carried the plume to the work room, and when she walked up behind Kate, who sat waiting before the mirror, and carefully set the hat on her head, at exactly the right angle, the long plume crept down one side and drooped across the girl's shoulder.
"I will reduce it a dollar more," she said, "and send the bill to you at Walden the last week of September."
Kate moved her head from side to side, lifted and dropped her chin. Then she turned to the milliner.
"You should be killed!" she said.
The woman reached for a hat box.
"No, I shouldn't!" she said. "Waiting that long, I'll not make much on the hat, but I'll make a good friend who will come again, and bring her friends. What is your name, please?"
Kate took one look at herself -- smooth pink cheeks, gray eyes, gold hair, the sweeping wide brim, the trailing plume.
"Miss Katherine Eleanor Bates," she said. "Bates Corners, Hartley, Indiana. Please call my carriage?"
The milliner laughed heartily. "That's the spirit of '76," she commended. "I'd be willing to wager something worth while that this very hat brings you the carriage before fall, if you show yourself in it in the right place. It's a perfectly stunning hat. Shall I send it, or will you wear it?"
Kate looked in the mirror again. "You may put a fresh blue band on the sailor I was wearing, and send that to Dr. Gray's when it is finished," she said. "And put in a fancy bow, for my throat, of the same velvet as the hat, please. I'll surely pay you the last week of September. And if you can think up an equally becoming hat for winter -- --"
"You just bet I can, young lady," said the milliner to herself as Kate walked down the street.
From afar, Kate saw Nancy Ellen on the veranda, so she walked slowly to let the effect sink in, but it seemed to make no impression until she looked up at Nancy Ellen's very feet and said: "Well, how do you like it?"
"Good gracious!" cried Nancy Ellen. "I thought I was having a stylish caller. I didn't know you! Why, I never saw YOU walk that way before."
"You wouldn't expect me to plod along as if I were plowing, with a thing like this on my head, would you?"
"I wouldn't expect you to have a thing like that on your head; but since you have, I don't mind telling you that you are stunning in it," said Nancy Ellen.
"Better and better!" laughed Kate, sitting down on the step. "The milliner said it was a stunning HAT."
"The goose!" said Nancy Ellen. "You become that hat, Kate, quite as much as the hat becomes you."
The following day, dressed in a linen suit of natural colour, with the black bow at her throat, the new hat in a bandbox, and the renewed sailor on her head, Kate waved her farewells to Nancy Ellen and Robert on the platform, then walked straight to the dressing room of the car, and changed the hats. Nancy Ellen had told her this was NOT the thing to do. She should travel in a plain untrimmed hat, and when the dust and heat of her journey were past, she should bathe, put on fresh clothing, and wear such a fancy hat only with her best frocks, in the afternoon. Kate need not have been told that. Right instincts and Bates economy would have taught her the same thing, but she had a perverse streak in her nature. She had SEEN herself in the hat.
The milliner, who knew enough of the world and human nature to know how to sell Kate the hat, when she never intended to buy it, and knew she should not in the way she did, had said that before fall it would bring her a carriage, which put into bald terms meant a rich husband. Now Kate liked her school and she gave it her full attention; she had done, and still intended to keep on doing, first-class work in the future; but her school, or anything pertaining to it, was not worth mentioning beside Nancy Ellen's HOME, and the deep understanding and strong feeling that showed so plainly between her and Robert Gray. Kate expected to marry by the time she was twenty or soon after; all Bates girls had, most of them had married very well indeed. She frankly envied Nancy Ellen, while it never occurred to her that any one would criticise her for saying so. Only one thing could happen to her that would surpass what had come to her sister. If only she could have a man like Robert Gray, and have him on a piece of land of their own. Kate was a girl, but no man of the Bates tribe ever was more deeply bitten by the lust for land. She was the true daughter of her father, in more than one way. If that very expensive hat was going to produce the man why not let it begin to work from the very start? If her man was somewhere, only waiting to see her, and the hat would help him to speedy recognition, why miss a change?
She thought over the year, and while she deplored the estrangement from home, she knew that if she had to go back to one year ago, giving up the present and what it had brought and promised to bring, for a reconciliation with her father, she would not voluntarily return to the old driving, nagging, overwork, and skimping, missing every real comfort of life to buy land, in which she never would have any part.
"You get your knocks 'taking the wings of morning,'" thought Kate to herself, "but after all it is the only thing to do. Nancy Ellen says Sally Whistler is pleasing Mother very well, why should I miss my chance and ruin my temper to stay at home and do the work done by a woman who can do nothing else?"
Kate moved her head slightly to feel if the big, beautiful hat that sat her braids so lightly was still there. "Go to work, you beauty," thought Kate. "Do something better for me than George Holt. I'll have him to fall back on if I can't do better; but I think I can. Yes, I'm very sure I can! If you do your part, you lovely plume, I KNOW I can!"
Toward noon the train ran into a violent summer storm. The sky grew black, the lightning flashed, the wind raved, the rain fell in gusts. The storm was at its height when Kate quit watching it and arose, preoccupied with her first trip to a dining car, thinking about how little food she could order and yet avoid a hunger headache. The twisting whirlwind struck her face as she stepped from the day coach to go to the dining car. She threw back her head and sucked her lungs full of the pure, rain-chilled air. She was accustomed to being out in storms, she liked them. One second she paused to watch the gale sweeping the fields, the next a twitch at her hair caused her to throw up her hands and clutch wildly at nothing. She sprang to the step railing and leaned out in time to see her wonderful hat whirl against the corner of the car, hold there an instant with the pressure of the wind, then slide down, draw under, and drop across the rail, where passing wheels ground it to pulp.
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