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Amethyst Comb

Author: Freeman, Mary

Genre: Fiction

Year: 2004

Description:

JANE CAREW was at the railroad station waiting for the New York train. She was about to visit her friend, Mrs. Viola Longstreet. With Miss Carew was her maid, Margaret, a middle- aged New England woman, attired in the stiffest and most correct of maid-uniforms. She carried an old, large sole-leather bag, and also a rather large sole-leather jewel-case. The jewel-case, carried openly, was rather an unusual sight at a New Eng- land railroad station, but few knew what it was. They concluded it to be Margaret's special hand- bag. Margaret was a very tall, thin woman, un- bending as to carriage and expression. The one thing out of absolute plumb about Margaret was her little black bonnet. That was askew. Time had bereft the woman of so much hair that she could fasten no head-gear with security, especially when the wind blew, and that morning there was a stiff gale. Margaret's bonnet was cocked over one eye. Miss Carew noticed it.

"Margaret, your bonnet is crooked," she said.

Margaret straightened her bonnet, but immedi- ately the bonnet veered again to the side, weighted by a stiff jet aigrette. Miss Carew observed the careen of the bonnet, realized that it was inevitable, and did not mention it again. Inwardly she resolved upon the removal of the jet aigrette later on. Miss Carew was slightly older than Margaret, and dressed in a style somewhat beyond her age. Jane Carew had been alert upon the situation of departing youth. She had eschewed gay colors and extreme cuts, and had her bonnets made to order, because there were no longer anything but hats in the millinery shop. The milliner in Wheaton, where Miss Carew lived, had objected, for Jane Carew inspired reverence.

"A bonnet is too old for you. Miss Carew," she said. "Women much older than you wear hats."

"I trust that I know what is becoming to a woman of my years, thank you. Miss Waters," Jane had replied, and the milliner had meekly taken her order.

After Miss Carew had left, the milliner told her girls that she had never seen a woman so perfectly crazy to look her age as Miss Carew. "And she a pretty woman, too," said the milliner; "as straight as an arrer, and slim, and with all that hair, scarcely turned at all."

Miss Carew, with all her haste to assume years, remained a pretty woman, softly slim, with an abun- dance of dark hair, showing little gray. Sometimes Jane reflected, uneasily, that it ought at her time of life to be entirely gray. She hoped nobody would suspect her of dyeing it. She wore it parted in the middle, folded back smoothly, and braided in a compact mass on the top of her head. The style of her clothes was slightly behind the fashion, just enough to suggest conservatism and age. She car- ried a little silver-bound bag in one nicely gloved hand; with the other she held daintily out of the dust of the platform her dress-skirt. A glimpse of a silk frilled petticoat, of slender feet, and ankles delicately slim, was visible before the onslaught of the wind. Jane Carew made no futile effort to keep her skirts down before the wind-gusts. She was so much of the gentlewoman that she could be gravely oblivious to the exposure of her ankles. She looked as if she had never heard of ankles when her black silk skirts lashed about them. She rose superbly above the situation. For some abstruse reason Mar- garet's skirts were not affected by the wind. They might have been weighted with buckram, although it was no longer in general use. She stood, except for her veering bonnet, as stiffly immovable as a wooden doll.

Miss Carew seldom left Wheaton. This visit to New York was an innovation. Quite a crowd gath- ered about Jane's sole-leather trunk when it was dumped on the platform by the local expressman. "Miss Carew is going to New York," one said to another, with much the same tone as if he had said, "The great elm on the common is going to move into Dr. Jones's front yard."

When the train arrived, Miss Carew, followed by Margaret, stepped aboard with a majestic disregard of ankles. She sat beside a window, and Margaret placed the bag on the floor and held the jewel-case in her lap. The case contained the Carew jewels. They were not especially valuable, although they were rather numerous. There were cameos in brooches and heavy gold bracelets; corals which Miss Carew had not worn since her young girlhood. There were a set of garnets, some badly cut diamonds in ear-rings and rings, some seed-pearl ornaments, and a really beautiful set of amethysts. There were a necklace, two brooches -- a bar and a circle -- ear- rings, a ring, and a comb. Each piece was charm- ing, set in filigree gold with seed-pearls, but perhaps of them all the comb was the best. It was a very large comb. There was one great amethyst in the center of the top; on either side was an intricate pattern of plums in small amethysts, and seed-pearl grapes, with leaves and stems of gold. Margaret in charge of the jewel-case was imposing. When they arrived in New York she confronted every- body whom she met with a stony stare, which was almost accusative and convictive of guilt, in spite of entire innocence on the part of the person stared at. It was inconceivable that any mortal would have dared lay violent hands upon that jewel-case under that stare. It would have seemed to partake of the nature of grand larceny from Providence.

When the two reached the up-town residence of Viola Longstreet, Viola gave a little scream at the sight of the case.

"My dear Jane Carew, here you are with Mar- garet carrying that jewel-case out in plain sight. How dare you do such a thing? I really wonder you have not been held up a dozen times."

Miss Carew smiled her gentle but almost stern smile -- the Carew smile, which consisted in a widen- ing and slightly upward curving of tightly closed lips.

"I do not think," said she, "that anybody would be apt to interfere with Margaret."

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