A Fortunate Mistake by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" fretted Nan Wallace, twisting herself about uneasily on the sofa in her pretty room. "I never thought before that the days could be so long as they are now."
"Poor you!" said her sister Maude sympathetically. Maude was moving briskly about the room, putting it into the beautiful order that Mother insisted on. It was Nan's week to care for their room, but Nan had sprained her ankle three days ago and could do nothing but lie on the sofa ever since. And very tired of it, too, was wide-awake, active Nan.
"And the picnic this afternoon, too!" she sighed. "I've looked forward to it all summer. And it's a perfect day--and I've got to stay here and nurse this foot."
Nan looked vindictively at the bandaged member, while Maude leaned out of the window to pull a pink climbing rose. As she did so she nodded to someone in the village street below.
"Who is passing?" asked Nan.
"Is she going to the picnic?" asked Nan indifferently.
"No. She wasn't asked. Of course, I don't suppose she expected to be. She knows she isn't in our set. She must feel horribly out of place at school. A lot of the girls say it is ridiculous of her father to send her to Miss Braxton's private school--a factory overseer's daughter."
"She ought to have been asked to the picnic all the same," said Nan shortly. "She is in our class if she isn't in our set. Of course I don't suppose she would have enjoyed herself--or even gone at all, for that matter. She certainly doesn't push herself in among us. One would think she hadn't a tongue in her head."
"She is the best student in the class," admitted Maude, arranging her roses in a vase and putting them on the table at Nan's elbow. "But Patty Morrison and Wilhelmina Patterson had the most to say about the invitations, and they wouldn't have her. There, Nannie dear, aren't those lovely? I'll leave them here to be company for you."
"I'm going to have more company than that," said Nan, thumping her pillow energetically. "I'm not going to mope here alone all the afternoon, with you off having a jolly time at the picnic. Write a little note for me to Florrie Hastings, will you? I'll do as much for you when you sprain your foot."
"What shall I put in it?" said Maude, rummaging out her portfolio obligingly.
"Oh, just ask her if she will come down and cheer a poor invalid up this afternoon. She'll come, I know. And she is such good company. Get Dickie to run right out and mail it."
"I do wonder if Florrie Hamilton will feel hurt over not being asked to the picnic," speculated Maude absently as she slipped her note into an envelope and addressed it.
Florrie Hamilton herself could best have answered that question as she walked along the street in the fresh morning sunshine. She did feel hurt--much more keenly than she would acknowledge even to herself. It was not that she cared about the picnic itself: as Nan Wallace had said, she would not have been likely to enjoy herself if she had gone among a crowd of girls many of whom looked down on her and ignored her. But to be left out when every other girl in the school was invited! Florrie's lip quivered as she thought of it.
"I'll get Father to let me to go to the public school after vacation," she murmured. "I hate going to Miss Braxton's."
Florrie was a newcomer in Winboro. Her father had recently come to take a position in the largest factory of the small town. For this reason Florrie was slighted at school by some of the ruder girls and severely left alone by most of the others. Some, it is true, tried at the start to be friends, but Florrie, too keenly sensitive to the atmosphere around her to respond, was believed to be decidedly dull and mopy. She retreated further and further into herself and was almost as solitary at Miss Braxton's as if she had been on a desert island.
"They don't like me because I am plainly dressed and because my father is not a wealthy man," thought Florrie bitterly. And there was enough truth in this in regard to many of Miss Braxton's girls to make a very uncomfortable state of affairs.
"Here's a letter for you, Flo," said her brother Jack at noon. "Got it at the office on my way home. Who is your swell correspondent?"
Florrie opened the dainty, perfumed note and read it with a face that, puzzled at first, suddenly grew radiant.
"Listen, Jack," she said excitedly.
"Are you going?" asked Jack.
"Yes--I don't know--I'll think about it," said Florrie absently. Then she hurried upstairs to her room.
"Shall I go?" she thought. "Yes, I will. I dare say Nan has asked me just out of pity because I was not invited to the picnic. But even so it was sweet of her. I've always thought I would like those Wallace girls if I could get really acquainted with them. They've always been nice to me, too--I don't know why I am always so tongue-tied and stupid with them. But I'll go anyway."
That afternoon Mrs. Wallace came into Nan's room.
"Nan, dear, Florrie Hamilton is downstairs asking for you."
"Yes. She said something about a note you sent her this morning. Shall I ask her to come up?"
"Yes, of course," said Nan lamely. When her mother had gone out she fell back on her pillows and thought rapidly.
"Florrie Hamilton! Maude must have addressed that note to her by mistake. But she mustn't know it was a mistake--mustn't suspect it. Oh, dear! What shall I ever find to talk to her about? She is so quiet and shy."
Further reflections were cut short by Florrie's entrance. Nan held out her hand with a chummy smile.
"It's good of you to give your afternoon up to visiting a cranky invalid," she said heartily. "You don't know how lonesome I've been since Maude went away. Take off your hat and pick out the nicest chair you can find, and let's be comfy."
Somehow, Nan's frank greeting did away with Florrie's embarrassment and made her feel at home. She sat down in Maude's rocker, then, glancing over to a vase filled with roses, her eyes kindled with pleasure. Seeing this, Nan said, "Aren't they lovely? We Wallaces are very fond of our climbing roses. Our great-grandmother brought the roots out from England with her sixty years ago, and they grow nowhere else in this country."
"I know," said Florrie, with a smile. "I recognized them as soon as I came into the room. They are the same kind of roses as those which grow about Grandmother Hamilton's house in England. I used to love them so."
"In England! Were you ever in England?"
"Oh, yes," laughed Florrie. "And I've been in pretty nearly every other country upon earth--every one that a ship could get to, at least."
"Why, Florrie Hamilton! Are you in earnest?"
"Indeed, yes. Perhaps you don't know that our 'now-mother,' as Jack says sometimes, is Father's second wife. My own mother died when I was a baby, and my aunt, who had no children of her own, took me to bring up. Her husband was a sea-captain, and she always went on his sea-voyages with him. So I went too. I almost grew up on shipboard. We had delightful times. I never went to school. Auntie had been a teacher before her marriage, and she taught me. Two years ago, when I was fourteen, Father married again, and then he wanted me to go home to him and Jack and our new mother. So I did, although at first I was very sorry to leave Auntie and the dear old ship and all our lovely wanderings."
"Oh, tell me all about them," demanded Nan. "Why, Florrie Hamilton, to think you've never said a word about your wonderful experiences! I love to hear about foreign countries from people who have really been there. Please just talk--and I'll listen and ask questions."
Florrie did talk. I'm not sure whether she or Nan was the more surprised to find that she could talk so well and describe her travels so brightly and humorously. The afternoon passed quickly, and when Florrie went away at dusk, after a dainty tea served up in Nan's room, it was with a cordial invitation to come again soon.
"I've enjoyed your visit so much," said Nan sincerely. "I'm going down to see you as soon as I can walk. But don't wait for that. Let us be good, chummy friends without any ceremony."
When Florrie, with a light heart and a happy smile, had gone, came Maude, sunburned and glowing from her picnic.
"Such a nice time as we had!" she exclaimed. "Wasn't I sorry to think of you cooped up here! Did Florrie come?"
"One Florrie did. Maude, you addressed that note to Florrie Hamilton today instead of Florrie Hastings."
"Nan, surely not! I'm sure--"
"Yes, you did. And she came here. Was I not taken aback at first, Maude!"
"I was thinking about her when I addressed it, and I must have put her name down by mistake. I'm so sorry--"
"You needn't be. I haven't been entertained so charmingly for a long while. Why, Maude, she has travelled almost everywhere--and is so bright and witty when she thaws out. She didn't seem like the same girl at all. She is just perfectly lovely!"
"Well, I'm glad you had such a nice time together. Do you know, some of the girls were very much vexed because she wasn't asked to the picnic. They said that it was sheer rudeness not to ask her, and that it reflected on us all, even if Patty and Wilhelmina were responsible for it. I'm afraid we girls at Miss Braxton's have been getting snobbish, and some of us are beginning to find it out and be ashamed of it."
"Just wait until school opens," said Nan--vaguely enough, it would seem. But Maude understood.
However, they did not have to wait until school opened. Long before that time Winboro girlhood discovered that the Wallace girls were taking Florrie Hamilton into their lives. If the Wallace girls liked her, there must be something in the girl more than was at first thought--thus more than one of Miss Braxton's girls reasoned. And gradually the other girls found, as Nan had found, that Florrie was full of fun and an all-round good companion when drawn out of her diffidence. When Miss Braxton's school reopened Florrie was the class favourite. Between her and Nan Wallace a beautiful and helpful friendship had been formed which was to grow and deepen through their whole lives.
"And all because Maude in a fit of abstraction wrote 'Hamilton' for 'Hastings,'" said Nan to herself one day. But that is something Florrie Hamilton will never know.