"There will be no more mourning clothes for Harriet allowed in this
household," Aunt Margaret decreed, three months following Hattie's arrival.
She patted her lips with a napkin after swallowing an icy spoonful of lemon
sherbet. "I think they're terribly vulgar for the young," she added with a
So this was to be a decision based upon Aunt Margaret's notion of what was fashionable. Well, I don't care, Hattie thought dully. I don't need to wear black clothing to remember Great-Aunt Lydia and Joey. Hattie clenched the white damask napkin in her lap, though; it creased and almost crackled under its layer of starch.
"A black ribbon on her hat, surely?" Uncle Charley protested in a mild voice. He gave Hattie what appeared to be a sympathetic wink.
As if it matters to me what I wear, Hattie thought, biting her lips together. They tasted sweet, she noticed, surprised - probably from the one spoonful of sherbet she'd been able to swallow.
"Perhaps a narrow ribbon," Aunt Margaret agreed with reluctance. "We'll have to get her all new clothes."
And so that was how Hattie Knowlton's brief period of wearing mourning clothes ended early in May 1882--with a shopping expedition. She and her aunt bustled out of the Hubbards' brownstone the very next morning.
This proposed spree was due less to generosity, it occurred to Hattie, struggling to keep up with her surprisingly energetic relative, than to her aunt's discomfort over her appearance. It was as though the sight of her frayed hemline had hurt Aunt Margaret's pale blue eyes long enough. A poor relation was one thing, Hattie thought sourly, but a shabby relation must be an embarrassment to such an elegant lady. "I can't have you shaming us," her aunt told her as they climbed into the waiting carriage. "You must be made presentable."
There followed a long morning at a hatmaker's shop on Tenth Street, very near the Hubbards' home on leafy Fifth Avenue. "Not a child's bonnet, hear," Aunt Margaret instructed the saleswoman, settling into her gilded chair, exactly as if she were a hen planning to hatch a clutchful of eggs, Hattie thought.
"Certainly not, Madame," the saleswoman said, glancing at Hattie's chest.
Fourteen-year-old Hattie blushed and hunched her shoulders in an attempt to minimize her newly developing figure. She felt like a turtle retreating into its shell.
"Sit up straight, Harriet dear," Aunt Margaret said. "And nothing on too wide a frame," she continued, speaking to the saleswoman, who seemed hypnotized by Aunt Margaret's majestic manner. "Just a nice braided straw shape, tilting up, of course, to make her neck appear longer."
"Of course, Madame," the saleswoman said, as Hattie--now feeling even more like a turtle, craned her neck up as high as it would go in an attempt to fend off further personal remarks.
"Chin down, Harriet," Aunt Margaret told her.
"Or you might like the shepherdess effect," the saleswoman continued, speaking to Aunt Margaret as if Hattie were not present. The two women studied Hattie's reflection in the mirror, frowning slightly, and the saleswoman tilted this new hat to a more becoming angle. "The foliage is all imported," she added in a hushed tone, "and the roses are silk satin."
Hattie looked at her reflection, too; long chestnut-colored hair lay curled into an untidy roll against her slender neck. The corners of her mouth turned down. Wide brown eyes seemed to gaze imploringly at their mirrored twins, and the smudged shadows under them made her look haunted.
I look almost as frozen as one of Aunt Margaret's fancy dessert concoctions, Hattie thought. The comparison was a clever one and Hattie wished she had someone to share it with.
Copyright Sally Warner 2001. Reproduced with the permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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