From the Improvement Era, December, 1956 –
A Dress for Cinderella
By Lois Snelling
Pat stood at the window of Milady’s Dress Shop on Sixth Avenue, and felt her heart climb up into her throat and her eyes.
“If I could just wear you,” she said to the blue velvet dress on the other side of the plate glass, “everything would be all right.”
Then she tucked her hands into the pockets of her last year’s tweed coat and walked swiftly away. The dress in the window could not possibly know what this date with Christopher Drake meant to her, or the enormous importance of first impressions. Jeanie Milan was bringing a treasure in her door on Christmas Eve, and Pat would meet the treasure in her old red wool with the white suede trim. After the Christmas concert the treasure would say politely, “So glad to have met you, Miss Pettigrew,” and that would be the last of that.
Then it happened. It happened so abruptly and so coincidentally that it seemed almost as though the money had been deliberately laid there because of the velvet dress. Anyway, there it was, on the sidewalk, schooning along in the wind towards Pat’s feet. Two crisp green bills, loosely folded!
She stooped to pick up the bills. but stooping, her shoulder brushed against another shoulder and another hand reached out, also. She and a thin girl with thick glasses straightened at the same moment, each clutching a corner of the bills. Pat felt a quick surge of anger against the girl. Then she was ashamed. The money did not belong to either of them. And the girl was merely walking along the street, just as Pat herself was. Pat managed a smile, and slid her fingers from one of the bills.
“They both seem to be twenties,” she said. “What about each of us taking one?”
“That would be fair enough,” the girl replied with a smile of her own. Then, with one of the bills in her hand, she turned a corner and walked away.
“At noon,” she thought happily, “I will go to the shop and have the dress laid away. On Christmas Eve I’ll look so attractive that Christopher Drake can’t help being interested in me. Perhaps he may even recall that such a person as Patricia Pettigrew once lived at Barton Mills. But no, he won’t! His people moved away when I was still young. A gawky thirteen-year-old can go on adoring a football hero through the years, but the hero wouldn’t remember the thirteen-year-old.”
It was Pat’s apartment-mate, Jeanie Milan, who had re-discovered Christopher Drake. Jeanie was a stenographer in the business department of the morning Chronicle, and had made the acquaintance of the new staff photographer. When she learned that he had grown up at Barton Mills, she was thrilled. “Fancy that!” she exclaimed. “You from Barton Mills and Pat Pettigrew from Barton Mills, and the town so little. You’ll like each other because of Barton Mills.”
She made the date for the three of them for the Christmas Eve concert, and Pat never told her that she had always dreamed about Christopher Drake. She hadn’t met him in all those years, but she still saw him through her thirteen-year-old eyes.
“What will I wear?” she asked of Jeanie. “My wardrobe is a dud, but I just never seem to have money for anything new. A receptionist’s salary is pretty small, Jeanie. And I’m helping Mother on that awful bill for remodeling the house, and we just have to keep my kid sister in business school, so –”
“So,” said Jeanie placidly, “don’t worry about it. Cinderella didn’t have a decent rag to wear to the prince’s ball, but she got there and had a wonderful time. Got the prince, too.”
Pat remembered Jeanie’s scatter-brain prattling during the morning as she went about her work at the office. Well, perhaps Jeanie was right! Anyway, in her purse was a nice green bill, come out of nowhere! And, clad in blue velvet, she would meet the football prince she had never forgotten.
At noon Pat went to Milady’s Dress Shop and had the dress laid away. This was the twenty-second. She would have the dress sent to the apartment on Christmas Eve, and it would be a surprise to Jeanie. The saleslady was elaborate in haughty graciousness as she took the blue velvet from the window.
“It is a really bee-ootiful item,” she purred suavely. “You are a very fortunate purchaser, indeed.”
“I know it,” Pat replied in a humble voice.
The following morning while Pat was drinking her orange juice Jeanie said from behind the outspread pages of the Chronicle, “Here’s something sad. I hate these things at Christmas time. listen, Pat: Lost. yesterday morning on Sixth Avenue in vicinity of Salem Church two twenty dollar bills. Reward. Mrs. Molly Molloy. 3800 Blakely Street.” Jeanie sighed. “Probably the last penny the poor woman had.”
Pat almost strangled on the orange juice. She wanted to scream loudly. But instead she sat very still, staring into her glass. Now, why in the world did Jeanie have to read that advertisement out loud? Of course it was true that whenever she had the time, Jeanie always read every word in the Chronicle – it was her paper, wasn’t it? Jeanie always said. But she didn’t have to read every word aloud!
Pat had not told Jeanie about finding the bills. She meant to tell her the news when she showed her the blue velvet dress. But now, remembering the thin girl with the thick glasses and the haughty saleswoman at Milady’s, she set her glass down with the juice still in it. She went into the bedroom and said sharply over her shoulder as she went, ‘More likely some tight-fisted dowager with more money than she knows what to do with.”
Cached in a dresser drawer was Pat’s reserve fund. It was chronically meager and was kept there for necessities. The two ten dollar bills she lifted out left a blank space for her share of the apartment rent that would soon be due. Pat left earlier than usual, and there was no time for reconsidering. Of course Mrs. Molly Molloy would live a long distance out, and one would have to pay bus fare to get there. And of course one must first go to Milady’s Dress Shop.
At the door Pat took a deep breath. Mentally she tightened a screw on her will power. Then she shoved herself in quickly to face the supercilious saleslady.
“I – I am sorry,” she said to the woman who was bestowing a sales-hoping smile upon her. “But I must cancel my order for the blue velvet dress.”
The smile froze instantly. Coldly polite, visibly disdainful, the woman received explanations, laid money in Pat’s hand, replaced the dress in the window.
Pat rode on to 3800 Blakely Street, and saw the neighborhood grow more sordid with each block. Her knock on the door of one of the shabbiest houses brought her face to face with a stout, poorly dressed woman. There was a circle of children of various ages around her and there were lines of worry on her broad face. When Pat explained that she had found the lost bills, tears rolled down Mrs. Molloy’s cheeks. She swept an arm toward the underfed brood and spoke words of gratitude. But Pat hardly heard her. She had already heard it from Jeanie Milan. Refusing the reward bill Mrs. Molloy offered, Pat hurried away. On the steps she turned and called back a little drearily, “I hope you and the children have a happy Christmas, Mrs. Molloy.”
The woman’s lips trembled.
“If we do,” she said, “it is because of you, Miss.”
Pat tried not to feel heroic over that. the poor woman was so grateful, and how could she know that Pat Pettigrew’s rent money was clutched in her hand?
The next morning it was snowing. Past walked through the soft curtain, thinking of tonight. Things had not turned out as she had planned, but still Christopher Drake was coming! And it was Christmas – a white, beautiful Christmas! As she passed Milady’s Dress Shop, she barely glanced at the window. But the bare glance was sufficient to show her that the blue velvet dress was gone. Some lucky girl was going to look wonderful for Christmas!
She stepped into a doorway and offered a silent prayer. “Forgive me for being selfish, Lord,” she whispered. “I didn’t really ask for the dress. It was Christopher Drake I asked for. The bills just came – and the dress. Then they all went and – and, Lord, please help me get money for the rent.”
After the prayer Pat felt better. she was half-conscious of a figure beside her. She was startled when a small, cold hand touched her own. A piece of paper was thrust into her fingers.
“I followed you.” It was the thin girl with the thick glasses. “I didn’t know your name or where you lived, so I watched for you on the corner where I met you before.”
“But – but the money,” Pat looked at the twenty dollar bill with puzzled eyes. “It was yours.”
The girl smiled and shook her head.
“No, it wasn’t really. I read Mrs. Molloy’s advertisement in the paper, and of course I couldn’t keep it. I borrowed another twenty and took it to her. She said you had been there, but she didn’t know your name, either.”
Suddenly there was a lump in Pat’s throat. Reaching for the girl’s hand, she pressed it hard. She whispered softly, “I know you will have a very happy Christmas.”
She laughed a little as she stepped out into the snow again.
“It’s sort of odd – Mrs. Molloy, this strange girl, and I. Not one of us has a single thing more than we had to start with. Still, we all seem to think we have gained something. Strange things happen at Christmas time – miracles.”
Pat enjoyed the tramp through the whiteness. Strangely, all the depression was gone from her heart, and she wanted to sing. “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” was the refrain that came to her memory, and she hummed the melody. Then she found herself improvising. “God rest you merry, Molly Molloy – little strange girl – Jeanie Milan!” She grinned slightly as she added, “God rest you merry, Chris Drake! And please, dear Lord, let him like red wool.”