From the time she was thirteen Rilla Mabry had been ashamed of her appearance. It was then that she started growing taller than the other girls. She was also awkward as well as tall and she was too thin.
By the time she was twenty she was fully convinced that her appearance was really something terrible. All of the other girls seemed little and cute and attractive. No matter what Rilla wore it seemed wrong. She was too tall to wear tailored clothes. And thin dresses simply hung around her loosely.
All of the boys and girls in the group liked Rilla. She was a fine girl--if you could forget the way she looked. Even her hair was wrong--rather stringy--but she had a pleasant and attractive face.
In spite of her looks Rilla had a boy friend. He was Patrick Redding and his father kept a grocery store. Pat wasn't any great prize--but then you couldn't expect Rilla, with her looks, to do any better. People felt that Rilla ought to be well satisfied. Pat was a nice-looking boy, and he shouldn't be considered unimportant.
Rilla didn't consider Pat unimportant. She was grateful to him for being nice to her. She was a pleasant and as friendly as she could be. As a matter of fact she liked Pat a lot. He was fun to be with. She would have been perfectly satisfied except for the fact that she was in love with Shane Tennant. All of which did her little good--for Shane was the prize of the town. Shane's father was a banker--and rich. His mother was the social leader of the town. Shane was well--much taller than Rilla--and handsome, besides.
Pet went into the grocery business with his father. Shane went into the bank. That's the way sons do in small towns unless they have definite ideals about law or one of the other professions. Rilla didn't do anything. Her parents had just enough money so she didn't have to work. She went to parties with Patrick--and admired Shane from a distance. The townspeople felt that she would marry Pat, that he'd take over his father's grocery store, and that they'd settle down.
That might have happened if it hadn't been for Leslie Durant. Leslie Durant was--and still is--a well known magazine illustrator. And he came to Morrisville to visit an aunt. And he was taken everywhere to all of the parties, of course. He was the social lion of the season. He stayed in town for only a few days--but that was long enough for a lot to happen.
He saw Rilla Mawry! Rilla was standing near the door--and she was looking at Shane Tennant. She never knew how much her face showed what she was thinking about. No one else noticed--but Durant, being new, understood the situation. He saw Rilla, standing not quite straight because she didn't feel quite as tall that way, in a badly fitted dress and her fair not quite smooth--and he saw Shane, perfectly dressed, self-confident, good-looking. And then Pat came to ask Rilla to dance.
On the second day of his visit Durant made his remarkable statement. He told anyone who would listen to him that Rilla Mabry was by far the best-looking girl in town. One of the best-looking girls he had ever seen.
Rilla had never had a compliment about her looks before. She had always been shy, self-conscious, and often unhappy about her appearance. And now, the first authoritiy on beauty who had ever been in town claimed that she was the prize.
When Durant, himself, told her what he thought of her she was filled with confusion. She managed finally to thank him. And later, very shyly, she went up to him.
"I do wish that you'd tell me how I can look better," she said.
"That's not really my particular kind of work," he told her, "but maybe if we got together..."
They got together the next morning. Durant came to Rilla's house, and, with Rilla's mother acting as helper, they did things to Rilla and to Rilla's clothes. Durant made her stand up straight. And he rearranged her hair. And he told her what was wrong with the clothes she wore.
That night there was a dance for Durant--his last evening in town. And, as he had thought when he started things, Rilla was, for the first time in her life, the center of attention. Toward the end of the evening Durant had the satisfaction of seeing Shane Tennant dancing very attentively with Rilla, Shane Tennant, whom Rilla had looked at with longing eyes--and who had never paid any attention to her.
Durant went back to his home and his work in New York and forgot about the whole thing. Years passed. And then, just the other day, this happened:
Durant was luching alone at a restaurant when an attractive, tall woman, past her first youth, came up to him.
"You don't remember me?" she said.
Durant didn't remember her.
"I'm Rilla Tennant--I was Rilla Mabry when you knew me. You came to my home town and--and rather mad my life over. Remember now?
"Of course I do," said Durant. "I remember very well. It was my one attempt at changing the destiny of another person."
"You did a wonderful job!" said Rilla. There was a strange note in her voice which he didn't understand.
"You married the boy you were in love with, I see. His name was Tennant, wasn't it?"
"Why, yes," said Rilla. "but how did you remember the name? And how did you know I was in love with him?"
"I'm good at remembering names. And I saw you looing at him. Simplicity itself! And to think that I was the cause!"
"Yes, you were," said Rilla. It was very funny, when you look back on it. There I was, going with Pat Redding and in love with Shane, and terribly unhappy and awkward. And you came down and said I was a beauty--so automatically I became a beauty. And the boys all wanted to go out with me. And I married Shane."
"Wonderful!" said Durant. And he smiled happily. "How are you getting along, now?"
"That's the difficult part," said Rilla. "You shouldn't have asked."
"Shane and I got married--and didn't get along very well, though I was awfully happy in the beginning. The Tennants lost all of their money in a bank failure--and my family had its money in the Tennant bank by that time, so our money went, too. Then Shane fell in love with a chorus girl. I got a divorce, of course. I've been teaching in a girls' school for the past three years."
"That's too bad!" said Durant. "But maybe that was better than marrying that other boy whom you didn't love."
"Maybe," said Rilla. "You can never tell. Love goes...Patrick Redding took over his father's grocery store and married the cutest girl in town. They have three children and are very happy. And, oh yes, he became quite ambitious and started a chain of grocery stores. Now he's the richest and most important man in town."