From The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman (University Press of Mississippi: 1992)
Originally published in Two Tales 1 (12 Mar. 1892)
There was a sewing-circle and sociable in the little Baptist church in Stony Brook. The sewing-circle had begun early in the afternoon, the older women had come with their best white aprons trimmed with knitted lace, and their needle-books and thimbles in their pockets, and had sewed busily, gathered around the great wood stove in the vestry. It was a cold day. They sewed until dusk; then they lighted the lamps, warmed the tea and coffee which had been brought ready made in great cans, and set out the buttered biscuits, the cold meat, and the cake and pies. The young people began to flock in.
Only the young girls with their carefully frizzed tufts of front hair and their shining braids in the back gathered around the stove; the young men stood aloof in stiff, amiable groups near the door. They made way for Juliza Peck when she entered, and she walked through them calmly, looking neither to the right nor left, and greeting none of them. Greeting young men in the aggregate at a sociable was not in the social code of the girls of Stony Brook. Juliza was a heavily-built girl with a back as broad as a matron's. She wore her best blue cashmere dress with rows of velvet ribbon over the bust, her mother's best brooch, which was black, with a beautiful little bunch of pearl grapes on it, and new shoes, which creaked as she advanced.
There was a certain importance about her entrance; the young girls all stared around at her and whispered; and several women in flaring white aprons spoke to her and asked where her mother was. Juliza replied with dignity that her mother had a cold, and had not thought it prudent to come out.
“I s'pose you're all prepared,” said one woman whose thin crimped hair was trained carefully over thin flushed cheeks. She held a pile of plates under her arm; the plates rattled, her starched apron crackled, and her black silk hissed as she spoke with nervous haste and pleasantry. “Yes, ma'am,” replied Juliza.
“You mustn't make us all cry, the way you did before,” said the woman. Juliza laughed. When she approached the group of girls by the stove they all nodded stiffly, and she returned it.
“Goin' to speak to-night?” asked one of the girls, after a little.
“Yes,” said Juliza.
“Don't you dread it?” asked another.
“Not a mite.”
“I don't see how you do it.” The girls all stared at Juliza as she stood in their midst, but she did not seem to realize it. Her dark-brown hair curled naturally, and she had brushed it back crinkling from her fresh-colored face with its rounding profile, and had tied it in a bunch at the back. She warmed her hands, then she sat down; the girls did not talk to her any more. She was not in reality, although near their ages, a companion of theirs. She was an only child. She had lived alone with her parents, had never been to school nor associated with girls of her own age. The result was not shyness when she was brought in contact with them, — she had too steady a nervous system for that, — but a demeanor like that of a woman of fifty. She felt years away from the other girls, and they also felt it.
As she sat waiting, she looked calmly over at the group of young men near the door. Frank Williams had come; she could see his shining blonde head above the others. He was quite tall and his shoulders sloped boyishly in his best coat. She looked steadily at him, and presently he turned his eyes toward her. He did not speak, nor did she; but she could see a wave of red flash over his long throat and his smooth face. Juliza did not blush at all.
When they gathered around the supper-table amid an embarrassed hush, Juliza found herself far away from the other young people, next the minister. When the blessing had been asked by the minister towering over her, she looked around to see where Frank Williams was. He was sitting between two young girls at the lower end of the table. Juliza sat back and ate a hearty supper. After supper, when the table was cleared away, the entertainment began. There was playing on the parlor organ and singing; then Juliza Peck spoke.
“There will now be a recitation by Miss Juliza Peck,” announced the minister; and Juliza arose and went unflinchingly in her creaking shoes to the platform, took her position, bowed, and lifted up her voice. Her voice was heavy and low-pitched, and she spoke with a solemn intonation; now and then she gestured deliberately. She spoke a long poem describing an heroic deed and a tragic death; people had their handkerchiefs to their faces. When she finished and stepped down from the platform, there was a murmur of admiration all over the vestry; clapping was not allowed in the church. “Beautiful!” the women whispered to one another, and nodded.
There was more music, then Juliza spoke again, — she spoke three times in all, — and the subdued enthusiasm grew stronger.
Juliza Peck's speaking was held in great repute in Stony Brook. It was quite generally believed that very few of the people who go around the country speaking for money in town-halls could speak as well as she. Women had talked to Juliza's mother about it, but Mrs. Peck had shaken her head. “There ain't any need of Juliza's doing any such thing,” said she, with dignity. “I'm willin' she should speak to accommodate as she does here in town, but I ain't willin' to have her go round speakin' in public. It ain't a woman's place. An' Juliza's got enough; she don't need to.”
Juliza Peck was considered quite an heiress. There had been two aunts on her father's side who had been left widows with small properties; Juliza had been named for both of them by a judicious combination of Julia and Eliza, and had inherited their money. She had quite a little sum in a savings-bank, and she owned a house in a neighboring village.
The sociable ended about ten o'clock, — there had been a little social time after the entertainment, — then people began to go home.
Juliza pinned her mother's plaid long-shawl firmly and comfortably over her shoulders and tied on her blue hood. The young men stood thickly around the outer door. Now and then when a girl passed out a young man left the group softly and slyly, and followed her. When Juliza Peck appeared, Frank Williams shrank back; several of the young men tried to push him forward, laughing, but he stood his ground. Juliza paused in the doorway, and stood looking back at him calmly, as if waiting. The scuffle among the young men ceased; Frank Williams stepped forward, and he and Juliza went out of the door.
An icy north wind came full in their faces when they turned into the road. The snow was drifted at the sides, so they walked in the middle in the sleigh-ruts. Frank did not offer his arm to Juliza, and she plodded solidly along at his side, with her mittened hands warmly folded under her shawl. “It's an awful cold night, ain't it?” said she, presently. Frank grunted assent; his coat-collar was pulled up over his ears, and his hands were in his pockets. Juliza kept looking at his dusky, forbidding figure. “What's the matter?” said she.
“Nothin's the matter; why?”
“Don't you feel well?”
“Feel well enough.”
“What makes you act so, then?”
“Act how? I didn't know I was actin' any way uncommon. I'm cold, and I want to get home.”
“Yes, it is dreadful cold,” said Juliza, soberly. “Your overcoat's thick, ain't it?”
“Thick? I've been wearin' it all winter.”
“Look here, Frank; I've got on this scarf, an' I don't need it with this shawl; I wish you'd put it round your throat.”
“No, I don't need it; my coat-collar's warm enough.”
“I don't need it.” Frank swung on so rapidly that Juliza panted keeping up with him. It was cloudy, but there was a full moon behind the clouds, so there was a soft, pale light over all the snowy landscape. It was a lonely road, and they had a mile and a half to go. Here and there, back in the fields, twinkled a light in some house-window.
“Frank?” said Juliza.
“What makes you act so?”
“Act how? Well, if you want to know, mother's miserable. She's miserable the whole time. I hadn't ought to have come off an' left her to-night; but she made me. She ain't fit to do a thing about the house, an' she won't have a hired girl. I don't believe mother'll ever be any better; she'll always be feeble; she's just the way her mother was for years. I'm tryin' to do the cookin', but I don't make out much.”
Juliza took out a hand from under her shawl and caught hold of Frank's arm. “Don't walk quite so fast,” said she. “Look here!”
The young man's tone was softer than before, and he slackened his pace. Juliza looked up in his shadowy face. She had to speak quite loudly to be heard in the strong wind. “There ain't but one thing to do,” said she, “I'll come over there whenever you want me.”
“Yes; there ain't any need of me at home. Of course they'll miss me, but mother's real strong and well. I can come any time next week, if you say so. I haven't much to do to get ready. I've got clothes enough. I never thought I'd want to lay in a great stock when I was married. Anyway, I always thought it was foolish.”
“Juliza, you don't mean” —
“I mean I'll get married to you right away, and come over to your house. That'll settle it. I'm a good cook and a good housekeeper: mother says I am.” The young man fairly gasped; he trembled violently. “Why, what is the matter?” asked Juliza; “are you so cold as all that?”
“No; it ain't that. Juliza, you're awful good. I know you can cook splendid. I — don't know what to say. Oh, dear! I ain't — thought about gettin' married yet awhile. That's the whole of it, Juliza. I'm just as much obliged to you.”
Juliza stopped short. “You don't mean you don't want me to marry you, Frank Williams,” she said.
“Why, see here, Juliza” —
“You don't mean it.”
“Why, Juliza, you know if — I was goin' to marry anybody. I've always liked you first-rate.”
“I hadn't a thought but you wanted me to,” said she, and began walking on. “I don't see what you'll do if I don't marry you.”
“Oh, we'll worry along somehow. We'd better walk fast, Juliza, or we'll catch cold.” He pulled Juliza's firm hand and arm closer against his.
“I ain't cold,” said she, “it's you; you've been shiverin' ever since we started. I'm glad we're most home. There's the light in the sittin'-room window.”
Juliza's house came first on the brow of a long hill; the Williams house was close to it; and there was no other dwelling in sight either way. Frank and Juliza went to her side-door; the front-yard was blocked in with snow. Frank released Juliza's hand from his arm.
“You mustn't think I shall say anything about this to-night,” he said in a hesitating voice; “I shan't ever speak of it.”
“I don't care if you do,” returned Juliza; “I haven't done anything I'm ashamed of; if anybody has, it's you. I supposed you took it for granted I was goin' to marry you, an' I don't think you show much common-sense about it. I don't believe anybody else would think so, either.”
“There's something to be considered besides common-sense, sometimes,” said Frank, feebly. They were a little sheltered in the south yard from the wind. Juliza's cat came mewing loudly around her feet.
“I begin to think there is,” said Juliza. “Well, it's for you to say, of course. I ain't goin' in anywhere where I ain't wanted; but I must say I'm surprised. Good-night, Frank.”
“Good-night, Juliza.” Juliza opened the door and let in the cat, then she stood looking for a moment after Frank's retreating figure, and listening to the sound of his footsteps crunching the snow.
“Juliza! that you?” called a voice from the sitting-room; and she went in hastily and closed the door. When she entered the sitting-room she found her mother there alone, in the warm, light atmosphere full of the odor of green flowering-plants; the windows were all set with tiers of them. There was a curious majesty about Mrs. Peck's large figure and long face; she wore her black hair in punctilious water-waves around her temples; she sat in her rocking-chair as if it were a throne; and her black cashmere skirt fell over her knees in stately folds. “You are pretty late, ain't you?” said she; and her voice was deep, with solemn inflections like Juliza's.
“I don't know. The entertainment was pretty long.”
“Did they act as if they liked your pieces?”
“Yes, I thought they did.”
“Did anybody ask after me?”
“Yes, a lot did.”
“What did you tell 'em?”
“I told 'em you had a cold, an' didn't think it was quite prudent to go out.” Juliza's voice took on exactly the tone with which she had replied to the inquiring women. She had taken off her shawl and hood, and was standing over the stove. Her face was all a deep pink glow from the cold wind. “Mother,” said she, suddenly, “what do you suppose the reason is that Frank don't want me to marry him?”
“Juliza Peck, what do you mean?”
“What I say. What do you suppose the reason is he don't want me to marry him?”
“How do you know he don't? — what are you talking about?”
“He said he didn't, just now.”
“How came he to?”
“He was tellin' me how miserable his mother was, an' what a hard time he had gettin' along, an' I said I was willin' to marry him, an' go over there, whenever he said. I knew you could get along without me.”
“Juliza Peck, you didn't ask Frank Williams to marry you?”
“No, I didn't ask him; I told him I would.”
“Do you know what you've done?”
“What? You've made yourself a laughin' stock all over Stony Brook.”
“I don't see why I have, I'm sure.”
“Don't you know girls don't tell young men they'll marry 'em unless they're asked.”
“I don't see why they don't.”
“You needn't tell me you didn't know better than that.” Juliza turned about, and fronted her mother calmly.
“No I didn't, an' I don't,” said she. “I don't see why it's any worse for a girl to speak than 'tis for a man. I always supposed he wanted me to marry him, I've never wanted to marry anybody else, an' I knew his mother was so miserable, and I'd have so much work to do if I went there, that he'd think it was kind of mean to speak of it himself. I don't see a single thing to be ashamed of.”
“He'll tell of it all over town.”
“No, he won't, he said he wouldn't; an' I told him he could if he wanted to. I don't see what I've done to be laughed at. I don't think he's shown common-sense.”
Mrs. Peck looked at Juliza with angry eyes, black and full under her water-waves. Juliza looked at her and never flinched.
“I should have thought your own modesty would have taught you.”
“Modesty,” returned Juliza in bewildered contempt as if she didn't know what the word meant. “I think it's you that's immodest, mother. I'm too modest to see how I wasn't.”
“Well, you've done it, that's all I've got to say,” said her mother rising, “now you'd better go to bed. I've been sittin' up here waitin' for you this hour; your father went to bed at nine o'clock. I feel like givin' up, myself; a girl with all your advantages, with money at interest, an' speakin' the way you can, havin' a young man tell you right to your face he didn't want to marry you. I should like to know what he thinks he is — the Williamses warn't never much; they've picked up a little late years, but I remember the time when they was just as poor an' low down as they could be. Your father an' me look a good deal higher than he for you; I can tell him that.”
“He's high enough for me,” said Juliza, lighting her lamp.
“I'm ashamed of you,” said her mother, fiercely.
“I ain't goin' to run him down because he don't want to marry me.” Then Juliza went up stairs to her own room, slowly and ponderously.
The next morning she awoke with a firm resolution in her mind. “I'm going to know about this thing,” she muttered to herself, and bore down heavily with her wet brush upon her crinkly front hair, then tied her bunch of curls with a jerk.
Her mother treated her with cold stiffness when she appeared down stairs; her father, who was an old man and very silent, ate his breakfast and then went away with a load of wood.
“Be sure you get back in good season,” his wife called after him, standing in the door, “I want you to take me down to the village after dinner.” The old man made no reply, but it was certain that he heard and would be home in good season. He never dreamed of disobeying his imperious wife, but covered his docility with taciturnity, which gave him a show of masculine dignity.
After the house-work was done, Mrs. Peck called Juliza into the sitting-room and drilled her in a new selection. She stood majestic in her morning calico which swept about her like the robe of a tragedy queen, repeating the poem line by line, and Juliza followed her, imitating the modulations of her voice. Her gestures she could not well imitate; there was something fairly impressive about the backward fling of her mother's head and the sweep of her great arms; her black eyes were full of energetic fire. “You plank your arm up an' down like a pump-handle”; said she, “your arm ain't put in with a hinge, it's put in with your feelin's, when you're speakin'.” Juliza worked her arm with patient vigor, but she could not equal her mother. “I s'pose it's because you're built so solid,” said Mrs. Peck. “Well, you speak it pretty well. I thought it would be a good piece for the next sociable, if you don't get married.”
Juliza answered not a word, she did not flush or look confused. She sat down and sewed silently on a dress she was making. She had a certain dignity of taciturnity like her father at times.
After dinner, her father put the horse in the sleigh, and her mother bundled herself in cloaks and shawls, until she looked like a massive pillar standing in the door-way. “Look out for the fire, Juliza,” said she, “an' you'd better study that last piece over some.”
“Yes'm,” said Juliza.
After her mother had gone, she sat by the sitting-room window and watched the snowy road stretching away in cold blue furrows where the sleighs had passed. Her hands lay idle in her lap. She sat there an hour, then she arose and got her shawl and hood. When she was tying on her hood at the sitting-room glass, she saw Frank Williams going by. She rushed to the window, and pounded on it and beckoned.
He looked up, smiled and nodded confusedly, and was passing on. Juliza had to reach between the flower-pots, and he could scarcely see her face behind them. She hurried to the front-door, unlocked it, and pulled it open with a desperate jerk, for the snow had frozen on the sill. “Frank,” she called out, “Frank Williams, come in here a minute, I want to see you.” The young man hesitated.
“Is it anything particular?” he called back.
“Yes, 'tis. I've got to see you a minute.”
“I've left mother all alone, an' I've got to go down to the store.”
“I won't keep you but just a minute.” Frank turned up the path leading to the side-door; Juliza kicked off the ridge of snow on the sill, pushed to the door, and went around to let him in.
“I can't stay but a minute,” he said, and he looked sulky.
“I won't keep you but just a minute.” Juliza led the way into the warm sitting-room; she did not ask him to sit down, they stood confronting each other. “Father and mother have gone to the village,” said she. “I've called you in because I wanted to ask you something, and it was a good chance.”
Frank was blushing; he looked down at his snowy boots, saw the snow melting on the carpet, and thought fiercely to himself that he did not care if it was spoiled. He tried to smile. “Well,” he muttered.
“Now, Frank, I want to ask you something, an' I want you to tell me the truth. I think you owe it to me. We've known each other ever since we were children; you're all the one I've ever known outside this house. You know mother never let me go to school, nor play with other girls. You lived next door, you know, an' she couldn't help it.”
“What is it you want to know, Juliza?” said Frank in a constrained voice.
“I want to know why you don't want to marry me?”
Frank threw up his chin with a jerk. “See here, Juliza Peck,” he cried, “you may not know it, but you're doin' a dreadful thing. How do you suppose I can answer you a question like that if I'm a man. You know I like you well enough; I always have, but — oh dear, I don't know what to say.”
“Is there anybody else you like better?” Juliza asked calmly.
Frank gave a sudden start and looked at her. “I don't know as there is.”
“Who is it?”
“I tell you, I don't know as there's anybody.”
“Now, Frank Williams, you've got to tell me. You owe it to me. Is it any girl here in Stony Brook?”
“No, it isn't.”
Juliza looked at him reflectively. “I know who 'tis,” said she.
“No, you don't.”
“Yes, I do, an' I'll tell you, too. It's that Lily Emmons that came here once with your cousin Jenny.” Frank blushed deeper; he cast a glance at Juliza that was almost piteous.
“I knew 'twas,” said she, “you can't cheat me. She came here last summer; I remember her. She was real pretty; I never saw such pink cheeks as she had, an' she had a pink dress with cambric edging on it.”
“It's no use talkin' about it,” said Frank.
“Yes, there is, too. See here, Frank, have you asked her?”
“Asked her? I haven't seen her since she was here.”
“Haven't you written to her?”
“No. Jenny's written to me about her, that's all.”
“An' you've sent a word to her sometimes, haven't you?”
“Well, I don't know, I may have, once or twice.”
“Frank, you sit down here a minute, — you've got to tell me about this.” Juliza pulled forward a rocking-chair and Frank settled into it. Juliza sat opposite. “Now,” said she, “you tell me the whole story. Do you think she likes you?” Frank looked at her like a bashful child, blushing, and half-smiling. “Tell me all about it,” said she.
“I've never told a livin' soul, Juliza.”
“That's all the more reason why you should. Did anything happen while she was here?”
“You know she wasn't here but two weeks with Jenny,” began Frank, hesitatingly, “I suppose you wouldn't think anything could happen in that length of time, but Jenny was with mother, an' she an' I were thrown together a good deal, an' we got acquainted fast. It seemed to me I never got acquainted with anybody so fast; an' — well, it was the day before she went away, we walked down in the orchard, an' I don't know how it happened, but we were standin' there under the trees, an' she was looking up at me, an' — well, any way, I kissed her; an' just then Jenny came runnin' down through the field.”
“Did she act mad?”
“No, I don't think she did. I was afraid she was, afterward, but she didn't act so.”
“Of course she liked you, then.”
“See here, Juliza — should you, if you'd been in her place, that is, if any one had acted so by you? You're another girl, an' you ought to know.”
“Yes, I should.”
“May be she did like me a little, then. I don't see how she could. Oh Juliza, wasn't she pretty?”
“She's prettier than any girl in Stony Brook.”
“I guess she is.” Frank's face was full of a tender radiance, his blue eyes looked up into Juliza's face with the love that belonged to the other girl. Juliza was now standing over him. “See here,” said she, “why don't you write to her, or go to see her, or something?”
“Jenny asked me to come over to Hillbrook, an' visit. She hinted somebody else would be glad to see me, she guessed; but I can't go.”
“I can't leave mother.”
“You could write to that girl,” said Juliza, after a reflective pause.
“No, it's no use: I can't. I tell you what 'tis, Juliza, I have written fifty letters, an' torn 'em up. I don't even know how to begin 'em.”
“I should say, ‘Dear Friend,’” said Juliza.
“Should you? Well, I didn't know. You see I wasn't sure she was in earnest that time in the apple-orchard. I was afraid of writin' as if she was, and afraid of writin' as if she wasn't. Then I tried to write news, but there wasn't any. I had to give it up.”
“I could help you write a letter, I suppose,” said Juliza, “but I think you had better see her. I'll tell you what I'll do. You get ready an' go to Hillbrook, an' — I'll stay with your mother while you're gone.”
“Oh Juliza, you don't mean it!”
“Yes, I do, too.”
“Oh! I tell you what 'tis, Juliza, I never saw a girl as good as you are. I don't believe she is; at least, I don't believe she's any better.”
“I just as lives as not,” said Juliza, “it ain't anything, you get ready an' go, an' I'll come over any day. When do you want to go?”
Frank hesitated. “It's Thursday, now,” said he, “when do you think I'd better go?”
“Why don't you go to-morrow, an' stay a week?”
“Had you just as soon come to-morrow?”
“I can come to-morrow just as well as any day.”
“Well, then,” said Frank, getting up, “I'll go home an' tell mother. I guess she'll be willin'. She's always thought everything of you, Juliza.”
“How is she to-day?”
“Don't she take any medicine?”
“Yes, she takes the doctor's medicine, an' then she has her own little doses. I've just been makin' her some anise-seed tea.”
When Frank went, Juliza resumed her sewing and waited for her father and mother to return. It was dusk, and she had lighted the lamp before they drove into the yard. Juliza opened the door, and her mother came in, panting, in a swirl of cold air. She had her arms full of bundles, and she put them down on the lounge with emphasis.
“It's a terrible raw wind,” said she, “I'm lucky if I don't get more cold.” Suddenly she stood still, and sniffed; her thick green veil moulded itself to her large features.
“What's that I smell?” said she, “anise?” Juliza made no reply.
“Yes, 'tis anise,” repeated her mother, “You can't cheat me. Frank Williams has been in here. Mis' Williams is always havin' anise tea, an' their clothes are always scented with it.” Suddenly Mrs. Peck made a step forward, slipped up her veil, and peered down at the carpet. “What's that great spot?” she cried out. “He's tracked in snow, an' you know water spots this carpet. I should think you were crazy, Juliza Peck. Why didn't you put a mat under his feet?”
“I didn't think.”
“I should think you'd better think. There's that great spot on the carpet. What did he come in here for, anyway?”
Juliza stood looking at the spot. “He wants to go away a few days, but he can't leave his mother. I — told him I'd go over there an' stay with her, so he could go.”
“You did!” Juliza looked at the spot. “I guess you won't go a step, not if I know it.”
Juliza had always been frank and artless even to bluntness and stupidity. Now she suddenly displayed art which would have done credit to a diplomat. “He's goin' to his cousin Jenny's,” said she, “but he's really goin' to see that Emmons girl who was here last summer. If — I go over there to stay while he's gone, he won't think, an' nobody else will think, I want him.”
Her mother looked at her sharply. She had taken off her veil and bonnet, the stiff water-waves were unruffled, her cheeks were a purplish-red with the cold wind. “If I ever hear anybody hint you wanted him, they'll get a piece of my mind,” said she.
The next morning Juliza went over to the Williams house; her mother had made no further opposition; she even helped her off, grudgingly. “Don't you try to work ter hard now,” said she, “you make Frank draw you some water, an' get in a stock of wood before he goes. I'll run over this afternoon, an' see how you're gettin' along.”
When Juliza entered the sitting-room of the other house, she found Mrs. Williams sitting at the window in her rocking-chair. She was a little woman, doubled up limply in pillows, like a baby. Her small, gently querulous face was tear-stained, and she looked up pitifully at Juliza. “He's out in the kitchen, shavin',” said she. “He's goin' on the ten o'clock train.”
“You an' I will get along first-rate,” said Juliza.
Mrs. Williams turned her face toward the window, and wept feebly.
“Now, you mustn't feel so,” said Juliza, “you'll make it dreadful hard for him. He won't take any comfort at all, if you do so.”
“I don't know — anything about that — girl,” sobbed Mrs. Williams.
“She's a real pretty girl, an' Jenny knows her.”
“I don't want him bringin' home a strange girl, here, and me not able to lift a finger. I don't see why he couldn't have married you, if he'd wanted to married anybody.”
“Now, Mis' Williams,” said Juliza, “you mustn't do so; it ain't right. You want him to be happy, don't you?”
“Course I do. I want him to be happy more'n anything in the world; he knows I do.”
“Then you mustn't take on so. Have you had any breakfast, Mis' Williams?”
“Yes, all I want.”
Juliza had laid her shawl and hood away in a closet. She began to straighten the furniture in the sitting-room and to set things to rights. Presently Frank came in, all ready, his black valise in his hand. He looked sharply at his mother, then he set the valise down, heavily.
“Look here, mother,” said he, “I ain't goin' a step if you feel this way. I think more of you than I do of anybody else, an' I ain't goin' to have you plagued.”
Mrs. Williams began weeping again. Juliza caught up the valise, took hold of Frank's arm, and pulled him out into the kitchen. “Now, you go right along,” said she, “an' don't stop to argue. She's all right. She's only nervous. I'll look out for her.”
“Oh, Juliza, do you really think I'd ought to go?”
“Of course, I do. Don't you make any more words about it. Go in there, and kiss her, an' say good bye, and don't make any fuss. Here, give me your hat while you go. It needs brushin'.”
When Frank was fairly started Juliza stood at the kitchen-window, and watched him down the road with steady eyes; then she went back to Mrs. Williams in the sitting-room. She had no easy task during the next week. The invalid's feeble nerves were all at loose ends and quivering over her son's absence. Then, too, there was much to be done to put the house in order. Frank's housekeeping was eccentric; it seemed to Juliza that everything was where it did not belong. Mrs. Peck came over and helped her several times, but she had a cold, and there was much stormy weather. Juliza had little leisure to grieve, if she had wished to, even at night. She slept in a room out of Mrs. Williams's, kept a lamp burning, and was ready to spring up at her slightest call.
On the day Frank returned there was a heavy snow-storm; it was dark at half-past four, and Mrs. Williams had gone to bed. Juliza was out in the kitchen; she had been baking biscuits, and had just lifted the pan out of the oven, when Frank opened the door. The minute she looked at him she knew. His face was all wet and rosy like a child's, from the snow and the wind. He was trying not to smile, or rather laugh out with joy, but his whole face shone.
“Well; so you've got home?” said Juliza.
“Yes. How's mother?”
“She's pretty comfortable. She's just gone to bed.”
Frank went up to the stove and stood over it. “You don't ask me how I got along, Juliza?” said he.
“How did you?”
“Well, I guess it'll be all right.” Suddenly Frank flung up one arm on the shelf, and rested his head on it. “Oh!” he cried out, almost sobbing like a child, “I'm so happy! She's liked me all along, ever since she was here. I don't know what I've done to deserve it. I can't believe it. Oh, I'm so happy it seems as if I couldn't live.”
“I'm real glad for you,” said Juliza. She was quite pale, but her voice was steady. She went into the pantry and brought out some cookies in a plate. The table was all set for Frank's supper. “You'd better go in an' just speak to your mother,” she said; “she must have heard you come in, an' she'd be nervous waiting.”
“Well, I'll go in,” said Frank, raising his head and showing his radiant, quivering face. “Oh, Juliza! you've been the best friend to me I ever had in my life, comin' over here. I'll never forget it.”
Juliza smiled. “I'd just as lives as not,” said she. “Go in kind of quiet.” The minute the sitting-room door had closed after Frank, Juliza caught her shawl and hood from a peg, put them on, opened the door softly, and sped out. Then she tramped sturdily down the snowy road toward the lights of her own home.
Frank was married some six weeks afterward at his bride's home in Hillbrook. The newly-wedded couple, with quite a large company of relations, came over to Stony Brook for a wedding party at the bride-groom's house. Juliza had a new black silk to wear, and her mother had made her take some of her money and buy a garnet breastpin. “You might just as well have things,” she said, with a defiant air. She thought to herself that Juliza looked better than the bride, but the bride was beautiful. She stood smiling and blushing beside Frank, in her pink gown and her veil. Juliza had pinned on the veil; the bride had brought it over from Hillbrook in a box.
The evening was nearly over when Mrs. Peck came up to Juliza and took hold of her arm forcibly — “They want you to speak a piece,” she whispered.
“Oh, mother! I don't believe I can to-night.”
“Yes, you can, too; that last one. They all want you to. Mis' Williams does, an' Frank, an' she does, too. There! the minister's goin' to tell 'em.”
There was a sudden hush. Then the minister spoke: “We will now listen to a recitation by Miss Juliza Peck,” said he. “She has kindly consented to grace still further this happy occasion.”
There was a soft clapping of hands. Juliza stood forward and bowed. She was exactly in front of the wedded pair. She began to speak, and she spoke as she had never done before. Her gestures were full of fire; every line of her form and face seemed to conform to the exigencies of the situation; her voice rang out with a truth that was deeper than her own personality. Everybody listened. The bridal couple were forgotten. When Juliza finished, everybody crowded around her; her mother stood aloof proudly smiling. The beautiful bride told her she had never heard anybody speak so well. Frank stood close to her, and as soon as the others drew off a little he leaned over her and whispered.
“I want to tell you, Juliza,” he said, “how much we thank you for every thing you've done. I've told Lily about it, an' we both feel as if it's all due to you.”
“I haven't done much.”
“Yes, you have, an' there's another thing. Juliza, I want you to forgive me for — that night. I haven't told a soul, not even Lily, an' I never shall. I know you just meant to be kind, that was all.”
Juliza smiled. She had the same proud lift to her head, that she had had when reciting. “It's all right,” said she, “don't you worry.”