A New-Year's Resolution

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

From The Winning Lady and Others (Harper and Brothers; New York: 1909)

My brother Lemuel married Mehitable Pierce when he was quite along in years. Nobody thought he'd ever get married at all, any more'n my brother Reuben and Silas. The three had lived together and kept bachelors' hall ever since our mother died. I was married and away from home long before she died. I didn't know how they would get along at first, but all of the boys had been used to helpin' ma a good deal, and they were real handy, and when I asked if they wasn't goin' to have a housekeeper, they wouldn't hear to it. They said they wasn't goin' to have no strange women round in ma's place, nohow. So Silas he took hold and did the washin' and ironin', and Reuben did the sweepin', and Lemuel (he was the youngest, next to me) did the cookin'. He could cook a dinner equal to any woman, and his pies beat mine. My husband said so, and I had to give in that they did.

Well, they seemed to get along so nice, and none of 'em had ever seemed to think much about the girls, not even when they was boys, that I must say I was astonished when Lemuel he up and got married to Mehitable Pierce. She was a little along in years, too, rather more so than Lemuel, and a dreadful smart piece. She was good-lookin' and she had property, but she was dreadful smart and up an' comin'. I could never see how Lemuel ever got the courage to ask her to have him; he was always a kind of mild-spoken little fellow. Reuben he declared he didn't. He vowed that Mehitable asked him herself. He said he knew it for a fact, and he said it with the tears runnin' down his cheeks. Reuben was the oldest, and he'd always been terrible fond of Lemuel. “That poor boy would never have got in sech a fix ef that woman hadn't up an' asked him, an' he didn't have spunk enough to say no,” said Reuben, and he swallered hard.

Mehitable had a nice house of her own that her father left her, all furnished and everything, so, of course, Lemuel he went to live with her, and Mehitable's house was pretty near where I lived, so I could see everything that was goin' on. It wa'n't very long before I said to Hannah Morse, my husband's old-maid sister that lives with us and teaches school, that I believed Lemuel was henpecked, though I hadn't anythin' against Mehitable.

“I don't see what else anybody that married Mehitable Pierce would expect,” said Hannah. She spoke real sharp for her. I've always kind of wondered if Hannah would have had Lemuel if he'd asked her.

“Well,” said I, “I hope poor Lemuel will be happy. He's always been such a good, mild, willin' boy that it does seem a pity for him to be rode over roughshod, and have all the will he ever did have trodden into the dust.”

“Well, that is what will happen, or I'll miss my guess,” said Hannah Morse. For a long while I thought she was right. It was really pitiful to see Lemuel. He didn't have no more liberty nor will of his own than a five-year-old boy, and not so much. Mehitable wouldn't let him do this and that, and if there was anythin' he wanted to do she was set against it, and he'd always give right in. Many's the time Lemuel has run over to my house, and his wife come racin' to the fence and screamed after him to come home, and he'd start up as scared as he could be. And many's the time I've been in there, and he started to go out, and she'd tell him to set down, and he'd set without a murmur.

Mehitable she bought all his clothes, an' she favored long-tailed coats, and he bein' such a short man never looked well in 'em, and she wouldn't let him have store shirts and collars, but made them herself, and she didn't have very good patterns: she used her father's old ones, and he wasn't no such built man as Lemuel, and I know he suffered everything, both in his pride an' his feelin's. Lemuel began to look real downtrod. He didn't seem like half such a man as he did, and the queerest thing about it was Mehitable didn't 'pear to like the work of her own hands, so to speak.

One day she talked to me about it. “I dun'no' what 'tis,” said she, “but Lemuel he don't seem to have no go ahead and no ambition and no will of his own. He tries to please me, but it don't seem as if he had grit enough even for that. Sometimes I think he ain't well, but I dun'no' what ails him. I've been real careful of him. He's worn thick flannels, and he's had wholesome victuals; I ain't never let him have pie.”

“Lemuel was always dreadful fond of pie,” said I. I felt kind of sorry, for I remembered how fond poor Lemuel had always been of mother's pies, and what good ones he used to make himself.

“I know it,” said Mehitable. “He wanted to make some himself, when we were first married, but I vetoed that. I wasn't goin' to have a man messin' round makin' pies, and I wasn't goin' to have him eatin' of 'em after they were made. Pies ain't good for him. But I declare I dun'no' what does make him act so kind of spiritless. I told him to-day I thought he'd better make a resolution for the New Year and stick to it, and see if it wouldn't put some spunk into him.”

Pretty soon she went home. I could see she was real kind of troubled. She always did think a good deal of Lemuel, in spite of everything.

The next day was New Year's, and in the afternoon Mehitable came in again. She didn't have her sewin' as she generally did — she was a very industrious woman. She jest sat down and begun twisting the fringe of her shawl as if she was real nervous. Her face was puckered up, too. “I dun'no' what to make of Lemuel,” said she, finally.

“Why, what's the matter?” said I, kind of scared.

“He says he's made a resolution for the New Year,” said she, “and that he's goin' to keep it.”

“Well, what is it?” said I.

“I dun'no',” said she.

“Well, if it's a good one, you don't care, do you?” said I, “and it couldn't be anythin' but a good one if my brother made it.”

“I dun'no' what it is,” said she.

“Won't he tell?”

“No, he won't. I can't get a word out of him about it. He don't act like himself.”

Well, I must say I never saw such a change as come over Mehitable and Lemuel after that. He wouldn't tell what his resolution was, and she couldn't make him, though she almost went down on her knees. It begun to seem as if she was fairly changin' characters with Lemuel, though she had a spell of bein' herself more'n ever at first, tryin' to force him to tell what that resolution was. Then she give that up, and she never asked him where he was goin', an' he could come in my house an' set just as long as he wanted to, and she bought him a short-tailed coat and some store collars and shirts, and he looked like another man. He got to stayin' down to the store nights an' talkin' politics with the other men real loud. I heard him myself one night, and I couldn't believe it was Lemuel.

Well, Lemuel he never gave in, and he never told till the next New-Year's Day, when he'd said he would. He'd said all along that he'd tell her then. I'd got most as curious as Mehitable myself by that time, and New-Year's mornin' I run over real early — they wasn't through breakfast. I knew the minute I saw them that he hadn't told. He said he wouldn't till he was through his breakfast. He was most through — was finishing up with a big piece of mince pie, and he'd made it himself, too. When he'd swallowed the last mouthful he looked up and he laughed, real pleasant and sweet, and yet with more manliness than I'd ever seen in him.

“S'pose you want to know what that New-Year's resolution was?” said Lemuel.

“I guess I can stand it awhile longer,” said Mehitable. Now the time had come, she didn't want to act too eager, but I showed out jest what I felt.

“For the land's sake, Lemuel Babbit, what was it?” said I.

Lemuel he laughed again. “Well, it wasn't much of anythin',” he said, in his gentle, drawlin' way. “I didn't make no resolution, really.”

“What, Lemuel Babbit!” cried Mehitable.

“No,” said he; “I couldn't think of none to make, so I made a resolution not to tell that I hadn't made any.”