Susan Jane's Valentine

Mary E. Wilkins

From Harper's Bazar Vol. XXXIII No. 7 (February 17, 1900)

This is the first time I have ever told a soul about it. I don't know but I ought to have told before. I s'pose I haven't been honest, but I always wondered if it wouldn't do Susan Jane harm for me to tell; if she wouldn't feel dreadful hurt because I did it, and if Calvin Adams wouldn't be let to think that she had been talkin' about him to me, and think less of her because of that. I think he was always inclined to be rather suspicious and jealous, and if he thought there had been any connivance about getting him back, he might never feel the same toward her. Anyway, I made up my mind to keep it to myself, though it didn't seem quite honest, and as far as I was concerned I didn't care who knew it. I wouldn't tell it now, if Susan Jane hadn't gone away so far to live, and it ain't noways likely you'll ever see her. But I don't see what harm it can do now.

Susan Jane has been married a year, and she wasn't young when she was married. I won't say how old she was; it ain't anybody's business, and women folks ought to stand by each other a little; and it wasn't her fault that she hadn't ever got married. She was a real pretty girl, and would have had plenty of chances if it hadn't been for her mother's bein' out of her mind for years, and Susan Jane bein' such a good, faithful daughter, an' not willin' to leave her mother for anybody. Calvin Adams wanted her bad enough. I used to pity Susan Jane, and I used to pity Calvin. But I couldn't see any way out of the difficulty for either of 'em. Susan Jane couldn't and wouldn't leave her mother, and I knew her well enough to know that she would never marry and take her husband home, her mother bein' as she was. It wouldn't have been right for more reasons than one. Her mother was melancholy, and thought she had committed some awful sin, she didn't rightly know what; and she just used to set and cry over it day in and day out, poor thing! I never went in there but she was takin' on so it was 'nough to break your heart, and you couldn't reason her out of it. The more you talked the worse she thought she'd been. Poor Susan Jane had a terrible life, especially after her father died and all the care came on her. She hadn't means enough to hire help.

Well, a year ago last December — two days after Christmas — Susan Jane's mother died, and it was a happy release, and I don't doubt the poor soul found out there was balm enough in Gilead for all her trouble at last. But Susan Jane seemed to feel just as bad as if her mother had been the greatest comfort to her that ever was, instead of such a constant care; and she actually grew thinner, instead of pickin' up, as I thought she would. One day in January she came into my house — I lived next door — and sat down and cried so that I begun to fear she was going to be like her mother.

“Nobody knows how lonesome I am,” she said — “nobody knows. You don't know anything about it, with your husband and your children, and your sister living with you too. But just think of me, just think of me, all alone in this great world.”

Then she would sob so pitiful like, it was all I could do not to keep her company.

“I tell you what it is, Susan Jane, you must get married now,” said I at last. “There's nothing in the world to hinder.”

But she sobbed harder than ever. “Oh, you don't know! you don't know!” said she.

“What do you mean by that?” said I.

It was a long time before I could get anything out of her, but finally I found out it was something about Calvin Adams. She wouldn't say much; she wasn't the kind to own up she was in love with any man, unless she was goin' with him regular; she was dreadful proud spirited, but I found out as well as I wanted to that her heart was about broke when Calvin Adams went to Colorado, and she wouldn't marry nobody else if she died an old maid.

“Calvin he never spoke to me that last time I see him at meetin' before he went away,” said she.

“That was because he thought you ought to leave your mother and go with him. Men are always jest as selfish as that,” said I.

“He never asked me to go with him, an' I 'ain't no reason to think it was that at all,” said Susan Jane, dryin' her eyes kind of defiant like.

“Calvin Adams wa'n't one to ask where he knew he'd get the mitten,” said I.

“Well, he had said something to me about he supposed I wouldn't feel as if I could leave my mother, that time when Sarah Gibbs and the Holmeses went on that excursion to Washington for twenty-five dollars, and I said no, I never would, and he knew well enough what I meant, I suppose,” said Susan Jane; “but I ain't goin' to say he asked me to have him, because he didn't. I shouldn't be a mite surprised if he was married out there.”

“Seems to me we should have heard, if he had,” said I.

“I don't see how; he 'ain't got any folks left here,” said Susan Jane.

Then she rose up to go. “I feel real ashamed I give way so,” said she. “I don't know what possessed me. I s'pose I shall get used to livin' alone after a while, and it won't seem so bad. It ain't no worse for me than for other women, an' I've got my home an' enough to eat, an' I ought to be thankful, an' I am.”

I felt real sorry for Susan Jane when I watched her go down the street all alone, with her shoulders kind of thrown back under her shawl, as if she had made up her mind to stan' up straight, whatever happened. She had plenty of grit, and that made me pity her more when she broke down. A woman that's cryin' out she's hurt all the time don't get half so much sympathy when she is hurt. I thought to myself that she was to be pitied — nothin' to look forward to but livin' alone an' dyin' alone, without anybody to feel any particular interest — and then I thought how thankful I ought to be because I had such a different lot, and then I felt kind of mean for bein' thankful. I put on my shawl and head-tie to run down to the store and buy a little piece of codfish to cream up for a relish for supper, and all the way I was thinkin' about Susan Jane, and wishin' I could do something or other for her. I wondered if Calvin Adams had ever got married. Ezra Scott, who keeps the store, was all alone in there, and after I had bought the codfish we were talkin' about the weather. Ezra Scott is a pleasant, sociable man, and it suddenly occurred to me that he might know, if I could lead up to it in any way. I didn't want to ask him right out. So I sort of branched out from the weather — we had been sayin' how cold it was.

“I don't suppose it's anywhere near as cold here as it is in some places,” said I.

“No, I s'pose it ain't,” said he, pickin' up a raisin out of a box on the counter and eatin' it. “Not near as cold as it is in Greenland nor Siberia.”

“I don't s'pose it's near as cold as it is in some parts of our own country,” said I. “I s'pose it's colder in Colorado?”

“Guess it is,” said Ezra Scott.

“Speakin' about Colorado,” said I, kind of easy, “wasn't that where Calvin Adams, that used to work for you, went?”

“Yes, it was,” said he, takin' another raisin.

“I s'pose you hear from him?”

“I 'ain't heard from him sence the first year he went out there,” said he. “Guess he shook the dust of this place off his feet.”

“Well, I dare say he's got married an' settled down out there,” said I, workin' my way out of the store.

“Dare say,” said Ezra Scott, an' I wa'n't a mite wiser for all my manœvring. I saw Ezra Scott didn't know any more about it than I did.

I was goin' out of the store when I caught sight of something on the counter, and I stopped short. “I declare, if you 'ain't got your valentines in!” said I.

Ezra Scott came loungin' along behind the counter to where I was. “Yes,” said he; “have to have 'em in in season. Got a pretty lot this year, though valentines ain't sought after as they were when you an' I were young.”

“I remember when I set considerable store by 'em,” said I, kind of laughin'. I remembered when Ezra Scott had sent me one — I guess the handsomest one in the store. It was his father's store then, before I was married, and I wondered if he remembered. Well, he got a real nice wife, full as good a one as I would have made him.

I stood fingerin' over those valentines, when all of a sudden something occurred to me. I took up one — real pretty, embossed paper with a wreath of roses, and a couple under a white dove, with a fall of lace and a sentiment that was real appropriate. “How much is this one?” said I.

Ezra Scott took it up and looked at it. “Oh, twenty-five cents, I guess,” said he. Now that valentine was worth fifty cents if it was worth anything. I guess he was thinking of that old one he sent me when I was a girl. “Well, I'll take it,” said I.

When I got out of that store, I declare I thought to myself I didn't know but I was luny! I wondered what Henry my husband, what my eldest daughter Eliza, and what my sister Maria — what they would say to me if they knew what I was going to do. And I thought I didn't know what Susan Jane would say. But I did it. That night, after all the folks had gone to bed, I went down stairs real still, and I got out the pen and ink, and I wrote on that valentine real fine in one corner, “From an old friend and schoolmate.” Then I read over the sentiment, which was real appropriate:
  Though distances our hearts may sever,
    Though you may doubt my truth,
  My love is thine, sweetheart, forever,
    As in the hour of youth.
I don't see how the sentiment happened to be so appropriate.

Then I did up the valentine, and sealed and directed it, and I had to direct it in a dreadful funny fashion, because all I knew was that Calvin lived in Denver, Colorado, and I didn't know any street nor number. So I directed it in this way: “Mr. Calvin Adams, who used to live in East Brookville, Mass., and tend store for Ezra Scott when he was a young man, whose father was named Adoniram, and who lost a sister by the name of Hannah Ann, and a brother named George Henry, who was drowned in the pond when he was ten years old. Denver, Colorado.”

It about covered up the envelope, but I thought if he was there he would get it. Then the next morning I made an errand down to the post-office and sent it. After it was gone I kept considerin': S'pose he was married, what would he think? And s'pose he wasn't, how would he pitch on Susan Jane as the one that sent it? But I reasoned it out in this way: if he didn't pitch on her, it would show pretty conclusive that he wasn't still thinkin' of her; and if he wasn't, of course that settled it. And I thought if he was married, and his wife did take him to task for havin' a valentine, and he had as much grit as he used to have, I'd risk him.

Well, it wasn't much longer than just time enough for a letter to get to Denver and have an answer, as I reckoned it, before I was settin' at my window one afternoon just before sundown, when I see him walkin' past. I knew him in a minute, in spite of all those years between. He was dressed real nice and he carried a cane, and he held his head back, and walked with a kind of hitch back of his shoulders just the way he used to, and he was headed straight for Susan Jane's.

Well, the next afternoon Susan Jane came over, and I saw in a minute what had happened. She kept braidin' the fringe of her shawl, and colorin' up, an' lookin' at me, and openin' her mouth to speak, but not quite fetchin' it, and tryin' to make out that she didn't want to say anything. Then I helped her out.

“I see somebody goin' by just before sundown last night,” said I, kind of sly.

“Yes; it was Calvin Adams,” said she, in a little thin, shaky voice, lookin' out of the window.

“Oh!” said I.

She waited a minute, and kind of caught her breath; then it all came out. She said she was goin' to be married right away. She said she wanted to have a little more time to get ready, that it seemed dreadful sudden, and not quite proper nor becomin', and she hadn't one nice dress but her black silk that she'd had fifteen years that August, and the skirt needed makin' over; but Calvin couldn't stay away from his business, and he said she could get a new black silk out there, and wear her old one for common. She said that Calvin had never got married all that time, and she guessed he had always thought a good deal of her. And she wasn't goin' to take any of her furniture out to Denver except the little things, such as china and tidies and her glass shade of wax flowers she made when she was a girl — Susan Jane has always done a good deal of fancy-work.

I must say I was tickled 'most to pieces, thinkin' I had brought it all about; but I couldn't quite understand why Susan Jane seemed so sober. She acted as if she was happy, and yet as if something troubled her. Finally she told me.

“I'm dreadful troubled, Amanda,” said she, “and I want your advice.”

“Why, what is it?” said I, feelin' sort of scared, for I had a suspicion it was something about that valentine; and so it was.

Susan Jane begun to cry. “He says I sent him a valentine, and that it made him come home,” said she; “and I didn't, and I've told him so over and over, and he just laughs and says I'm too modest to own it; and he won't believe me, anyhow, and I don't know what to do!”

I sat like a rock when that came out.

“Oh, Amanda, what shall I do? He won't believe me, anyhow,” said she.

“I don't see as there's much you can do,” said I, “but say you didn't, as long as you didn't.”

“But I do, and he won't believe me,” said she; and she sobbed right out.

“Well, I don't see how you are to blame for that,” said I.

“I wish I had sent him the valentine,” said she; “though it seems to me it would have been a dreadful immodest thing to do, and I can't feel right by the one that did it, whoever she is; but he'd be right in believin' it if I had sent it, but I didn't, and he won't believe it. What would you advise me to do, Amanda?”

“I don't see anything to do but let him continue in his unbelief,” said I; and I didn't, though my conscience has troubled me ever since.

But, after all, mebbe we'd ought to let our consciences trouble us a little for the sakes of our friends, and I don't know as I could have done much different. It wasn't so much a question of makin' Calvin Adams believe her as of makin' him disbelieve himself. He'd set his heart on his own interpretation of it, and he wasn't goin' to be shaken out of it. He was that kind of a man; but he is real good and steady, and he'll make Susan Jane happy.

Well, she acted on my advice; she had to; and they got married and went to Colorado; and the night before they went I heard him with my own ears jokin' her about sendin' that valentine; and she sort of smiled, and said she didn't, but she didn't act much distressed.

“She won't own to it,” said Calvin Adams. Then he turned to me. “Did you ever know a woman that would own up to anything of that kind?” said he, laughing real knowingly.

“No,” said I, “I never did.”