The Setness of Theodosia by Lucy Maud
When Theodosia Ford married Wesley Brooke
after a courtship of three years, everybody concerned
was satisfied. There was nothing particularly
romantic in either the courtship or marriage.
Wesley was a steady, well-meaning, rather slow
fellow, comfortably off. He was not at all handsome.
But Theodosia was a very pretty girl with
the milky colouring of an auburn blonde and large
china-blue eyes. She looked mild and Madonna-like
and was known to be sweet-tempered. Wesley's
older brother, Irving Brooke, had married a
woman who kept him in hot water all the time,
so Heatherton folks said, but they thought there
was no fear of that with Wesley and Theodosia.
They would get along together all right.
Only old Jim Parmelee shook his head and said,
"They might, and then again they mightn't"; he
knew the stock they came of and it was a kind
you could never predict about.
Wesley and Theodosia were third cousins; this
meant that old Henry Ford had been the great-great-grandfather
of them both. Jim Parmelee,
who was ninety, had been a small boy when this
remote ancestor was still alive.
"I mind him well," said old Jim on the morning
of Theodosia's wedding day. There was a little
group about the blacksmith's forge. Old Jim was
in the centre. He was a fat, twinkling-eyed old
man, fresh and ruddy in spite of his ninety years.
"And," he went on, "he was about the settest
man you'd ever see or want to see. When old
Henry Ford made up his mind on any p'int a
cyclone wouldn't turn him a hairsbreadth—no,
nor an earthquake neither. Didn't matter a mite
how much he suffered for it—he'd stick to it if it
broke his heart. There was always some story or
other going round about old Henry's setness. The
family weren't quite so bad—only Tom. He was
Dosia's great-grandfather, and a regular chip of
the old block. Since then it's cropped out now
and again all through the different branches of
the family. I mistrust if Dosia hasn't got a spice
of it, and Wes Brooke too, but mebbe not."
Old Jim was the only croaker. Wesley and
Theodosia were married, in the golden prime of
the Indian summer, and settled down on their
snug little farm. Dosia was a beautiful bride, and
Wesley's pride in her was amusingly apparent.
He thought nothing too good for her, the Heatherton
people said. It was a sight to make an old
heart young to see him march up the aisle of the
church on Sunday in all the glossy splendour of
his wedding suit, his curly black head held high
and his round boyish face shining with happiness,
stopping and turning proudly at his pew to
show Theodosia in.
They always sat alone together in the big pew,
and Alma Spencer, who sat behind them, declared
that they held each other's hands all through the
service. This lasted until spring; then came a sensation
and scandal, such as decorous Heatherton
had not known since the time Isaac Allen got
drunk at Centreville Fair and came home and
kicked his wife.
One evening in early April Wesley came home
from the store at "the Corner," where he had
lingered to talk over politics and farming methods
with his cronies. This evening he was later than
usual, and Theodosia had his supper kept warm
for him. She met him on the porch and kissed
him. He kissed her in return, and held her to him
for a minute, with her bright head on his shoulder.
The frogs were singing down in the south
meadow swamp, and there was a splendour of
silvery moonrise over the wooded Heatherton
hills. Theodosia always remembered that
When they went in, Wesley, full of excitement,
began to talk of what he had heard at the
store. Ogden Greene and Tom Cary were going
to sell out and go to Manitoba. There were better
chances for a man out there, he said; in Heatherton
he might slave all his life and never make
more than a bare living. Out west he might make
Wesley talked on in this strain for some time,
rehashing all the arguments he had heard Greene
and Cary use. He had always been rather disposed
to grumble at his limited chances in Heatherton,
and now the great West seemed to stretch
before him, full of alluring prospects and visions.
Ogden and Tom wanted him to go too, he said.
He had half a notion to. Heatherton was a stick-in-the-mud
sort of place anyhow.
"What say, Dosia?"
He looked across the table at her, his eyes
bright and questioning. Theodosia had listened in
silence, as she poured his tea and passed him her
hot, flaky biscuits. There was a little perpendicular
wrinkle between her straight eyebrows.
"I think Ogden and Tom are fools," she said
crisply. "They have good farms here. What do
they want to go west for, or you, either? Don't
get silly notions in your head, Wes."
"Wouldn't you go with me, Dosia?" he said,
trying to speak lightly.
"No, I wouldn't," said Theodosia, in her calm,
sweet voice. Her face was serene, but the little
wrinkle had grown deeper. Old Jim Parmelee
would have known what it meant. He had seen
the same expression on old Henry Ford's face
many a time.
Wesley laughed good-humouredly, as if at a
child. His heart was suddenly set on going west,
and he was sure he could soon bring Theodosia
around. He did not say anything more about it
just then. Wesley thought he knew how to manage
When he broached the subject again, two days
later, Theodosia told him plainly that it was no
use. She would never consent to leave Heatherton
and all her friends and go out to the prairies. The
idea was just rank foolishness, and he would soon
see that himself.
All this Theodosia said calmly and sweetly,
without any trace of temper or irritation. Wesley
still believed that he could persuade her and he
tried perseveringly for a fortnight. By the end of
that time he discovered that Theodosia was not a
great-great-granddaughter of old Henry Ford for
Not that Theodosia ever got angry. Neither
did she laugh at him. She met his arguments and
pleadings seriously enough, but she never
"If you go to Manitoba, Wes, you'll go alone,"
she said. "I'll never go, so there is no use in any
Wesley was a descendant of old Henry Ford
too. Theodosia's unexpected opposition roused all
the latent stubbornness of his nature. He went
over to Centreville oftener, and kept his blood at
fever heat talking to Greene and Cary, who
wanted him to go with them and spared no pains
The matter was gossiped about in Heatherton,
of course. People knew that Wesley Brooke had
caught "the western fever," and wanted to sell
out and go to Manitoba, while Theodosia was
opposed to it. They thought Dosia would have to
give in in the end, but said it was a pity Wes
Brooke couldn't be contented to stay where he
was well off.
Theodosia's family naturally sided with her and
tried to dissuade Wesley. But he was mastered
by that resentful irritation, roused in a man by
opposition where he thinks he should be master,
which will drive him into any cause.
One day he told Theodosia that he was going.
She was working her butter in her little, snowy-clean
dairy under the great willows by the well.
Wesley was standing in the doorway, his stout,
broad-shouldered figure filling up the sunlit space.
He was frowning and sullen.
"I'm going west in two weeks' time with the
boys, Dosia," he said stubbornly. "You can come
with me or stay here—just exactly as you please.
But I'm going."
Theodosia went on spatting her balls of golden
butter on the print in silence. She was looking
very neat and pretty in her big white apron, her
sleeves rolled up high above her plump, dimpled
elbows, and her ruddy hair curling about her face
and her white throat. She looked as pliable as her
Her silence angered her husband. He shuffled
"Well, what have you to say, Dosia?"
"Nothing," said Theodosia. "If you have made
up your mind to go, go you will, I suppose. But
I will not. There is no use in talking. We've been
over the ground often enough, Wes. The matter
Up to that moment Wesley had always believed
that his wife would yield at last, when she saw
that he was determined. Now he realized that she
never would. Under that exterior of milky, dimpled
flesh and calm blue eyes was all the iron will
of old dead and forgotten Henry Ford. This mildest
and meekest of girls and wives was not to be
moved a hairsbreadth by all argument or entreaty,
or insistence on a husband's rights.
A great, sudden anger came over the man. He
lifted his hand and for one moment it seemed to
Theodosia as if he meant to strike her. Then he
dropped it with the first oath that had ever
crossed his lips.
"You listen to me," he said thickly. "If you
won't go with me I'll never come back here—never.
When you want to do your duty as a wife
you can come to me. But I'll never come back."
He turned on his heel and strode away. Theodosia
kept on spatting her butter. The little perpendicular
wrinkle had come between her brows
again. At that moment an odd, almost uncanny
resemblance to the old portrait of her great-great-grandfather,
which hung on the parlour wall at
home, came out on her girlish face.
The fortnight passed by. Wesley was silent and
sullen, never speaking to his wife when he could
avoid it. Theodosia was as sweet and serene as
ever. She made an extra supply of shirts and
socks for him, put up his lunch basket, and
packed his trunk carefully. But she never spoke
of his journey.
He did not sell his farm. Irving Brooke rented it.
Theodosia was to live in the house. The business
arrangements were simple and soon concluded.
Heatherton folks gossiped a great deal. They
all condemned Theodosia. Even her own people
sided against her now. They hated to be mixed
up in a local scandal, and since Wes was bound
to go they told Theodosia that it was her duty to
go with him, no matter how much she disliked it.
It would be disgraceful not to. They might as well
have talked to the four winds. Theodosia was
immoveable. They coaxed and argued and
blamed—it all came to the same thing. Even those
of them who could be "set" enough themselves
on occasion could not understand Theodosia, who
had always been so tractable. They finally gave
up, as Wesley had done, baffled. Time would
bring her to her senses, they said; you just had
to leave that still, stubborn kind alone.
On the morning of Wesley's departure Theodosia
arose at sunrise and prepared a tempting
breakfast. Irving Brooke's oldest son, Stanley,
who was to drive Wesley to the station, came over
early with his express wagon. Wesley's trunk,
corded and labelled, stood on the back platform.
The breakfast was a very silent meal. When it was
over Wesley put on his hat and overcoat and went
to the door, around which Theodosia's morning-glory
vines were beginning to twine. The sun was
not yet above the trees and the long shadows lay
on the dewy grass. The wet leaves were flickering
on the old maples that grew along the fence between
the yard and the clover field beyond. The
skies were all pearly blue, cleanswept of clouds.
From the little farmhouse the green meadows
sloped down to the valley, where a blue haze
wound in and out like a glistening ribbon.
Theodosia went out and stood looking inscrutably
on, while Wesley and Irving hoisted the trunk
into the wagon and tied it. Then Wesley came up
the porch steps and looked at her.
"Dosia," he said a little huskily, "I said I
wouldn't ask you to go again, but I will. Will you
come with me yet?"
"No," said Theodosia gently.
He held out his hand. He did not offer to kiss
There was no tremor of an eyelash with her.
Wesley smiled bitterly and turned away. When
the wagon reached the end of the little lane he
turned and looked back for the last time. Through
all the years that followed he carried with him the
picture of his wife as he saw her then, standing
amid the airy shadows and wavering golden
lights of the morning, the wind blowing the skirt
of her pale blue wrapper about her feet and ruffling
the locks of her bright hair into a delicate
golden cloud. Then the wagon disappeared around
a curve in the road, and Theodosia turned and
went back into her desolate home.
For a time there was a great buzz of gossip over
the affair. People wondered over it. Old Jim Parmelee
understood better than the others. When
he met Theodosia he looked at her with a curious
twinkle in his keen old eyes.
"Looks as if a man could bend her any way
he'd a mind to, doesn't she?" he said. "Looks is
deceiving. It'll come out in her face by and by—she's
too young yet, but it's there. It does seem
unnatteral to see a woman so stubborn—you'd
kinder look for it more in a man."
Wesley wrote a brief letter to Theodosia when
he reached his destination. He said he was well
and was looking about for the best place to settle.
He liked the country fine. He was at a place called
Red Butte and guessed he'd locate there.
Two weeks later he wrote again. He had taken
up a claim of three hundred acres. Greene and
Cary had done the same. They were his nearest
neighbours and were three miles away. He had
knocked up a little shack, was learning to cook
his own meals, and was very busy. He thought
the country was a grand one and the prospects
Theodosia answered his letter and told him all
the Heatherton news. She signed herself "Theodosia
Brooke," but otherwise there was nothing
in the letter to indicate that it was written by a
wife to her husband.
At the end of a year Wesley wrote and once
more asked her to go out to him. He was getting
on well, and was sure she would like the place.
It was a little rough, to be sure, but time would
"Won't you let bygones be bygones, Dosia?" he
wrote, "and come out to me. Do, my dear wife."
Theodosia wrote back, refusing to go. She never
got any reply, nor did she write again.
People had given up talking about the matter
and asking Theodosia when she was going out to
Wes. Heatherton had grown used to the chronic
scandal within its decorous borders. Theodosia
never spoke of her husband to anyone, and it was
known that they did not correspond. She took her
youngest sister to live with her. She had her garden
and hens and a cow. The farm brought her
enough to live on, and she was always busy.
When fifteen years had gone by there were naturally
some changes in Heatherton, sleepy and;
unprogressive as it was. Most of the old people
were in the little hillside burying-ground that
fronted the sunrise. Old Jim Parmelee was there
with his recollections of four generations. Men
and women who had been in their prime when
Wesley went away were old now and the children
were grown up and married.
Theodosia was thirty-five and was nothing like!
the slim, dimpled girl who had stood on the porch
steps and watched her husband drive away that
morning fifteen years ago. She was stout and
comely; the auburn hair was darker and arched
away from her face in smooth, shining waves
instead of the old-time curls. Her face was unlined
and fresh-coloured, but no woman could live in
subjection to her own unbending will for so many
years and not show it. Nobody, looking at Theodosia
now, would have found it hard to believe
that a woman with such a determined, immoveable
face could stick to a course of conduct in
defiance of circumstances.
Wesley Brooke was almost forgotten. People
knew, through correspondents of Greene and
Cary, that he had prospered and grown rich. The
curious old story had crystallized into accepted
A life may go on without ripple or disturbance
for so many years that it may seem to have settled
into a lasting calm; then a sudden wind of passion
may sweep over it and leave behind a wake of
tempestuous waters. Such a time came at last to
One day in August Mrs. Emory Merritt dropped
in. Emory Merritt's sister was Ogden Greene's
wife, and the Merritts kept up an occasional correspondence
with her. Hence, Cecilia Merritt
always knew what was to be known about Wesley
Brooke, and always told Theodosia because
she had never been expressly forbidden to do
Today she looked slightly excited. Secretly she
was wondering if the news she brought would
have any effect whatever on Theodosia's impassive
"Do you know, Dosia, Wesley's real sick? In
fact, Phoebe Greene says they have very poor
hopes of him. He was kind of ailing all the spring,
it seems, and about a month ago he was took
down with some kind of slow fever they have out
there. Phoebe says they have a hired nurse from
the nearest town and a good doctor, but she reckons
he won't get over it. That fever goes awful
hard with a man of his years."
Cecilia Merritt, who was the fastest talker in
Heatherton, had got this out before she was
brought up by a queer sound, half gasp, half cry,
from Theodosia. The latter looked as if someone
had struck her a physical blow.
"Mercy, Dosia, you ain't going to faint! I didn't
suppose you'd care. You never seemed to care."
"Did you say," asked Theodosia thickly, "that
Wesley was sick—dying?"
"Well, that's what Phoebe said. She may be
mistaken. Dosia Brooke, you're a queer woman. I
never could make you out and I never expect to.
I guess only the Lord who made you can translate
Theodosia stood up. The sun was getting low,
and the valley beneath them, ripening to harvest,
was like a river of gold. She folded up her sewing
with a steady hand.
"It's five o'clock, so I'll ask you to excuse me,
Cecilia. I have a good deal to attend to. You can
ask Emory if he'll drive me to the station in the
morning. I'm going out to Wes."
"Well, for the land's sake," said Cecilia Merritt
feebly, as she tied on her gingham sunbonnet.
She got up and went home in a daze.
Theodosia packed her trunk and worked all
night, dry-eyed, with agony and fear tearing at
her heart. The iron will had snapped at last, like
a broken reed, and fierce self-condemnation
seized on her. "I've been a wicked woman," she
A week from that day Theodosia climbed down
from the dusty stage that had brought her from
the station over the prairies to the unpretentious
little house where Wesley Brooke lived. A young
girl, so like what Ogden Greene's wife had been
fifteen years before that Theodosia involuntarily
exclaimed, "Phoebe," came to the door. Beyond
her, Theodosia saw the white-capped nurse.
Her voice trembled.
"Does—does Wesley Brooke live here?" she
The girl nodded.
"Yes. But he is very ill at present. Nobody is
allowed to see him."
Theodosia put up her hand and loosened her
bonnet strings as if they were choking her. She
had been sick with the fear that Wesley would be
dead before she got to him. The relief was almost
"But I must see him," she cried hysterically—she,
the calm, easy-going Dosia, hysterical—"I am
his wife—and oh, if he had died before I got
The nurse came forward.
"In that case I suppose you must," she conceded.
"But he does not expect you. I must prepare
him for the surprise."
She turned to the door of a room opening off
the kitchen, but Theodosia, who had hardly heard
her, was before her. She was inside the room
before the nurse could prevent her. Then she
stood, afraid and trembling, her eyes searching
the dim apartment hungrily.
When they fell on the occupant of the bed
Theodosia started in bitter surprise. All unconsciously
she had been expecting to find Wesley as
he had been when they parted. Could this gaunt,
haggard creature, with the unkempt beard and
prematurely grey hair and the hollow, beseeching
eyes, be the ruddy, boyish-faced husband of her
youth? She gave a choking cry of pain and
shame, and the sick man turned his head. Their
Amazement, incredulity, hope, dread, all
flashed in succession over Wesley Brooke's lined
face. He raised himself feebly up.
"Dosia," he murmured.
Theodosia staggered across the room and fell
on her knees by the bed. She clasped his head to
her breast and kissed him again and again.
"Oh, Wes, Wes, can you forgive me? I've been
a wicked, stubborn woman—and I've spoiled our
lives. Forgive me."
He held his thin trembling arms around her and
devoured her face with his eyes.
"Dosia, when did you come? Did you know I
"Wes, I can't talk till you say you've forgiven
"Oh, Dosia, you have just as much to forgive.
We were both too set. I should have been more
"Just say, I forgive you, Dosia,'" she entreated.
"I forgive you, Dosia," he said gently, "and oh,
it's so good to see you once more, darling. There
hasn't been an hour since I left you that I haven't
longed for your sweet face. If I had thought you
really cared I'd have gone back. But I thought you
didn't. It broke my heart. You did though, didn't
"Oh, yes, yes, yes," she said, holding him
more closely, with her tears falling.
When the young doctor from Red Butte came
that evening he found a great improvement in his
patient. Joy and happiness, those world-old physicians,
had done what drugs and medicines had
failed to do.
"I'm going to get better, Doc," said Wesley.
"My wife has come and she's going to stay. You
didn't know I was married, did you? I'll tell you
the story some day. I proposed going back east,
but Dosia says she'd rather stay here. I'm the happiest
man in Red Butte, Doc."
He squeezed Theodosia's hand as he had used
to do long ago in Heatherton church, and Dosia
smiled down at him. There were no dimples now,
but her smile was very sweet. The ghostly finger
of old Henry Ford, pointing down through the
generations, had lost its power to brand with its
malediction the life of these, his descendants.
Wesley and Theodosia had joined hands with
their long-lost happiness.