Wilfulness by Susan Coolidge
There was a great excitement in the Keene's pleasant home at
Wrentham, one morning, about three years ago. The servants were hard at
work, making everything neat and orderly. The children buzzed about
like active flies, for in the evening some one was coming whom none of
them had as yet seen,a new mamma, whom their father had just married.
The three older children remembered their own mamma pretty well; to
the babies, she was only a name. Janet, the eldest, recollected her
best of all, and the idea of somebody coming to take her place did not
please her at all. This was not from a sense of jealousy for the mother
who was gone, but rather from a jealousy for herself; for since Mrs.
Keene's death, three years before, Janet had done pretty much as she
liked, and the idea of control and interference aroused within her, in
advance, the spirit of resistance.
Janet's father was a busy lawyer, and had little time to give to the
study of his children's characters. He liked to come home at night,
after a hard day at his office, or in the courts, and find a nicely
arranged table and room, and a bright fire in the grate, beside which
he could read his newspaper without interruption, just stopping now and
then to say a word to the children, or have a frolic with the younger
ones before they went to bed. Old Maria, who had been nurse to all the
five in turn, managed the housekeeping; and so long as there was no
outward disturbance, Mr. Keene asked no questions.
He had no idea that Janet, in fact, ruled the family. She was only
twelve, but she had the spirit of a dictator, and none of the little
ones dared to dispute her will or to complain. In fact, there was not
often cause for complaint. When Janet was not opposed, she was both
kind and amusing. She had much sense and capacity for a child of her
years, and her brothers and sisters were not old enough to detect the
mistakes which she sometimes made.
And now a stepmother was coming to spoil all this, as Janet thought.
Her meditations, as she dusted the china and arranged the flowers, ran
something after this fashion:
She's only twenty-one, Papa said, and that's only nine years older
than I am, and nine years isn't much. I'm not going to call her
'Mamma,' anyway. I shall call her 'Jerusha,' from the very first; for
Maria said that Jessie was only a nickname, and I hate nicknames. I
know she'll want me to begin school next fall, but I don't mean to, for
she don't know anything about the schools here, and I can judge better
than she can. There, that looks nice! putting a tall spike of lilies
in a pale green vase. Now I'll dress baby and little Jim, and we shall
all be ready when they come.
It was exactly six, that loveliest hour of a lovely June day, when
the carriage stopped at the gate. Mr. Keene helped his wife out, and
looked eagerly toward the piazza, on which the five children were
Well, my dears, he cried, how do you do? Why don't you come and
kiss your new mamma?
They all came obediently, pretty little Jim and baby Alice, hand in
hand, then Harry and Mabel, and, last of all, Janet. The little ones
shyly allowed themselves to be kissed, saying nothing, but Janet, true
to her resolution, returned her stepmother's salute in a matter-of-fact
way, kissed her father, and remarked:
Do come in, Papa; Jerusha must be tired!
Mr. Keene gave an amazed look at his wife. The corners of her mouth
twitched, and Janet thought wrathfully, I do believe she is laughing
at me! But Mrs. Keene stifled the laugh, and, taking little Alice's
hand, led the way into the house.
Oh, how nice, how pretty! were her first words. Look at the
flowers, James! Did you arrange them, Janet? I suspect you did.
Yes, said Janet; I did them all.
Thank you, dear, said Mrs. Keene, and stooped to kiss her again.
It was an affectionate kiss, and Janet had to confess to herself that
this newperson was pleasant looking. She had pretty brown hair and
eyes, a warm glow of color in a pair of round cheeks, and an expression
at once sweet and sensible and decided. It was a face full of
attraction; the younger children felt it, and began to sidle up and
cuddle against the new mamma. Janet felt the attraction, too, but she
Don't squeeze Jerusha in that way, she said to Mabel; you are
creasing her jacket. Jim, come here, you are in the way.
Janet, said Mr. Keene, in a voice of displeasure, what do you
mean by calling your mother 'Jerusha'?
She isn't my real mother, explained Janet, defiantly. I don't
want to call her 'Mamma;' she's too young.
Mrs. Keene laughed,she couldn't help it.
We will settle by and by what you shall call me, she said. But,
Janet, it can't be Jerusha, for that is not my name. I was baptized
I shall call you Mrs. Keene, then, said Janet, mortified, but
persistent. Her stepmother looked pained, but she said no more.
None of the other children made any difficulty about saying Mamma
to this sweet new friend. Jessie Keene was the very woman to mother a
family of children. Bright and tender and firm all at once, she was
playmate to them as well as authority, and in a very little while they
all learned to love her dearly,all but Janet; and even she, at times,
found it hard to resist this influence, which was at the same time so
strong and so kind.
Still, she did resist, and the result was constant discomfort to
both parties. To the younger children the new mamma brought added
happiness, because they yielded to her wise and reasonable authority.
To Janet she brought only friction and resentment, because she would
So two months passed. Late in August, Mr. and Mrs Keene started on a
short journey which was to keep them away from home for two days. Just
as the carriage was driving away, Mrs. Keene suddenly said,
Oh, Janet! I forgot to say that I would rather you didn't go see
Ellen Colton while we are away, or let any of the other children.
Please tell nurse about it.
Why mustn't I? demanded Janet.
Because began her mother, but Mr. Keene broke in.
Never mind 'becauses,' Jessie; we must be off. It's enough for you,
Janet, that your mother orders it. And see that you do as she says.
It's a shame! muttered Janet, as she slowly went back to the
house. I always have gone to see Ellen whenever I liked. No one ever
stopped me before. I don't think it's a bit fair; and I wish Papa
wouldn't speak to me like that beforeher.
Gradually she worked herself into a strong fit of ill-temper. All
day long she felt a growing sense of injury, and she made up her mind
not to bear it. Next morning, in a towering state of self-will, she
marched straight down to the Coltons, resolved at least to find out the
meaning of this vexatious prohibition.
No one was on the piazza, and Janet ran up-stairs to Ellen's room,
expecting to find her studying her lessons.
No; Ellen was in the bed, fast asleep. Janet took a story-book, and
sat down beside her. She'll be surprised when she wakes up, she
The book proved interesting, and Janet read on for nearly half an
hour before Mrs. Colton came in with a cup and spoon in her hand. She
gave a scream when she saw Janet.
Mercy! she cried, what are you doing here? Didn't your ma tell
you? Ellen's got scarlet-fever.
No, she didn't tell me that. She only said I mustn't come
And why did you come?
Somehow Janet found it hard to explain, even to herself, why she had
been so determined not to obey.
Very sorrowfully she walked homeward. She had sense enough to know
how dreadful might be the result of her disobedience, and she felt
humble and wretched. Oh, if only I hadn't! was the language of her
The little ones had gone out to play. Janet hurried to her own room,
and locked the door.
I won't see any of them till Papa comes, she thought. Then
perhaps they won't catch it from me.
She watched from the window till Maria came out to hang something on
the clothesline, and called to her.
I'm not coming down to dinner, she said. Will you please bring me
some, and leave it by my door? No, I'm not ill, but there are reasons.
I'd rather not tell anybody about them but Mamma.
Sakes alive! said old Maria to herself, she called missus
'Mamma.' The skies must be going to fall.
Mrs. Keene's surprise may be imagined at finding Janet thus, in a
state of voluntary quarantine.
I am so sorry, she said, when she had listened to her confession.
Most sorry of all for you, my child, because you may have to bear the
worst penalty. But it was brave and thoughtful in you to shut yourself
up to spare the little ones, dear Janet.
Oh, Mamma! cried Janet, bursting into tears. How kind you are not
to scold me! I have been so horrid to you always. All the pride and
hardness were melted out of her now, and for the first time she clung
to her stepmother with a sense of protection and comfort.
Janet said afterwards, that the fortnight which she spent in her
room, waiting to know if she had caught the fever, was one of the
nicest times she ever had. The children and the servants, and even
Papa, kept away from her, but Mrs. Keene came as often and stayed as
long as she could; and, thrown thus upon her sole companionship, Janet
found out the worth of this dear, kind stepmother. She did not
have scarlet-fever, and at the end of three weeks was allowed to go
back to her old ways, but with a different spirit.
I can't think why I didn't love you sooner, she told Mamma once.
I think I know, replied Mrs. Keene, smiling. That stiff little
will was in the way. You willed not to like me, and it was easy to obey
your will; but now you will to love me, and loving is as easy as