Really, Julia, do hurry,” Jane Crawford said to her daughter still seated at the ivory lace covered vanity. “The guests are arriving and you should be there to greet them.”
Julia Crawford smiled up at her mother with resignation. This was a battle she did not need to win. She would make no argument.
“I’ll be down shortly, mother. Jolene and Jennifer are there. Our guests are here to see them, not me. Has Jillian gone down?”
“She is standing with your father at the door,” her mother replied.
“I’ll be down in a moment, then. Do go down to the guests. You know how father fusses when you leave him alone,” Julia said as she spun a blonde curl around her finger.
Her mother glided to the door and closed it softly. Julia cocked her ear, waiting for the soft patter of her mother’s slippers on the steps. Only then did she pull the gold chain from her neck and insert the key that hung from it in a gilded jewel box. With a final glance at her bedroom door, Julia pulled a white envelope from the case and unfolded the letter it held.
Dear Miss Crawford,
I will be at the train station to meet you on the appointed day. My mother and I look forward to your arrival. I will stay above my shop until the day of our marriage. My mother has graciously allowed you to stay with her during that time. She is pleased to know you do needlepoint. Her arthritic hands no longer allow her to sew and she is most anxious to have another woman about. I am anxious as well . . .
Julia read to the last line even though she could have recited the letter as if it were the Lord’s Prayer. Very truly, Mr. Jacob Snelling. The day would arrive for her to depart sooner than she both hoped and dreaded. Mr. Snelling was a successful shop owner, near fifty years old, with an aging mother in a small South Dakota town. He had never married. His mother had begun to complain of a lack of company and he admitted he was lonely. Those two forces had led him to place an ad for a wife in the Boston Globe nearly a year ago. And to Julia’s shock she had answered it. Their correspondence had been proper, more formal than she had expected from a merchant in the Midwest.
That formality had been a great comfort to her. It was what she was accustomed to. And he sounded like a truly nice man. He had great regard for his mother, of that Julia was certain. His letters were filled with news of the aging Portentia Snelling and that always brought comfort to Julia when she was most terrified of what she was embarking on. A man so devoted to his own mother would certainly be kind to her. Julia rose from the vanity seat with a smile on her face. One more formal evening with her family could not deter her now.
Julia was not sure of the sentiment only a few minutes later. She greeted a few guests and found an unoccupied chair in the corner of the library. She had spent much of the day arranging the fresh flowers that now filled the room. It had kept her mind and hands occupied while her sisters fussed over their wardrobe and their mother had scolded the servants over some small matter. Without distractions, the day would have dragged and she would have dwelled on a decision her mind had yet to grasp. Julia gazed absently about the room.
Her older sister, Jolene, married now ten years with a beautiful, fair child, sashayed about on the arm of her husband, Turner Crenshaw. Julia’s younger sister, Jennifer, nearly twenty-one, sat amidst a bevy of Boston’s first sons, laughing sweetly and tilting her head just so. It was most certainly the sin of envy that would lead her straight to Hades in the afterlife.
Julia felt no jealousy though as her eyes found Jillian. The baby of the family. Jillian would spend the first hour of the party with the adults and then be whisked away to her rooms. Only ten years old and already beautiful enough to turn male heads. Dressed in navy velvet with a cream-colored lace collar to match her hair, Julia was certain Jillian was the fairest of the Crawford family. Even at her young age she was a model of deportment and graciousness with a gay laugh and shining blonde hair. Julia would miss her most of all.
The Crawford women were all tall and slender except Julia. She was no higher than her father’s tiepin at fourteen and still exactly the same height at twenty-seven. Julia snatched three shrimp from the young serving girl’s tray as she passed and laid them beside four chocolate bon-bons in the napkin on her lap. Julia preferred to refer to herself as pleasingly plump. Or on the days before her monthly courses as a fat, frothy, ugly spinster with perfectly beautiful siblings and parents.
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