Juliana Brady paused, pushing her thick, dark hair back from her face. She arched her back, stretched, and tried to rub out the stiffness. Bending over the miners’ wash made her back hurt, but at least it was decent work for someone without any work experience, unlike the work of some of the “soiled doves” in town. Using a smooth limb from a ponderosa pine, she placed dingy clothes in the boiling kettle sitting atop the campfire. She moved the limb up and down and pressed the wad of clothing against the side of the huge black pot to loosen the dirt, then picked up a book of poems. She loved to read, and doing the wash was boring, so she tried to have a book of poems or good literature to keep her company. There never seemed to be enough money, and it had been that way for as long as she could remember. She let her thoughts wander back to a few days ago. There had not been enough to pay for rent, let alone buy groceries, Mama had told her.
It pained Juliana to look into her mother’s blue-gray eyes. She knew Mama was trying to keep her chin up, but declining health had plagued her recently, and Juliana had watched her mother’s energy fall away the last few months.
It was hard keeping up with the miners’ wash and the housework.
Juliana had insisted on doing it so her mother could rest.
She admonished that hard work never hurt anybody. She had echoed that statement throughout the years, mainly toward her absent father, because he had chased the dream of striking it rich one day. Though Juliana loved her father, it broke her heart to see her mother struggle and carry the burden alone.
Maybe she would apply at the boardinghouse to see if there were any openings. She could read and write, but how could one use that skill? Around here, the only jobs she’d been able to find were cooking and cleaning.
She sighed, picked up the clothes by the end of the heavy, smooth stick, and lowered each piece into another kettle of clean water to rinse away the soap. Not many left, thankfully. After a few quick swishes, she wrung out all the water from each piece and placed them all in her laundry basket. By now her hands were numb from the cold water and the breeze that fluttered through the fir and pine trees. Juliana decided that if she was still doing this type of work in the summer, she would carry her laundry to the creek for rinsing.
When the miners’ children were playing nearby in the woods, they would venture into the clearing around her wash fire as she sat on a stump reading. It wasn’t long before she’d made friends with the curious children. Soon she wound up reading to them or telling them stories from the books she had read. Most of them had never attended school. When Juliana had lived in Kansas, she had attended school. After her father decided to go west searching for gold, her schooling stopped. Luckily, her mother had a good upbringing and education herself, and taught Juliana everything she could.
“Yoo-hoo, Juliana!” Her new friend Marion came springing into the clearing where Juliana worked on the laundry.
“Morning,” Juliana called out. Marion was good-hearted, and Juliana was glad to have her friendship.
“Are you nearly through for the day, hon?”
“Soon as I hang out this basketful I will be. Good thing too. My back has had enough for one day.”
“Great. How about going to lunch with me in town?”
“Oh, I couldn’t, Marion.” Juliana didn’t want to spend her few precious coins on dinner in town.
“Nonsense, you’ll be my guest. We’ll go to the Stockton Hotel for lunch. I know the manager there.” She giggled.
“But, I can’t let you do that---”
“Sure you can. We’ll get these hung in no time.” Marion picked up the basket and walked toward the clothesline behind Juliana’s cabin.
Juliana followed obediently, half-smiling. Her redheaded friend loved to be in control. Truth be known, she needed someone to make a few decisions for her right now.
Juliana’s mouth watered at the thought of a good meal prepared by someone else for a change. She tried not to be envious of Marion’s doting father, who just happened to be the manager and owner of the Stockton Hotel.
Marion prattled away as the two began hanging the clean laundry out in the bright sunshine. Her enthusiasm for life made her such a joy to be around. Bursting with energy, she was the apple of her father’s eye, but she pretended not to notice, and it had little effect on her one way or another. She liked most people and seemed to feel it was her God-given authority to help others live out their potential.
Juliana wanted to be like her friend, who was always smiling. But she didn’t have a whole lot to smile about. At least not right now. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt happy. After the last piece of clothing was hung, Juliana opened the cabin door, being careful not to open it wide enough for her friend to see inside the cabin. She was embarrassed at its bareness and didn’t want Marion to feel sorry for her, or she might get it into her head to try to fix the problem herself.
She slipped in to tell her mother that she was going with Marion. Her mother stood washing dishes.
“I thought I told you to sit down and rest, Mama.”
“Now, Juliana, you know I can’t sit all day with you out there slaving over that hot kettle of wash. Besides, my joints feel better if I move around a bit.”
“Mama, Marion wants to take me to lunch. Is that okay with you? I’m through with the wash and got it all hanging out.”
“Baby, you don’t need to be asking me. You’re nearly eighteen. A grown woman. You go and enjoy a break --- you deserve it.”
Juliana’s mother dried her arthritic hands on the kitchen towel and reached over to touch her daughter’s hair lovingly.
“Want me to bring something back for you?” She planned on returning with at least a roll from her lunch in her pocket.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll have a cup of soup. Actually, that sounds tasty. Right tasty.”
“Mama, you’re too thin. Why don’t you come with us? I don’t think Marion would mind.”
“Juliana, I couldn’t impose. I’m fine.” She shooed her daughter toward the door.
“I’ll be back in time to get the clothes off the line.” Juliana grabbed her cape off the peg by the door and skipped out the door and down the lane to where Marion stood waiting patiently. But she was feeling guilty for an afternoon off.
The walk to the center of Lewistown didn’t take them long. Juliana noticed the usual flurry of activity in the small boomtown, which lent an air of friendliness to its huge flux of homesteaders coming west or those just passing through.
“I’m glad you came along, Juliana. We can talk girl talk and fill our appetites with some of Pierre’s delicious cuisine.”
“Thanks for asking me. I take it Pierre is a chef at the hotel?”
“Yes. Daddy found him down on his luck after coming west from France to seek his fortune. I’m sure when he has enough saved, he will open up his own little café. Just to warn you, he is quite the flirt.” Marion giggled. “But pay him no mind. He talks to all the ladies in such a way that they nearly swoon.”
“Interesting. I’ve never met a Frenchman before.” Juliana held the hotel door open for her friend.
They were quickly greeted by Marion’s father. “Marion, dear. I see you’ve brought your new friend.” Marion’s father was sharply dressed in a suit with his monocle hanging from his brocade vest. Juliana could detect a hint of aftershave as he reached out to grab her hand.
“Father, this is Juliana. Juliana, this is the world’s greatest dad.”
“Oh please, Marion, you’re going to make me blush, to be sure.”
He twirled his mustache curl between his thick fingers, and his eyes twinkled.
“I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Stockton.” Juliana could tell by his manner that he was a sociable sort, and his stature was what Juliana’s mother would call “low chunky.” The thought almost made her giggle. He would be easy to like.
“Come right this way, girls. I have the perfect table waiting just for the two of you near the window.”
Following Mr. Stockton to their table, Juliana surveyed the rich furnishings of the restaurant with pleasure. Crisp white linen tablecloths with a rose in the center of each table lifted her spirits, along with the din of clinking glass, china, and conversation. She felt thoroughly out of place in her plain calico dress, but at least her brown woolen cape covered the upper part of her dress. Juliana felt the stares of the patrons but kept her chin up despite the butterflies in her stomach.
Beautiful artwork lined the walls above the tables, but one in particular caught Juliana’s eye. Pausing to get a better look, she saw that it was a sketch of a man and his dog sitting in comfortable silence. The man had thick brown hair, but something in his amber eyes drew her closer. The irises were large, and she sensed a depth of softness in their expression. One hand lovingly rested on the shoulder of his dog. Somehow he reflected a man of character and one whose word would not be taken lightly.
“Ah, I see you like the newest piece I acquired.” Mr. Stockton tucked his thumbs into his vest pockets.
“I do indeed, but I’m not quite sure why. Who is he?”
“I don’t know him, but the man I bought this from said he was a sheepherder. The artist captured the very soul of the man through his eyes, don’t you think? I feel very confident that this artist will someday be quite famous.”
Juliana smiled at her friend’s father. He apparently thought himself a connoisseur of fine art. “You may be right, Mr. Stockton.” Dragging her eyes from the picture, Juliana realized Marion was already seated by the window waiting for her, so she hurried to their table.
Mr. Stockton pulled out the chair for her and laid the linen napkin in her lap as if his daughter’s friend were royalty. Juliana was very pleased he would show her such consideration, as though he were unaware that she was not accustomed to eating her meals out. But she was certain he knew otherwise.
“There you are. I thought I’d lost you, friend.” Marion’s silver throated laugh filled the air.
“I was looking at the art your father has collected.”
“Yes, well, he fancies himself a great art collector and then later sells some of the art to dealers or people looking to decorate their homes. But he starts with showing them right here in the restaurant.” Marion opened her menu. “I’m starved. How about you? What are you in the mood for?”
“Mmm, just about anything.” Juliana opened her menu, but in her mind, all she could see was the sheepherder’s eyes.
Excerpted from The Jewel of His Heart © Copyright 2012 by Maggie Brendan. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.