The sky was gray and overcast. Kitty Wright sat in the rocking chair in the main room of the old wooden farmhouse, staring through the window at the stark, brown field beyond. The tatting her mother insisted she labor over lay neglected in her lap. She longed to be outside, anywhere but there in that cold, dreary room, alone with her thoughts.
A sudden, sharp rapping on the door intruded upon her dreamy state. Laying aside the lace-weaving, she moved swiftly across the thin plank floor to yank the door open eagerly.
The crisp, early November air swirled her muslin skirt about her legs as she stared into the anxious face of the old black man, Jacob. Twisting a ragged straw hat in trembling hands, he bowed his graying head slightly and said, "Miss Kitty, you better find your pappy. I heard ol' Betsy wailin', and I peeked in the barn, and she looks 'bout ready to drop that calf. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no calf, and Fanny, she out helpin' with Nora Brown's sick young'uns..."
Kitty nodded, frowning. That calf was important, because it meant meat on the table one day, something they seldom had, In fact, her father was out hunting right then, because a neighbor had stopped by to report wild turkeys feeding near the river. She had even begged to go along, but her mother had reacted angrily, saying it wasn't fitting for a young lady to take up arms and hunt like a man.
Lena Wright had ranted and raged until John Wright told Kitty they would go together another time. Since she was old enough to tag along behind him, Kitty had loved to go into the woods with her father, but she didn't pursue the argument any further that day. She and her father both knew only too well that Lena would make their lives miserable for days on end if she were opposed. It was easier to give in.
Kitty motioned to Jacob. "You go to the barn and stay with Betsy. Let me get my shawl, and I'll be right there."
"Oh, no, you won't," the sharp voice made Kitty snap her head around to find her mother standing just behind her, face pinched with anger. "I'm not going to have you out there groveling in blood and straw like a common farmhand..."
This time, Kitty was determined not to give in to her. She brushed past, moving toward the little lean-to kitchen her father had built onto the house. Lena insisted on attempting to pattern her lifestyle after the rich plantation owners as nearly as possible, refusing to accept the fact that they were but poor dirt farmers. A separate room for cooking had been something she had nagged about until she got it.
"Katherine." Her mother was right behind her. "Do you hear me, girl? Let Jacob see to that old cow. How do you think it would look to our neighbors? You groveling like a slave..."
Kitty pulled a worn woolen shawl around her shoulders, then turned to give her mother a defiant look. "I can deliver that calf as well, or better, than any farmhand or slave, Mother, and we can't afford to lose that calf. Betsy is old and might not make it through the birth. Then what would we do for milk and butter this winter? Poppa will be home soon, but I've got to do whatever I can till he gets here."
"Jacob can do what has to be done." She followed her to the door, stepping back as the sudden blast of cold wind engulfed her. Kitty ran on down the rickety steps into the dirt yard.
"You let Jacob do it, I say!" Lena screamed.
Kitty turned long enough to shout back, "Jacob doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do, Mother. He isn't a slave, anymore. He stays because he's our friend!"