An Every-Day Girl by Sarah Orne Jewett
by Sarah Orne Jewett
This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘An Every-Day Girl’ appeared in Ladies' Home Journal 9 (June 5-6; July 7-8, August 5-6) in the summer of 1892. This text is based on Richard Cary's Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text, with original illustrations by Alice Barber Stephens, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.
At left, a South Berwick scene like one in the story, "out toward the quiet fields and woods that surrounded the town."
Mary Fleming walked slowly along the street toward her home one hot afternoon late in the month of May. Summer had come suddenly, as it always does in northern New England. The small town itself had a northern look and, although the dooryards and the whole country were fast growing green, as you looked out past the village you caught sight of stony hills, of dark woodland, and sterile soil.
Mary Fleming wore a thick winter dress, and the discomfort of it added to her discouragement of heart. It was one of the days when she felt like making herself as miserable as possible.
Usually as you met and greeted her you were sure to notice a brightness in her face and something uncommonly pleasant, though she often had a puzzled look, a kind of sharpness and assumed authority such as young teachers sometimes wear who think more of the self-importance than of the opportunities of their position. Mary Fleming was charming to look at in her fresh girlishness when she felt satisfied and happy, but of late she had been so dissatisfied and thinking of herself and her troubles so much, that her very looks were changing. Sometimes her natural good temper and affectionateness drove these clouds away; she was far too young to be always dispirited. The very year of her life lent hope and she only feared disappointment; there had been no time yet to prove that disappointment was inevitable.
Our heroine opened the sagging side gate of a plain, small wooden house that stood close to the street, and went along a weedy path through the side yard toward the kitchen door. In the yard there were two pear trees in whitest blossom and a good bit of open garden ground, but nobody had taken any care of it that spring, so that whatever had been thrown out or blown in littered the further side against the next house. There were even some old tin cans lying about, most hopeless of refuse, and Mary looked at them with dismay and disapproval, and wondered why her father had not picked them up. She had noticed a neighbor's flower garden as she came up the street, where some daffodils were in bloom by the path, and the empty flower beds were all put in order, with their brown freshly-dug earth heaped smooth and high. She remembered with a feeling of impatience how neat and clean and promising it all looked. She stood looking about with a very disapproving expression; then turned and went slowly up two or three wooden steps and opened the side door of the house and went into the kitchen, which was just like a great many other kitchens. The grained woodwork did not look like oak, but only like the worst of imitations, and it gave a soiled-looking, dingy color to the room, though the whole little place was really so clean and orderly. The paper was ugly, too, and had been hung so badly that it looked the worse. Neither Mary nor her mother knew exactly why they disliked their poor little kitchen so much where they spent so much of their time. People do not know how much good harmonious and pleasant colors can do them in their every-day life; there is something akin to a moral influence in the ugliness or the beauty which surround us in our houses. We may help to make our surroundings, but they also help to make us.
Mary always looked eagerly for her mother's pleasant face at the sitting-room window, where she usually sat in the afternoon, but to-day Mrs. Fleming was not there. In the kitchen, however, was an unexpected but familiar figure; a thin little old woman in an odd, light-colored dress with a sprigged shawl over her shoulders, gay with a bright border. She wore on her head a flaring old-fashioned Shaker bonnet with a long cape and brown band over the top; from under this bonnet shone a pair of piercing kindly brown eyes and a thin lock or two of white hair. She was a neat, knowing, delightful old visitor, and Mary's face lighted up like a child's with the pleasure of finding her.
"Why, where's mother?" she asked. "Do take off your things, Aunt Hannah; you've come to make us a visit, haven't you?"
"Yes, dear," said Aunt Hannah. "I waked up this morning feeling I had got to come, so here I be. You know that's my way; I have had the beautifulest walk from over in Round Hill neighborhood. 'Twas pretty far, but I rested me often, and Mis' Prescott put me up some bread an' butter an' a nice piece o' cake for luncheon, though I calculated to get here by dinner time. I can't walk as once I could; but there, I have to keep stopping to see things by the way. I believe I got me a drink o' water from every brook."
The old woman looked tired, but her face was so radiant with pleasure that Mary was pleased too. She put down her books and little basket, and looked at the stove, and then put two or three pine sticks into the inside and the tea-kettle with a little fresh water on the outside, before she sat down. "I'm going to make you a good cup of tea, Aunt Hannah," she said. "That'll rest you, and perhaps mother'll like one, too, when she comes in. She said something this morning about going over the river to see old Miss Dunn who goes to our church. She's been very sick and nobody likes her very well; 'twas just like mother."
"Thank ye, darlin', about the tea," said Aunt Hannah. "I know Ellen Dunn. I knew her mother, an' I just remember her grandmother. No, they aint likeable folks; they're too pleased with themselves, an' always rushin' without fear or wit to other folks' affairs. There was this Ellen that was some smarter than the others an' learned the tailoress trade, an' then there was another sister that stayedto home an' dried up -- she looked as if she was a thousand years old when she got here. So Ellen's sick, is she? Well I daresay 'twill do her good; she'll find how kind folks is an' be drawed to some she's been too ready to find fault with. Perhaps I'll go over an' see her myself some day. I may know of something that'll be good for her ails; they're folks I've always known."
Mary Fleming sat by the open window, sometimes looking out into the budding grape vine and sometimes watching her old friend's face as she rambled on with her opinions and reminiscences. The fire was crackling in the stove and the tea-kettle began to sing; presently she made the tea and poured a cupful for Aunt Hannah, which was received with gratitude. The color came back to the pale old face and it was presently acknowledged that the walk had been over long for one of those first warm days.
"'Tis as good a cup o' tea as your ma could have made, bless her heart!" said Aunt Hannah. "I expect you'll turn out as nice a cook an' as good a woman. Seems to me you look kind of unpleasant about something, though, I thought so the minute I see you."
"You always know everything; you're a witch!" Mary laughed, but the kindness of this old friend's tone touched her, and she could not say any more for a minute, but looked away out of the window.
"There!" exclaimed Aunt Hannah. "I've got no business to pry and question, but I hate to see young folks look downhearted. Young folks often has to make up some kind o' worry for themselves if only to serve till the real one come. I know most all the kinds of real trouble that there is, and there's hardly any but what there's help for."
Mary did not like this -- at least she may have liked it but did not wish to say so. Old people have such a preaching way and think they know all about everything, and this assumption young people always resent.
The tea seemed to have refreshed the old woman wonderfully. She took off the Shaker bonnet and folded her shawl carefully, and Mary took them from her and carried them into the next room.
"I expect you be most done going to school?" The question was put in a most business-like and friendly tone.
"Yes, I shall be done this summer; school ends the twentieth of June," said Mary fretfully. "I'm glad of it, I'm sure."
"You'll be precious glad of every day you've been before you come to my age," responded Aunt Hannah. "What be you going to do afterward, dear?"
"Oh I don't know, it worries me to death!" said Mary in a plaintive tone. "I must do something, but I don't know what. Mother's always hoped I should be a teacher, and she's disappointed because I know and she knows that I never had the least gift for it. I can do sums and things myself, but I can't explain them to people. I don't believe I'm good for anything in the world."
"Yes you be, darlin'," said the old friend, calmly. "The end o' the world aint come yet for you; it's only the beginning; you don't know what you be good for yet, but you'll quick find out. I'm sick of everybody trying to keep school; 'tis one o' the scarcest gifts there is, but to get the chance seems to make a high candlestick for the worst of tallow-dips. It aint what you do but how you do it that builds folks a reputation."
"I can't do anything but what everybody else can do," said the girl sadly. "I always wished I could sing beautifully or be good for something particular."
"You want to get talked about an' set up for being smart, I suppose," said Aunt Hannah sharply. "Well, 'tis human nature, and there's no harm as I know on. But you just remember what I say: 'taint what you do, but how you do it. You can make yourself famous for anything; you just go to work smart an' always think of others an' how to please 'em and you'll soon find they'll think o' you. There, I aint goin' to preach a word more. You do the first thing you see to do, and don't you go an' be 'shamed cause it's that thing 'stead o' some other. Be open, an' have pride about it. My grandma'am used to tell a story about a woman that had come down in the world an' went to sellin' fish, an' they heard her goin' along the street a squeakin' out 'Sprats! sprats! I hope to mercy nobody'll hear me.'"
Mary laughed aloud with great delight. Aunt Hannah's stories were the joy of all who knew her, and her homely wisdom and sympathy had stood many a discouraged friend in good stead.
"I do love to keep house," said Mary at last after a season of deep reflection. "I suppose that's mother's gift and mine. I do like to do things about the house."
"Have ambition then, an' make your gift serve you and other folks," said Aunt Hannah eagerly. "There's lack enough of good housekeepin' in this world. Now, I'm beat out darlin', I've got to rest me awhile."
"You sit here and rest -- no, go into the other room where the big rocking chair is and the lounge; mother'll soon be at home," said the girl. "I'm going to pick up some o' those things out round the yard. I've been scolding because father didn't do it, but I can clear up a little myself; he doesn't get home till most dark any of these nights. They've been cutting down his pay, too."
"That's real hard," said the guest, "hard for your mother, too; the worst always comes on the women. How's your father now?"
"He's pretty well most days," answered Mary, stopping to think with a little flush of impatience. "No, I guess he isn't, either, he's always talking about his back and his stomach, and thinking everything hurts him that mother makes."
"He's wore out," said the old woman compassionately. "He don't come of a strong race and he's been a hard-working man. It upset him his signing for that first shoe firm an' losing most everything. You young folks don't know how hard them things be. He used to be the pleasantest boy, always a whistlin' an' singin'."
Mary looked up in surprise. She never had had the least sentiment about her unlucky father; her mother had a certain dignity and lady-likeness which she admired, but as for her father he was a plain and rough-looking man, who was always gloomy and disapproving except at the rarest intervals, when the visit of some old acquaintance or an occasional holiday jaunt out into the country made him appear more cheerful. He was always very friendly with Aunt Hannah, as was everybody who knew her.
"Some nice brisk wormwood tea'll set him right up," said the good old soul. "I had you all on my mind when I first waked up this mornin' as the birds were singin'."
"I'm glad you did, mother'll be so glad to see you. Now, I'm going out in the yard," said Mary, "and I'll have it looking better as quick as ever I can."
She could not have told why she felt so lighthearted and energetic at that moment. All the shadows had blown away. Aunt Hannah, who really felt tired, went into the sitting-room to take a nap, and Mary only stopped to spread something over her and then with sudden impulse stooped down and kissed the soft old cheek. "Dear heart, I thank ye!" said Aunt Hannah gently. She was half asleep already with the comfortable ease and habit of her many years. Then Mary put on an old dress and went out to the shed and found a rake and a basket and began her work under the pear trees. She was curiously lighthearted. Was it the fragrance of the spring air and the blooming trees, was it the escape from the close and dulling air of school, was it the kind, wise talk of Aunt Hannah that had brought her to this better level of things? Nobody could tell. Mary herself did not try to think, but she had not enjoyed anything in a long time as she enjoyed picking up the neighbor's cans that had fallen through the broken partition fence, and the pieces of refuse, and raking their little garden clean and sweeping the path to the gate. She was just tying up the grape vine with a bit of string, an hour later, when her mother came home looking tired and hurried.
"Why, how nice everything looks," she said gratefully. "Did you do it yourself, Mary? I have been wishing our yard looked nice. I noticed everybody's else as I went along and thought they all were neat but ours. Your father has so little time." She hesitated to say any more; she was always trying to explain things to Mary about her father, but Mary was always hard and resentful. Mary smiled now, and said that he would have a surprise when he came home, for once. "Aunt Hannah has come," she added, looking in her mother's face and still smiling. "She was tired, and I made her a cup of tea and then she went to sleep. There she is now!"
Aunt Hannah appeared at the window, and Mrs. Fleming hastened in. Somebody spoke to Mary from the sidewalk.
"Don't you want some help," said a person who might have been called either a very young man, or a very old boy, just as the observer had chosen.
"Yes, I do, John," said Mary, eagerly. "Why, where did you come from?"
John Abbott was already in the yard. "My, don't your pear trees look pretty!" he said. "It's ever so much more like summer in town than it is up to our place." They stood near together, but they did not offer to shake hands, though their young faces were full of pleasure at seeing each other.
"I came down to spend the night at Aunt Esther's," explained John. "I had to get me some new clothes, an' our folks wanted some farming tools and so on, an' Mr. Haynes thinks o' raising a good deal o' poultry this year, so he's going to stay, too, an' see about that, an' we're going back early to-morrow. It's awfully busy on the farm now. We didn't see first how we could get away. We brought down a yoke o' oxen he'd sold, and other things, so 'twas necessary for two of us to come."
John looked very sunburnt and important -- as if the spring winds and sun and rain had weather-beaten him particularly -- but his eyes were clear and bright, and he had an air of vast importance. Mary and he had always been neighbors and friends. It was known by all their acquaintances that John Abbott and Mary Fleming "went together," in schoolmate fashion. They had really missed each other since he had left school the year before and gone up country to take a place on a large farm.
"What were you doing?" demanded the lad, as if it were amusing that she should be doing anything at all, and she showed him the grapevine, and they stood talking while he pruned that and tinkered the trellis. It was almost tea time when Mary's father suddenly appeared, and they both turned at the sound of his voice, a little shamefaced. He looked very pale, but he spoke very kindly to John -- everybody liked John -- and he had come from a part of the country where Mr. Fleming used to live himself. "Come in and stay to supper," he said with unwonted eagerness, but John said shyly that he must go back to his aunt's, she would be sure to expect him. "I don't know 's I ought to eat two meals in the same place, though," he added. "It's likely to frighten folks."
"You've made the lot look as neat as anybody's," said Mr. Fleming, standing on the steps and looking about.
"I haven't done anything except about the vine," said John. "Mary's been trying her hand at farming."
"Mary?" asked her father with a puzzled look. "Why, that's something new. I'm afraid she and her mother were out of patience" --
Mary would naturally have looked surly at this, but, somehow, she did not feel surly for a wonder -- perhaps because John was standing by, perhaps because she pitied her father a little for almost the first time. She said that she had felt like working out of doors, it was so pleasant. She even looked her father straight in the face with a smile, instead of evading him with a frown. They had not been on very good terms lately. It was one of Aunt Hannah's old proverbs that it takes two to make a quarrel, but only one to end it, and Mary thought of this as her father went into the house. Something pleasant was at work with her; she felt differently toward everybody. She was glad, beside, to see John. He would not stay to supper, so they said good-bye, and she went in to help her mother. It was time to set the table, and her mother would need her. They had one boarder, a quiet man, who was an old acquaintance of Mr. Fleming's. People said that he had a good deal of money, but nobody really knew; he was a clerk in the counting-room of a lumber firm. Mr. Davis came in as John Abbott went out, and Mary noticed as she set the table that he stood still in the path looking up at the old pear trees with the sun in their tops, and even bent down a blossoming branch and held it to his face. Aunt Hannah and her father were talking together cheerfully. Mr. Fleming looked up again and again at Mary as she stepped about the room. She never had looked so pretty or so womanly before. He was sorry that he had left it for her to tidy up the yard. He remembered that he had seen some potted plants for sale down the street, and said to himself that he would get up early next morning and dig the borders for Mary and his wife, and buy them something pretty to set out.
When supper was over and cleared away, Aunt Hannah got her knitting work out of the big handkerchief bundle which she always carried, and Mrs. Fleming brought some mending and sat down by the window to catch the last of the daylight. The boarder and Mr. Fleming got out the old checker-board, which always was a sure sign of their friendliness and good spirits. Mary heard footsteps along the side path. "There's John Abbott coming back again," she said, laughing.
John came in, looking manly and a little shy.
"I thought perhaps you'd go and take a walk before dark," he said, and Mary rose with alacrity.
"We can get some of the rest of the girls to go," she suggested, but John said nothing by way of eager encouragement. Aunt Hannah watched him shrewdly as he stood in the doorway. She had a wise old head on her shoulders, and she loved young people. She nodded her head two or three times as they departed, but the men were busy again with their game, and Mrs. Fleming was threading her needle with intentness. "'Tis real pleasant to see you, Aunt Hannah!" she exclaimed. "I've been wishing you'd happen along."
"I waked up this morning just as the birds were singin'," repeated the old woman, "an' I felt that 'twas my opportunity to come."
The two young people were walking slowly along the road, not toward the center of the village, but out toward the quiet fields and woods that surrounded the town.
"Aunt Hannah's a lovely old woman," said Mary, with enthusiasm. "She always makes me feel so pleasant. She isn't a bit like anybody else. I've heard mother say ever so many times that she always had the gift of coming just when people wanted her. She sort of flies down out of the air."
"She used to come to our house when my mother and father were alive," said the young man. "I didn't think much about her then, except that she was pleasant, as you say, and she always used to be telling over her funny old stories. She was there when I had the measles, when I was a little boy, and she made me drink a whole lot of herb teas, then I didn't like her very well for awhile. I enjoy living on the farm, but it seems good to get back among the folks I have always known," said John, not without sentiment. "I don't know that anybody has missed me."
"I did, a good deal," said Mary, frankly, "but of course I've got used now to not seeing you about. There are a good many that have left school this year. Sometimes I wish that I had. I think I ought to go to work and help father."
"He looks sick, doesn't he?" said John. "He's too young to get so used up."
"He's over fifty," said Mary, from the short perspective of her eighteen years. "He's older than mother."
"He ought to be right in his prime," said the young man, soberly. "Perhaps it is bad for him to work in the shop. He stoops over more than he did, and coughs a good deal. I thought he looked all gone when I first saw him to-night. I'm thankful I didn't go into the shop last fall; you know I thought of it? Well, I'm as strong a man now as there is in this county. A good, hard day's work just tires me enough to make me sleepy when night comes. I wish your father'd move up our way. I mean to talk to him. You'd like it, too, and your mother."
"Oh, I don't know!" exclaimed the girl, doubtfully, with a village-born person's uncertainty about the resources and charms of the open country. "Look at that cherry tree all in bloom!"
"You ought to see the trees up at our place!" insisted her companion.
Mary stopped at that moment on a little bridge over a brook that plashed noisily down a slope through the pasture. The flowering cherry tree was just behind them on the opposite side of the road, and some fresh, young, willow twigs on an old, cropped stump pointed their fragrance to the cherry blossoms. They leaned over the railing and looked down at the brook. Neither of the young people spoke until the silence became embarrassing. Then Mary said gravely, "I ought to go to work just as soon as I can. I never thought about it so much as I have to-day. I've got to help mother and I've got to help father. But I won't go into the shop if I can help it, and I never should make a good teacher, and I can't think of anything else."
"Why won't you go into the shop?" asked John. His heart was beating so that he was afraid Mary would hear it. He could not remember the time that she had not been dear to him, and different from anybody else. He longed to be a little older and to have the right to tell Mary all about it. He was sure -- no, he was not sure that she remembered things he had said to her years ago, when they were beginning to grow up. Perhaps she thought he had forgotten them.
"Why not go into the shop?" he repeated. "It's better for girls than for men. There are nice girls there, and you could make pretty good pay right on, you are so quick to learn things."
"I suppose I might," said Mary, slowly, "but if you knew how I hate to be shut up all day."
"It shan't be for a great while if I can help it." It was all that John Abbott's honest and loving heart could muster courage to say, and Mary did not make any answer. Presently she turned toward him quickly. "John!" she said, "I feel as if I were grown up to-day. I don't know why. Aunt Hannah said some things to me that made me think, and so have you. I'm only an every-day girl, and I never thought much about anything, and I needed a good talking to. Aunt Hannah says it isn't what we do, but how we do it that makes anybody worth anything. It makes me feel pretty ambitious."
"So it does me," said John. Their young hearts were sobered by a great vision of personal duty and responsibility. It surely meant something that they should have been brought together on such a day in Mary Fleming's life.
Mary Fleming sat by her window one afternoon just before July came in. It was hot in her little bedroom, but she felt great comfort in being alone, and the green pear tree boughs into which she looked waved about in a way that was consoling. School had been finished that very afternoon; she was done with the labor, the companionship, the restrictions, the liberty all at once. Things had turned out better than she feared; she had won the prize for history, and so had not come home empty handed. The prize book lay in her lap, but she wished that she had not brought it up stairs. Her mother must take it and keep it; she had made a great sacrifice this last year to keep Mary at school, and alas! the hopes of seeing her a good teacher or even a good scholar were disappointed. Mary Fleming had a clear head, and common sense quite beyond her years, but she had not the quick memory that makes young people show best in recitation. She had fought very hard to keep even a moderate position in the class.
Now it was all over, and she regretted many things, as girls and boys do at the end of school days. It seemed so much easier to keep on with the familiar routine than to manage an inexperienced liberty. She did not know what to do with her freedom; she did not know what to do with herself and her life. She was grown up now, and she felt like a frightened, awkward child. Did every girl have such miserable days of reckoning?
She looked down at her pretty white graduating dress, and the tears filled her eyes; one even spattered down upon the prize book. Well, the world went on and the people were cheerful enough, after all! Did everybody worry and fret and feel baffled, or was it only one girl now and then who tried to look things in the face and was afraid?
The pear leaves gave a last cool rustle; the sun was almost down and the summer breeze was still. There were shrill voices of children playing in the street, and people going by on the sidewalk talked loudly about one thing and another. Nobody spoke of the last day of school; even that was a small affair to the little town; it happened every year. The tired girl at the window had a curious sense of apartness and lack of sympathy, and presently she took off the white dress impatiently and hung it in the closet, and reached for her clean old checked gingham, which she had been wearing in the morning. It did her good to touch it; "yes, this is mine," she thought with a thrill of relief and pleasure. "Wearing that dressed-up prickly white thing made me feel as if I'd always got to, and as if it would always keep hindering me." She laughed a little at her own fancies as she dressed herself in a hurry; it was almost tea time. Before she went down stairs she stood by the window again, and then with a sudden impulse she knelt down and rested her forehead on the window sill. She never had longed to be good and happy and not to make mistakes as she did just then, and for the first time in all her life there came to her a sense of help and presence, a warmth of sympathy and love, as if somebody heard and assured her in her bewildered and trusting little prayer. She never had liked sermons andprayer meetings, she would never go much with the girls and boys to evening meetings to whisper and laugh together when they were not awe-struck by the occasional solemnity. She had scorned the pious talk of certain people, but now she never could forget this moment by the window; her mother must have known such moments, and other people, and that was what they tried to tell about. She knew now for herself that there was a love unseen, and another life, and that there was light in dark places. All this was known in a wordless way; it was all felt in the silence of the summer evening, in the happy peace of her young and troubled heart, and Mary Fleming ran down stairs with shining eyes and went to find her mother and give her the prize book.
Mrs. Fleming had longed to go and speak to her girl, but she had taken off her best dress and begun to get supper and with great forbearance had left the child alone. She was sitting in the side door-way on the upper step mending a coat.
"Why didn't you stay dressed, my dear?" Mrs. Fleming asked with a little shadow of disappointment on her face. "I thought perhaps we'd go over to see old Mrs. Danforth after supper."
"I can put it on again," said Mary, crowding her mother a little so as to sit down at her side. "Where's father?"
"He's late to-night," said Mrs. Fleming. "I feel worried about father, Mary. I wish I could have done his work and let him gone to the exhibition to-day. I know he thinks a great deal of you, but he never can say much. He'll be so pleased about your prize."
"I ought to have had more; you have done everything to help me along," said Mary.
"Supper's all ready whenever your father comes," said Mrs. Fleming, a little embarrassed by Mary's outspokenness, then she turned and kissed the girl as she had not kissed her before since her childhood. They were undemonstrative New England people, and it was only in some moment of excitement like this that they forgot themselves enough to show the affection that was always felt.
"There's father coming, dear," said Mrs. Fleming. Her face was flushed and there were tears in her eyes. Her quick ears had caught his familiar step far down the street, and she arose and went into the house. For only one instant the girl felt the old instinct of repression and reticence, then she ran down the wooden steps and along the path and met her father at the gate.
"Well, it's all over," she said. "School's done, father, and I did manage to get one prize, for history."
Her father took her by the hand as he used when she was a little bit of a child, and they walked up the path together. He looked moved; his face was pale and he did not say a word, yet there was something fatherly and tender about him. Mary thought that he was pleased about the prize and that he was tired. When her mother saw him she started and asked quickly, "Why, what's the matter, Henry? -- tell me quick!"
"I'm out of work," said the poor man, "and worse than that, I'm past work; I've got to trust to you and Mary now." He sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. Mary and her mother stood speechless and looked first at him and then at each other.
It was one of Aunt Hannah's favorite sayings "that there never was a wall without a door in it." Mary thought of this wistfully, and wondered where she should find the door in this wall which seemed to close her in. How she wished, that sorrowful night, that she could see good old Aunt Hannah's wrinkled face, and her flowered border handkerchief, where there usually was some infallible herb stowed away that was professed to be just the thing for whoever happened to be ill. Aunt Hannah had a curious gift of instructive knowledge; she would follow her impressions wherever they might lead, and so she went from house to house making each her home in turn, receiving her inevitable welcome with quiet pleasure and then some morning flitting away unexpectedly, no matter what merry-making or necessity might claim her presence for another day.
Mary wondered as she tried hour after hour to go to sleep that night whether this erratic adviser and friend might not soon appear. She could hear voices in her father's bedroom, and her mother was moving about as if he were in pain. He had hardly told them anything more than his first distressed outcry as he came into the house. Why he had lost his work and what made him so ill his daughter did not know. Her mother had quieted and befriended him in the sweetest way, as if he were a child, and when Mary came to her room he had been asleep some time. Now all was going wrong again, and at last she grew frightened and got up and went softly down stairs. The door was open at the steep stair-foot and the cool night air blew in. There were some hilarious men going by in the street, shouting and singing in the quiet midnight, but their harmless racket seemed a horrible sort of thing, as if they were the harbingers of fire or irreparable disorder. Mary Fleming had a childish, helpless feeling as she stopped and listened to them; then she found herself thinking of John Abbott and wondering if he were awake on that farm which he talked about up among the hills. She did not like to go to her mother's room; she sat down on the last stair and waited. It was chilly, and she drew her little old shawl closer about her shoulders, and thought, not knowing why, of her simple finery of the daytime, of the white dress and the graduating class; they seemed to belong to the past; the noon of that day might have been a year ago.
Perhaps her father was going to die; the thought gave her a great pang. She never had known him very well; they were not intimate friends as she and her mother had always been, though she was the only child, and should have been more to him than if she had belonged to a large family of children. They had often treated one another sulkily, and yet she could remember him taking her to walk on Sundays when she was a little bit of a thing, and being so kind and affectionate. Oh, if he was going to die she never could show how entirely she had meant to be good to him, and to do kind things for him.
A tree toad in their little garden began its shrill note. The fragrance of the grape vine blossoms came blowing in, faint and sweet. She was tired after the excitement of the day and her later anxiety; she could not help crying as she sat upon the lower stair.
After a little while a light flashed bright into the little sitting-room and her mother came hurrying out of the bedroom looking very pale and dressed as she had been in the evening. She had not been in bed, and looked worried.
"Why Mary!" she said starting, "go back to bed, child. Father's a good deal easier now, he'll be better in the morning. I came out to shut the door and then I'm going to bed myself."
"Isn't he going to die?" faltered the girl, catching her mother's dress and hiding her face against it. She feared the answer more than she could say.
"No, dear, no," said Mrs. Fleming. "Why, Mary, this doesn't seem like you. He isn't so very sick; he feels bad because he's lost his place, and this house may have to go; you know he hasn't paid so much on the mortgage as he thought he could. He's been real miserable," she whispered, "and I don't suppose he has been so smart as usual and they're cutting down on the help. There's a great many men know how to feel for him. He's been all worked up, crying and saying he doesn't know which way to turn."
"I'm going to work just the first minute I can get anything to do," said Mary, "that'll be something; do tell him I said that, won't you, mother?"
"Yes, but now you go to bed; come, I'll go up with you and tuck you up real nice just as I used to when you were a little girl. The trouble is that we never ought to have left the farm, but father meant you should have a good chance to go to school, and we heard what wages folks were getting and nothing would do but he must come."
Mary knew that her mother had always opposed this change. She had often heard it discussed, sometimes with considerable spirit, but her own heart shrank from the fancied loneliness of the hills and fields. She liked the petty bustle and newsiness of the village life; she had known nothing else, and she thought long about what could be done just where they were, after her mother had said good-night and gone down stairs again. "There must be a door in this wall; Aunt Hannah said there was always a door," but Mary could not find it that night, however hard she thought about it, and wished to knew her difficult way [probably should be 'to know"].
Next morning when Mary Fleming awoke she felt a dull sense of heaviness and sorrow before she could clearly remember what had happened. Here was her father sick and out of work, and here was herself well and out of work. What could be done? She hurried down stairs and found her mother busy with breakfast; her father was up, too, looking discouraged and cross, and Mr. Davis, the lodger, was drumming impatiently on the kitchen window-sill -- Mr. Davis was prompt and methodical to a fault, and breakfast seemed likely to be late. They never talked at the table; they all ate too fast if they had only known it, and presently Mr. Davis had gone. Mary's father looked after him wistfully as he took his hat from its nail and departed; the poor man's pale face flushed crimson, but he said nothing. He and Mr. Davis had always gone to their work together, summer and winter, these many years. Mary saw it and was sorry for him; her mother was in the pantry; she must have felt it, too -- it was two or three minutes before she came out.
The breakfast work was quickly done and still Mr. Fleming sat in the kitchen. He looked a little cross, but Mary only pitied him. When it grew too hot there he went out and sat down on the doorstep. A little later she passed him, dressed to go down the street. "Father," she said, "you've got a day or two at home now, why can't you hoe those beans and make the garden look a little better?"
"I don't know, perhaps I will, dear," said the discouraged man, starting up with something like cheerfulness. "Maybe I've forgot all about farming." This attempt at a joke was very touching under the circumstances, but his industrious habit of life was satisfied with the suggested work. There was no danger of a cranky day now, and a few minutes afterward Mary remembered, with an odd feeling in her throat, that he had called her "dear." She had a strange, new feeling of authority, and felt the beginning of a new power over herself and the events of life such as she never had known before. It dawned upon her that if she were pleasant and kept firm hold of herself it helped everybody else.
Mary went straight down the street to the largest shoe factory and up its long flights of stairs to the stitching room, where she knew several of the girls. She had often come before to see her particular friend, Mary Arley, who had left school the year before to go into the shop. There was a heavy wooden box close by her machine to hold the stitched uppers of the shoes, and Mary Fleming perched on this to have a little talk.
"How are you, busy?" she asked, but Mary Arley shook her head.
"This is the first work I've had for a day or two; it won't take me an hour. That's why I got out to go to the exhibition yesterday. Where were you all the evening? We kept thinking you'd come to the schoolhouse hall. Some of the boys wanted to go and get you, but I told 'em your father was sick. My father told me about him when he came home to supper. I'm real sorry. It's an awful hard time to get out of work. They talk of shutting down here the first day of July for a fortnight and perhaps longer."
"Oh dear!" said Mary, "what shall I do! I need to go to work right off. I must be earning something as quick as I can."
"There's no work here," repeated Mary Arley, "and I don't believe you'll get in anywhere before fall work comes on. They won't take on any beginners when they're turning off their old help." She bent over her work to turn a difficult corner carefully, and then said as she dropped it finished into the box:
"I'm going to leave and go up country. I wish you'd come, too."
"Where? What are you going to do?" asked Mary Fleming, her spirits instantly beginning to rise.
"To do upstairs work in one of those summer hotels. I can get a good chance, or I can do parlor work. My mother's cousin is housekeeper, and she said I might see about some girls to come with me, and she's coming down next week and will talk with them. She says she won't take anybody without seeing her. It's a new hotel and very high-toned."
Mary Fleming laughed. "I mean to ask mother," she said. "I should like it forty times better than the shop and the smell of all the paste and leather."
"You're a proud piece," said Mary Arley. "No, you aren't either. Some of the girls that come here are made sick for ever so long before they get used to it. I wish there'd be a patent for airing out shops myself but I never minded it so much as some. Yes, I'll come over to-night after supper. Your mother knows I'm steady. She'll let you go with me."
The girls laughed; they both knew that Mary Arley, with her quick, bright ways was not half so steady as Mary Fleming herself, but she was sensible enough and most attaching. They were both pleased with their summer's plan, but when Mary Fleming found herself in the quiet street again she wondered whether she ought to go away from home. Perhaps she could find something to do in town, after all. But the great trouble was that when work was dull at the shoe factories it affected everything. There were few boarders or lodgers to be had; there was no shop work to be done at home; nobody had any spare money. Going to school and graduating and having a prize for history seemed to have lessened a girl's chance in life instead of bettering it. Her fingers were trained to no useful work or cleverness; she must start at the beginning. But it was something to have clear wits, and to know what one's disadvantages were, even if she did feel far behind the girls who had come out of school the year before and gone into the shop.
A few weeks after Mary Fleming and Mary Arley made their summer plans in the noisy stitching-room of the shoe factory they were sitting together on a high hillside in the shade of a great pine tree. The tree stood a little way out in the open pasture, as if it were captain of a troop of its fellows in the thick woods above. When you sat in its shadow you could look off over green hills and blue mountains far into the distance, and close at hand were the valley farms and the new hotel on its high knoll. This was a most attractive looking building of good proportions and simple, shapely roofs, and it stood soberly and solidly in its place. Beside the look of pleasantness and attractiveness, it seemed very homelike to our two friends, who already felt themselves an intimate part of the great establishment.
"I thought at first that Mrs. Preston was going to be cross and hard to suit. I must say so if she is your cousin," said Mary Fleming. "But I like her better every single day; I do, honestly."
"So do I," said Mary Arley. "I never knew her very well, only mother has always been wishing I was just like her, and that's enough to discourage anybody. Mother took me to see her once; she had a lovely house and everything nice in it, but her husband failed and then the house was burned and he was sick and died. I was a little girl, but I remember mother feeling very bad about it."
"She said something so lovely to me the other day, that she once had a happy home herself, and now that it was gone she wanted to live to make things homelike and [a] pleasant for other people. She said that it was what she had to live for now, and she was glad of this splendid chance to be good to people in a big hotel."
"Lots of the people who come don't want anything of us except to keep their pitchers filled," said Mary Arley, pettishly.
"Well, I do like to fill their pitchers and have the water fresh and everything nice," insisted Mary Fleming. "Oh, how I do wish you had heard Aunt Hannah talk to me one day about doing little things. I keep remembering it whatever I undertake. She says that 'tisn't the thing we do, but the way we do it, that can make us famous. I've been thinking about that ever so much since I came up here. You don't think much of women who know how to cook at home, but you find how much the head cook up here has to think of and how much he gets paid for it; and we don't think much of sweeping and housekeeping, but Mrs. Preston keeps everybody's work in her head and keeps us all spinning, whether we have got any head or not, and she is a great woman. I think she is, don't you? And everybody thinks so much of her, and she's so kind, and yet it's nothing but common housekeeping splendidly done. I heard those lovely people in the corner rooms saying that they were going to take their rooms for all next summer."
"You fill their pitchers, don't you," asked Mary Arley, mischievously. "You're always thinking about sober things. I suppose it's being an only child and always being with your mother. Now, I'm one of seven children and we all just grew up in a heap and never thought about anything. Come, we must go back, it's most pitcher time; there comes the men with the milk. Can't you see them down there in the farm land?"
"Who's that big fellow coming this way? No, I don't mean in the lane; right down there beyond those junipers," exclaimed Mary Fleming. "Why, I believe it's John Abbott!"
The two girls scrambled to their feet. It was still warm out in the sunshine; they always left the old tree with regret and always came to it, if they could, instead of going to their rooms in the afternoon, as many of the girls did. The young man was hurrying along the path; they could see his face now, and it was John Abbott, brown and manly. Mary Fleming had a strange, very dear feeling in her heart as she looked at him.
"I came over to bring some spring chickens," he said, after the first eager greetings. "Didn't you know that we were beginning to raise them on the farm when I saw you in the spring? They're just fit for market now. We supply a great many vegetables for the hotel, and now the chickens are salable we have to run two teams and I shall be coming twice a week. I didn't know you were here until yesterday, or I should have managed to come before. ["] It's only six miles from our farm."
"Our busiest time is just coming on," said Mary Arley with importance, but Mary Fleming looked shy and eager.
"Perhaps you can go to ride with me some Sunday or off day," said the young man.
"Oh, we're engaged for weeks ahead all our spare afternoons," said Mary Arley, amiably, but Mary Fleming and John laughed a little as they walked along together.
"How do you like being in the hotel business?" asked John, patronizingly. "I suppose it's easier than farming, and that's something."
"Mary's the head pitcher," laughed Mary Arley. "She's also making a great reputation for being the best duster on our floor. Now I'm quick myself, but nobody ever said I was thorough."
"I'm called the champion onion-weeder on our place," announced John Abbott. "I've got a premium for having the fastest eye for a cankerworm's nest in the whole State of New Hampshire. We're coming out ahead on our apple crop all on account of me."
"Everybody is famous but poor me," said Mary Arley, with an appearance of mournfulness. "The trouble is that Mary Fleming is so smart that we all get scolded for not doing just as she does."
The young people were full of fun as they scurried down the hill, and presently the two girls saw John Abbott go off in state on his long wagon with the empty chicken crates. When Mary Arley joked about him and made damaging remarks about the appearance of his cravat, Mary Fleming found that she felt as if she were being made fun of herself. She knew in that minute how entirely they belonged to each other. She seemed to be carried on a great wave far beyond the things of everyday life, and her old feeling of affection for him. She suddenly remembered that night in the spring when they had both been together, and wished with all her heart that she could have it over again to make it so much dearer for him and for herself. She had believed that he was not very far away, but some one had said at first that the farm where he lived was over in another valley. Beside all this new joy and eagerness it was like seeing somebody from home -- she had never been away from her own people for three whole weeks before. She was afraid that Mary Arley's quick eyes would be making discoveries, but for a great wonder she was spared any teasing, and so they went in to their evening work.
There were very few idle hours when the month of August came in. The great house was as full as it could be, and all the girls were busy early and late. Mrs. Preston, the housekeeper, often looked pale and tired, but she was never impatient with those young helpers who tried hard to do their work and had some conscience about it, even if they did make mistakes, or get a little behindhand. There were some girls who did vex her every day, and who could not be trusted, and tried to take advantage. The little world of the guests knew almost nothing of the little world of those who served them, of its trials, or its hopes and ambitions. Mary Fleming had found some very kind friends among the guests in her corridor, and it even surprised her sometimes to find how anxious she was to please them and make them comfortable. She had learned to take good care of the pretty dresses as if they were her own, to hang them up carefully and protect them from the dust. Mrs. Preston had spoken to all the girls about this one day, and shown them exactly how to do certain little things that often came in their way, but some one had smartly said that she was not hired to be everybody's waiting maid, and many of the girls had given themselves as little trouble as possible on these grounds. Mrs. Preston was always saying that the people who came were guests of the house, and that one's duty to one's guest was usually plain. Politeness is a habit of doing the kindest thing in the kindest way, and sometimes it is the rudest person who needs one's kindness most. Mary Arley liked Mrs. Preston, but she was fond of her fun with the other girls, and a gay frolic was dearer to her heart than anything else. So it came about in time that Mary Fleming knew and loved Mrs. Preston the best of the two, not that she did not take her share of much of the fun that was always going on, but she had much that was grave and serious to think of about her home affairs and her own future, and then there was the new joy about John. She could not say anything yet about these things to anybody, but she felt sure of the sympathy of a wise, sweet, elderly woman like the housekeeper, who had known so much of the joys and sorrows of life.
The two Marys had a little room together next Mrs. Preston's own. They used to talk a good deal late at night about people and things, as girls will, and sometimes Mrs. Preston had to tell them to be quiet and to go to sleep. They grew very well used to her quick rap on the wall.
One night when Mary Arley was in the middle of an entertaining account of a battle between the colored head waiter and one of the porters, both being persons of great size and dignity, the familiar rap sounded, and then while they were still whispering and laughing softly they heard it again and again.
"She wants something; I'll get up," said Mary Fleming, but Mary Arley said no, that she was only hushing them. "We weren't making noise enough for her to hear," insisted Mary Fleming listening; then she got up and hurried to the housekeeper's room. Poor Mrs. Preston was really ill; there was an anxious moment or two before they persuaded her to let them go and wake the doctor.
"I always say that this hotel is just the same as a town. All sorts of [of] people live in it," said our Mary, dressing as fast as she could. It was the middle of the night and the great house was still; before they could get back with the doctor Mrs. Preston was even more ill than before. "I'll take care of her," Mary Fleming told her friend, "if you can manage part of my work for me in the morning. Go to bed, Mary; that's a good girl, and I'll stay here."
The doctor was an elderly man who had been staying in the house all summer, and he looked at our friend earnestly as he came back to the room with some medicine.
"Can you keep awake?" he asked. "Can I trust you to do just what I say, so that this good friend of ours may be a great deal better in the morning?"
"Yes, you can trust Mary Fleming," said Mrs. Preston eagerly. "I will answer for her," and the doctor went on mixing his doses and giving the directions. After he went away Mary sat by the window. It was a lovely night; the waning moon was just rising behind the great hills, and one by one their shadowy shapes stood out clear in the dim light. It was only a little after twelve o'clock, and for a girl who had been on her feet, quick and busy all day, the time until daylight seemed long. It was lucky that there was a good deal to do for Mrs. Preston at first, and then after awhile when she was better it was very hard to keep awake. She did not like to walk about the room or even to move for fear of waking the patient. Suddenly she noticed that the sky had a strange light in it that was not moonlight, down toward the south. Mary wondered idly what it could be; not northern lights, not moonlight; fires in the woods perhaps; but at that moment the strange red glow grew higher and spread wider. It was a great fire, and it was in the direction of her own home! At that moment her own father and mother might be in danger. She leaned far out of the window and strained her eyes to look and watch, and fairly shook with excitement and worry. There was no large village between the hotel and home.
The great hotel and all its buildings seemed as sound asleep on the long hill-slope as anybody under their roofs. The stillness was profound out of doors, and the sick woman slept quietly, free from pain at last, in her narrow bed at the other side of the room. The light was turned very low, and an open closet door shaded the room. At last Mary could not bear to look at the great red light any longer; she was afraid that she should forget and scream or cry aloud. She left the window and crept softly over to the bed and sat down on the floor by the foot and leaned her head against the edge. The tears stole down her cheeks; she could not help crying. Oh, if she could only fly to her mother! She covered her face and turned away from the light. It was still three or four hours before morning. She thought of all the troubles of their household at home, and could not see what she could do to help them. She must go on working for the small wages that she was only fit to earn, and give her father and mother what she could. Oh, if her father could get away from Dolton; he could not get well there and so he could not work, he had no money and there were too many houses in Dolton already. There was no hope of either letting or selling theirs, and the weight of the mortgage would trouble them more and more. She never could let John Abbott weigh himself down with the burden of such failure and poverty. She had not known what to say to him when he talked on in his lighthearted way, making plans about what they were going to do together by and by.
In the gray dawn Mrs. Preston stirred and awoke. "Mary, Mary dear!" she said, puzzled at first and then remembering. "Were you so frightened, child; have you been awake all night? Don't mind, I'm all right now. I suppose that the doctor frightened you a little, but in a day or two I shall be quite myself again. Why, Mary dear, I'm very sorry; come, creep into bed and go to sleep for a little while." But Mary was already at the table measuring one of the small doses that the doctor had left.
She pulled the curtains down. She felt stiff and lame; it was a great comfort to have something to do instead of sitting and thinking of all the awful things that might or must have happened.
Early, before anyone else was stirring in the house, Mary heard the doctor coming along the corridor. He was a lame man and she knew the sound of his limping step, and went out to meet him.
"You did not send the night watchman after me?" he said. "I am glad to hope that everything has gone well."
"Why, yes!" he said cheerfully a moment later. "You do your young nurse great credit!" and Mrs. Preston smiled.
"And my doctor, too." she said.
"You have done just as I told you," said the doctor to Mary, looking at the medicine and a slip of paper. "Mrs. Preston was a very sick woman last night. I was very much worried after I went down stairs, and feared that I ought to have got somebody else to come and watch, but I thought that I could trust you and I was afraid of the bad effect of coming back and disturbing you."
The housekeeper smiled. "Yes, you can always trust Mary," she said.
It was daylight now, the sun was fast coming up. Mary Fleming's young heart was full of excitement. Thank God she was good for something in this world, but oh, her mother, and the great horrible light of the fire! She could not wait longer; she stepped out of the room and flew down stairs and knocked at the telegraph girl's little bedroom door in one of the lower corridors. "Oh, come, come quick, Nelly," she implored. "Ask what happened at Dolton last night; there was an awful fire."
"What's the matter with you?" asked the sleepy girl. "You are as gray as ashes; have you been up all night?"
"Yes, yes! Don't talk. Come quick."
"But the office there won't be open yet," said Nelly Perrin, looking a little rueful at the loss of her morning nap. Nevertheless, she hurried into her clothes, and starting off bravely, soon reached her desk at the office. Seating herself at her instrument, she said, impatiently; "You needn't drive me to pieces"; but after a few brief clickings she suddenly looked surprised and listened intently toa long message.
"The office in Dolton is burnt," she said gravely. "There was a great fire last night. I get word by way of Harrisville. Almost the whole town was swept by flames -- the shoe factories and churches and business section. Oh, I'm real sorry, Miss Fleming. I hope nothing happened to your house!"
But Mary had already gone, racing up stairs to tell Mary Arley the bad news and the two poor children cried together and began their day's work with heavy hearts. Toward noon Mrs. Preston was so much better that they dared to tell her, and to ask if there was no possible way to manage so that they could go home.
Mrs. Preston's face looked pinched and pale on the pillow. "No, no, don't think about it," said Mary Fleming affectionately. "I know all about the people who are going to-day and the new ones coming to take their places. Mother would send me word if she or father were hurt or anything. We'll see to our pitchers just the same as ever, won't we, Mary Arley? Your house is far enough out of the village not to be in much danger. Don't you worry, and I won't."
"I'm sure to be about the house to-morrow," said Mrs. Preston; "the doctor has been here again and says so. And Mr. Dennis sent me word to let you, Mary Fleming, do the best you can in my place to-day, and to send for him any minute you want him."
Mary Fleming's cheeks grew crimson. What would her mother say if she knew that she was useful enough already in this great establishment to be put into Mrs. Preston's responsible place even for a single day.
"I don't care who says she is young!" Mr. Dennis had said. "She's the most able and conscientious girl in the house. Not so quick as some, but if I could have twenty such girls I should take a long breath and think that it was a happy day for the hotel business."
Mary Fleming felt all that day as if she were made of something curiously light, and flew about as if she never needed to stop. The fatigue and excitement stimulated her wits and her energies. Even the worry about the fire was indistinct and unreal in her mind, with the hurry and responsibility of the great inflow of new guests to the hotel. She went with winged feet from room to room, directing two or three girls here and doing something herself as it ought to be done there, and now finding a few minutes to ask Mrs. Preston for advice and orders. There were only a few people in the hotel who knew much of Dolton, and they could learn nothing more than the first news in the morning. Toward supper time, when her cares were over, she put on a fresh, cool gingham dress, it is always the best way to begin to rest to take off one's "tired clothes," and then she went out to watch for John Abbott. It was his day to come over from the farm.
Next morning early there came a short message to Mary Fleming from Mr. Dennis that if she liked to go home to Dolton for the day there would be no objection, provided she could arrange for her work among the other girls. She felt tired enough as she got up and went to see Mrs. Preston, who was already up and equal to some part of her cares. She kissed poor sleepy, anxious Mary, and told her by all means to go at once, and to ask the clerk to have her sent down to the railway station in time for the first train. She must not think about the work, either; it should all be managed, and she must not come back until early morning. The new people in the corridors were welcome guests, very quiet and considerate, apparently, except one or two. So off flew our friend, and an hour or two afterward Mary Fleming, feeling bewildered enough, was finding her way across the open smoking space where the Dolton House had stood, and all the Dolton shops and churches. She had heard on the way down that her father's house was saved -- the fire came almost to the next door; but when she walked up the little street, littered still with cinders and miscellaneous heaps of household furniture, and then caught sight of the house, and of the two green pear trees that stood by it, and had unlatched the gate and walked up the little side path, opened the kitchen door and saw her mother, she was the most delighted, contented girl in the world!
They had never been separated so long before. They kissed and kissed each other, forgetting to be restrained and undemonstrative.
"How womanly and wise you look to me!" said Mrs. Fleming, impulsively. "You aren't my same old going-to-school Mary at all!"
"I've been in a good school up there," said Mary, smiling. "You don't know how good Mrs. Preston is; I feel as if I were going to be learning of her all the time. Oh, there are so many things I've been keeping to tell you! But tell me how father is, and I want to know all about the fire."
"Have you been keeping something to tell me about John Abbott, I wonder?" asked Mary's mother.
"I suppose so," answered Mary, much confused. "Why, has he said anything to anybody yet?"
"He has," said Mrs. Fleming. "He has behaved like a man. I suppose neither of you will ever think of anybody else. But there's plenty of time ahead to think of getting married."
"Yes, of course," Mary spoke dutifully. But to be just past nineteen herself, and to have John within a week of his twentieth birthday, seemed old enough to satisfy the most exacting. They had great plans for making themselves useful and for making money apart before the time should come for being married; but Mary no longer thought that a crowded country village was the only place in which to live. She had learned in these few weeks to feel at home among the green fields and the hills, and John's plans for getting a farm of his own just as soon as he could seemed the most sensible plan in the world.
It was an exciting day in Dolton, or in what was left of the poor little town; and Mary and her mother went out and tried to find and to console some of their homeless neighbors. The Fleming house was crowded with such people already, and Mr. Fleming was so busy that he could hardly find time to speak to Mary, though he welcomed her with delight.
That evening, after she had refreshed herself with a long sleep in the afternoon, and had had a quiet supper of bread and milk in her old childish fashion, she joined her father and mother, who were sitting on the door-steps. The green grapes hung in heavy clusters on the old vine, and the pears were beginning to look brown and shiny on the two pear trees. She loved them in a new and unexpected way because they reminded her of the country. She could not help remembering how at a loss she was that day in early summer when school had finished, and she did not know of anything to do with her incompetent self, and feared that she was going to be a failure in life. How busy and how happy she had really been, and how fair the future looked now.
"Yes," her father was saying, "I've done pretty well with picking up odd jobs of carpentering, and with your help that you sent us home; and, you know, we've had some boarders that strayed along; but now that's all past, and I'm going to do what your mother has urged me, go back up country again; 'twill be better for my health and your mother's, too. I may 's [may's] well tell you that Farley, of our old shoe firm, has offered to buy me out on this place. They werewell insured, and are going to rebuild, but it's going to be hard work scratching along in Dolton for a man like me, and I want to go back up country where your mother and I were born and used to know everybody. John Abbott's a good boy; I ain't got one thing to say against John. Only the week before last he was down here and stopped over a train, and was urging me to move up near where he is; there's a good small farm that he's got his eye on, and he said he'd put something he's saved with mine. I was short with him that day, for what I owned here was only a burden. But now, if Farley gives me my price, why, I'll pay off the mortgage and I'll go up and see that little place and take it."
Mary listened eagerly; it seemed strange to have her father so interested and pleased, telling her his plans, and making a new life for himself. She thought, with great happiness, of John's goodness and helpfulness to her discouraged father. Perhaps, by and by, she and her mother could take some people to board for the summer. She would learn everything she could, and do her best for her guests, strangers and foreigners though they might be, if ever this plan came true. It was a lovely and rewarding thing to make people a home in strange places, to make them like the place, and like you, and be contented and happy themselves.
"Father," said Mary, suddenly, "are these pear trees too large to move?"
"Yes; I suppose they are," answered Mr. Fleming, turning to look at her with a smile. "You ought to know enough to know that."
"Perhaps we could have a graft or something," said Mary, "and a piece of the grape vine to carry away; there are some things that I like about this house, if it is in the village! I was so sorry when I thought it was burnt. When did any of you see Aunt Hannah? I was just thinking of that day when she came along last spring and I cleared up the yard."
"That was the day you first began to take hold, wasn't it?" said her father, reflectively. "I seemed to be lettin' everything go myself, but now I'm goin' to begin all over again. I took to this plan o' John Abbott's from the first. No; we haven't seen Aunt Hannah since."
The next morning early Mary was all ready to begin her work at the hotel again. It seemed so beautiful to look out of the car windows and see the broad, quiet landscape after a day spent in the desolated village with its excited, disturbed people, its slow trails of smoke, and whiffs of acrid ashes that blew about with every breeze. And John Abbott, boyish and eager, with all his manly strength and soberness, John Abbott came over to see her after dark, and they talked about their happy future together.
"It seems as if nothing ever happened to me until this summer, and then everything happened at once," said Mary Fleming. "Now what do you think that Mrs. Preston told me to-day? She has been with Mr. Dennis two winters in that splendid New York hotel, and he thinks everything of her; and he wants her to have an assistant housekeeper, and she says that I may have the chance. What do you think the salary is from the first of November until we come back here in the summer?" and she told him.
"Dear me!" said John Abbott. "Why, that's amazing! but I can't have you going off to New York; how can I?"
"Oh, yes, John," said Mary. "It would give us such a start; it would help us out splendidly. Now, let's be good, John! It's all Mrs. Preston's gift, too. She has helped me and taught me everything. I'm only an every-day girl, but I love my work, and I suppose a good many girls don't."
"But when we have our own house, John," she said shyly, looking at him with a dear smile, "one person is always going to have a corner whenever she wants it, and that's Aunt Hannah. I was just as cross and miserable as I could be that day last spring, and I didn't see my way one step ahead. I suppose it's just so with lots of girls beside me. She just talked to me a little while, and told me what I've often said since, that it isn't what you do, but how you do it, that builds your reputation. She said that we could be famous for doing the commonest things, and talked to me that way as nobody ever had before; and something struck a light for me that I've gone by and lived by ever since. I shall be grateful to Aunt Hannah as long as I live. Don't you remember that day last spring when you came down to Dolton and I was trying to tie up the grape vine and you helped me?"
"I do," said John Abbott. "And we went to walk and stood on the little bridge."
"Don't go yet," said Mary. "I want to tell you something more. I never used to like father, and now I begin to think everything of him. I used to be cranky myself, and then when he was cranky I hadn't a bit of patience. I've learned one thing in this houseful of girls this summer, and that is if one comes down cross in the morning she can set all the rest of us by the ears. I used to think 'twas other people's fault if I was cross; but I have found out long ago that sometimes it's my fault if others are."
"All those things are so," replied John Abbott soberly. "Come, Mary, who do you think is stopping over at the farm this minute?"
"Why, I don't know," said Mary, wondering.
"It's Aunt Hannah," said John. "Mrs. Haines has always known her; she happened along last night, and she says she wasn't very far from here, and she had heard about the new hotel."
"Why, the dear old thing! Oh, John, do bring her over, and Mrs. Haines, too, and I'll show them round. Oh, Aunt Hannah likes pretty things so much she'll have a beautiful time. I'll take her to see my lovely Mrs. Duncan in the east corner rooms. I told Mrs. Duncan about her one day, and all her pretty old-fashioned ways, and how she goes about the country, and her good sayings and all her funny stories; she said she wished she could see her."
"I dare say I can come," said John promptly. "'Twould be such a treat for both of them. All the women folks think the hotel is a kind of a palace."
"Of course it is," exclaimed Mary, "and I'll tell you one thing, John; the people out of cities think just as much in their turn of knowing country people and seeing how they do things. It makes 'em have a great deal better time up here to know somebody on the farms, and be asked in and taken notice of; it really does. You know Aunt Hannah always says that there ain't but a few kinds of people in the world, but they're put in all sorts of different places. Oh, I do think it's really beautiful to be here; and I lost all that time when I was growing up just because I hadn't found out how to enjoy myself. I thought for ever so long that an every-day girl hadn't a bit of a chance, and now I think that nobody's chance in the world is half so happy as mine. There is something wonderful that comes and helps us the minute we really try to help ourselves."
Jewett comments on "An Every-Day Girl"
From a letter to Louisa Dresel in Annie Fields, Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett. The date of this letter is difficult to know. It appears with letters of 1898 in Fields, but implies that "An Every-Day Girl" (1892) has just been published.
I find myself beginning to think of new story-people in these days, partly because having had two or three of my sketches printed has made me remember that part of me with surprising vividness. I wonder if you won't look up the June - no May - "Ladies' Home Journal," and read "An Every-day Girl"? I think there are good things in it, and I hope it will make two or three things a little plainer to some girls who will read it. Good-night, little Loulie.
Edited by Casey Feder with assistance from Terry Heller, Coe College.