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Jewett Judges Short Story Contests for The Berwick Scholar

Christmas 1889 and 1890*

 From December 1889


EDITORS OF THE BERWICK SCHOLAR: -- I have read these sketches as carefully as possible and must decide that the one signed "Joanna Lovejoy" and called "Not Lost" is the best.

I should make second choice of "Aunt Lois Remembers a Christmas Fifty Years Ago." This has a better title than the first (a great point in story writing) and there is a quaintness of country speech very well rendered. As a whole it is below the level of "Not Lost," which is simply and well told, although it would be much better without such frequent repetition of the hero's name, which corresponds in writing to the bad manners of constantly repeating a person's name in conversation. In several of the sketches it would be a great improvement if the short paragraphs were joined where there is no new departure in the narrative.

I am pleased and surprised to find so much good work in the little stories, and especially such excellent handwriting and intelligent preparation of all the manuscript. I thank the Editors of the BERWICK SCHOLAR for the  honor and pleasure they gave me in asking me to make the decision.    SARAH O. JEWETT.

5th of December, 1889. 



For at least two weeks before Christmas Mark Fitzgerald had been looking forward to that day with a great deal of anticipation. Not that he expected to receive a great number of presents, or indeed to have a very sumptuous Christmas dinner; for Mark's mother was a widow, who found the task of procuring "food and raiment" for three robust boys, not the easiest in the world. And so few presents, -- and few Christmas dinners, worth mentioning had come into his fourteen years of life. But for this particular Christmas, Mark had something in store that he thought would bring to himself, if not to his brothers, more pleasure than they had ever known on any other Christmas day. Mark had five dollars. And every cent of it he had earned himself. To some boys, five dollars does not seem to be a very large sum. Nor did it to Mark; but it was more of his own earnings than he had ever before possessed at one time.

Long since he had wrung from his mother the promise, that on the day before Christmas, he should go with her to the city of P------, ten miles distant, where doubtless she would spend much more than the sum of five dollars, in very useful, but rather homely presents of stockings, caps, mittens, etc. Mark intended to spend not more than two, possibly not more than one of his hard earned dollars, for gifts that should be not only useful but beautiful. And why should he not? He had earned the money himself, and certainly ought to have the right of spending a part of it, at least, as he chose. So Mark reflected. Besides, he felt sure that his younger brothers would be much pleased with some slight remembrance, unlike the commonplace presents that they were accustomed to receive; and his mother too, would be glad, provided his gifts were useful, for to Mrs. Fitzgerald, things that had no use, had very little place.

So Mark wished away the time, until it had truly passed, and on the morning before Christmas day, set out with his mother to drive to P------. They would spend the middle of the day in the city, doing their shopping, and in the late afternoon, return home.

The sleighing was fine, and as they sped on over the road, Mark, at least, thoroughly enjoyed the drive.

For an hour or two, Mark kept with his mother, watching her, and making a suggestion now and then, while she selected various articles of wearing apparel for himself and brothers.

At length he obtained leave to go off by himself. As he knew the city well, and was usually very cautious, Mrs. Fitzgerald had no anxiety about him. He wandered up and down, looking in at all the windows, in just that frame of mind that nearly all of us have experienced, at some time or other, when we had money to spend, but knew not how to spend it.

At last he entered a store, where it seemed to him there was everything that could please the eye or the fancy. Here if anywhere, he felt sure he could find what he wanted. He went from one counter to another, looking at every thing, and trying to decide what, from the endless variety, he should buy, until the lighting of a gas jet, here and there, warned him, that the time appointed for meeting his mother must be near. Well, he had about made up his mind, and it was now not difficult to make his selections. He watched joyfully, while the package was being wrapped up, and then felt for his pocket-book. But where was it? He must have left it on the opposite counter. He ran across to see. No, it was not there. He searched through all his pockets again and again. He looked around over the store, and the young saleswoman came out and searched with him. One by one, as the report spread through the store, all became interested in the search. Mark saw richly dressed ladies turn from the engrossing interest of purchasing Christmas gifts, and look at him with sympathetic eyes. He heard them say to one another, "That boy has lost his pocket-book." And they stated the lost sum variously, from ten cents, to twenty-five dollars. But all the while he was thinking of his mother. He knew that by this time she must be anxiously looking for him. Here he was, and his money was gone. What would she say? At last the search was given up. The pocket-book was not in the store, and the only solution of the matter was, that Mark had carelessly lain it down, and some body had stolen it. The boy went out, casting back one sorrowful glance at the package, that must be left behind. And there almost at the door was his mother. Of course he must tell her; but how? "O mother, I've lost my pocket-book!" The words came chokingly.

Instead of berating him soundly on his carelessness and want of ability, as Mark had expected, Mrs. Fitzgerald really seemed to be more sorry for him, than she did for the loss of the money. Together they went back into the store, and searched again: but to no purpose.

Then Mark left his address, so that if the pocket-book should be found, it might be sent to him. But it was not found, nor indeed did Mark ever see it again.

On the way home, Mark thought of the morning drive, and how different it had been, and under cover of  the darkness the tears rolled down over his cheeks. But his mother all unconscious, talked unceasingly of the growing wickedness and perversity of mankind, and wondered what the world was coming to.

The next day Mark had no gifts for his mother and brothers. To his taste, the Christmas dinner lacked flavor; and as he looked back and thought of all the Christmas days that he could remember, there was not one, that did not seem more joyful than this. However, as the days passed, his grief at his loss became less, and after a little, he ceased altogether to think of it.

* * * * * * *

Five years have passed. Mark is now quite a man. Although money is not over-abundant in the Fitzgerald home, yet there is more than there used to be, and Mark's mother and brothers have been the recipients of many useful and beautiful gifts from him. Now, as he comes home from his work, Mrs. Fitzgerald says, "There is a letter for you, Mark." Sometime later she came upon him meditating, with the letter still in his hand. He showed it to her. It was just a plain sheet of paper, but folded within was a new, crisp ten-dollar bill. On the paper was the date, Christmas eve, 188-. It was the day Mark lost his pocket-book. There could be but one interpretation. His mother expressed her joy that his loss had been thus more than made up, and her only comment was, "In old Bible times, I believe, law required those who had stolen anything to make a fourfold return, but" with a sigh, "I suppose that could hardly be expected at this day of the world, from one wicked enough to steal." But Mark thought that the one who had returned ten dollars for the five stolen, could not be wholly lost.





"Aunt Lois, can't you tell me something about a Christmas fifty years ago?" asked Nellie Lee, a pretty girl of sixteen. "Law sakes, child, let me think why yis, that would be in '39, wouldn't it? I wuz jest eighteen then. I rec'llect 'Bial Hopkins wuz keepin' comp'ny with me and Christmas night he took me down ter Kelton t' a party at Betsey Lawson's, six miles from our place.

"Ther' wuz quite a number from Brairville, 'Bial an' myself as I said before, M'ria Jenkins an' her brother Joel M'ria wuz dead set after 'Bial, but she couldn't seem ter git him, an' she hed ter go with her brother. Joel wuz the bashfullest person you ever see never would speak tew a girl unless he wuz put to 't, but M'ria jest ruled over him. That night he acted 's if he wuz on pins. Then Nancy Hilton and my brother Jotham, they wuz there; an' how he did carry on that night! You'd skursely b'lieve it neow ter see him all drawed up with rheumatiz, would ye? Well, he wuz spry's any of 'em then, jest as straight, an' I know I thought ther' wa'n't a handsomer young man in the room than Jotham, when he an' yer Aunt Nancy, that is now, led off in Virginny reel. Dear me! Heow I dew run on. Le' me see, I wuz telling who wuz there, wa'n't I? Well, there wuz Jim Kennison an' Alviry Bates, Tom Henderson and Mercy Jacobs, an' I b'lieve thet's all from Banville; then there wuz some from Oak Woods, on t' other side the river 't' other siders' we alwuz called 'em. O' course ther' wuz a lot from Kelton, but I wa'n't very well acquainted with the folks there, an' I forgit who they wuz.

"When we'd all got there, we set a talking kinder stiff, same's folks alwuz seem ter dew 'fore the ice's broke, 'bout the weather an' the last quiltin'.  After a while, Betsey's cousin, Seth Mayburn, who wuz there from the next town pr'posed that we sh'd play 'Father run the squirrel 'round the hickory tree,' somethin' thet wuz new ter us."

"Why Aunt Lois, are you talking about uncle" Nelly broke in.

"If you're a goin' to interrupt me, I guess I'd better stop," said Aunt Lois with a great assumption of dignity. "Oh, please go on! I won't say another word please do," begged Nelly. Aunt Lois settled her glasses more firmly, carefully counted the stitches on two needles of her knitting work, then resumed her story.

"Where wuz I? Talking about thet game? Well, Seth picked out 'Bial for the 'Father' an' told him to choose his 'squirrel.' Nat'rally I s'posed he'd take me but don't you think he called out for thet M'ria Jenkins.! I wuz dretful put out, but I wa'n't a goin' to let him see it, by a long chalk.

"I s'pose he could see t' M'ria liked him pretty well, and ye know any man feels flattered when he sees a girl sets a store by him; an' I expect 'Bial thought he'd please her a mite. I wuz young and high-spirited then, an' folks said  I wuz han'some, but I don't say as to thet. Hows'ever I didn't keer to be took and flung away again by 'Bial Hopkins jest when he pleased! M'ria wuz jest delighted an' it seemed to me thet she didn't run any faster [than] she might.

"Jest's 'Bial ketched hold of her, somehow he made a misstep, an' plunged along a tryin' to save hisself, an' he'd most likely har' done it, if 't hadn't been fer Seth Mayburn's little dog. He see 'Bial cuttin' an' terr-ing 'round, an' I s'pose he thought 'twas a good chance to have some fun, fer he up an' run right between 'Bial's feet, yelping dretfully, but somehow he wa'n't spry enough, an' 'Bial went over him head first ontew the floor. When he fell, he ketched hold of the dresser and pulled a pile of pans down onto him. We all set up a laff, an' no mistake, an' 'twould have made any one laff ter see him sprawlin' on the floor. Tin pans don't break, but they dew make a dretful racket, an' thet tickled me all the more.

"'Bial scrambled up an' begun ter jaw Seth fer 'lettin' his pesky dog run under folks' feet an' break their necks.[']

"Seth jest laffed an' asked him if his neck wuz broke very bad.

"'Bial  kinder snorted and then went over ter M'ria, an' I see her talkin' tew him with sech a sympathizin' air, then look over ter me an' Seth spitefully. I didn't keer though fer Seth made hisself full's agreeable's ever 'Bial did.

"After we got tired of playin', we went in the keepin' room ter rest an' eat apples, an' somehow 'Bial happened ter set beside me. An' he begun ter take me ter task fer laffin' at him. I hadn't got over bein' put out an' I answered up kinder sharp thet I wa'n't aware t' I'd got tew ask him about the proper time fer me ter laff.

"Thet riled him considerable an' he said if I didn't keer no more'n thet about him, he didn't know's he was partic'lar 'bout keepin' comp'ny with me any longer. I told him thet wuz what I hed been thinkin' for quite a spell, an' he jumped up an' edged off to'ards M'ria.

"I wuz kinder puzzled 'bout getting' home, an' so I told Betsey all about it, thinkin' she'd prob'ly ask me ter stay with her but what did she do but tell Seth, and he asked me if he shouldn't have the pleasure of takin' me home, an' I guess I told him he could. Any how he did, an' on the way he asked me to go to a New Year's party over ter Oak Woods with him. Thet's the last time I ever went anywhere with 'Bial Hopkins, an' the next year he married M'ria Jenkins an' she's kept him under her thumb ever sence". 'Why Aunt Lois!" exclaimed Nelly, "Is that why you happened to marry Uncle Seth instead of old 'Bial Hopkins? Don't you know he was joking you about him yesterday?" 

"I think's likely he does try ter plague me sometimes, when he feels good natured," said Aunt Lois, as she set the heel of her stocking.


From December 1890

 After careful consideration on the part of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett, the final result as to the winners of the prize stories was reached. It was decided that Miss Effie Perkins should receive first prize, and Blanch H. Adams the second. The New England dialect is so well given in "Aunt Nancy's Reminiscences" that it deserves great praise. Although the prize writers were few, yet we were well pleased with their stories. We wish to express our sincere thanks to Miss Jewett for her kindness in deciding the quality of these stories.



Aunt Nancy's Reminiscence.

"Yis, I'm ninety-four years old. I was born the 27th of June, 1796, so you can reckon it up an' see fer yerself if I ain't right. I s'pose folks thinks I take a good deal of comfort, settin' 'round, doin' nothin', but I don't. It's the hardest work I even done, I c'n tell ye, I allays have worked hard all my life, an' I'd a sight ruther be workin' now if I could."

The speaker was an old woman so old she "might have died twenty years ago and still been old" commonly known as Aunt Nancy, in the rural district where I was teaching. Many women of sixty might envy her even now, for she was, as she said "as spry as a cricket," and a great talker. Once started, she was sure to talk as long as one would care to listen. She made the foregoing remark in reply to some question I had asked in regard to her age, and lighting her pipe for Aunt Nancy was a confirmed [comfirmed]* smoker she continued, "Yis, ninety-four is pretty old, I c'n remember a good many years back. I knowed yore grandfather and the hull family, the' was a slew on 'em, Isaac, John, Jeams, Elijah, Ruth an' Nabby, George, Ann, Hosea, Ephraim, an' your grandfather, Thomas. Oh, the' was a slew on' em, I tell ye. Isaac was a school-marster an' I didn't known [kmow] so much about him. John was a harnsome young man, the best-lookin' one o' the lot, an' the winter he was twenty-four he went to Biddeford ter work, an' got cold, an' come home next spring an' it 'pears ter me he died of pneumony, but I disremember, fer I was quite a small girl then. Jeames come over here ter help father hoe that same spring, one dretful hot day an' he went down ter the pond with a passel o' boys to go in swimmin', an' some how he fell in an' before they could git tew him [hin], he was drownded.

They allays s'posed Elijah was drownded tew, fer he went off ter sea an' nothin' ever was heerd on him arterwards, he was ruther wild. Ruth an' Nabby come next, nobody ever knowed what tew make of them, they was so dretful odd. They come over this side o' the pond an' lived a good many years, lived like hogs, tew, folks said, then Nabby died an' George, the brother next younger'n them took Ruth ter live with him. She staid with him until he had got most of her money 'n then she come back here agin, an' died in a short time. Oh, George was a rogue an' a rascal if he was your great uncle. Then there was Ann, she wasn't a mite like Ruth an' Nabby.  She was a good sensible girl an' I sot a good deal by her. She was as smart as a whip an' perty as a picter, but "beauty's but a fadin' flower," she died o' quick consumption when she wan't more than twenty-six. Yore grandfather Thomas was a good, clever man, everybody said, an' I never heerd no hurt of him anyway, but Hosea was a little tricky folks had to look  sharp in a bargain with him fer if he could take advantage he sartain would. He an' Ephraim went out to New York, an' he staid there but tew or three years aterwards. Ephraim, he come back an' brought his wife, Janet, with him. She was a little young thing, an' folks here run of an idea that she felt as if she was better than them, but she didn't, she was jest bashful, an' bein' among strangers so kinder skeered her, an' she wan't no great hand to make talk anyway. Folks got more used tew her arter a while but she never seemed like one on 'em.

They never called her by her name, Janet, but allays Eph's wife. Loizy Billings, Eph's aunt, was dead set agin her from the fust. One arternoon, when she hadn't been settled more'n a week, Loizy took her knittin' work an' went down ter call on her,  an' she asked her so many questions about her housekeepin' that she didn't know what to say, so she didn't say nothing much. That made Loizy mad, and she went home, an' declared E'ph's wife wa'n't much better'n a fool but the time come when if anyone had told her Eph's wife was better than an angel, she would have believed it. Loizy was dretful queer -- folks said the young man she was keepin' company with died years afore an' it soured her. She lived alone in a small house, an' she had some little money that she'd let a city cousin invest for, an' she felt considerable independent. Well, things run on fer some years, an' then Loizy got word that her cousin had lost all her money an' even mortgaged her house, an' the man had give her notice that he was going tew foreclose right off. Loizy felt dretfully abeout it an' what ter dew she didn't know.  The night afore Christmas Eph's wife went up ter Loizy's an' when she met her at the door, she says, says she, "I've brought you a Christmas present, aunt," an' Loizy snapped out an' asked her what good she s'posed a Christmas present would dew her without a dollar tew her name or a roof tew her head. An' then Eph's wife told her she had heerd of her trouble, an' that [thot] she had took the money her mother left her an' paid up the mortgage fer her. She said she didn't need the money anyhow, an' 'twouldn't be much longer that she should have ter be supported. Loizy begun ter say somethin' abeout  Eph, but his wife said he knowed all abeout it, an' thought it was all right. Well, Loizy declared she didn't desarve tew be treated so well an' she wouldn't tech the receipt, but Eph's wife made her, an' she allays called her Janet arter that. Eph's wife allays was pindlin', an' next spring she died o' consumption. I s'pose she had it abeout her then, but nobody knowed it. Loizy staid with her till the end, an' 'long the last on it she never left her day nor night. She felt dreffully when she died an' never acted like herself arterwoods." Aunt Nancy stopped to refill her pipe, and hearing the clock strike nine, I hastened to school, meditating on the sins and virtues of my ancestors.


* Apparent errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets.  The spelling of "Jeames/Jeams" varies.

*Materials from The Berwick Scholar 3: December 1889, and #4: December 1890
Available courtesy of the Berwick Academy Archives
and with the assistance of Rachel Saliba, archivist.

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College, 2013.

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