Main Contents
 Playdays

PRISSY'S VISIT.

Sarah Orne Jewett

     Prissy never had been half a dozen miles inland until last summer. One day she was sitting on a rock down by the water, and her mother called her to come into the house. Mrs. Starbirds's voice sounded so good-natured that our friend ran to see what she wanted, in a great hurry.

     "How should you like to go up country to see your Aunt Cynthy?"

     Prissy danced round the little kitchen until everything rattled. "Oh, ever so much! Can I? When will it be? Do we have to go in the cars?"

     "There, do sit down, child," said Mrs. Starbird, laughing a little. "Of course we shall go in the cars; you don't suppose folks can go up country in a sail-boat? I have been thinking about it for some time, but I didn't write until the day before yesterday, and I didn't tell you and Sam, because I knew I should get tired hearing about it before ever I started. We are going to start early to-morrow morning, and now I'm going to be busy all day, so you can take some bread and butter and gingerbread, and go off and play. Mind you don't come into the house ransacking. You might pick up some shells and stones to carry up to your Cousin Rosy, for they don't have such things up there, and most likely she will be pleased with them."

     Though Prissy still played in the play-house by the rock, she and Nelly Hunt had found one day a new place which they both liked very much, because it was nearer the sea. It was an old boat that had grown so leaky that it had been hauled up on shore out of the way. Being on a steep grassy bank, one end was a great deal higher than the other, so Prissy used to call the upper end the garret, and once when her brother Sam was particularly good-natured and had nothing to do, he fastened a square piece of an old sail to four stakes driven into the ground, so there was a roof over the garret, and Prissy could sit up-stairs in the shade when the sun was too hot in her parlor. In the middle of the boat Sam had nailed some strips of board, which made nice little shelves, and here she had arranged her bits of crockery and other conveniences for making sand pies. She always kept a great quantity of shells and stones in the boat, and lately had been very busy making sea-weed beads and stringing them. Perhaps you would be interested to know what she kept in her cellar? There were no leaks in the stern of the boat, and one day Prissy thought it would be a good plan to fill it with salt water and keep some fish there. She had to fill it up with an old tin pail every morning, for the sun dried it up so fast; but it was only a few steps to the water's edge when the tide was high. She used to put crabs in often, for it was one of her great pleasures to spend an afternoon crabbing among the rocks, and sometimes you might find half a dozen baby lobsters, for she was tender-hearted and usually took possession of the little ones that were found in the lobster-pots. Her father always threw these back into the sea, if she were not with him, but Prissy felt that she was doing a kind act to carry them ashore and take much interest in them, as they grew less and less vigorous hour by hour, and grew redder and redder in the warm sun until they died. She would help any day to boil a kettleful of big ones. Sam brought two small sculpin one day to this discouraged aquarium, and they lived and flourished for a long time. Sometimes Prissy found queer little creatures on the beach when the tide went out, and she always had a collection of red and green sea-weeds and sea-eggs. Once she had four or five jelly-fishes in the boat, but they were not so interesting as some other things, and took up a great deal of room. In the holes where the thole-pins had been, she had put great horse-shoe crabs, several together, like bouquets. She always had a great fancy for these.

     After she had chosen the best of her sea-weed necklaces that day, she took the old tin pail and went down the beach to hunt for shells for her cousin. She wondered what kind of a girl Rosy would be. She knew hardly any girls but Nelly Hunt, who had gone away some time before, for she lived in that lonely place and had no playmates. She had been by herself a great deal more since Sam had grown so much older. They always used to play together, but lately he had put on airs and spoken of girls and their playthings with great scorn. He nearly always went out fishing with his father, and stayed at the fish-houses most of the time he was on shore. And all this made the idea of visiting Rosy a great deal more pleasant. Prissy made up her mind at once that she would carry the water dolly, as she still called Bessie; but as for the rag doll, although she had had a new cover put on, she was hardly fit to go visiting. It seemed very unkind to leave her at home all alone, and Prissy thought she could find a place for her in the corner of the trunk her mother was packing. She was not a very large doll.

     That night Prissy was sent to bed early, and she was waked some time before sunrise next morning, for they had to take a long drive to get to the railroad station. The sea looked cold and gray, and Sam looked a little wistful as his sister climbed into the wagon, but he would not confess that he cared anything about going. "I'm going to the Banks next winter with father," said he, proudly.

     Prissy had never been in the cars before, and you may be sure she enjoyed the journey. She felt very sorry once; they left the first train at a junction, and she and her mother went into such a beautiful car, with big arm-chairs instead of the rows of seats all alike, a great many mirrors, and a beautiful bright carpet. Prissy had never been in half so handsome a room before, and was grieved to the heart when a man came to them and said that those seats were a dollar more, and her mother gathered up her bundles to go away. But the other car was very pleasant, and a kind-looking old lady gave her a handful of candy when she was beginning to grow a little tired. A boy put a picture-paper in her lap, and just as she was thinking how kind he was to give them to everybody and especially to her, he came back and took them all away again. But that was the only disagreeable thing that happened, and it was such fun to look out of the window at the hills and woods, and when the cars stopped at the stations she felt so grand to see children looking up at her from the platform. How much they must wish they were going somewhere.

     Early in the afternoon they reached North Conway, where they were to take a stage that went by Aunt Cynthy's house. Mrs. Starbird had a great fright, for when she wished to get her trunk she could not find the check anywhere. She took everything out of her pocket and carpet-bag, and went back into the car to see if it had dropped on the floor, and finally found it safe inside her left-hand glove, where she had held it so long that she had grown used to the feeling of it. It seemed so queer to Prissy that it made any difference about finding the little brass ticket. That was her father's own little blue sea-chest with the twisted rope handles. She had seen it ever since she could remember, and there it stood, on one end, a little way down the platform.

     Why shouldn't they take it? Mrs. Starbird didn't know; but you always had to get the check, and you couldn't have the trunk until you gave it back. Prissy said to herself that she would ask father when she went home. Father knew everything.

     When the stage was ready to start, a large party pushed forward and took all the seats but one, inside, and Mrs. Starbird did not know what she should do, for Prissy was altogether too large to sit comfortably in one's lap for so long a time. There had been two young ladies on the outside when the stage had first driven up, and one of them said, --

     "Can't the little girl sit on the roof here behind me? I'll take good care of her."

     Prissy did not like the idea of being separated from her mother, but she also did not like to refuse when Mrs. Starbird looked so much pleased.

     So our friend was pushed and pulled to her perch; and when she was comfortably seated on some shawls, with a trunk to lean back against, and the four horses started off briskly, she was not afraid at all. If Sam could only know she was driving with four horses!

     She couldn't slide off the roof, for there was a little railing all round the edge, and she felt very important, looking down at the people in the street. She was shy at first; but the young lady and her sister talked to her once in a while so pleasantly, showing her the little white horse on the cliff across the river and the hotel on the top of Mount Kearsarge, that she found courage after a while to say something beside "Yes" and "No," and finally told them where she lived, and all about Sam and her father and the sea and the boat play-house, which they seemed much interested in. It was so much better fun than it had ever been jogging to church with the old speckled horse, or even taking a drive on her father's fish-wagon. The young ladies gave her some peaches and candy, and Prissy thought they were the very nicest people she ever had seen. Once or twice they met other stages, and they looked like big bumble-bees. Down in the hollows the maples were beginning to turn red, though it was only the last of August, and she laughed at the little brooks that came splashing down over the rocks in such a hurry, and sometimes they drove across long bridges, where the bed of the river looked as if the tide had gone out, or as if the river had gone away for a while and left a brook to keep house for it. The mountains looked tall and solemn, and they made Prissy think of one of the verses of a Psalm she had learned for her Sunday-school lesson the week before: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem," it said. She had always thought Jerusalem was a great way off; but she was a long way from home, and there could not be room for many mountains in the world, so it might be near. Perhaps the two young ladies knew all about it, but she did not like to ask.

     Just after sunset the stage stopped in front of a little house, but Prissy did not suspect that her journey had come to an end until she saw that her mother had left the coach. It made her feel very sorry, for she was having such a pleasant time, though the young ladies had been quiet for a long time, looking at the bright clouds in the west. They said good-by to her kindly, and then in another minute the stage had rattled away, her Aunt Cynthy was kissing her, and she caught sight of Cousin Rosy standing shyly on the door-step. Prissy's foot had gone to sleep and she felt stiff and tired and a little homesick; but she found Rosy very good-natured, and after she had a good supper she asked her mother for the key of the blue chest, presented her cousin the shells and white pebbles, and felt contented.

     Next morning she slept late, and when she came out of the bedroom Rosy was sitting on the door-step, with a pailful of blueberries and raspberries. She was making a great litter with something that looked like brownish paper, but when Prissy sat down in the doorway to watch her she found it was a kind of thin bark.

     "It is birch-bark," said Rosy. "I'm sure I thought everybody knew that. You peel it off big white trees, and it is good for ever so many things. You can print on it with a pencil; only I lost my pencil last spring, and everybody forgets to get me a new one."

     "Oh!" said Prissy, who had discovered what the bark was being used for, "won't you show me how to make little baskets like that?"

     "Of course," answered Rosy. "Only I must hurry now, or I shall not be ready by the time the stage comes. I make some of these 'most every morning and fill them with berries, and the people on the stages buy them. I ask five cents apiece; but sometimes they give me a whole handful of cents. But the drivers won't always stop. The one who goes by to-day is real good to me, and I guess he will, if he sees me quick enough and isn't behind time."

     This gave Prissy a great respect for her cousin, and she watched her with much interest. After they filled the baskets with berries and set them in order on a large box-cover, there were a great many berries left, which our two friends took great satisfaction in eating. One chose the blueberries and the other the raspberries, and occasionally they would change. Just as they were finishing, they heard a carriage coming, and Prissy thought it was the stage; but Rosy laughed and said that a stage made twenty times more noise. It was a light carriage, with a lady and gentleman and little child. After they went by, Prissy said: --

     "Why didn't you go out with your berries?"

     This was a new idea for Rosy, strange to say, and she wondered why she never had thought of selling the baskets to any but the "stage folks," as she called them, before.

     "Why, I might," said she. "And I dare say they would stop. They do stop for a drink of water once in a while, and they're always real pleasant. Let's have a little store out by the rock, and sit there and have lots of berries and all kinds of things to sell. Mother knows how to make more things out of birch-bark than I do."

     "Won't it be splendid!" said Prissy. "Only I wish I had my piece of a sail up here, to make the roof."

     "I can make a roof out of hemlock boughs," said Rosy, "and as soon as the stage goes by we will go out in the woods and get some. I'll ask mother for the ink, and we will have a sign."

     By bed-time the shop was finished; for it is not much trouble to build a house like that. It was a cozy little place; the rock made a wall for it at the back, and on the other three sides it was open. They drove two long stakes into the ground, and another was tied from the top of one to the other, and then some more were laid from this to a ledge in the rock, and then they put hemlock boughs over these for thatch. They made themselves a seat at the back, and had some boards across the front for a counter, and after a few days this was filled with bird's nests, and pretty pieces of moss, and little books and boxes and trays and baskets made out of birch-bark. They used to go berrying early in the morning, and were busy as bees for a week or two. They could look up or down the road, and were always in readiness to waylay any stray customers. They found that it was safest to carry out the baskets and stand in the road when the stages came by, for, though the people used to see the shop and the sign, and laugh and turn to look at it, the drivers hardly ever stopped. I must tell you about the sign, for it was a large square of birch-bark, which Prissy began to think could be used for everything under the sun, and Rosy had used nearly all her mother's bottle of ink printing on it: --
 

ROSY. AND PRISSY.

BERY. STORE
 

     It was pleasant weather for a week or two after they were set up in business, and a great many people drove by in their own carriages. Almost every one stopped and seemed to over again, until Aunt Cynthy and Mrs Starbird said the children were growing so rich that they thought they would keep store too. I think the best customers they had were half a dozen college boys, who were on a walking tour among the mountains and stopped close by at the spring to eat their lunch. One of them discovered the warehouse, as he called it, and the whole party came up to see it, bought all the berries, and emptied their pockets of small change. They stayed for an hour, at least, and were so good-natured and full of jokes that Rosy and Prissy felt quite lonely when they had given them three cheers and tramped away toward the Crawford House.

     Prissy liked dearly being in the cool green woods and clambering over the rocks and making dams in the brooks. After the hemlock shop began to be a little tiresome, they took an occasional holiday, and, putting their dinners in their pockets, would go off to play among the pines until the sun went down. They used to go fishing sometimes in a large brook about a mile from home, and if they caught one or two fish they brought them home and made a fire and cooked them out of doors, and roasted potatoes. Aunt Cynthy would not let them make fires in the woods, where she could not watch them. Prissy thought it would be fun to make fires on the beach, where no harm could be done, and have little clam-bakes. She knew where to find clams enough. Why had she never thought of it before? The fish were apt to be scorched and cindery, but the children thought they were having a magnificent dinner.

     The only real plaything Rosy had, except her rag doll and a "store doll," was a doll's carriage. It was somewhat battered-up, but it was greatly cherished. Some child who had boarded at North Conway the summer before had left it at the boarding-house, where a cousin of Aunt Cynthy's who worked there saved it and brought it to Rosy for a present. The great trouble about it was that you never could take it into the woods with you.

     Rosy missed her cousin terribly after she had gone away. Prissy felt very sad too; but she was comforted by the thought of the stage-ride and the journey in the cars and seeing her father and Sam at the end. But Rosy had no father or brother, and it was so dreary in the winter, for it was a long distance to the next house, and there were no children there either.

     There are so few good games that you can play alone, but Prissy had taught her to play jack-stones, and that was a blessing. She didn't like to read very well, because she had no books but her mother's. There was not much to sew, though I don't believe she grieved about that. She and her mother used to knit, and work round the house and keep the fire burning. Her uncle was there sometimes, and sometimes the cousin who worked at Conway in the summer. She played with the white stones and pebbles that Prissy brought her, and made what her mother called awful clutters with pine cones and bark and moss, and the dolls were a great deal of company for her. I wonder if some little girl is reading this who has ever so many more things to make her happy, who pities Rosy a little, and yet grows very discontented sometimes. I wish when she thinks she has "nothing to do," or "hates to go to school," she would remember Rosy and Prissy, who have so few playthings and nobody at all to play with, and yet are contented, kind little women, in spite of their real loneliness.

     Aunt Cynthy told her little girl that she shouldn't be surprised if they made a visit down at the salt water another summer, and that was a great comfort.

     Prissy had some great treasures to carry home, -- acorns and cones, birch-bark and birds' nests, and, best of all, a stone with garnets in it . And when they divided the money they had earned in the hemlock shop, her share was two dollars and four cents, which she proudly wrapped up in ever so many pieces of paper, put in the very bottom of her pocket, and kept feeling for anxiously every few minutes until she was safe at home.


Notes

"Prissy's Visit" first appeared in The Independent (27:25-6) on January 7, 1875, and was collected in Play Days from which this text is taken.  If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
     [ Back ]

the cars: by railroad.
     [ Back ]

sculpin ... sea eggs: sculpin are small fish. Sea eggs are sea urchins.
     [ Back ]

thole-pins: a pair of pins set vertically in the gunwale of a row-boat to provide a fulcrum for an oar.
     [ Back ]

the Banks: Almost certainly, the Grand Banks, according to Britannica Online, "a portion of the North American continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean, lying southeast and south of Newfoundland, Canada. Noted as an international fishing ground, the banks extend for 350 miles (560 km) north to south and for 420 miles (675 km) east to west."
     [ Back ]

North Conway: North Conway is in east central New Hampshire.
     [ Back ]

Mount Kearsarge: This peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is north of North Conway.
     [ Back ]

mountains are round about Jerusalem:  See Psalms 125:2.
     [ Back ]

Crawford House: Crawford House is about 20 miles "as the crow flies" North of North Conway.
     [ Back ]

jack-stones: Now called "jacks," these are 6 pointed game-pieces used in a variety of children's games.
     [ Back ]
 

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.


Main Contents
 Playdays