Contents: Uncollected Stories
THE GROWTOWN "BUGLE"
Sarah Orne Jewett
One gray Friday morning, when Miss Prudence Fellows was listlessly finishing her belated week's ironing, her eyes caught sight of some words in large type on the scorched newspaper that lay on the ironing-board. Her flat-irons had been troubling her all the morning; in fact they also were affected by the dismal damp weather, and needed to be rubbed smooth very often. She had nothing better than this folded newspaper, which she had picked up at random, with a hasty glance at its date, and there it had been all the time until its top fold had become a shiny brown.
The words were these: "WHY DON'T YOU MAKE YOUR FORTUNE?" and Miss Fellows half smiled, and looked pleased and conscious, letting a freshly heated iron cool in mid-air instead of giving it a determined rub. She finished the bit of work that was in hand, and then seated herself by the kitchen window to read the paper which had been confronting her with calm assertion for several hours. This was a strange paper; she could not remember at first how it had come into the house, and then remembered that one of the neighbors must have wrapped a bundle of asparagus in it the week before. The asparagus was too young to cut, and Miss Fellows resented the bad bargain, for asparagus was a great luxury to her, and she always hated to pay for anything. A stern honesty ruled her every action, however; she could not bear the thought of owing any one, any better than she could bear spending money. The only proper course was to be self-denying. She had let her own garden run to waste, and was now selling a small crop of standing grass every year from where the asparagus bed and the beets and radishes and delicious melons used to grow in her father's and mother's time. She said that it was far cheaper to buy what she needed, and it was too much trouble and expense to carry on a whole garden for one person.
"Well," she said aloud, in a grumbling tone, "p'r'aps the newspaper may be wuth more to me than Abby Cook's sparrowgrass was. I think likely her Sam'el sent it home to her; he's roamin' out that way somewheres. Growtown, Kansas - never heared of the place before. Seems to think well of itself," she muttered as she unfolded it and glanced over the singed and torn sheet. "'Best investments in the State,' be they? 'Election of Se-lect-men.' Well, we don't think wuth a while to take much notice o' that down this way. Laying out o' new lots; present o' strawberries to the editorial staff - um, um, um. Seem to have had a good time eatin' of 'em. Hon. Simeon Streeter elected Town Treasurer. Progress of Hon. Simeon Streeter's elegant new residence. Lor', here's a picture of it; 'Tis a han'some place, I declare; and 'way out in Kansas too! 'Twa'n't long ago there was nobody but Digger Injuns, or some such makeshifts o' humanity out there," mused Miss Fellows.
"I should like to live in some such a place, where there was a bustlin' drive 'mongst the menfolks, and buildin's a puttin' up, and all them things. Now if I had anybody to advise with I shouldn't wonder if I could git high interest on my money out to Growtown. What was that about my makin' a fortune? I caught sight o' somethin' - oh! new business block - here 'tis: stock all subscribed for but forty thousand (that's considerable, seems to me); eight per cent. to ten percent. guaranteed from rents the first year," and she gave a sigh of envy. "The deacon said I couldn't look for nothin' higher 'n five"; and with a dissatisfied look Miss Prudence rose and went to her work again, laying the Growtown Bugle carefully aside. She pounded the old board tremendously; she was excited by a new idea.
To such a daily contracting life as Miss Prudence's was, a glimpse into a reckless, daring, enthusiastic Western town was a strange revelation. She finished her ironing, the early summer day was at high noon, and the rain had ceased to fall; but when she had carefully made the last preparation for an unusually busy Saturday there still remained an hour or two before supper-time. She changed her calico dress for a neat but rusty alpaca, and went to the sitting-room. The deacon had promised to come that evening to conclude arrangements for the investment of five hundred dollars, which had been pinched and saved by its owner out of her narrow income from mill stocks and woodlands left by her father.
"I hate to have him come purrin' round and peekin' into everything I've got. He don't know the whole story, an' he sha'n't," said Prudence. "I've paid him a little somethin' here an' there, and advantaged him where I could in reason. I've a good mind to let those folks out in Growtown, Kansas, have this money. I'll write 'em first anyways, an' tell him I've got other views when he comes to-night, leastways that I ain't ready to make up my mind 'bout that spool factory stock he talked of; an' if I lose it out West 'tis my own hunt."
She was surprised at herself for the daring courage that made her send a dollar bill by way of subscription to the Growtown Bugle for six months, and said as she did so that she wanted to see how a story turned out that was begun in the iron-browned copy for April 30th that had fallen into her hands. But when after a week the first number of her subscription was brought from the post-office she hunted eagerly until she found a further prospectus of the new block. This was not the only thing that promised well as an investment now, and one broadside was given up to a plan of new streets and building lots that were expected to rise in value quickly. The dazzling success of this enterprise was something to reflect upon, and Miss Prudence reflected. She never belied her name, and she had always believed all Western securities to be worthless unless one were there to watch and act for one's self. Her financial horizon was as limited as it could be, but somehow or other she was vastly pleased with Growtown. Her judgment assented to every word of a short editorial. "We would urge our readers not to be faithless to our enterprising town, now that she is making such daring strides of progress. We willventure to say that no town in the West shows such largeness of vision and true unselfish enterprise as Growtown. The census returns show how attractive our chosen home has proved to outsiders, and our elegant business streets and beautiful private residences show how quickly Growtown's adopted children become loyal to the budding city. We need the help of some outside capital just at this time, and to see it flow in daily from the East, and we wish, in our editorial capacity, to assure investors in Growtown improvements that we only ask them to come and investigate for themselves. Ours is no fine scheme on paper only, and we are honest men and citizens, not adventurers and speculators. Those who lend their aid to the completion of the Simeon Streeter business block, named in honor of one of our leading citizens, or the remunerative land enterprise set forth in today's issue, will never have cause to regret the step."
"Well, the man seems to talk fair," said Miss Fellows. "Simeon Streeter - that was the one they'd elected Town Treasurer, and now they've named a building for him. Must be an elderly man, an' somebody amongst 'em, I'm sure. There!" with sudden high resolve, "I declare I'll write a letter to him, and see which he advises, the block or one or two o' them new lots; 'twon't do no harm. I feel 's if there was a kind o' luck laying in my reading that paper just as I was goin' to invest."
If our heroine had seen Growtown in that stage of its existence she might not have been so encouraged.
A few days later the Honorable Simeon Streeter looked up at his small son, who came running barefooted from the post-office, and was pleased to see a dozen letters in his small hand. The Honorable Streeter was a man of about thirty-five; he was in his shirt sleeves painting his front fence. His elegant residence was much more imposing in the newspaper woodcut than in reality; to tell the truth, the Growtown Bugle had furnished itself with most of its type and some electrotype illustrations at a sheriff's sale of a defunct newspaper in a neighboring town. Sim Streeter was putting up a house for himself and his wife and three children; quite a modest house, and not yet lathed and plastered; but there was the electro lying idle, and the friendly editor used it by way of compliment. Sim Streeter had made one or two unsuccessful settlements in towns that had dwindled, but this time he meant to keep his dogged resolution not to quit until he was worth his cool hundred thousand. They were pretty certain, all the enterprising Growtown citizens, that the Chikken Hazard and Flyby and the Wantostop Railroad extensions would form a junction in Growtown, where there were first rate water privileges and several other inducements. Streeter knew an official of the Wantostop; indeed, they were old chums, and Jim Bush was doing his best to accommodate a deserving friend. If it seemed expedient for the junction to be twenty minutes nearer Kansas City, Growtown was lost.
Simeon Streeter's courage was still high. He owned a long line of lots where he believed the companies would place their chief buildings. He owed for nearly all of them; but money was coming in at last. He laid down his paint-brush on a bit of board, and went in out of the sun to read his letters. There were some satisfactory letters, and then circulars - a whole half-dozen of them - inviting this well-known man to invest his capital in more or less rewarding business operations elsewhere. "I've got it all in one," thought Streeter, with a thrill of pride. "I'm going up like a rocket when I start."
He looked a little puzzled when he came to the last letter. The prim unbusinesslike handwriting might belong to some elderly relative whose name he could not recall; but when he glanced at the signature it was unknown, and this was the first he had heard of Simmsby, Massachusetts, at which the letter was dated.
Miss Prudence Fellows requested him to acquaint her with some further particulars in regard to investing money in Growtown. She understood that he was a man of probity and honor. She would like his advice about the respective values of the Streeter block and the building lots, having a little money to invest; but if that did well she might consider Growtown favorably in the future. Miss Fellows had smiled with glee over her own little craftiness. "They won't let me lose whatever I let 'em have now," she assured herself, with lofty self-approval.
"She's some old maid that's venturing for herself," mused Simeon. "I'll work off some of my lots on you, Prudy, and make a smashing favor of it. The money'll come in handy. I'll offer you ten of 'em as a special thing."
This was what he did; but by next mail Miss Fellows wrote to secure two only, and pointed out their desired location on the broadside of the Growtown Bugle.
"Hanged if she hain't picked out the best of the lot!" exclaimed the amazed owner. "I'll tell her she must take the two next those. I won't give her the corner anyway. She may be rich as mud, and I'll please her this time." And so the business was settled.
Prudence had many fears, and made herself miserable with self-reproach the rest of the summer. When she had nothing else to think of she thought despairingly of this mistaken step. She eagerly read the weekly issue of the Bugle, but she got tire of its constantly repeated prophecies and assurances, and the block still pleaded for capital, though it seemed to have been completed and was now occupied. In the meantime Miss Fellows had become partially acquainted with many citizens whose private affairs were continually commented upon and recorded. Her world had been increased by exactly the size of Growtown, and when a pastor was to be selected by the Growtown branch of her own denomination she became as excited as anybody over the rival candidates. She had not renewed her subscription to the weekly county paper which was generally taken in Simmsby, for she believed that enough news, general and particular, reached her by the way of Kansas, even if the national items were very much behind time. She began to think more about Growtown than she did about Simmsby, and to be far more alive to its interests.
"If they don't carry the railroads through, I've lost my money," she decided one day with more sorrow than anger. The Honorable Simeon Streeter had written her an answer to a long-deferred and tremblingly put forth letter of inquiry, and assured her that Growtown had the best outlook of any Western town of its size and age, and repeated its history as if he were copying a Bugle leader. But he had folded up a portion of his discouraged personal atmosphere in the sheet of letter-paper, and Miss Fellows was affected by it even while she read his valiant words. The ratio of increase of Growtown's population to its four years of age and the ratio of New York's growth since the time of Hendrik Hudson was one thing, but the painfully saved five hundred dollars of Miss Prudence Fellows was quite another; and there she had let it go out of hand as if it had slipped through her fingers into the depths of Simmsby Pond.
But Growtown was bound to grow, to quote the words of the Bugle. The railroads came through. No more staging across to the unpleasant rival town of Dublin; no more flings and slurs at mistaken enterprise. The citizens held their heads very high, and took occasion to visit their neighbors. Dublin itself was left out in the cold, after all. To be sure, it was the outlet of a grain region, but it was on a branch of a feeble railroad that was bound to go under before the new trunk lines. Growtown real estate went up, and the citizens grew rich in the night, as the trees crowd out new leaves in early summer. Nothing succeeds like success; and besides the railroads themselves, with their demand for land, for tenements, for men, strangers appeared daily with plans for the building of manufactories, and for shopkeeping and money-spending and money-making of every sort. The Honorable Simeon Streeter hardly allowed himself time to eat or sleep. He employed a clerk. He was a rich man, and his name was known to Boston and New York banking firms. And he had not lathed and plastered his new house simply because he meant to let somebody else do that now, and build himself the best house in that side of Kansas if his money rolled up like this. Everybody knows how a Western town can spread itself out when it once gets started, and this one was a marvel to every looker-on.
There was a system of graded schools with popular teachers; before another year went over there were Mayor and Aldermen and Councilmen and all the officials that the young city needed. The Bugle became a daily, and had three rivals into the bargain. Yet all the money was so busy making more money that there were strange traces of neglect, and most things were half finished, and Growtown looked as if it had just stepped out of the mortar box. The new rows of houses looked as if they were not the expression of individual taste, but had been bought and sold by the dozen. And away up in Simmsby, Massachusetts, Miss Prudence Fellows's head was in a whirl. She considered herself the ablest business woman in America.
When Mr. Streeter's letter had come conveying to her the first intimation of her rise of fortune she had been incredulous, and even accused him of trying to get more money out of her. Then he had quickly advised her not to respond favorably to the first offer of the railroads, both of which would be likely to want her lots. Miss Prudence was terrified by telegrams, and saddened because every one had to be brought from East Simmsby, and cost seventy-five cents for delivery. Yet after three in one day she sold her lots for four thousand dollars, and bought some others, also likely to rise immensely in value.
Sim Streeter was most good-natured, and took great pains with the old lady's little fortune. He felt as if he showed gratitude in this way for his own prosperity, and fancied Miss Prudence a gentle old creature who had shown a touching confidence in his integrity. That five hundred dollars had tided him over the hardest bit of sailing since he came to Growtown. He might have had to sacrifice all this success if she had not sent the draft just as she did, and he would keep her money moving as long as he saw the chances.
Prudence returned the first check that came with orders that all her money should be reinvested. She could live for the present on her own property at home, as she always had. She held her head as high as she could, and yet she had always seemed consequential to her acquaintances. She could safely trust to the secrecy of the telegraph, and she always had kept the Growtown Bugle out of sight. Even the deacon, who took honest pains with her money, and who sometimes wondered if she could have possibly given away that five hundred dollars to the missionaries - even the deacon did not know that she was, from the Simmsby point of view, a rich woman. Her five hundred dollars had grown like a green bay-tree. She did not think it was worth while to send the next five hundred after it, but offered it, out of compassion and equity, for investment in the spool factory, which had exceeded all hopes, and paid eight per cent, as the deacon avowed at the last annual meeting. She thought it would be just as well to have it near home, but she regretted her short-sightedness more than once, as her investments were reported from Growtown.
The deacon was almost the only person who befriended Miss Fellows to any great extent. She was such a stingy creature that all her neighbors lost patience with her. There were some people who were always telling stories about her last piece of meanness. And what if they had known that she had so much money besides her comfortable village house and interest money coming in? She gave very little to the minister's salary, and didn't pay that till the last day of grace. She economized in her living expenses until she fairly went hungry; the expense of the telegrams that repeated the tale of her gains was balanced by some piece of economy. She used, before she invested in Growtown real estate, to employ a widow woman whose poor little house stood at the end of her own standing-grass garden, and the small wage had been greatly counted on by this Mrs. Peck, who was struggling hard to bring up her three children. Now Miss Prudence did all her work herself, but she sometimes watched for little Lizzie Peck to go by. She could not help liking the child, and found it hard once in a while not to be generous and good to her. The little thing had such sweet, wistful eyes, and an eager way of looking at you, and of speaking with a voice that gave one a thrill of affection for her. Miss Prudence said to herself that she meant to let that money grow awhile longer, and since affairs must take a turn downward some time, she would wait and sell out then, and salt her money down in Boston, and get the good of the interest every year. She would take dear little Lizzie Peck and send her to school off somewhere, and do well by her. There was plenty of time yet, though.
Miss Fellows had come to feel a great interest in Simeon Streeter, Junior, for his father's sake. He was now and then spoken of in the Bugle, on his father's account, of course, but she had learned from the Bugle that "Simmie" had got into trousers, and that he was the best speaker in school, and that he had come off victor in a spelling match, and much else that was of importance to the public. One day she read in the personal column of her newspaper that "the son of our leading citizen, Mayor Streeter, had been heard on Metropolis Street begging his generous parent for a bicycle, and in all probability we should soon see the promising lad wheeling swiftly by our inky windows."
Miss Prudence was fired by a sudden resolve. She didn't care what it cost, she meant to give that bicycle herself. It would please Mayor Streeter, and would be a very proper thing. And she wrote a telegram to be sent from East Simmsby by the stage-driver that very afternoon. Whether she found it pleasant to do a kindness, or whether it was that the gratified father soon increased again the profits of those lucky lots, nobody can say, but, regardless of his suitable percentages, she sent the boy a little present of money at New-Year time, though she did nothing for anybody in Simmsby.
Somehow it was a great deal easier to give away money when it did not go through her own hands. She tried hard one day to give Lizzie Peck five cents for herself when she brought back the change after doing an errand, but she thought they would look for it every time. "I'll do enough for her by-and-by to make up," said Miss Prudence, consoling herself for the attacks of her conscience as she watched the pale child go away. The mother was ailing just then, but when somebody ventured to tell her nearest neighbor that it was from overwork, Miss Prudence felt angry, and insisted that she was a complaining creature, that Mrs. Peck, and shiftless. Why shouldn't she get along as well as anybody? She paid Deacon Burrow hardly any rent.
Growtown was much excited a little later than this about building an opera-house, and the Bugle, ever public-spirited, urged everybody who had shared in the city's prosperity to be generous. They wanted a fitting place for the great American orators to come and speak in, and the next year was to see another Presidential campaign. Soon they might expect the best dramatic talent and the stars of the musical world. Why should they deny themselves all this because their public halls only accommodated third-class entertainment? Then the adjacent country as well as Growtown itself demanded suitable recreation after honest toil; their children needed dramatic education.
It was a truly eloquent appeal, and when Mayor Streeter wrote a kind personal note and complimented Miss Fellows by saying that she little knew how well her name was known in Growtown as one of the earliest and most generous upholders of the young city's prosperity, she responded by assenting to the large stock subscription he advised. "I declare if I don't mean to go out there one of these days," she said, for perhaps the twentieth time. It pleased her very much to be called an honorary citizen of Growtown by Mayor Streeter. She grew warm with pleasure as she thought that none of her neighbors knew what a reputation she had out West. She was half frightened with a thought that the Bugle would credit her with her generous gift before many days, and yet it was not likely that anybody in Simmsby would see it. "I s'pose plenty of 'em thinks I am close," she thought, "but there ain't one of 'em would do what I've done and think light of it. Yet the pale face of the little Peck girl came strangely into her mind. "All in good time," thought Prudence again, "I'm going to do well by Lizzie."
There came a time of rainy weather, and Miss Fellows sat alone in her damp sitting-room, too much shaded by the maples outside. It did not seem worth while to light the fire, so she got cold, and nobody happened to come in, and she was quite lonely for once in her life, and took her only pleasure in thinking that by-and-by she would get her money all back from out West, and then how she would surprise folks by doing for the parish and fixing up her house, and perhaps she might adopt Lizzie Peck out and out.
There seemed to be a good many people going by, and at last Prudence, not being without curiosity, wrapped herself in a shawl, and was just going to stand in the doorway for the sake of speaking to somebody, when a bonnet passed by the side window.
The neighbor came in, looking excited. "I want to know if you've been sick?" she asked. "Everybody's been wonderin' where you was. You do look kind of peaked. Been livin' on nothin' but dandelion greens, I s'pose," she added to herself.
"What's the matter up this way?" asked Miss Prudence, with a sad sense of discomfort.
"Why, to think you haven't heard, living nearest of anybody! Well, poor Mis' Peck's been at death's door for two days, and poor little Lizzie's just gone - died with lung fever. Nobody knew how awfully poor they were; they hid it long 's they could, and the doctor said Lizzie might ha' pulled through only she's been good 's starved."
"Lizzie?" said Miss Prudence, faintly; "little Lizzie, that I thought I - Get me a drink of water; I feel kind of dizzy."
Miss Prudence Fellows sank to the floor, and there she lay. Her neighbors had starved within the sound of her voice, while she made money and took thought of those at a distance. She never had felt so poor in her life as when she came to herself again.
"The Growtown 'Bugle'" appeared in Harper's Weekly (32: 610-11), August 18, 1888. It was collected in Richard Cary, Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, 1971. This text is based on Cary.
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Digger Injuns: The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia identifies Digger Indians as the Paiute, "North American Indians who were traditionally divided into northern and southern groups that spoke different Shoshonean languages. The Northern Paiute occupied portions of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California; the Southern Paiute were in parts of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Sparse food resources in the Great Basin area forced the Northern Paiute to live in small groups. Temporary leaders were chosen for rabbit drives, war, and dance festivities. Individual families lived in sagebrush or rush huts, called wickiups. They made a variety of twined and coiled baskets adapted for seed collecting, processing, and storage. The Southern Paiute subsisted principally by digging for roots, although those occupying the high plateau skirting the Grand Canyon area planted maize and squash in irrigated fields."
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alpaca: Alpaca cloth is a thin cotton and wool blend.
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spool factory: the textile industry was important in nineteenth-century New England; a spool factory in this case probably would produce spools upon which thread would be wound for use in mills and perhaps by seamstresses as well.
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electrotype illustrations … electro: According to the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology, electrotype is "a metal-plated molded replica of a relief printing plate, produced
electrolytically; used for very long press runs, also ELECTRO." This new technical development made it more practical to print illustrations in mass-circulation magazines. Research: Gabe Heller.
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mortar box: The meaning of this expression is unclear. A mortar box is a tool that guides a saw in cutting accurate angles. Or, it can be a box for storing mortar shells. Research: Gabe Heller.
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green bay-tree: See Psalms 37:35, "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree." The tree is laurus nobilis, native to the Mediterranean region, also known as "Sweet Bay," from which we get bay leaves. Research: Gabe Heller.
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lung fever: usually refers to pneumonia.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
If you find errors or items needing annotation, pleae contact the site manager.