A VISIT NEXT DOOR
Sarah Orne Jewett
The two families were always supposed to be good friends enough, and were apt to be spoken of in the same breath by the rest of their townspeople. They went to the same church, but the Filmores did not like the new minister very well, while the Grangers did, and that was one thing which made them less intimate, and more suspicious of each other's acts and opinions. Dundalk was not a very large village. The time had been when everybody knew everybody; but, within the last few years since a new box factory had been started, it had grown very fast and changed a good deal and many strangers had moved in to take advantage of the good, steady wages which the company paid its work people. But the Grangers and Filmores had always lived in Dundalk, and next door to each other at that. When the two women were younger and had been first married they were very good friends, and used to go back and forward from house to house a good deal, and even had a little gateway between the back yards, so that they used to run across for morning calls, and to ask advice and assistance about the great problems of housekeeping and of taking care of babies, and later they used to show each other patterns of the children's clothes, and Mrs. Granger would find out whether Nelly Filmore and Jack were going to the singing school before she quite decided about letting her own Dick and Mary go.
But as years went on they saw each other less rather than more. Dick Granger had built a rabbit hutch against the fence where the pickets had been off, and when he asked his mother if she had any objection she said no, for not only was she certain that it was the best place in the yard for the rabbits upon which Dick had set his heart, but she had grown so stout during the last winter that she found the little gateway altogether too narrow for comfort. And presently a hedge of Norway spruces - which the families had clubbed together to buy and set out, and which they had said then should always bee clipped and kept down, and by and by the fence could be taken away altogether - sprang up, tall and thick, and made a wall which could not be seen over. Then Mrs. Filmore and Mrs. Granger grew busier and busier, and while the children were all at school and growing fast and wanting many things there was little time for visiting and sometimes there would be a week when the neighbors did not speak to each other -- the two women, I mean, who had nobody to work with them, and who found it hard for one pair of hands to do all the work and wished more and more for the time when the children would be old enough to help.
The Grangers, as time went on, were most prosperous and after a while, when his wife had a sharp attack of lung fever which left her weak and miserable, Henry Granger insisted that she should look about for a good, strong girl who could do most of the housework. It was by no means easy to find such a person in Dundalk, where there was so small a foreign population, and all the young people, who could be, were at work in the box factory. But the right girl did turn up and Mrs. Granger took great comfort in her.
Her own life branched out directly in new directions. She had had little time or strength for gardening of late years, and she was fond of making things to give the house a pleasant, bright look. She had always wished to be more active in matters connected with the church, and she had a fondness for reading which she often put by with a sigh because the baking and sweeping and all the housekeeping used so nearly all her time and tired her out at any rate. Still she had a firm belief that if one really cares for a thing it will not be crowded out of one's life entirely, and having a will for reading she had always contrived to find a way.
The Filmores were getting on comfortably enough, too, though not nearly so well as their neighbors. I do not know that there was any real jealousy, but Mrs. Filmore fell into a way of saying, "You know you have so much more than we to do with"; and she sometimes said, "You lucky people," and oftener, "We poor folks," which was uncomfortable and fretful. And when Mary Granger's father bought her a piano and said that she could take music lessons, and everybody knew that Nelly Filmore had twice the talent of any girl in town, and could sing like a bird, while her neighbor could not sing at all, it really seemed too much to bear. Then the new minister went often to the Grangers, who had been among the first to welcome and uphold him, and Mrs. Filmore did not like him, either as a man or as a preacher. As she sat by the window, sewing, she did not like to see him through a gap in the spruce trees going in at the next door in a free and friendly way.
The Grangers had spoken more than once about cutting down some of the boundary trees, which were growing faster and faster and were shading their garden a good deal, but the Filmores would not consent. It seemed to be a pity, for their own house was made dark in winter and damp in summer by so much shade. Their hens burrowed under them in dusty hollows, and even poked themselves through into the next yard where they did provoking damages, and once or twice the Grangers complained. The only visiting that was done between the elders of the family became entirely formal. Henry Granger and George Filmore no longer strolled into each others' yards to smoke or talk together or to exchange newspapers, and when their wives exchanged visits they did it as formally as if the houses were a mile apart; and they went in and out of the front gates to see each other, with their bonnets on, instead of keeping up the friendly old fashions. The rabbit hutch had been knocked to pieces long before, but the fence had been securely rebuilt. Sometimes, when they talked together, they had a great deal to say about how pleasant it used to be years ago when they were younger, and saw so much of each other, and had so few things to do and to think of, and they were always promising each other to be more neighborly.
Mr. Filmore had a salary which seemed a very good sized one when he married, but they became poorer and poorer as years went on and they wanted more things. It seemed a be a hundred dollars less every year. Mr. Granger's business was steadily growing, and he was one of the most prosperous of the younger business men in Dundalk, and the Filmores were always measuring their fortunes and favors against those next door. Somehow it never occurred to them to say how much better off they were than the poor Trilbys, who lived in the house opposite, and who hardly knew one week how they were going to get through the next. It seemed as if they were unjustly treated, and when Mrs. Filmore heard the notes of the new piano she could hardly bear it, and her ears became sensitive to the mistakes Mary Granger made in her practicing, and the faithful two hours seemed to last nearly all day. She was very fond of Mary Granger, however, and when the sweet-faced young girl came in with her own daughter she always forgot all grievances and gave her a hearty welcome.
This was the summer after the two girls had had their fifteenth birthdays in the spring, and one evening when Mary had been spending most of the afternoon at the Filmores she and her mother sat together after tea in the front doorway.
"How is Mrs. Filmore today? She said, coming home from church yesterday, that she had been sick all the week," asked Mrs. Granger.
"She looks sick now," answered the girl. "She said today that she was so thankful that vacation had come for she couldn't have held out alone another week. Nelly was tired, too, because we always are after exhibition is over and we have to hurry so the last days of school. But the boys make ever so much work and she has hardly had a minute to herself until today. The doctor said that her mother ought to go away to the beach, or somewhere, for a change for she is all run down, and they can't afford it. Mr. Filmore took his week's rest in the spring, you know."
"It's too bad," said Mrs. Granger, "I'm really sorry for them and for Nelly. I thought she looked worried, but she is a good, strong girl, and moving about won't do her a bit of harm after she has been shut up in school all summer. Your father and I were saying the other day that perhaps we could let you ask her to go to the beach with you for a little while by and by. He nearly made up his mind to take the Downings' house for a fortnight, and that we should stay all the time and he would come down and spend the two Sundays; but I told him that I thought it would do us all more good to go and board somewhere, if he felt that he could afford it, and let Susan go up country and spend the time with her cousins. He said it was the very thing and that you could ask Nelly just as well as not. But I can't get her mother out of my mind, she did look dreadfully old and forlorn yesterday and she is a year younger than I am. She used to be such a bright, pretty girl."
"I'll tell you what I think it would be such fun to do," exclaimed Mary, after pondering a few minutes. "Why don't you ask Mrs. Filmore to come and make you a visit. She could play it was ever so far from home, and one day you could ask some company to tea, and one day you could go to ride -- and some night we would take our supper in a basket and all go in the boat up river and have a picnic. I know she would like to do that, for she said so one day; but Nelly and I teased her afterward to go, because, you know, we can row as well as anybody, but she said she was too busy. Father said he was going to Boston next Wednesday, so we might go that night."
"I mean to go right over now and ask her. What a girl you are, Mary! It's exactly the thing. And you can go over and help Nelly a while every day and get along nicely with the work. They have Mrs. Brien to wash on Tuesdays, don't they?" and eager Mrs. Granger left her chair without another word, and went out of her own gate and in at her neighbor's to carry the invitation.
Mrs. Filmore was lying on the parlor sofa, and at first she seemed quite indifferent to the plan. She urged many reasons why she could not leave home, and it was quite chilling to her hostess' enthusiasm. But presently Nelly came in, and was so delighted with the idea that her mother consented, and even Mr. Filmore seemed pleased and the plan was made in a few minutes. Mrs. Filmore promised that she would pack a big valise, just as if she were going out of town, and that she would not go home for a week, unless there was some unforeseen good reason; and that night she went to sleep in better spirits than for a great while before. She was tired out and discouraged, and this kindness touched her. She might have said once that the Grangers only wanted to show off how much better things they had than she, but now no such suspicion crossed her mind.
Next morning Mr. Filmore looked amused and particularly friendly as he and one of the boys came up the walk, carrying a little trunk between them. Nelly had been up early, packing for her mother, who was to leave soon after breakfast. Her father said, laughingly, that he thought he might have been invited, too, but he supposed they didn't want to see anything of the rest of the family, and he had said good-bye to his wife, and told her to write and let them know how she got on. He had not seemed so much like himself for ten years, Mrs. Granger said, and she added that he was a good-hearted man, but there wasn't a bit of go-ahead [go-a-head] to him.
A little later, Mrs. Filmore made her appearance, dressed in her best bonnet and shawl, and Nelly went out to the gate and kissed her and said good-bye, having a great piece of fun out of it; and Mrs. Granger, who had happened to be in her own front entry, ran down the walk to meet her, and they kissed each other and laughed a good deal, and then the visitor was taken up-stairs to the front bedroom and shown her new quarters. It looked very pleasant and fresh and cool, and Mary had brought up a bunch of bright flowers and put them in a glass of water on the bureau, and there was an old sofa (which had been down-stairs in one of the rooms where a new one had been lately bought) and it was covered with pretty striped calico, and you felt rested even to look at it. Mrs. Filmore said that she had not been up-stairs before for a great while, and how pleasant it was! And then they went to see the other chambers before the guest came back to lie down on the sofa.
And at eleven o'clock she heard a clinking of glass, and there was Susan who had been sent up with some new sponge cake and a tumbler of milk, and Mrs. Filmore said she must have the new receipt, for nothing ever tasted so good, but Susan said it was the same kind of sponge cake they always made. There was a good dinner afterward, and that evening the minister and his wife had been asked to tea, and of course, the invitation had not been taken back, and though the other guest wished she could go home when she heard they were coming, she did not like to say so. But she was glad forever afterward, to have been there, for she liked Mr. and Mrs. Parley better than she ever had before. They were both very shy by nature, and were apt to be a little stiff at first, but she found it was possible to get beneath the outer crust of their behavior, and she flushed with shame to think how she had talked against and thought against the kind people. They had entered into the spirit of the visit and thought it the most delightful thing, and wondered why nobody had ever thought of doing it before.
If anybody had been tired to death of hearing Mary Granger play Oft in the Stilly Night and Bonny Doon with variations, nothing was said about it that evening, for Mrs. Filmore was honest when she said they were played sweetly and that Mary had improved very fast. She could not help saying with a sigh that she would give anything if Nelly could cultivate her talent, and Mrs. Parley said that she used to be thought a very good teacher before she married, and that she should be delighted to give Nelly some lessons and that she could get started in that way at any rate. Mrs. Parley had been playing beautifully; everybody knew what a gift she had for music, and poor Mrs. Filmore could hardly speak for the tears had filled her eyes and her voice. Mr. Granger came in just then and said that there was no reason why Nelly couldn't practice on their piano, and the minister said why not take one hour at their house and one here? He and his wife were always wishing that they could be more friendly with the young people.
It would make too long a story to tell how every day of the week was spent. But they had the picnic up river and more than one drive and everything went off delightfully, and when the guest went home she felt so much better that work was a pleasure, and she felt as if she had something to look forward to. The two good women had had time for many talks about their affairs and plans, and had helped each other very much. They could not understand why they had drifted so far apart, and had mistaken each other sometimes. Poor Mrs. Filmore had fairly cried when she spoke about it, and it is sufficient to say that they promised to talk right out to each other if anything seemed to be going wrong, and so they would have no more grievances and misunderstandings. And as for Nelly, she proved herself a capital housekeeper for so young a girl, and by and by she went to stay by the sea with her dear crony, and sometime afterward it was the two girls who made a new gateway in the fence where the old one had been, because one does not always wish to go out on the street in the morning, and it is sometimes so convenient to run across to the other house to give a message or ask a question when one's hands are floury, or the sweeping is only half done. It is, perhaps, needless to say that the girls' mothers sometimes used the gate themselves, since they had once been in the habit of it.
As years go on they will be only too glad to forget that they were once at variance, but they will say that it is so pleasant to be neighborly again, and have more time than they used to have while the children were growing up; and Mrs. Filmore will say that there are no friends like the old friends, and that she never spent a pleasanter week in her life than that one at the Grangers when she was half sick and quite downhearted.
It is such things as that which bring people together and help them to understand each other. And, when Nelly gives music lessons and both the boys are prospering in their business, the world will look brighter than it ever has to their mother, and who knows that some day she will not go across the street and see if Mrs. Trilby does not need a change, and has not the money to buy it or the strength to plan it -- exactly what happened to herself once.
"A Visit Next Door" appeared in The Congregationalist (36:9) on January 10, 1884 and was reprinted by Richard Cary in Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, on which this text is based. Apparent errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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exhibition: ceremonies at the end of a school year, when students display their learning in various ways and receive awards for special achievement.
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Oft in the Stilly Night and Bonny Doon: "Oft in the Stilly Night" is from Thomas Moore (1779-1852) Irish Melodies. The popular song has the refrain: Thus in the stilly night, / Ere slumber's chain has bound me, / Sad Mem'ry brings the light / Of other days around me." "Bonny Doon" almost certainly is Robert Burn's (1759-1796) poem, "Ye Flowery Banks" (1792, 1808), also called "Bonie Doon," which begins: "Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon, / How can ye blume sae fair? / How can ye chant, ye little birds, / And I sae fu' o' care?" (Research by Gabe Heller.)
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.