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THE GIRL WITH THE CANNON DRESSES.
Sarah Orne Jewett.
"What are cannon dresses?" I thought you'd ask me that; I have a good deal to tell first, and that will not come till by and by. Don't you dare to skip a word, because, if you should behave improperly, you might not find it after all.
Well, one March I was sick, and in May I was better, but not well. When I had a nice book, or some one came to see me whom I cared for, I sat comfortably in my chair and was gaining health very fast; but other times I was round the house generally, as cross as two sticks, and didn't like anybody or anything. Though people were very kind and patient, I couldn't have been considered the "flower of the family."
One day the doctor came in while my mother and sister were out driving, and we had a delightful private consultation concerning my case. I certainly gave him some valuable hints, and the next time he came was in the morning, before papa had gone to his office.
Doctor George solemnly asked how I had slept, and felt my pulse, -- it was one of my amiable days, so I guess it was all right, -- and after talking for a few minutes about the price of gold, or the state of the weather, suddenly said, --
"Mrs. Channing, where's that old housekeeper now, who lived with your mother and afterward with you so many years? I remember there was such fun about her being married."
"Sophronia?" said mamma: "O yes, she lives way up in New Hampshire, among the hills; she nearly died with homesickness; her husband is a very nice man, and quite a prominent person in those parts, I imagine. Mr. Channing was there a year ago in the course of a trouting expedition, and she comes down once or twice a year. I wish Mr. Durfee had been in Halifax! I haven't done missing her yet."
Papa looked up from his paper, and said: "Yes, Sophronia left a void in Mrs. Channing's heart that I'm afraid I never shall see filled. But what on earth made you think of her, doctor?"
"I was trying to think of some new prescription, and she's just the thing; medicines won't do Miss Alice much good. Why won't you send her up to Mrs. Durfee for a month, after it grows warmer? It would be the best thing in the world. Just let her wear thick boots and a short dress, and do as she likes, with the exception of taking cold. Old Sophronia used to be a capital nurse, and I suppose she would have her?"
"O, no question about it," said papa, looking very much pleased; "she adores Alice. I've no doubt she will be perfectly happy. It's exactly the right thing. Mrs. Channing has been meaning to go to the beach or mountains with her as soon as the hotels open, but this will be so much better. How in the world you ever thought" --
"Keep her away from the sea," said my dear old doctor, and he turned toward me, and made believe feel my pulse again; but I think he couldn't have ascertained the number of beats very accurately, for I gave his hand a great squeezing, and we winked at each other very contentedly.
So it was all settled. I commenced to make preparations the very next day, by insisting upon mamma's going with me for boots, and I grew so much better that papa said there would probably be no need of my going anywhere but back to my school by the first of June! And next day I scarcely sat up, and of course every one said it was on purpose.
The very last day of May Sophronia appeared, and after three or four days, -- we spent one in cars and stages, -- I was at the farm. The house was two miles from the Corners, where the village and post-office were, and the nearest house was a mile away. Hills and woods were almost everywhere. Back of the house, which was close to the road, with the barns the other side, was a field, and then a pasture, and beyond that, the woods; and after you had walked a little distance, there was the brook.
I had a leather bag, with a strap to go over my shoulder, for my luncheon or dinner, and a sort of light blanket, water-proof one side, in another strap: that was to throw on the ground when I wanted to rest. I had some thick, short gray skirts that I wore all summer, -- with the exception of dress-up occasions, such as church, and some tea-parties which I attended with Sophronia, -- and some striped cambric jackets for warm days, and blue flannel ones for rainy. Sophronia said, after I had been there a few days, and was beginning to know the way around, and came in perfectly happy over my bunches of wild flowers and from watching the housekeeping of some robins: "Well, Miss Alice dear, I know you like the woods now, but I'm afraid you will get tired of them, and then there won't be anything for you to do, and you will be homesick. You are used to seeing so many people, you know; I guess some day we'll go over to the Bunts; they are the queerest folks, and very kind. Mr. Bunt will like you because you come from near the sea."
But the day I was tired of the woods never came, to Mrs. Durfee's delight and astonishment, and when the month was gone I begged them at home to let me stay another; and in the course of that, mamma went to some watering places with some friends, and my sister with her, and papa went to Lake Superior with some friends of his, and there didn't seem to be much home to go to, even if I wanted to, which I didn't; and I stayed among the hills until September, and went back to school brown as a berry, and 'as happy as a clam at high water,' as Dulcy used to say. Nearly every day I was in the woods, and I read ever so much, and learned more, twenty times, than I would have at school. Sophronia used to say, it was the comfort of her life to have it rain hard; for I might as well not be there for all she saw of me. Every one couldn't follow my example on account of the mosquitoes, but fortunately they very seldom troubled me, and when they did I minded it very little.
Mr. Durfee had a dog whom I was very fond of, and who used to follow me everywhere. His name was Joe; he was tall and strong, and shaggy, and black and white, and understood everything that was said to him or about him. He had one very original trick: when at all excited, or particularly noticed in any way, he grinned in the most astonishing manner, showing all his upper teeth, with the most comical twist and expression of his eyes. Every night he went out around the house barking furiously, and all your persuasion wouldn't get him in. After a while there would be a little scratch at the door, and in he would come grinning, and then go to sleep peaceably. If you scolded him he would wipe his eyes with both paws in a very penitent way, putting his head on the floor. This all came by nature and not by art. I tried all one rainy morning to teach him to shake hands, but it was no use. He undoubtedly understood, but considered it beneath his dignity. It wasn't his special accomplishments, but his manner and ways, that were so interesting. His very weak point was candy, and sugar, and "bribery and corruption," had great effect. It was funny to see his pricked-up ears and intense happiness, when I put my hand in my pocket; and the altered expression when I took out my knife or a letter. And now I am quite near the cannon dresses.
After I had been at Sophronia's two or three weeks, one evening Mr. Durfee asked me how far I had been up the brook, and when I told him, he said: "Some day I'll try and find time to go and show you the spring. It's the nicest place I know. It's two miles from here I guess, or perhaps no more than a mile and a half."
The next morning was very bright, and not too warm, and I filled my bag to overflowing, and tied a paper of mutton bones and corn bread at my shoulder-strap for Joe, and off we went. I walked slowly up the bank of the brook, and stopped to visit some birds'-nests, and once I came to an open place where there was a bed of ripe wild strawberries, which I didn't go directly by, and I filled the envelopes of two letters which I had in my pocket, to keep till dinner-time.
And then soon I came to the spring. It was a great deal more charming than I had imagined, and one of the dearest little places in the world. There was a high, steep ledge, and the brook came over the edge into a clear little pool, and just there, there was great dashing and plashing among the little stones. Just below, it was the most quiet, sedate brook that ever was, as if it had repented itself of the sins of its youth, and meant to be a useful member of society. I dare say thirty or forty miles nearer the sea, it had great business on its hands. After I had found out at one side an easy way to climb up, I found that on top was a sort of great wide shelf, and the most beautiful bed of soft green moss, of the crisp white kind, which spread for yards around. A dozen feet back from the edge of the little cliff, which was probably about ten or twelve feet high, there was a great loose rock, and under it was the spring. The water ran out very fast. Just over it, the stone was worn or broken away, and it was full of little clefts from which grew small, fresh, green ferns. The stone was thatched with pine needles, and covered with queer lichens. Close behind, the ledge was quite high again, and in fact it was the commencement of a hill. In among the rocks I found new places every time I went there, and it was a perfect garden of wild flowers. I wish I were talking and you listening, and I could tell you some of the delightful experiences of that delightful summer.
I looked around a while, and then I was quite tired, so I called Joe, who was exploring the woods on his own account. He came rushing to me through the great brakes among the pines, and I took off my lunch bag and untied his package, which he looked at so wistfully that I gave him something by way of lunch. I threw down the blanket and laid down on it; took out my book and commenced to read. He laid down by my side on the moss, snapped at flies, real and imaginary, and soon went to sleep. I found myself half dreaming, and then, discovering that it had taken me twenty minutes to read three pages, from very sleepiness, I shut my eyes, and the wind turned the leaves rather faster than I did, though it read backwards.
I was in the midst of a species of nightmare, imagining that a letter had come, and I must go back to school, when Joe growled, and waked me up. I didn't growl when I saw what he did, but I was really frightened for a moment or two. Looking at me over the edge of the ledge, close by where the brook fell over, was a face! I never had seen any human being in all my ramblings before, and it didn't seem possible that a child could have climbed up there; for I had noticed that the rock was quite smooth. I was wondering if there were any more, and if the face were a cherub's; but it had not even wings, unless it was holding on by them. I jumped up when the child said: "Please, will you help me up, ma'am?" and I took hold of her arms and with hard pulling landed her on the moss beside me. "You crazy little thing!" said I, "what made you try to climb up there? You might have fallen and broken your neck. If I hadn't been here, who would have known where to find you? There's a very easy place to get up, just out there."
"Dear me," said the child, "I guess if I had been going to break my neck it would have been done before I was as big as I am now. Mother says that. I'm sorry I scared you, but I never thought of seeing anybody here, I'm sure." And then she sat down, and smoothed out her dress, and folded her hands. Joe went and sniffed at her suspiciously, and came back grinning, as if to tell me she was a proper person to converse with. I sat down again on my blanket, and neither of us spoke for some time. It was quite embarrassing. She looked as if she had nothing whatever to say to me; I had enough to say to her, and couldn't think of it. I laughed at last, and said, "I want to ask you some questions, but I don't know what they are."
"My name is Dulcidora Bunt," said the child, solemnly, "and I shall be ten years old the week after the Fourth."
"Were you named for any one?" inquired I, carelessly.
"Yes'm, I was named for a schooner;" and after a short pause she continued, "Father used to own part of her, and he says she was the fastest and the best he ever was aboard of. Mother says I don't take after her, for I'm dreadful slow, except for running into the woods."
"How did your father happen to be a sailor, way up here? Did you ever live down by the sea?"
"Why yes," said Dulcidora, "I was born there, and was six years old when we came away, and I can remember a good deal about it too. Father is always telling me about it, he is so afraid I shall forget it. He always lived 'long shore, and used to go fishing and to sea; and mother lived up here in the woods, and she had an aunt down there, so she used to go down in summer visiting, and when she and father got married she went down and lived there all the time. She says she was homesick every day of the seven years. Father got awful sick one winter, and the doctor said he mustn't go fishing any more. So mother made him come up here and live. They don't get along well about it," said Dulcidora, "though they're dreadful pleasant other ways. Down at the shore mother would cry when the wind blew, and father was out; and she was always saying she never could bear fish to eat, and would be a-wishing for something that growed up-country; and when he came in, she would be rubbing the knives and forks, and show him how rusty they were, or something like that. And now father says, that up-country is no place at all, and you can't get anything to eat but salt pork and huckleberries, and when the wind blows loud in the pines, he wants to be ten miles out fishing. I have a good time both places and I don't care. Father is real queer in his ways; but you can't get put out with him for he is always a-laughing."
Here was another solemn pause, and then she continued, --
"You're looking at my dress. Ain't it real queer? Well, don't you think, last summer in blackberry time, mother said I had time to wear out another calico dress before I put on winter ones, and told father to get me one down to the Corners. So he went, and there were lots of other things to get, and some for mother and I, and we were in an awful hurry for him to come home, and when I heard him I ran down the road and got in the wagon. I looked all round, and there were lots of square bundles, with saleratus and things in 'em, and under the seat was a salt fish, and under that an awful great bundle. I said: 'Father, what's in that?' for I was just as sure he'd forgotten my dress, but he only laughed. When we got in the yard he took me out, and mother came to help take the things in, and says she of a sudden: 'Now, Sam Bunt, haven't you got that poor child's calico, and she going about a disgrace to us in them rags! Precious little you and she care though!' says mother, laughing. And then he lifted out the big bundle that was under the seat, and laid it on one of the seats in the boat."
"In the boat?" said I.
"Yes'm, we've got a boat in the yard. Mother wants it split up to burn, but father says a splinter of it sha'n't be touched -- but I want to tell you about my dress. Mother reached over and pulled open the paper, and don't you think it was a whole piece of calico like this; and she said, 'Well, of all things! why didn't you buy it right out? and didn't you think I could tell by a pattern whether I liked it, anyway? Whatever you had to lug it all home for, I don't know? Anybody so scared of guns as I am too!' -- 'Why,' says father, 'don't you like it? I thought it was real kind of odd, and they said it would wear first-rate. I got it of a peddler, and he let me have it three cents a yard cheaper than they have 'em at the store. I s'posed she'd as soon have two or three gowns of a kind.' -- 'Two or three!' says mother. 'Samuel Bunt, that cut of calico will last till she's grown up! If that ain't just like a sailor for all the world,' and she sat right down on the grass and laughed like as if she would kill herself[.]"
Here Dulcidora stopped for breath.
"Mother says it's the best wearing calico that ever she had to do with. She made a dress of it right away, and it wasn't worn out till cold weather; and this was new when the snow was going away, and there's only three holes in it now, and those are little. I guess it's going to last all summer for a play dress, and mother made me another to wear when I go to the Corners; and she says all there is to do is to wear 'em out as soon as I can. She never says anything when I tear 'em, and that's a good thing. When I go to the Corners, the man that keeps the store always says, 'How does that cannon goods wear?' and people kind of laugh when they see me with one on. Mother calls them cannon dresses."
I am near-sighted, and had been trying all the time to make out the figure, and so I asked her to come and sit on the blanket with me, so I could see it. I don't wonder Mrs. Bunt laughed when it was brought home. There was the word "Union" in large letters, and the cannons were an inch long, and were represented in the act of going off. They were on wheels, and a man in a red shirt was standing with his back to you; an immense cloud of dark smoke and some very vivid flame were coming out at the mouth. I should like to know who designed it, and if it sold well! It was remarkably funny, and I told Miss Bunt so; and there, -- my laughter having ceased, and the remark having been answered only by a nod, -- there was another long pause.
"I declare," said the child, after what she considered a proper interval had elapsed, "I guess I'd better weigh anchor. I forgot all about dinner, I'm having such a good time talking, but I'm hungry as a shark, and I s'pose you want to go home to yours. Mother has gone to spend the day with Mis' Thomson at the Corners, and she said I needn't sew to-day or do anything after I put away my dishes and swept the kitchen and made my bed. She said I might go and stay where I liked, for I had been behaving good lately. I was real afraid when she said last night Mis' Thomson had asked her that I should have to go too. I hate Mis' Thomson, she always has to ask me how I'm getting along in my sewing, and how much I've done."
"Do you have to sew much?" said I.
"Considerable," said Dulcidora, in a very pathetic tone; "mother's 'shamed of me; I don't take to sewing or anything in a house. I wish I'd been a boy, and father does too, but mother says she don't see why we should fret, for she can't see but I'm the same as one in my ways. I left some things all ready, so I can have my dinner as soon as I get in, and I guess I'll go now."
"No, you needn't," said I; "stay and have dinner with me; I have enough for us both, and Joe's dinner beside." And you should have seen Joe grin!
The contents of my bag were satisfactory to both of us, and we had the strawberries for dessert, and after those some candy, which was the best of the whole in Dulcy's opinion. Joe saved the largest of his bones until the last, and walked soberly away into the woods with it. The child and I sat quietly on the moss by the brook. In the course of the afternoon, she asked where I got the strawberries.
"Why, how quick they have got ripe! I saw 'em three or four days ago, and they were real green. But I know a place where there is going to be piles of 'em."
"Won't you tell me where," said I, "and go with me some day if it's not too far?"
She looked perfectly happy, and said it wasn't far from the Durfees', and she knew her mother would let her go, especially if I came and asked her. "And O!" said Dulcy, "I'm so pleased you want me, for I was so 'fraid I shouldn't see you again, except at meeting. I saw you every Sunday you've been there, and I felt real bad the one you stayed at home."
"Why yes," said I, "of course you'll see me again -- ever so many times I guess; I shouldn't wonder if they said at home I may stay here all summer. I've written to them; and you and I will be great friends, I think. I hope you will come over and see me very soon, and I'm going to see you and your mother and father. Mrs. Durfee says he tells splendid stories. Do you think he will be likely to tell any when I could hear him?"
"Perhaps so," said Dulcidora; "I'll ask him."
"I've never told you my name," said I, "and that's not fair. It's Alice Channing."
"O, I know about you," said the child. "I'd have asked if I hadn't. Mrs. Durfee has me and mother over to tea sometimes, and she always talks about you and your house, and everybody in it. I never thought I should be talking to you. She always said you had promised to come up to see her. She brought me some candy once after she had been down visiting. She used to live at your grandmother's, too. I heard mother say that you were sick, and came to be away from the sea just as father did. I hope you don't feel so bad about it. You're getting well, aren't you? Mother said last Sunday you looked better. Please how old are you, Miss Channing?"
"I'm 'most eighteen," said I. "Why?"
"O dear, I'm real sorry you're as old as that."
"I'm sure I am, myself. But how will it make any difference to you?"
Dulcy sighed. "Well, I couldn't think. When you are in meeting, you have grown-up clothes on, and you look different; but now your dress is as little as mine, 'most; and you look young till you stand up, and then you're tall as mother. You're a little girl in your face, and the rest of you is grown up. There! mother would say I am real forth-putting to talk so much, but it's real nice to have somebody. I don't have anybody to play with, and it seems as if I had known you ever so long. Mother says I'm dreadful old-fashioned."
Which she certainly was.
"Dulcidora," said I, "you mustn't worry about my being older than you. When I go back home, I shall wear 'grown-up clothes,' as you call them, all the time, and feel old, and go to school, and everything like that, and while I'm up here I'll make believe I am just as old as you; we won't tell any one, for they might think it silly, but we will have the nicest times in the world. You see I can dress as I like, and I can run when I'm in a hurry, and needn't care for things that aren't worth caring for. And I mean to ask your mother to let you say your lessons to me. I can teach you a little, I guess. You know everybody knows something that nobody else does; and perhaps the thing I know that you don't is arithmetic, though I hate it as much as you say you do. Perhaps we may both get very fond of it."
"I guess you know a great deal that I don't," said Dulcy, "but can you tell stories? I always like people better when they can."
"Yes," said I, "when I feel like it. Do you know any?"
"Piles of 'em," said Dulcy, with enthusiasm; "I learn them from father. Mother says 'most all of them are awful lies, but they're real nice."
Then she asked me about my home and friends, and told me more about her father and mother, and the woods; and it seemed to me she must know every tree and rock in those about us. She told me where to find all the different kinds of flowers, and promised to show me all her favorite nooks and corners. I promised, if the next day were pleasant, to go and see her mother, and ask about my teaching her. She walked down the side of the brook with me until we came to the bars, and then she looked very sad at leaving me. I comforted her with the rest of the candy, and so we parted.
The next day it rained hard, and the next was so cloudy and damp that Sophronia would not let me go out. But it cleared away at sunset, and the next day, Saturday, was just as pleasant as could be, so I went up the hill to the Bunts'. I had told Sophronia all about my day's adventure, and she seemed quite delighted at my finding a friend in her neighborhood evidently so much to my taste as Dulcy, -- though it amused her very much. Still she appeared to think there would be less danger of my homesickness.
Dulcy came running to meet me before I could see the house. She must have been up in a tree watching. She walked with a triumphant air by my side, and I was introduced, by a very happy smile, to Mrs. Bunt, who came out in the yard to meet us[.] She was very tall, and when first I saw her with her husband, I couldn't help laughing, for he was very short. He and I became very intimate friends, but I never knew Mrs. Bunt so well, because she nearly always stayed in-doors, and I didn't.
"There!" said she, "I believe that child would have been sick if you hadn't come to-day. I never knew anything to wear on her as this rain has; not even the seam of a sheet to sew up. She's kept saying that to-morrow was Sunday, and perhaps father wouldn't get home, and she shouldn't even see you at church. I tell her the course of true love never run smooth!"
I laughed and took hold of Dulcy's small hand, while she blushed and looked terribly mortified. Just then I saw, under some pine-trees back of the house, a large fishing-boat.
"O, you said something about a boat, Wednesday, Dulcy," said I, "and I meant to ask you about it. How in the world did it come here, Mrs. Bunt? You can't have much use for it."
"'He' brought it with him when we moved up from the shore. I came first with Dulcy and got the house comfortable, and he came afterward with a load of stuff, -- we sold off considerable, -- and as the team came up the road, what should I see but that old boat. It was one he had had a good while, and it wasn't safe to go out in; but he wouldn't sell it when he had to buy a new one, nor yet when we were moving away, and he went to the expense and trouble of fetching it way up here in the woods. Folks laughed, I guess, when they saw it coming along! There were lots of things I really wanted to keep that I sold off to save him the bother of bringing them. He goes and sits in it sometimes: and Dulcy, she used to have baby-houses out there, and take a sight of comfort in it. I never saw a man so set upon anything as he is on the sea. Don't you think, he never has been back but once, and that right after we came away. He said he was so homesick. I guess he's getting over it now, leastways he don't talk so much."
Then I told her that I liked Dulcy, and wished when she could spare her, she would let her come out with me; and that she had told me she had no school near enough to go to, and I thought I could teach her a little myself, and that would be better than nothing, and there were plenty of books of mine I could send for, that she could have as well as not all summer. I would try not to teach her any mischief.
Mrs. Bunt seemed greatly delighted, and said Dulcy's good luck went beyond anything she had heard of, and she hoped she'd be grateful. "And how pleased your father will be! I suppose she might have had good schooling down to the salt water. But there! she wouldn't be alive. I never had any peace of mind after she could walk pretty well, for she made for the beach like a crab. She takes after her father; Jacob, the boy I lost, was a real peaceable child. More times than I have fingers and toes, I've missed her and found her down on the rocks, and the tide coming in, and water all round her, and she sitting playing with shells and sea-weeds as unconcerned as if she were in meeting. I got wet through once with my best Sunday clothes on, a-getting of her out, and five minutes later I couldn't have done it at all, for there would have been no sign of her. The very week we came away, when she was six years old, she had to be tied to the scraper. She would get away unbeknownst, and when she come back she always had a load of things, and if she got anything particularly nice, she'd tuck it in among my things, in my best bureau, or anywhere. Like as not it would be some live creatur', and the first thing I'd know there'd be a smell fit to blow the roof off. The Lord only knows what I went through down there! She's got it in her now too; big as she is, there ain't a week she don't manage to soak herself in the brook, making dams and wading. I've tried my best to break her, but all I can do is to hope she'll outgrow it."
It was arranged that Dulcy should come to me three times a week and recite; afterward we were to go to walk if I liked; and it was understood that she could go out with me any day after her work was done.
I know I shall never have a pleasanter summer than that was. Every week or two Dulcy and I had a long tramp up some one of the hills, and our shorter cruises were innumerable. O, those long, long summer days in the quiet woods, and the flowers, and the birds! We built a house of hemlock branches over a favorite abiding-place, and under it Dulcy used to tell me her father's strange sea stories, and we used to hold long conversations and build wonderful castles in the air, each after her own fashion. And once in a while we went trouting, and would make a fire and have great cooking. Dulcy was quite experienced. She was always sent for when I had a box from home of books and good things; not that I didn't have the best dinners the land afforded at Sophronia's, but I kept a small assortment of canned fruits, and candy, and olives, and little tins of biscuit, for my lunches in the woods. After papa and mamma had left home, I used to order the things myself, the books coming by themselves -- so I didn't fare any worse.
Dulcy wasn't fond of reading when I first knew her, for, as she said, all her books had been poky ones, but before I came away she took great comfort in it, and I dare say that winter was not so long by half, as those that had come before; for I used to lend her books, and the children's magazines, and occasionally little bundles of other things. Of course winter was a dreary time to her, for all she cared for was out-of-door life.
She is at a country academy now, somewhere twenty miles from home; and as she is really very bright, I suppose, in the course of time, she will blossom into a district-school teacher. I hope there will be woods very near; and I am sure she will spend the noon-time and recesses there. I have a letter from her once in a while. Sophronia brought her down once at my earnest entreaty: how the child did enjoy it! I always felt like a child with her, and I wish I could go up among the hills this very summer. If I could find my gray dresses and all my trappings, and start the first of June! I'm afraid it wouldn't be the same, for I am two years older, and the two years have made so much difference in other things. The last I saw of Dulcidora, I looked back, as I drove down to the Corners to take the stage, and she had thrown herself on the grass by the Durfees' door, and was crying very hard. Sophronia had occasion to make a voyage to the city with me; and she said, as I pointed to the child, --
"I guess she knows there's a pretty chapter in her book that's read through."
After I got home, they used to tease me about my friend Miss Bunt; but I always think and speak with the greatest affection of poor little Dulcy, and I never mean to forget her. My little case, holding a knife and fork and spoon, and little silver cup, which papa gave me for that summer's campaign; a great jackknife which I commissioned Mr. Durfee to buy for me; the stick, I used as alpenstock, and some scratchy, much worn sketches, are still very dear to me.
Dulcy, no doubt, treasures sundry photographs, of which I am the original; and I have a large square tintype of her framed in my room, taken by a travelling artist of renown in those parts, who passed a portion of that summer at the Corners. And beside it is one to match of myself, dressed in a striped jacket and gray skirt, with my lunch bag and blanket, my great straw hat on my head, and Joe by my side.
And Dulcidora's was taken, by particular request, in one of the cannon dresses.
Comments compiled by Jean-Paul Michaud
Paula Blanchard. Sarah Orne Jewett: her world and her work. New York, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.
Blanchard, p. 64: The Atlantic paid writers fairly, and her first effort there brought her $50, while Scudder paid her $34 for "Cannon Dresses."
---- p. 60: Another near neighbor of Howells, at least in mid-decade, was Horace Elisha Scudder. As editor of The Riverside Magazine, Scudder had published several of Jewett's early children's works and, like Howells, had established himself as literary advisor and confidant. After he left the magazine in 1871, she continued to look to him for criticism.* His kindly but unimaginative remarks prodded her toward thinking out a rationale for her style and beginning to define herself as a writer before she was twenty-one. In 1870 he made a comment that would become a familiar refrain: "There seem to be good characters for a story and good scenery but no incident, no story. In other words...here is a sketch and not a picture."** Since he was referring to a piece he himself had published ("The Girl with the Cannon Dresses"), the complaint was mild enough; but it was the first of a long succession of similar criticisms, culminating in the widely held view that The Country of the Pointed Firs was somehow not quite successful because it was not quite a novel.
* As a close associate and sometime partner of Henry O. Houghton of the Riverside Press, whose firm later merged with Sarah's publisher Osgood to evolve into Houghton Mifflin, Scudder had a long working relationship with Jewett. Although he left publishing in 1874 to write independently, in 1885 Scudder became editor-in-chief of Houghton Mifflin; he also was unofficial assistant editor of The Atlantic 1885-90, and edited the magazine 1890-98,
** Horace Elisha Scudder to SOJ, July 24, 1870, HL.(Houghton Library)
Elizabeth Silverthorne. Sarah Orne Jewett: a Writer's Life. Woodstock, NY, The Overlook Press, 1993
Silverthorne, p. 66: Although "The Girl with the Cannon Dresses" is written for children, it is also a successful story that can be enjoyed by adults. It clearly marks a turning point in Sarah's writing toward the direction she would follow in her best work for the remainder of her life. The story, a simple tale of friendship between an older and a younger girl, used the country characters and rural landscape she knew so well, and it thereby achieved a reality lacking in her earlier stories. The protagonist is a dominant, self-confident female character, who appears in many of Sarah's later stories in a number of guises. "Dresses" also marks the beginning of her use of the Wordsworthian themes of nature as a beneficent guide and nurturer as well as a giver of gifts to please our senses. It has the theme of country versus city, one that Sarah would use repeatedly in her writing.
Josephine Donovan. Sarah Orne Jewett. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980.
Donovan, p.21-22. Another early story, "The Girl With the Cannon Dresses," (Riverside Magazine August 1870, Uncollected Stories 1971), the first to be signed "Sarah Jewett," presents another Jewett persona, eighteen-year-old Alice Channing, who is sent "up country" to northern New Hampshire for the summer to recuperate from an illness. An archetypal Jewett pattern emerges when Alice meets Dulcy, a younger version of herself, in the woods.
In this natural setting the two form with the animals a kind of secret society against the adult world. Alice remarks: When I go back home, I shall wear "grown-up clothes,"...and feel old, and go to school,...and while I'm up here I'll make believe I am just as old as you; we won't tell any one, for they might think it silly, but we will have the nicest times in the world.
The tension between the unspoiled, benign world of nature as opposed to the unpleasant "adult" world of civilization is one that recurs throughout Jewett's work. Almost always nature, particularly the woods, is seen as a haven of escape.
Notes by Terry Heller
"The Girl with the Cannon Dresses" was published in The Riverside Magazine for Young People. August 1870. Vol. IV. No. XLIV; p. 354-360. Richard Cary later included it in Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. This text is from Riverside. Apparent misprints have been corrected, using brackets to indicate the change. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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in Halifax: To wish someone in Halifax is to wish the person far away. Halifax, Nova Scotia is nearly 400 miles from the Southern coast of Maine, where this story seems to be set.
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Lake Superior: The westernmost of the Great Lakes of North America.
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the Fourth: The Fourth of July is celebrated in the United States as Independence Day, the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
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saleratus: potassium or sodium bicarbonate used as leavening, e.g. baking soda.
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"Union": This word suggests a patriotic theme to the fabric printed with images of cannons, the Union referring to the Northern States in the American Civil War that ended just five years before this story was published.
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course of true love never run smooth: See William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream I,i,132.
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the scraper: Though this item is difficult to identify, it seems likely it would refer to a metal plate placed near a doorway and on which one would scrape dirt from one's shoes before entering a building. Since such a plate would be firmly fixed, one might tie a child to it to prevent her straying.
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tintype: a positive photograph taken directly on a sensitive plate.
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Edited and annotated by Jean-Paul Michaud of the New York Public Library and Terry Heller, Coe College.
Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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