Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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A GOOD GIRL.
Sarah Orne Jewett.
[COPYRIGHT, 1889, BY THE AUTHOR.]
Somebody asks a question about an ideal girl, and there seems to be no answer. I can think of one just now whom I should like to have a great many other girls see as she goes to and fro about her work in her father and mother's house. Her name is Dolly Franklin, and she lives in Boston, but not in the city itself. She had been away from home at school for two years, and she did not think that it would be right to stay away any longer. To be sure, the school was free; but there were many little expenses, and it cost much more than if she stayed at home. The question was whether she were really gaining enough in every way to make it worth while. She had never seen so plainly how much her own home needed her, or what unselfishness her father and her mother showed in their frequent discomfort without her. She had been living with her father's sister while she went to school, and this had been very pleasant; but her aunt had often said that she meant to take some other young girl to live with her in school days when Dolly's school days were over, so that she would not be too much missed.
Dolly liked her lessons, and liked her schoolmates still better. She had always supposed until that night that she would graduate with her class.
The moving was over early in July, and the Franklins were settled in the new house behind the linden tree, and Mrs. Franklin had been so much better for the change that she often could come down to dinner and supper and "behave," as Bob said, "like everybody else." The view out of her window was even a greater pleasure than could be expected. Bob was fast turning into a landscape gardener, and so far had not flagged in keeping the yard and garden patch looking clean and tidy. He had requested a pear tree for his birthday, and though transplanted so late in the season it seemed to be doing well. Dolly was as busy as a bee inside the house, the heedless Lizzy had refused the week before they moved to go into what she was pleased to call the country, and at first Mrs. Franklin had been made very miserable. Dolly proposed advertising, but her mother gave a disconsolate shake of the head.
"Where's old Nora?" asked Mr. Franklin, suddenly, "Have you seen her lately? Doesn't she live somewhere near the new house?"
"Of course," said his wife brightening. "I think that it can't be more than half a mile. Perhaps she'll come and help us in the morning, and then we'll see what can be done afterwards."
Nobody knows to what good end any little lane of decision may lead. Old Nora had indeed helped with the morning. Her children were grown now, and she had much spare time on her hands, and was glad to earn something and to help her old mistress. She had, indeed, helped Dolly amazingly, and they had many a comfortable talk together as they worked in the clean new kitchen. At last Dolly ventured to say a word at the end of the first ten days, when she and her father were sitting in Mrs. Franklin's room, and there was a pause, and the breeze rustled in the cool tree outside: "Don't you think we have been getting on well with the housekeeping?" she said timidly, and the mother and father eagerly said yes.
"Then why can't we keep on just in the same way all this Summer?" Dolly asked again.
"Oh, but you can't, dear child!" said the mother.
"Why not?" asked Dolly, and she thought that her father never had looked so pleased.
"I can try for awhile at any rate," the girl went on. "It is so easy to do the work here in this nice house, and Nora can wash on Mondays; she says she will, and then she can come again in the week to help with any heavy work, or if we have company. I wish that I could try. It would save us so much money, and you know we had to spend more than we expected in coming here; it would be a way that I could help father along until Bob can do something."
"Why, don't you mean--"
But Dolly was not ready to say anything else and just then somebody rang the front door bell and she ran down with her heart beating very fast. It was only a woman with dressmaking patterns to sell, who talked a long time about them. Dolly tried to listen patiently after she had said that nobody wished for any, but at any rate she had time to get over the excitement she felt about her plans. She could not tell yet whether she must give up going to school any more.
The housekeeping, with some hindrances, went on delightfully that Summer. It was, perhaps, a commonplace thing enough that a girl of sixteen, well-grown and strong, and capable as Dolly Franklin was, should cook and sweep and plan and sew for her little home household, but to the anxious girl herself and the applauding members of the family it seemed most wonderful. Dolly was a very good cook and was always learning new things, and she kept the house looking fresh and pleasant. She was very careful not to waste anything, for she knew how hard her father worked for what they had and what a difference it made because her mother was not well and strong. There was always a doctor's bill to reckon on, but this half year it promised to be much less than usual.
Nobody knew how many of the lightest things in the housework found their way to Mrs. Franklin's willing thin hands, and somehow there was a pleasantness in the household that warmed everybody's heart. It made such a difference when one really wished to do the work; so many girls hate to do it, and are even ashamed of it in their own dear homes; but more and more Dolly found her ambition and her power growing, and the morning work could soon be done in so much less time than at first. She had plenty of time to go into town whenever it was necessary, and she saw as much of her friends as ever she had and somehow enjoyed life a great deal better than ever before. Sometimes she did not need old Nora for anything but the washing; sometimes she came two or three times in a week to help with hard work; but Dolly looked round and well and prettier than ever, her mother thought, when she and her gather and Bob started for church on Sunday morning, all in their Sunday clothes.
It was not very long before the Franklins began to know their neighbors in the new street. The houses were being taken one by one until few were left empty and Bob knew all the boys by sight and name and was desperately intimate with one or two. in one house there were some cousins of Mr. Franklin's fellow bookkeeper, which led to a pleasant acqu[a]intance and neighborliness, and in the next house to their's was an old gentleman and his daughter, who gave music lessons. Dolly wished to make friends of these people more than of any one else.
There was something so tasteful and pretty about their house and they had such charming faces. The old father looked like a soldier and held his head proudly as he walked by; the daughter looked kind and smiling as she hurried out with her music roll. Dolly was sure that she was never impatient with her little music scholars. She sometimes heard the neighbors speaking a foreign language and they were so polite to one another. The old soldier took off his hat with a fine air when he bade any one good morning. Dolly wished more and more that she knew them, but she could not tell how to begin; the young lady was a good many years older than she. It was perfectly wonderful how interesting they and their house became; theirs was the most charming house of the double row, while some looked so cheap and tawdry and unclean that our friend could never believe that they were really all built from the same measurements and painted the same color.
Dolly never had cared much for any of her lessons, but learned them because she must. What would her father and mother say? They had always said so much about Dolly's having a good education, but to Dolly it appeared more and more as if she had shut her desk cover for the last time. When the evenings grew longer she would get out her books and study a little. She could help Bob, too, when his school began, for out-of-door Bob suffered many things in the quest for book learning.
She could look across from the kitchen window, where she oftenest stood, to the house of the interesting neighbors; but she did not know them yet, though the old gentleman had once taken off his hat as he opened her gate most politely. She was just remembering one day that it was a good while since she had seen either the father or daughter when her mother said that the daughter must be sick; she had not gone by for several days and there had been a doctor's carriage at the door. "Your father says they are French people," said Mrs. Franklin, and Dolly was more interested than ever. She had come up to confer with her mother about something uncommon that was to be made for supper. Two of Dolly's own acquaintances were coming out to tea from town. It was such fun to have what one liked and take pride and pleasure in it, instead of being at the mercy of somebody else who resented a visitor and felt herself aggrieved if there were anything extra to do.
"What comfort we have had this Summer? How I shall miss you, Dolly," said the mother, and she spoke so plaintively that Dolly came very near telling her then and there about her plans. It was not that Bob always had his favorite buns and molasses cookies and that Dolly knew exactly how to bake the Sunday beans dry and sweet and brown as her father liked them, but there was a delightful sense of comfort and friendliness all about the house; there was no unwilling and protesting member of the little family. For the wages that they were able to pay they could not have a well-trained, able housegirl; they had been made wretched enough by the untrained, unwilling girls who knew so little about their business and would not take the trouble to learn any more. It had been different when Mrs. Franklin was well and about the house, for even the most provoking person could not help feeling the influence of her careful, friendly ways as they worked together. But the pale little mistress always said that it was a hard place for a young girl now.
Not hard for Dolly! She was surprised to find how easy it was to do the work, and that every day had some new interesting thing about it. She wondered why there was no drudgery.
One morning as she walked across towards the French neighbors she was tempted to go over herself to ask for the young lady. The doctor had not been there now for a day or two. To be sure they were strangers, but Dolly's warm young heart was touched when she thought that there seemed to be nobody to show a friendly interest. Late in the morning Dolly put a cup of her mother's broth and some thin oatmeal biscuit and a piece of light cake on the little waiter and started out feeling as if it were a great adventure. On her way down the yard she picked a bright pink geranium flower and two of its fresh green leaves to make the tray look pretty, and the next minute she was ringing at the neighbor's door. The old gentleman came to open it, looking very old and troubled.
"Will you enter?" he asked most politely, and Dolly stepped in, blushing a good deal.
"We have much of trouble," said the old man sadly. "You are kind, my dear. Will you ascend the stairway?" And Dolly went up and entered the room. There was the poor lady, who had been very ill, and was better now, so that she had managed to sit up in bed and was trying to write some letters to her pupils. She was so glad to see our Dolly's pleasant face, and proved herself most grateful for the little luncheon on the tray. It is needless to say that they became fast friends and that Dolly went over to spend an hour or two that very afternoon and sent word besides to Nora, whose strong hands were needed in the neglected kitchen. It seemed when our friend told her father about the French people that night as if she had known them for weeks.
"No, mother," said Dolly Franklin, a week later, "I'm not going back to school, but I'm going to study a great deal harder than I used to there." Somehow the old idea of graduating with the class had faded out, for she needed to know things now that she could not learn in school. Her father had already been easily talked over to the new plan, but Mrs. Franklin anxiously protested.
"I love so to be here and you need me," said Dolly. "It isn't as if I were going to be a teacher. I'm going to be a home girl always, and I mean to be learning home things. You don't know how ambitious I am. This year, anyway, you will have to keep me and we will have such good times this Winter. Mlle. Trevy is going to give me French lessons; that is, she says that I may read to her and she will help me to learn to speak all she can. I shouldn't have half so good a chance at the seminary. They are so pleased because father got that translating for them to do for his establishment. Truly, I shall learn more, being with such lovely people. The old gentleman is so nice, he never grumbles or frets, but I know that it is very hard for them having to be so poor and uncertain. Oh, mother, you will like them so much! There are ever so many nice people in this street!"
"If I were only well!" sighed poor Mrs. Franklin.
"But perhaps you will be soon," said Dolly in a most heartening way. Think how much better you are than when you came here!"
"Your father says that he is going to pay you just the same that he paid Lizzie Gregg," said Mrs. Franklin, smiling again. "He thinks it is only fair, and so you will have some money that is really your own. The first of the year he will have his increase of salary, and then he can give you more; but he was so pleased this morning, telling me that you had saved so much from what it used to cost him for housekeeping that he hasn't minded the high rent a bit. You ought to have heard father praise you. He said two or three times that he wished every father and mother had such a good girl. You take more care of us now than we do of you."
"On, no!" said Dolly, "I work just because I love to, and you do everything for me." Then she went down to her neat little kitchen with great happiness in her heart. She was sure that none of the girls she knew had such a happy home, but after all Dolly herself did as much as any one to make it so; it was Dolly herself who deserved praise that day. She was lucky to have learned so soon that having plenty of good work and liking it is the best thing in the world.Sarah O. Jewett.
Charles Johanningsmeier identifies this story as one that Jewett contributed to S. S. McClure's pioneer newspaper syndicate. In his New England Quarterly article, "Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman): Two Shrewd Businesswomen in Search of New Markets" (1997 Mar. 1997 (70,1): 57-82, he indicates that Jewett's title was "Dolly Franklin's Decision," under which it appeared in the Boston Globe (24 November 1889, sec. 2. p. 5). It is likely that the story appeared in number of other newspapers in the United States, but the only other mentioned by Johanningsmeier is the New York World (24 November 1889, p. 28), from which this text and uncredited illustration come. The illustration was made from a photocopy of a microfilm. Corrections are indicated with brackets.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents & Search