Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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Illustration
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KATY'S BIRTHDAY.

BY SARAH ORNE JEWETT.

     KATY was a little girl who lived in the country, and this was her ninth birthday, and she felt very old indeed. She did not wake up until later than usual that morning, and her father and Henry (the man who helped him do the farm work) had gone away early to a distant pasture to salt the cattle, so there was only her mother to make much of so great an occasion and to say anything about the birthday. But her father had left a bright ten cent piece for her, which was very kind of him, and Henry had left a little package on the shelf by the clock, and when she opened it, she found it held some candy. As for her mother's present, it was a great deal better than the others, though I am not sure that Katy thought so. It was a new speckled calico dress; Mrs. Dunley said she had never seen a prettier figure, and it was hanging over a chair all ready to be put on when they had finished what there was to do in the kitchen. That did not take long, for, as I have said, it was already late.

     The day before had been the last day of school, and in the evening the scholars had given the teacher a surprise party at the house where she boarded, and it did not break up until after ten o'clock; but nobody had thought it was so late. Jimmy Manson, one of the big boys, had put the clock back an hour, and as for Katy -- she had never been out so late in her life -- it is no wonder she could not wake up next morning. She fell asleep in the wagon just before she got home, and would have gone overboard in two minutes more if Henry had not caught her. Of course she had to go right to bed, and could not tell her mother much about the party that night, but this morning she had a great deal to say, while her mother asked a question now and then as she went about her work, and she told Katy two or three times that she wished she had been there herself.

     After awhile Katy put on the new dress. She did not often have a new one, and she liked this very much. Her mother said it fitted her beautifully; it was full large enough, but she would grow to it. She sat on the doorstep awhile, feeling very much dressed up, and as if this were a most uncommon day, being the first day of vacation and her birthday beside.

     After awhile she asked her mother what she should do.

     "I don't know," said Mrs. Dunley, "but you may do anything you like to-day. To-morrow you must help me in the house, for I shall be very busy. I spoke to Cynthia Downs to come and help me, but she sent word she couldn't till the first of the week. Your father's got some men coming in the morning and he's going to begin haying."

     "Oh, that'll be fun," said Katy, but I am afraid she was thinking more of taking the jug of molasses and water out into the field, and playing among the hay-cocks, and getting a ride on the hay cart, than she did of the hard work in the house. She always liked haying time.

     She thought about this for a time, and then began to consider what she should do with her holiday. "I've thought of two things," she said presently; "I don't know whether to take off this dress and put on the old brown one I tore last Saturday and you said I couldn't wear it any more, and go up the brook and make dams, or go over where father and Henry are, and ride home with them."

     "They'll be home pretty soon," said her mother, "and you can have a ride then. Henry's going to the store to get some new rakes and tools they're going to use haying. I promised your father's aunt Phebe that you should spend a day with her before long and you might as well go there to-day; you can let Henry leave you there. You will have a nice time. How should you like that?"

     Katy looked sorry for a minute. She was counting on playing in the brook, if the truth must be told, but she could do that any day, and she said at once that she would go to see her aunt who was a very kind old lady, and Katy was not half so much afraid of her as she was of most people whom she saw but seldom. And then it would have been a trial to take off the new dress when she had just put it on.

     "You can wear your best hat too," said Mrs. Dunley, "and I want you to take aunt Phebe the rest of those tarts that were made for the surprise party; she likes sweet things. Marthy that lives with her is away for a week too."

     Katy smiled approval; she liked sweet things herself, and she thought very likely her aunt would ask her to eat one of the tarts.

     She did not have to wait long, for Henry came earlier than he was expected. Mrs. Dunley said she would drive over in the cool of the afternoon and bring Katy home, for it would be her last chance to have the horse for some time. "I suppose you will want the horse every minute for the next three weeks?" she said to Henry, and they both laughed, and he said they might be even longer haying if it rained as much as it did the last summer.

     "I s'pose it's your birthday?" asked Henry, after they had started, looking down at the top of Katy's head, where the white ribbons of the best hat were bravely fluttering. "Wish you happy New Year," said he.

     "Why New Year comes in the winter," answered Katy, looking up at him with great surprise.

     "You're nine years old to-day, and yesterday you said you weren't but eight. This is a new year, isn't it?" and Katy did not know exactly what to say, but she was sure it was not New Year day or Christmas either for that matter.

     "My birthday was a week ago yesterday, and I was out of my time; tell you, I was glad," said Henry.

     "Why," asked Katy, "what are you going to do?"

     "Vote," answered Henry after having stopped some time to think, "and -- well, a good many things; anybody likes to be out of their time. You're your own master, you know," and presently Katy plucked up courage to ask him whom his master used to be. Which only made him laugh and reach out to strike some clover heads with his whip. "You wait till you get bigger and you'll know all about it," he told her.

     Katy remembered just then to thank him for the candy, and there was a piece of it left, so she offered him a bite, and then finished it herself, and wished there had been more, when Henry gave her two peppermint lozenges which he found in his pocket, and she was rich and happy again.

     After driving about two miles, they came in sight of aunt Phebe's house. It stood at some distance from the main road at the end of a lane, and as Henry was in a hurry, Katy got out of the wagon to walk the rest of the way, which was shady and pleasant. She went slowly along carrying the tarts carefully, and catching sometimes at the whiteweeds and snapping them off between her fingers, which she always thought great fun. She saw that the front door of the house was wide open, so she went in that way, and all of a sudden she felt very much afraid and wished she had not come. She was only a shy little girl and it was hard work for her to speak and behave herself when she met a stranger. She knocked softly with the great brass knocker as she stood on the doorstep, but nobody took any notice of it. Aunt Phebe herself was very deaf, and after waiting a minute or two Katy went into the parlor, for the door stood open, and she heard her aunt walking about up-stairs, stepping quickly as if she were in a great hurry. She is coming right down, thought the little girl, and she will see me, and seated herself on the high slippery sofa and sat there, feeling very uncomfortable with her feet a good way from the floor. She had put the plate of tarts on the table, and she meekly folded her hands and waited; it was very still, only she heard the footsteps overhead and wondered what aunt Phebe could be doing. She had a mind to go up to find out, but she did not know whether she ought to do such a thing.

     There came a little gust of wind just then and blew down-stairs and through the house, and suddenly the door of the parlor began to move, and it slowly shut itself. Katy watched it, and wondered if it would bang, but it did not; and while she was thinking about it she heard some one come across the entry and turn the key and lock her in, and before she had time to speak, she heard the front door shut also, and then she called as loud as she could and flattened her face against the window, and she saw aunt Phebe put the great door key carefully in her pocket, and walk away down the lane. Poor Katy! she knocked on the window until she was afraid she should break it, and she shouted and ran to pound on the door, but it was all no use, for aunt Phebe was deaf as the deafest haddock that ever lived in the sea. She was dressed in her best clothes and her cap-basket was on her arm; it was plain enough that, as often happened, she was going out to spend the day.

     Poor Katy! it makes me sad to think about her, for it seemed as if her heart would break. There were so many things she would have liked to do much better than to stay in that prim best room of aunt Phebe's where all the chairs were too high for her to sit on with any comfort, and there was nobody to speak to; and perhaps aunt Phebe might stay until after supper and then she would be kept there in her prison until after dark, which would be awful. She tried to push up one of the windows, but they must have been fastened down by some secret known to aunt Phebe alone, for they could not be moved, and poor Katy even went into the big fireplace to see if there were any way up the chimney; but what comfort could a glimpse of the pale sky have been, for it looked further away than ever, and the chimney looked impossible to climb, even for a poor little chimney-sweep whose melancholy history our friend had read in her Sunday-school book a week or two before. She sat down to brush the ashes off the new best dress, and she felt very dismal, for it was such a pleasant day out of doors, and her birthday too! She could hear the bobolinks singing in the field next the house and the little garden looked so pleasant with the great red peonies just going out of bloom and scattering their flowers on the ground underneath until it was covered with shining crimson petals. It would have been such fun to shake the pinies, as Katy called them, and make them come to pieces faster. It would have been fun to do anything but stay there where she was. She looked at the pictures on the walls, and admired some that were worked in silk, to her heart's content. There was a fine large house in one picture with some trees round it, and a little boy dressed in blue and pink, riding a white pony at the side of a rose bush that was covered with very big red roses. Katy always had liked this picture ever since she could remember, and after all it was a great comfort that she was shut up in this room instead of the sitting-room, which would have keen very stupid.

     On a table at one side the room under the lookingglass there was a great glass lamp with a globe almost as big as the moon, so our friend thought, and around it there were cut glass pendants that jingled together beautifully, while something clacked in the lamp itself whenever she went near it, so at last she bethought herself to walk back and forth until she was tired out to hear the jingling, and this really used up a great deal of time. If she had only brought her doll it would have been a great satisfaction, but there was not a single thing to play with, and she did not dare to handle aunt Phebe's treasures in the best room.

     I think that Katy will always laugh when she remembers how long that summer day seemed and how hard she tried to amuse herself. She picked a little bit of charred wood from the fireplace where aunt Phebe had lately had a fire to smoke out some swallows, and played hopscotch with it, using the large figures of the carpet for bounds. I am afraid her stout little shoes and her quick jumps and scuffles did not do the thin old carpet much good either, but she played by herself for a long time, and afterward she looked at every picture in the great Bible which aunt Phebe had shown her often before when she had stopped there with her father and mother on Sunday afternoons.

     And presently she began to grow very hungry. It seemed to her that it must be the middle of the afternoon; there had never been so long a day in her life, but it was really only a little later than her own dinner time, and she lifted the white napkin from the plate of tarts and wondered whether it would be right to eat one. She had picked the strawberries for them herself; they had been very thick that year, and her mother had made the tarts for the surprise party, but there had been these three left, and they did look very good indeed. They were large tarts and the crust was all flaky, for Mrs. Dunley prided herself on her cooking, and some of the pink syrup of the strawberries was leaking out on the plate, and Katy took some of it on the end of her finger, and it tasted a great deal better than it had the night before; but she covered the tarts again with the napkin, and went over to the sofa to sit down to wait, and she gave a heavy sigh. She could hear the large clock ticking out in the entry -- it was half-way up the stairs on a landing, but she could hear it tick easily -- and she thought how dreadful it must be to be deaf like aunt Phebe. She wondered if she could hear it thunder; and then there came an awful thought that there might be a thunder shower that afternoon, for poor Katy was always frightened then; but to her relief there did not seem to be a cloud in the sky.

     At last she grew so hungry that she could nor resist the tarts any longer, and she was sure that aunt Phebe would forgive her, so she ate one, and it was the best tart she had ever eaten in her life; and before she could stop to think, she had eaten another, and she would liked to have had the other one too, but she did not think that would be right, and she went away to the other side of the room and sat down in the corner and cried, she was so hungry still, and lonely and tired, and to think that this was her birthday!

     Luckily she soon went to sleep, and I do not know how long she was lying there on the floor with her head on a little bit of a cricket which aunt Phebe had worked many years before; but at last she heard somebody knocking at the front door -- banging away with the old knocker as if they were in a great hurry; and at first she was very frightened, and thought it might be robbers, and she would go under the sofa and hide. But she heard some voices that did not sound like robbers at all, and at last she dared to look out, and then she knocked on the window and called, "Mother! mother! come back and let me out!" for she was just in time to see her mother go away as aunt Phebe had done in the morning.

     Mrs. Dunley was all dressed up, and looked very smiling, and some one was with her, and they both turned when they heard the raps on the window, and to Katy's great joy they hurried back at the sight of her tear-stained, anxious little face.

     "Aunt Phebe did not know I was here, and she went out to spend the day and locked me in;" and poor Katy began to cry harder than ever.

     Mother could not help laughing at first; but she and the stranger nodded, and said they would let her out, and went away around the corner of the house.

     The stranger, who proved to be Katy's uncle, found some way of scrambling into the house, and soon the key of the parlor door was turned in the lock, [in soon the key of the parlor door was turned, and the lock] and the prisoner was let free. And her mother gave her the other tart at once, and thought she must have been very hungry.

     Aunt Phebe came home in a little while, just as they were going away, and you may be sure that she felt dreadfully about Katy's misfortunes. She had been going to spend the day with a friend, and had been promised a ride with some neighbors who were going in the same direction, if she would reach their house in good season; so she had hurried away early.

     They all stayed to tea, and Katy's father came over too -- as Mrs. Dunley had arranged before she left home -- for Katy's uncle Dan had just come home from a long voyage at sea, and it was an occasion of great rejoicing.

     Katy remembered him very well, though she was only six years old when he went away, and now she was nine that very day. Her birthday was not altogether forgotten, nor her solitary day, for everybody was very good to her. Kind aunt Phebe made her eat a great deal more than she really wanted at supper time, and kissed her and patted her on her shoulder a number of times, and asked her to come some other day to make up for that one; and Katy said she should like to come dearly, and said to herself that she would not be afraid next time to hunt for aunt Phebe all over the house.

     Uncle Dan was the merriest and kindest-hearted of sailors, and he kept them laughing half the time. He had brought aunt Phebe a work-box from the East Indies, and a funny little bright shawl to wear over her shoulders, which she was afraid looked too gay for her; but uncle Dan shouted to her that she was growing younger every year instead of older, like other people.

     And when Katy reached home that night she found a Chinese doll and a fan with funny pictures on it, and some shells and beads that had come from an island a great way off, and a book about London, and last but not least a paper of candy which uncle Dan had brought to her. And she said that after all this had been the best birthday she had ever spent.


Notes

"Katy's Birthday" was published in Wide Awake (17:36-40), June 1883. This text is available courtesy of Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, ME. The story was reprinted in Katy's Birthday with Other Stories (Boston, 1883).
     In Sarah Orne Jewett Letters, Richard Cary says, "Jessie McDermott (b. 1857) began to appear as an illustrator of juvenile stories and poems in magazines around 1878 as JMcD. In 1891 she married Charles Hosmer Walcott, Concord Lawyer and historian of the town. After his death in1901 she appended her marriage name to her professional signature. She most often embellished the children's tales and jingles of Margaret Johnson in St. Nicholas, and not infrequently provided drawings for her own verses" (50).
     Jewett wrote to McDermott on 23 May, 1883:
     "I have looked at the picture which you drew for my little story in the June Wide Awake with so much pleasure that I wish to thank you. I think it is charmingly done, and the doleful little girl in the chair is so like Katy whom I 'made up,' that it seems quite wonderful.
     "Yours is really a most careful and satisfactory piece of work, but I wish I could say the same of my sketch which somehow missed being read in the proof, and which ought to have been revised by its guilty writer ...." (50).
     Cary notes that Jewett probably refers most specifically to the garbled line near the end of the story - see bracketed line above.
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salt the cattle: O.E.D. says that feeding salt to animals is described as "salting" them.
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Christmas: Celebration of the birth of Christ, usually in late December and early January.
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out of my time: Henry makes clear that this has to do with a young man becoming of age; more specifically it means completing an apprenticeship to a trade.
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whiteweeds: "Name in N. America for the Ox-eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum)." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary.)
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bobolinks: a North American song bird nesting in grass or marsh land; its characteristic call is rendered as "bob o lincoln."
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cricket: a wooden footstool.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College


Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents