Mary by Sarah Orne Jewett
The town of Dulham was not used to seeing foreigners of any sort, or
to hearing their voices in its streets, so that it was in some sense a
matter of public interest when a Canadian family was reported to have
come to the white house by the bridge. This house, small and
low-storied, with a bushy little garden in front, had been standing
empty for several months. Usually when a house was left tenantless in
Dulham it remained so and fell into decay, and, after some years, the
cinnamon rose bushes straggled into the cellar, and the dutiful grass
grew over the mound that covered the chimney bricks. Dulham was a quiet
place, where the population dwindled steadily, though such citizens as
remained had reason to think it as pleasant as any country town in the
Some of the old men who met every day to talk over the town affairs
were much interested in the newcomers. They approved the course of the
strong-looking young Canadian laborer who had been quick to seize upon
his opportunity; one or two of them had already engaged him to make
their gardens, and to do odd jobs, and were pleased with his quickness
and willingness. He had come afoot one day from a neighboring town,
where he and his wife had been made ill by bad drainage and factory
work, and saw the little house, and asked the postmaster if there were
any work to be had out of doors that spring in Dulham. Being assured of
his prospects, he reappeared with his pale, bright-eyed wife and little
daughter the very next day but one. This startling promptness had given
time for but few persons to hear the news of a new neighbor, and as one
after another came over the bridge and along the road there were many
questions asked. The house seemed to have new life looking out of its
small-paned windows; there were clean white curtains, and china dogs on
the window-sills, and a blue smoke in the chimneythe spring sun was
shining in at the wide-open door.
There was a chilly east wind on an April day, and the elderly men
were gathered inside the post-office, which was also the chief grocery
and dry-goods store. Each was in his favorite armchair, and there was
the excuse of a morning fire in the box stove to make them form again
into the close group that was usually broken up at the approach of
summer weather. Old Captain Weathers was talking about Alexis, the
newcomer (they did not try to pronounce his last name), and was saying
for the third or fourth time that the more work you set for the
Frenchman the better pleased he seemed to be. Helped 'em to lay a
carpet yesterday at our house, neat as wax, said the Captain, with
approval. Made the garden in the front yard so it hasn't looked so
well for years. We're all goin' to find him very handy; he'll have
plenty to do among us all summer. Seems to know what you want the
minute you p'int, for he can't make out very well with his English. I
used to be able to talk considerable French in my early days when I
sailed from southern ports to Havre and Bordeaux, but I don't seem to
recall it now very well. He'd have made a smart sailor, Alexis would;
quick an' willing.
They say Canada French ain't spoken the same, anywaybegan the
Captain's devoted friend, Mr. Ezra Spooner, by way of assurance, when
the store door opened and a bright little figure stood looking in. All
the gray-headed men turned that way, and every one of them smiled.
Come right in, dear, said the kind-hearted old Captain.
They saw a charming little creature about six years old, who smiled
back again from under her neat bit of a hat; she wore a pink frock that
made her look still more like a flower, and she said Bonjour
prettily to the gentlemen as she passed. Henry Staples, the storekeeper
and postmaster, rose behind the counter to serve this customer as if
she had been a queen, and took from her hand the letter she brought,
with the amount of its postage folded up in a warm bit of newspaper.
The Captain and his friends looked on with admiration.
Give her a piece of candyno, give it to me an' I'll give it to
her, said the Captain eagerly, reaching for his cane and leaving his
chair with more than usual agility; and everybody looked on with intent
while he took a striped stick of peppermint from the storekeeper and
offered it gallantly. There was something in the way this favor was
accepted that savored of the French court and made every man in the
store a lover.
The child made a quaint bow before she reached out her hand with
childish eagerness for the unexpected delight; then she stepped forward
and kissed the Captain.
There was a murmur of delight at this charming courtesy; there was
not a man who would not have liked to find some excuse for walking away
with her, and there was a general sigh as she shut the door behind her
and looked back through the glass with a parting smile.
That's little French Mary, Alexis's little girl, said the
storekeeper, eager to proclaim his advantage of previous acquaintance.
She came here yesterday and did an errand for her mother as nice as a
grown person could.
I never saw a little creatur' with prettier ways, said the
Captain, blushing and tapping his cane on the floor.
This first appearance of the little foreigner on an April day was
like the coming of a young queen to her kingdom. She reigned all summer
over every heart in Dulhamthere was not a face but wore its smiles
when French Mary came down the street, not a mother who did not say to
her children that she wished they had such pretty manners and kept
their frocks as neat. The child danced and sang like a fairy, and
condescended to all childish games, and yet, best of all for her
friends, she seemed to see no difference between young and old. She
sometimes followed Captain Weathers home, and discreetly dined or took
tea with him and his housekeeper, an honored guest; on rainy days she
might be found in the shoemaker's shop or the blacksmith's, as still as
a mouse, and with eyes as bright and quick, watching them at their
work; smiling much but speaking little, and teaching as much French as
she learned English. To this day, in Dulham, people laugh and repeat
her strange foreign words and phrases. Alexis, the father, was steady
at his work of gardening and haying; Marie, the elder, his wife, washed
and ironed and sewed and swept, and was a helper in many households;
now and then on Sunday they set off early in the morning and walked to
the manufacturing town whence they had come, to go to mass; at the end
of the summer, when they felt prosperous, they sometimes hired a horse
and wagon, and drove there with the child between them. Dulham village
was the brighter and better for their presence, and the few
old-fashioned houses that knew them treasured them, and French Mary
reigned over her kingdom with no revolt or disaffection to the summer's
end. She seemed to fulfill all the duties of her childish life by some
exquisite instinct and infallible sense of fitness and propriety.
One September morning, after the first frost, the Captain and his
friends were sitting in the store with the door shut. The Captain was
the last comer.
I've got bad news, he said, and they all turned toward him,
apprehensive and forewarned.
Alexis says he's going right away (regret was mingled with the joy
of having a piece of news to tell). Yes, Alexis is going away; he's
packing up now, and has spoke for Foster's hay-cart to move his stuff
to the railroad.
What makes him so foolish? said Mr. Spooner.
He says his folks expect him in Canada; he's got an aunt livin'
there that owns a good house and farm, and she's gettin' old and wants
to have him settled at home to take care of her.
I've heard these French folks only desire to get forehanded a
little, and then they go right back where they come from, said some
one, with an air of disapproval.
He says he'll send another man here; he knows somebody that will be
glad of the chance, but I don't seem to like the idea so well, said
Captain Weathers doubtfully. We've all got so used to Alexis and his
wife; they know now where we keep every thing and have got to be so
handy. Strange they don't know when they're well off. I suppose it's
natural they should want to be with their own folks. Then there's the
At this moment the store door was opened and French Mary came in.
She was dressed in her best and her eyes were shining.
I go to Canada in ze cars! she announced joyfully, and came
dancing down between the two long counters toward her regretful
friends; they had never seen her so charming.
Argument and regret were impossiblethe forebodings of elderly men
and their experience of life were of no use at that moment, a gleam of
youth and hope was theirs by sympathy instead. A child's pleasure in a
journey moves the dullest heart; the captain was the first to find some
means of expression.
Give me some o' that best candy for her, he commanded the
storekeeper. No, take a bigger piece of paper, and tie it up well.
Ain't she dressed a little thin for travelin'? asked gruff Mr.
Spooner anxiously, and for his part he pointed the storekeeper to a
small bright plaid shawl that hung overhead, and stooped to wrap it
himself about the little shoulders.
I must get the little girl something, too, said the minister, who
was a grandfather, and had just come in for his mail. What do you like
best, my dear? and French Mary pointed shyly, but with instant
decision, at a blue silk parasol, with a white handle, which was
somewhat the worse for having been openly displayed all summer. The
minister bought it with pleasure, like a country boy at a fair, and put
into her hand.
French Mary kissed the minister with rapture, and gave him her hand
to shake, then she put down the parasol and ran and climbed into the
old captain's lap and hugged him with both arms tight round his neck.
She considered for a moment whether she should kiss Mr. Ezra Spooner or
not, but happily did not decide against it, and said an affectionate
good-by to him and all the rest. Mr. Staples himself came out from
behind the counter to say farewell and bestow a square package of
raisins. They all followed her to the door, and stood watching while
she tucked her bundles under her arm and raised the new parasol, and
walked away down the street in the chilly autumn morning. She had taken
all her French gayety and charm, all her childish sweetness and dignity
away with her. Little French Mary had gone. Fate had plucked her like a
flower out of their lives.
She did not turn back, but when she was half-way home she began to
run, and the new shawl was given gayly to the breeze. The captain
I wish the little girl well, he said, and turned away. We shall
miss her, but she doesn't know what parting is. I hope she'll please
'em just as well in Canada.