Fame's Little Day by Sarah Orne Jewett
Nobody ever knew, except himself, what made a foolish young
newspaper reporter, who happened into a small old-fashioned hotel in
New York, observe Mr. Abel Pinkham with deep interest, listen to his
talk, ask a question or two of the clerk, and then go away and make up
an effective personal paragraph for one of the morning papers. He must
have had a heart full of fun, this young reporter, and something
honestly rustic and pleasing must have struck him in the guest's
demeanor, for there was a flavor in the few lines he wrote that made
some of his fellows seize upon the little paragraph, and copy it, and
add to it, and keep it moving. Nobody knows what starts such a thing in
journalism, or keeps it alive after it is started, but on a certain
Thursday morning the fact was made known to the world that among the
notabilities then in the city, Abel Pinkham, Esquire, a distinguished
citizen of Wetherford, Vermont, was visiting New York on important
affairs connected with the maple-sugar industry of his native State.
Mr. Pinkham had expected to keep his visit unannounced, but it was
likely to occasion much interest in business and civic circles. This
was something like the way that the paragraph started; but here and
there a kindred spirit of the original journalist caught it up and
added discreet lines about Mr. Pinkham's probable stay in town, his
occupation of an apartment on the fourth floor of the Ethan Allen
Hotel, and other circumstances so uninteresting to the reading public
in general that presently in the next evening edition, one city editor
after another threw out the item, and the young journalists, having had
their day of pleasure, passed on to other things.
Mr. and Mrs. Pinkham had set forth from home with many forebodings,
in spite of having talked all winter about taking this journey as soon
as the spring opened. They would have caught at any reasonable excuse
for giving it up altogether, because when the time arrived it seemed so
much easier to stay at home. Mrs. Abel Pinkham had never seen New York;
her husband himself had not been to the city for a great many years; in
fact, his reminiscences of the former visit were not altogether
pleasant, since he had foolishly fallen into many snares, and been much
gulled in his character of honest young countryman. There was a
tarnished and worthless counterfeit of a large gold watch still
concealed between the outer boarding and inner lath and plaster of the
lean-to bedroom which Mr. Abel Pinkham had occupied as a bachelor; it
was not the only witness of his being taken in by city sharpers, and he
had winced ever since at the thought of their wiles. But he was now a
man of sixty, well-to-do, and of authority in town affairs; his
children were all well married and settled in homes of their own,
except a widowed daughter, who lived at home with her young son, and
was her mother's lieutenant in household affairs.
The boy was almost grown, and at this season, when the maple sugar
was all made and shipped, and it was still too early for spring work on
the land, Mr. Pinkham could leave home as well as not, and here he was
in New York, feeling himself to be a stranger and foreigner to city
ways. If it had not been for that desire to appear well in his wife's
eyes, which had buoyed him over the bar of many difficulties, he could
have found it in his heart to take the next train back to Wetherford,
Vermont, to be there rid of his best clothes and the stiff rim of his
heavy felt hat. He could not let his wife discover that the noise and
confusion of Broadway had the least power to make him flinch: he cared
no more for it than for the woods in snow-time. He was as good as
anybody, and she was better. They owed nobody a cent; and they had come
on purpose to see the city of New York.
They were sitting at the breakfast-table in the Ethan Allen Hotel,
having arrived at nightfall the day before. Mrs. Pinkham looked a
little pale about the mouth. She had been kept awake nearly all night
by the noise, and had enjoyed but little the evening she had spent in
the stuffy parlor of the hotel, looking down out of the window at what
seemed to her but garish scenes, and keeping a reproachful and
suspicious eye upon some unpleasantly noisy young women of forward
behavior who were her only companions. Abel himself was by no means so
poorly entertained in the hotel office and smoking-room. He felt much
more at home than she did, being better used to meeting strange men
than she was to strange women, and he found two or three companions who
had seen more than he of New York life. It was there, indeed, that the
young reporter found him, hearty and country-fed, and loved the
appearance of his best clothes, and the way Mr. Abel Pinkham brushed
his hair, and loved the way that he spoke in a loud and manful voice
the belief and experience of his honest heart.
In the morning at breakfast-time the Pinkhams were depressed. They
missed their good bed at home; they were troubled by the roar and noise
of the streets that hardly stopped over night before it began again in
the morning. The waiter did not put what mind he may have had to the
business of serving them; and Mrs. Abel Pinkham, whose cooking was the
triumph of parish festivals at home, had her own opinion about the
beefsteak. She was a woman of imagination, and now that she was fairly
here, spectacles and all, it really pained her to find that the New
York of her dreams, the metropolis of dignity and distinction, of
wealth and elegance, did not seem to exist. These poor streets, these
unlovely people, were the end of a great illusion. They did not like to
meet each other's eyes, this worthy pair. The man began to put on an
unbecoming air of assertion, and Mrs. Pinkham's face was full of lofty
My gracious me, Mary Ann! I am glad I happened to get the 'Tribune'
this mornin', said Mr. Pinkham, with sudden excitement. Just you look
here! I'd like well to know how they found out about our comin'! and
he handed the paper to his wife across the table. Therethere 't is;
right by my thumb, he insisted. Can't you see it? and he smiled like
a boy as she finally brought her large spectacles to bear upon the
I guess they think somethin' of us, if you don't think much o'
them, continued Mr. Pinkham, grandly. Oh, they know how to keep the
run o' folks who are somebody to home! Draper and Fitch knew we was
comin' this week: you know I sent word I was comin' to settle with them
myself. I suppose they send folks round to the hotels, these
newspapers, but I shouldn't thought there'd been time. Anyway, they've
thought 't was worthwhile to put us in!
Mrs. Pinkham did not take the trouble to make a mystery out of the
unexpected pleasure. I want to cut it out an' send it right up home to
daughter Sarah, she said, beaming with pride, and looking at the
printed names as if they were flattering photographs. I think 't was
most too strong to say we was among the notables. But there! 'tis their
business to dress up things, and they have to print somethin' every
day. I guess I shall go up and put on my best dress, she added,
inconsequently; this one's kind of dusty; it's the same I rode in.
Le' me see that paper again, said Mr. Pinkham jealously. I didn't
more 'n half sense it, I was so taken aback. Well, Mary Ann, you didn't
expect you was goin' to get into the papers when you came away. '
Abel Pinkham, Esquire, of Wetherford, Vermont.' It looks well, don't
it? But you might have knocked me down with a feather when I first
caught sight of them words.
I guess I shall put on my other dress, said Mrs. Pinkham, rising,
with quite a different air from that with which she had sat down to her
morning meal. This one looks a little out o' style, as Sarah said, but
when I got up this mornin' I was so homesick it didn't seem to make any
kind o' difference. I expect that saucy girl last night took us to be
nobodies. I'd like to leave the paper round where she couldn't help
Don't take any notice of her, said Abel, in a dignified tone. If
she can't do what you want an' be civil, we'll go somewheres else. I
wish I'd done what we talked of at first an' gone to the Astor House,
but that young man in the cars told me 't was remote from the things we
should want to see. The Astor House was the top o' everything when I
was here last, but I expected to find some changes. I want you to have
the best there is, he said, smiling at his wife as if they were just
making their wedding journey. Come, let's be stirrin'; 't is long past
eight o'clock, and he ushered her to the door, newspaper in hand.
Later that day the guests walked up Broadway, holding themselves
erect, and feeling as if every eye was upon them. Abel Pinkham had
settled with his correspondents for the spring consignments of maple
sugar, and a round sum in bank bills was stowed away in his breast
pocket. One of the partners had been a Wetherford boy, so when there
came a renewal of interest in maple sugar, and the best confectioners
were ready to do it honor, the finest quality being at a large premium,
this partner remembered that there never was any sugar made in
Wetherford of such melting and delicious flavor as from the trees on
the old Pinkham farm. He had now made a good bit of money for himself
on this private venture, and was ready that morning to pay Mr. Abel
Pinkham cash down, and to give him a handsome order for the next season
for all he could make. Mr. Fitch was also generous in the matter of
such details as freight and packing; he was immensely polite and kind
to his old friends, and begged them to come out and stay with him and
his wife, where they lived now, in a not far distant New Jersey town.
No, no, sir, said Mr. Pinkham promptly. My wife has come to see
the city, and our time is short. Your folks'll be up this summer, won't
they? We'll wait an' visit then.
You must certainly take Mrs. Pinkham up to the Park, said the
commission merchant. I wish I had time to show you round myself. I
suppose you've been seeing some things already, haven't you? I noticed
your arrival in the 'Herald.'
The 'Tribune' it was, said Mr. Pinkham, blushing through a smile
and looking round at his wife.
Oh no; I never read the 'Tribune,' said Mr. Fitch. There was
quite an extended notice in my paper. They must have put you and Mrs.
Pinkham into the 'Herald' too. And so the friends parted, laughing. I
am much pleased to have a call from such distinguished parties, said
Mr. Fitch, by way of final farewell, and Mr. Pinkham waved his hand
grandly in reply.
Let's get the 'Herald,' then, he said, as they started up the
street. We can go an' sit over in that little square that we passed as
we came along, and rest an' talk things over about what we'd better do
this afternoon. I'm tired out a-trampin' and standin'. I'd rather have
set still while we were there, but he wanted us to see his store. Done
very well, Joe Fitch has, but 't ain't a business I should like.
There was a lofty look and sense of behavior about Mr. Pinkham of
Wetherford. You might have thought him a great politician as he marched
up Broadway, looking neither to right hand nor left. He felt himself to
be a person of great responsibilities.
I begin to feel sort of at home myself, said his wife, who always
had a certain touch of simple dignity about her. When we was comin'
yesterday New York seemed to be all strange, and there wasn't nobody
expectin' us. I feel now just as if I'd been here before.
They were now on the edge of the better-looking part of the town; it
was still noisy and crowded, but noisy with fine carriages instead of
drays, and crowded with well-dressed people. The hours for shopping and
visiting were beginning, and more than one person looked with
appreciative and friendly eyes at the comfortable pleased-looking
elderly man and woman who went their easily beguiled and loitering way.
The pavement peddlers detained them, but the cabmen beckoned them in
vain; their eyes were busy with the immediate foreground. Mrs. Pinkham
was embarrassed by the recurring reflection of herself in the great
I wish I had seen about a new bonnet before we came, she lamented.
They seem to be havin' on some o' their spring things.
Don't you worry, Mary Ann. I don't see anybody that looks any
better than you do, said Abel, with boyish and reassuring pride.
Mr. Pinkham had now bought the Herald, and also the Sun, well
recommended by an able newsboy, and presently they crossed over from
that corner by the Fifth Avenue Hotel which seems like the very heart
of New York, and found a place to sit down on the Squarean empty
bench, where they could sit side by side and look the papers through,
reading over each other's shoulder, and being impatient from page to
page. The paragraph was indeed repeated, with trifling additions.
Ederton of the Sun had followed the Tribune man's lead, and
fabricated a brief interview, a marvel of art and discretion, but so
general in its allusions that it could create no suspicion; it almost
deceived Mr. Pinkham himself, so that he found unaffected pleasure in
the fictitious occasion, and felt as if he had easily covered himself
with glory. Except for the bare fact of the interview's being
imaginary, there was no discredit to be cast upon Mr. Abel Pinkham's
having said that he thought the country near Wetherford looked well for
the time of year, and promised a fair hay crop, and that his income was
augmented one half to three fifths by his belief in the future of maple
sugar. It was likely to be the great coming crop of the Green Mountain
State. Ederton suggested that there was talk of Mr. Pinkham's presence
in the matter of a great maple-sugar trust, in which much of the
capital of Wall Street would be involved.
How they do hatch up these things, don't they? said the worthy man
at this point. Well, it all sounds well, Mary Ann.
It says here that you are a very personable man, smiled his wife,
and have filled some of the most responsible town offices (this was
the turn taken by Goffey of the Herald"). Oh, and that you are going
to attend the performance at Barnum's this evening, and occupy reserved
seats. Why, I didn't knowwho have you told about that?who was you
talkin' to last night, Abel?
I never spoke o' goin' to Barnum's to any livin' soul, insisted
Abel, flushing. I only thought of it two or three times to myself that
perhaps I might go an' take you. Now that is singular; perhaps they put
that in just to advertise the show.
Ain't it a kind of a low place for folks like us to be seen in?
suggested Mrs. Pinkham timidly. People seem to be payin' us all this
attention, an' I don't know's 't would be dignified for us to go to one
o' them circus places.
I don't care; we shan't live but once. I ain't comin' to New York
an' confine myself to evenin' meetin's, answered Abel, throwing away
discretion and morality together. I tell you I'm goin' to spend this
sugar-money just as we've a mind to. You've worked hard, an' counted a
good while on comin', and so've I; an' I ain't goin' to mince my steps
an' pinch an' screw for nobody. I'm goin' to hire one o' them hacks an'
ride up to the Park.
Joe Fitch said we could go right up in one o' the elevated
railroads for five cents, an' return when we was ready, protested Mary
Ann, who had a thriftier inclination than her husband; but Mr. Pinkham
was not to be let or hindered, and they presently found themselves
going up Fifth Avenue in a somewhat battered open landau. The spring
sun shone upon them, and the spring breeze fluttered the black ostrich
tip on Mrs. Pinkham' s durable winter bonnet, and brought the pretty
color to her faded cheeks.
There! this is something like. Such people as we are can't go
meechin' round; it ain't expected. Don't it pay for a lot o' hard
work? said Abel; and his wife gave him a pleased look for her only
answer. They were both thinking of their gray farmhouse high on a long
western slope, with the afternoon sun full in its face, the old red
barn, the pasture, the shaggy woods that stretched far up the
I wish Sarah an' little Abel was here to see us ride by, said Mary
Ann Pinkham, presently. I can't seem to wait to have 'em get that
newspaper. I'm so glad we sent it right off before we started this
mornin'. If Abel goes to the post-office comin' from school, as he
always does, they'll have it to read to-morrow before supper-time.
This happy day in two plain lives ended, as might have been
expected, with the great Barnum show. Mr. and Mrs. Pinkham found
themselves in possession of countless advertising cards and circulars
next morning, and these added somewhat to their sense of
responsibility. Mrs. Pinkham became afraid that the hotel-keeper would
charge them double. We've got to pay for it some way; there. I don't
know but I'm more 'n willin', said the good soul. I never did have
such a splendid time in all my life. Findin' you so respected 'way off
here is the best of anything; an' then seein' them dear little babies
in their nice carriages, all along the streets and up to the Central
Park! I never shall forget them beautiful little creatur's. And then
the houses, an' the hosses, an' the store windows, an' all the rest of
it! Well, I can't make my country pitcher hold no more, an' I want to
get home an' think it over, goin' about my housework.
They were just entering the door of the Ethan Allen Hotel for the
last time, when a young man met them and bowed cordially. He was the
original reporter of their arrival, but they did not know it, and the
impulse was strong within him to formally invite Mr. Pinkham to make an
address before the members of the Produce Exchange on the following
morning; but he had been a country boy himself, and their look of
seriousness and self-consciousness appealed to him unexpectedly. He
wondered what effect this great experience would have upon their
after-life. The best fun, after all, would be to send marked copies of
his paper and Ederton's to all the weekly newspapers in that part of
Vermont. He saw before him the evidence of their happy increase of
self-respect, and he would make all their neighborhood agree to do them
honor. Such is the dominion of the press.
Who was that young man?he kind of bowed to you, asked the lady
from Wetherford, after the journalist had meekly passed; but Abel
Pinkham, Esquire, could only tell her that he looked like a young
fellow who was sitting in the office the evening that they came to the
hotel. The reporter did not seem to these distinguished persons to be a
young man of any consequence.