NELLY'S FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS
by JOSEPHINE FRANKLIN
Boston: Brown and Taggard, 1860
Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her
19th-century Girls' Series website;
please do not use on other sites without permission
NOT very far from Nelly's home, stood
a small, time-worn, wooden house.
It was not a pleasant object at which
to look. A few vines that had been
trained over one of the front windows,
and a stunted currant-bush which stood
by the door, were the only green things
within the broken fence. In summer,
the cottage looked bald and hot, from
its complete exposure to the sun (no
trees grew near to shade it), and in
winter, the rough winds rattled freely
around its unprotected walls.
In this house lived a family by the
name of Harrow. It consisted of the
widowed mother, a woman who had
once moved in a far higher sphere of
life, and her two daughters, Milly and
Elinor. There was a son, too, people
said, but he did not live at home, having had the ingratitude, some time before the Harrows moved to the village,
to desert his home and run away to
Mrs. Harrow and her children were
very poor. No one knew but them-
selves how hard they found it to get
work enough to earn their daily bread.
The neighbors, among whom they were
much respected, had long supposed from
many outward signs that the family
had no means to spare, but they were -
far from conjecturing that often,, the
mild, patient-looking Mrs. Harrow, and
her two gentle girls, were losing their
strength from actual famine. The little
money they had, came to them through
their own exertions; their needle-work
was celebrated far and near for its
delicacy and exquisite finish. In that
small neighborhood, however, the sewing
which was brought to them to undertake, did not amount to much, and
the prices, too, were low, and provision-rates very high.
At last, just as despair was dawning
on the household, Elinor, the eldest
daughter, heard of a situation as domestic in the family of a farmer, who
lived over the mountains, near Nancy's
old home. The poor girl's pride was
dreadfully wounded at the thought of
applying for such a place, she a lady
born and bred, - but necessity knew no
law, and a few days only elapsed before
pretty Miss Elinor was located at the
farm as a servant. It was a hard trial;
mournful tears forced themselves from
her eyes whenever she gave herself
time to think about such a state of
The farmer was a poor, hard-working,
painstaking man, and his wife was quite
as thrifty and industrious, so that between them they managed to lay by a
little money, every year, in the Savings
When Elinor came to them, the bustling farmer's wife could not realize that
the tall, pale, elegant-looking creature
was not quite as able to rub and scrub
from morning to night as she was her-
self. She did not take into consideration that the girl was unaccustomed to
much hard labor, and that her frame
was not equal to the burdens that were
put upon it.
The consequence was that when Elinor went to her room at night, she was
too completely worn out to sleep, and
in the mornings, rose feeling sick and
weary. She did not complain, however,
but went about her duties day after
day, growing gradually more pale and
feeble, and storing in her system the
seeds of future disease.
When the farmer's wife saw her moving slowly around her tidy, spotless
kitchen, she thought her a lazy girl,
and often told her so in a loud, sharp
tone, that was a very great trial to
hear patiently, which Elinor always did,
and then set about working more steadily than ever.
So the weeks went on, till, one morning, the maid of all work was missing
from her place. She had been seized
with a sickness, that had long been secretly hanging over her, and now she
could not rise from her bed.
Martin, a boy who lived at Mr.
Brooks', told Nelly that Miss Elinor
fell at her post like a sentinel wounded
When the doctor came, he informed
the farmer and his wife that their servant had lost the use of her limbs,
through an affection of the spine, which
had been brought on by lifting too
heavy burdens, and she was indeed as
unable to move hand or foot to help
herself as a baby could be. Her mind,
however, was not impaired. The farmer
thought it would have been fortunate
if it had been, for she seemed to suffer
such terrible mental anguish about her
misfortune, and the new care and misery she was bringing on her mother
The farmer took her home in his
wagon, a confirmed cripple. Her mother
and Milly helped him to carry her up
to her old bedroom, and there she lay,
suffering but little pain, it is true, but
at the time of our story, having no
hope of recovery.
The days were very long to Elinor
now. She despised herself for ever having repined at fate before. What was
all she had endured previously, to this
trial? There was no light work of any
kind, not even sewing, which she could
do, as she lay on her bed, and this made
the time seem longer. She was forced
to be idle from daylight till dark. She
could have read, it is true, but she had
no books, and to buy any was an extravagance, of which, with the scanty
means of the family, she did not allow
herself to dream.
The neighbors were shocked to hear
of Elinor's misfortune. They visited her,
and at first, sent her little delicacies to
tempt her appetite, but by and by, although they pitied her as much as ever,
they forgot her in the events of their
own domestic circles.
One. very cold winter night Milly
came into Mrs. Brooks's kitchen, and
asked Comfort, a colored woman who
worked for the family, where her mistress was. Comfort promptly led the
way to the sitting-room, where grouped
coseyly [sic] around the centre-table were the
different members of the farmer's family.
A bright fire blazed on the hearth, and
the woolen curtains were tightly drawn
to ' keep out the winds ' that whistled
around the farm-house.
At the sight of this picture of
comfort, Milly 's pretty lips quivered.
She took kind-hearted Mrs. Brooks
"Dear Mrs. .Brooks," said Milly, "I
must say it; we are starving! Elinor
lies, dying with cold and hunger, in her
bed. Mother has not tasted a mouthful
since yesterday, and she is so proud she
would not let me beg. What are we to do?
I have run over here to ask your
sympathy and aid, for we have not one
friend to whom we feel as though we
Tears gathered in Milly's eyes.
"And pray," said the farmer's wife,
"what do you consider me, Milly, if not
a friend? You ought not to have delayed so long in this matter. I feel
really hurt. Why did you not come to
me before ? "
She led the way into the kitchen that
the young girl's sad tale might not
draw upon her too close attention from
Milly Harrow sank upon a seat, before
the fire on the hearth, and wept such
bitter, heart-breaking tears as it is to be
hoped no one who reads her story has
ever known. She was a gentle, refined,
well-educated girl of twenty, and had
met much more sorrow than happiness.
" Milly," said the farmer's wife kindly,
and advancing as she spoke, from. the
open door of the pantry, " come here to
the table and see how a bit of this
roast fowl tastes. And try this glass of
currant wine,—you need not be afraid
of it, it is home-made. While you are
busy with it, I'll get a little basket
ready, and put on my cloak to run over
with you when you go back."
Milly blushed, crimson. It was difficult to her to learn the hard lessons of
poverty. Nevertheless, she ate some
bread and cold chicken, and was quite
ready to praise the delicate wine for the
grateful warmth it sent thrilling through-
out her frame.
When she had finished, Mrs. Brooks
was ready to accompany her, and Comfort too, having received private instructions, stood with her shawl over her
head, and a large basket of wood in her
So they set out together, Milly leading the way, the snow crunching under
their feet, along the path.
In a short time, a bright fire was
burning in patient Elinor's room, while
the remains of a little feast on a table
in the centre, showed that the family
suffered no longer from the pangs of
Elinor was bolstered up in bed, looking like a wan, despairing woman of fifty, instead of a girl of twenty-two. Care
and sickness had aged her before her
time. A faint, sweet flush was dawning
on her cheeks to-night, however, for she
was not now enduring hunger, and Mrs. Brooks sat there by the cheerfully blazing hearth with her mother and sister, and talked hope into all their
"I tell you what it is, Mrs. Harrow,"
said the farmer's wife, in a pleasant,
hearty tone, "we must set this Milly of
yours to work. Things ought not to go
on this way with your family any longer."
"Work!" echoed Milly, a little bitterly; "I've seen the time, dear Mrs.
Brooks, when I would have given anything for a month's work. Only tell me
something to do, and see how grateful
I shall be."
"Well," said the farmer's wife, "the
darkest hour is just before day, Milly;
who knows but that yours is now over,
and dawn is coming. I have been thinking about your opening a school."
Mrs. Harrow clasped her hands eagerly.
" Oh, if she could ! oh, if she could!"
she cried. "But who would think of
sending their children to us, when there
are already two or three other schools
in the village ? "
"Miss Felix is just giving hers up,
and is going to the city," said Mrs.
Brooks. "I know it to be a fact, be-
cause I went to see her about taking
Nelly last week. That will be quite an
opening. I can go to her to-morrow,
get a list of her pupils, and call on the
parents to secure their good-will, if you
say so, Milly."
Milly could scarcely answer for sobbing. At last she said in a broken
voice, " dear, dear Mrs. Brooks, this is
more than I have any reason to hope.
How can I ever repay you for your
"By taking good care of Nelly when
I send her to you as your first pupil,"
was the cheerful reply. "And now let
me see what are your accommodations.
You must have our Martin for a day or
two, to knock you together some long
benches with backs, and Comfort can
help you cover and cushion them with
some old green baize that I have in
the garret. What room can you give
to the use of the schoolmistress, Mrs.
"Well," said the old lady, smiling for
the first time in a month, " the front
room, down-stairs, is best, I think, be-
cause it opens directly on the road. I
can take the furniture out, (what there
is of it!) and clean it up like a June
pink, in a day or two."
"The carpet is rather shabby and
threadbare," suggested Milly. "And little pegged shoes will soon spoil it completely," added Mrs. Brooks. " I should
say a better plan will be to take it up
entirely. A clean board floor, nicely
swept and sanded every morning, is
plenty good enough. What books have
"All my old school-books, and brother's, and Elinor's too," said the young
girl. "That will do to begin on till the
pupils purchase their own."
"I could teach French," put forth Elinor's voice from the bed,—"that is, if
it would answer for the class to come
up here. You know, mother, I used to
speak it fluently when I was at Madame Thibault's. Don't you think I
might try ? My voice and my patience ,
are strong, if I am not;" and she smiled,
oh, such a smile! It brought tears into
the eyes of all in that poor, little, desolate apartment.
" Try! " said the farmer's wife; " why,
Elinor, that is just the. thing for you!
You may count me as one in your class.
It was only yesterday I was regretting
having no opportunity to practise what
little of the language I know already.
We must arrange your room a little,
Ellie, and have everything looking
spruce, and Frenchified, eh?"
At this Elinor herself began to cry.
" You are so, s-o-o g-o-o-o-d," she exclaimed.
"Good! Not at all!" said Mrs.
Brooks; and by way of proving how
far from good she was really, she
hopped up like a bird, and was at
the bedside in a minute, smoothing-out the pillows and kissing Elinor's pale
"I'll take my first lesson to-morrow
afternoon," she said, "if you have no
objections; and your kind mother here,
can begin to profit herself at once by
your labor, and send over to our meal-
bag and dairy as often as she pleases."
On to chapter two
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