- Samantha Parkington
- Gardner Edwards
- Cornelia Edwards
- Nellie O'Malley
- Bridget O'Malley
- Jenny O'Malley
Only in Changes for Samantha
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: A New Home
Carrying her ice skates, Samantha hurries home to Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia’s house on a winter afternoon. Cornelia greets her, inviting her to the fireplace to warm up with a cup of tea. Samantha reflects that these late afternoons are her favorite time of day now that she lives in New York City with her aunt and uncle, as she and Cornelia share tea and conversation waiting for Uncle Gard to come home from his office job. Today, Cornelia presents a box of valentine-making supplies, remarking that they’d better start making valentines now (a few weeks before Valentine’s Day) because they have so many to make. Samantha announces that she’ll make one with two hearts joined together for the newlyweds; Grandmary and the Admiral, and reflects on how romantic their long courtship was, as well as how they must be enjoying their honeymoon sailing around the world on the Admiral’s yacht. Cornelia’s housekeeper Gertrude enters then with the tea tray, asking where she is to place it (the tea table is covered with paper and ribbon scraps). Samantha offers her stool by the fireplace at Cornelia’s suggestion, sitting on the floor to Gertrude’s disapproval. Cornelia asks Gertrude to refill their nearly-empty jar of flour paste, which the housekeeper takes and leaves the room with obvious disgust. Cornelia praises Samantha’s finished valentine for Grandmary and the Admiral, and Samantha announces that her next valentine will be a special one for Nellie, whom she worries about, working so hard for the Van Sicklens. Cornelia points out that Nellie is fortunate to work outside the city, with her family close by. After all, a lot of working children in the city are orphans, only some of which are lucky enough to live in an orphanage instead of on the streets. Samantha, glad for Nellie’s relative safety, suggests sending her Valentine’s cookies, and Cornelia begins listing other people they should also send cookies to: Agnes and Agatha, Uncle Gard...and at that moment Uncle Gard arrives home. He hands Samantha a postcard and a letter addressed to her. The postcard is from Grandmary and the Admiral, who at the time of writing were sailing the warm Mediterranean near Greece. Grandmary writes that she misses Samantha and to give her loving regards to Gard and Cornelia, and the Admiral drew a picture with a cheery note. Samantha then opens the letter, which is from Nellie! She begins to read aloud but stops, horrified at the bad news the letter contains: Nellie and her sisters are fine, but an outbreak of flu in Mount Bedford that winter had claimed the lives of both her parents. Mrs. Van Sicklen, though kind and sympathetic to the O’Malley girls’ plight, cannot continue to house them, so they are moving to New York City to live with their uncle Mike. Nellie promises she’ll try to visit Samantha, who then hands the letter to Cornelia, unable to speak. Cornelia and Gard read the letter together, expressing their sadness to Samantha. Gard reminds Samantha that Nellie will live nearby now, and that she might visit soon, which Samantha sees as one good thing in the midst of all the sadness.
Chapter Two: Searching for Nellie
Many days pass with no sign of Nellie. Samantha grows increasingly worried, reading the letter over and over and counting the days. She wonders if Nellie is sick, or if Mrs. Van Sicklen changed her mind about the girls leaving, or if Uncle Mike won’t let Nellie visit Samantha. Uncle Gard would ask every evening if Nellie had come, but stopped asking once the disappointment on Samantha’s face grew easy to read. At last, he announces that he’ll telephone Mrs. Van Sicklen to inquire after Nellie. Samantha is surprised, as it’s a long distance to Mount Bedford, but Gard asks what else a newfangled device like the telephone is for. He asks the operator to connect him to the Van Sicklen residence in Mount Bedford, then Samantha hears a loud crackling. Gard states his name and apologizes to Mrs. Van Sicklen for alarming her by telephoning, then asks where Nellie and her sisters Bridget and Jenny are. There’s a pause, then from Gard’s side of the conversation Samantha learns that the girls left the Van Sicklen house two weeks ago, that Mrs. Van Sicklen does not know their uncle’s exact address, and that he, Mike, does not have a telephone. Gard hangs up and tells Samantha that Mrs. Van Sicklen saw the girls off on the train two weeks previously, and that the uncle’s name is Mike O’Malley. According to Mrs. Van Sicklen, Mike lives “somewhere near the river, on 17th or 18th Street”. Samantha wonders aloud why Nellie hasn’t come in the two weeks. Uncle Gard says she may be working, or too busy watching her sisters to go visiting. Growing desperate, Samantha asks if they can try to find Nellie, and Cornelia reminds her that New York is a big city and it would be very hard to find Nellie’s uncle just by wandering around, and they should wait for Nellie to come to them. Samantha thanks Uncle Gard for telephoning and climbs upstairs to her bedroom, determined to find Nellie no matter how hard it might be.
The next afternoon, Samantha starts walking after school. By carefully reading street signs, she’s able to find 17th Street despite being unfamiliar with the area. As she nears the river, Samantha has to dodge pushcarts and crowds of ragged people as the smells of smoke and fish grow stronger. The wind is chilly, so Samantha buys a penny’s worth of roast chestnuts from a vendor with a cart and tucks them in her muff. His accent reminds Samantha of Nellie’s father’s voice, so she inquires if the man knows a Mr. O’Malley. The grinning vendor asks her to clarify, as he knows of many O’Malleys. Upon hearing that Samantha is looking for Mike O’Malley on 17th or 18th Street, his smile vanishes and he asks what a “young missy” would be wanting to know of a “hooligan” like Mike O’Malley. Samantha says her friend Nellie is Mike’s niece and likely living with him, and asks again where he lives.The chestnut vendor answers that he lives on 18th Street above the shoemaker, and warns her to be careful as she thanks him and leaves. Wondering what a “hooligan” is and more than a little worried at the vendor’s reaction, Samantha hurries through the crowds and finds her way to the shoemaker’s shop. Only the thought of Nellie braving the dark, dingy doorway every day gives Samantha the courage to enter the building herself. She climbs the rickety stairs, holding her breath against the stink of rotting garbage. At the top, a woman flings open a door and demands to know what Samantha is doing there. At the mention of Mike O’Malley, she scoffs that Samantha won’t find him there (she’s happy to say) and begins to close the door. Samantha pleads that she needs to find him because he’s got Nellie, and the woman’s face softens. Scooping up a toddler who had peered around the door, the woman invites Samantha into a one-room apartment, crowded and dilapidated but clean. Beds, some made of chairs pushed together, line the walls, and the contents of a kitchen are jammed into one corner. Six children sit around a large table, busily assembling artificial flowers even as they stare at Samantha. The woman reminds them kindly that gawking won’t get the work done any faster, then tells Samantha that Mike O’Malley had lived in the building in the room just upstairs. Drinking was all he was good for, she adds, and about two weeks ago his three good, polite nieces came to live with him. But he took all their money and ran off, leaving them with nothing. Nellie had tried to clean up the place, but without any money, or coal for heat, they couldn’t stay there. The woman tried to take them in herself, and all three girls were good workers making flowers, but the place was already so crowded that eventually Nellie refused to keep taking up their space and their food. The woman brought them to an orphanage, where she knew they’d at least have food and shelter and a little schooling. The orphanage is called Coldrock House for Homeless Girls, and it’s on 20th Street, she tells Samantha, who privately thinks “Coldrock” doesn’t sound very inviting but it has to be better than Uncle Mike the hooligan. Samantha thanks the woman for helping Nellie and telling Samantha where to find her, and the woman responds that it’s the least she could do for the “dear girls” and to tell them she still thinks of them. Samantha promises to do so and hurries home.
Chapter Three: Coldrock House
That night, Samantha has a hard time falling asleep. The sleet is noisy against her window, and she can’t stop worrying about Nellie and her sisters. She resolves to find out in person if Nellie’s okay the next day. In the morning, Cornelia says Samantha looks tired and asks if she’s all right. Samantha says she didn’t sleep very well, and Gard says he knows it’s hard not knowing how the O’Malley girls are doing or even exactly where they are. Samantha says she does know exactly where they are, sharing the address and what happened the day before. Uncle Gard warns her not to go to that dangerous part of the city again, and Cornelia says she’ll go with Samantha to Coldrock House in the afternoon, since they likely won’t let Samantha in alone. Samantha thanks her and begins planning what to bring in a valise for the girls--warm clothes, books, cookies and sweets. She can tell that Gard and Cornelia are as relieved as she is to know where the O’Malley girls are.
It is cold that afternoon, and Samantha thinks the Coldrock House building looks stern and unwelcoming, built of gray stone and surrounded by a spiky black iron fence. A maid ushers them into a parlor, and Samantha wonders why it’s so quiet. Don’t children make noise? A stout, frowning woman enters, putting on a bright, fake smile when she sees Cornelia and Samantha. She introduces herself as Tusnelda Frouchy, directress of Coldrock House, and asks if Cornelia has come to hire a servant girl. Cornelia says they are here to see Miss Nellie O’Malley, which causes Miss Frouchy’s smile to slip for a moment before the latter states that the girls are only allowed visitors from three to four o clock on Sundays. Before Samantha can say anything, Cornelia explains that this is a special case, and Nellie is a dear friend of her niece Samantha’s. Miss Frouchy pats Samantha’s cheek with a cold, puffy hand and says she had no idea Nellie had such ‘perfectly lovely’ friends, then snaps to the maid to bring Nellie. To Cornelia, Miss Frouchy says that Nellie and her sisters are still a bit “independent-minded” for the obedience, order, and discipline enforced at Coldrock House, but they’re sure to adjust quickly. Samantha interrupts upon seeing Nellie, and the two girls embrace as Samantha exclaims over how worried she’s been. Nellie starts to ask how Samantha ever found her, but Miss Frouchy sharply asks Nellie if she hasn’t forgotten her manners. Instructing Nellie to greet Cornelia properly, Miss Frouchy immediately apologizes to Cornelia for Nellie’s “rough” behavior. Samantha is indignant, but holds her tongue as Nellie curtsies to Cornelia and says “how do you do”. Cornelia attempts to converse with Nellie, but Miss Frouchy interrupts loudly every time Nellie tries to speak, saying that the girls have everything they need--warm clothes, good food, a roof over their heads, and instruction on being grateful to their betters and becoming obedient and hard-working. As Miss Frouchy continues to talk about the virtues of Coldrock House, Samantha looks at Nellie, whose hair is cut to chin length and whose coarse brown dress is too big for her. Nellie may very well be receiving “good food” at Coldrock House, but from how skinny she looks Samantha can tell she isn’t getting enough of it. She offers the valise full of clothes, books, and gingerbread to Nellie quietly, but Miss Frouchy snatches it away, saying rich food isn’t good for the girls and gifts will only spoil them and make them selfish. Samantha looks helplessly to Cornelia, who understands and asks Miss Frouchy to take her on a tour of the orphanage. Both women leave the room, and as soon as it’s safe to talk Samantha exclaims that Miss Frouchy is terrible and will likely eat all the gingerbread herself. A bit of Nellie’s old smile returns at that, and Samantha asks earnestly if Nellie and her sisters really are all right. Nellie says they’re together, and safe, and that’s the most important part, but when Samantha presses her she admits that Bridget has been rather sickly, leading Miss Frouchy to think Bridget is lazy. Nellie tries to do Bridget’s work, she says, but it’s hard when Miss Frouchy keeps sneaking around like a cat. Samantha imitates Miss Frouchy, to both girls’ amusement, then says she wishes Nellie and her sisters could live with her, Gard, and Cornelia. Nellie says the Edwardses don’t need any more maids, and Samantha says maybe she could hide the O’Malleys at her aunt and uncle’s. Nellie says that would be too risky--they’d be caught and punished severely, and if she stays she might be able to get a job and provide for her sisters. All they have is one another. Samantha asks if Nellie could at least visit, and Nellie says no, but Samantha can visit her. Only for an hour a week under Miss Frouchy’s supervision, but it’s better than nothing. Samantha says she’ll bring things for Nellie, and before she can say anything else Miss Frouchy returns and sends Nellie away. On the way home, Aunt Cornelia seems troubled, and holds Samantha close. She clearly did not like what she saw at Coldrock House.
Chapter Four: Runaways!
The following Sunday, Samantha, Cornelia, and Gard spend the entire allotted visiting hour with the O’Malley girls. Gard fumes all the way home--he’d been forced to talk to Bridget and Jenny in a stern voice and fool Miss Frouchy into thinking he was quizzing them on multiplication tables, and she’d snatched away the sweets he’d offered the girls. Samantha, at least, was able to arrange a secret meeting with Nellie the next day. She’d suggested sneaking through Nellie’s window at night, but Nellie told her she brings the fireplace ashes to the alley out back every day at four, and Samantha can meet her there. So every day after school, Samantha hurried to the alley behind Coldrock House. She found she had to be there right at four, since if Nellie came out and didn’t see her it would be too risky to wait. When they did meet up, Samantha would always empty the ash pails into the big cans so Nellie could eat the food Samantha brought. Noticing Nellie’s cold, chapped hands, Samantha offered her own gloves, but they were gone the next day. Nellie explained that Miss Frouchy took them away, claiming that since Nellie wouldn’t tell her where the gloves came from, she must have stolen them. Samantha expresses an indignant wish to snatch the gloves back, and Nellie says she would be punished if Miss Frouchy knew the girls were meeting in secret. She had been denied dinner last night as punishment for “stealing” the gloves. Samantha resolves to bring food instead from then on, for Nellie to either eat or smuggle to her sisters--as much as Samantha can sneak past Gertrude. Nellie promises she and her sisters will eat the food fast enough that Miss Frouchy won’t even smell it.
As the weather grows milder, Samantha and Nellie continue to meet behind Coldrock House every day. One afternoon, Nellie seems far more troubled than usual, and tucks Samantha’s gift of apples into her apron pocket without even a glance. Samantha asks if Miss Frouchy has been punishing her again, and Nellie says no, it’s worse. She’s been picked to go west on the Orphan Train, a train that stops in several small farm towns for residents to hire or adopt children from. Samantha is horrified, and Nellie explains that Miss Frouchy says she’s been trained enough and she’s old enough, so she has no choice but to leave. Bridget and Jenny are too young, so they would remain in the city, Nellie adds through tears. Samantha looks Nellie square in the eyes and says the girls have to run away now. She can hide them in Gard and Cornelia’s attic, and Nellie can sneak out every day to look for a job if she insists. Nellie agrees, though she says it won’t work indefinitely. Samantha tells her to bring Bridget and Jenny with her to the alley at four the next day, and assures her tonight is her last night at Coldrock House. Nellie says she certainly hopes that’s the case.
Samantha arrives early to Coldrock House the next afternoon, jittery with nerves. When the O’Malleys appear at the back door, she hands them shawls and scarves to hide their orphan uniforms and keep them warm. Nellie jokes that Bridget and Jenny are so bundled up that they’re more like waddle-aways than runaways, then takes Bridget’s hand as Samantha holds Jenny’s. No one notices the four girls as they walk quickly to the Edwards house, and Samantha feels like a big sister with little Jenny trotting trustfully beside her. Samantha leads the girls around behind the house and explains that they must climb through the basement window and up the back stairs, which start in the basement and go all the way up. They’ll take off their shoes and carry them to make less noise, and be extra careful passing the kitchen so as not to alert Gertrude to their presence. Samantha climbs through the window, then Nellie lowers Jenny down to her before she and Bridget climb down themselves. Luckily, Gertrude is making a lot of noise in the kitchen and doesn’t hear the girls as they climb past the ground floor, the main floor, and the bedroom floor all the way to the topmost level, where Samantha ushers them into an empty room she’s prepared for them. She shows Nellie the bundles of extra blankets and pillows, and several of her toys and books, including the blackboard she and Nellie had had in their little “school” back in Mount Bedford. Bridget and Jenny begin playing with Samantha’s paper dolls as Samantha warns them all about staying very quiet at night and early in the morning, when Gertrude is in her own room down the hall. Finally, Samantha opens the box of food that she’d smuggled up, and all three girls begin eating. Jenny asks Nellie if they have to go back to the orphanage that night, and Nellie says no, they’re staying there. Jenny smiles and asks if that means they aren’t orphans anymore, and Samantha says they’ll never be truly orphans if they have one another. And good friends like Samantha, Nellie adds.
Chapter Five: Together
Samantha is enjoying leading her sort of double life. Downstairs she makes cookies and valentines and goes skating like always, and goes to school. Upstairs, she provides for her own little family, bringing them food, water, and anything else they need. Early every morning, Nellie sneaks down to the basement and out the window and spends the day looking for a job. Her sisters enjoy their days together, playing quietly or napping, and peppering Samantha with questions about her day and about Gard and Cornelia every time she’s able to come up and see them. Jenny declares that Aunt Cornelia and Uncle Gard must be the best people in the city, and Bridget agrees, adding that the only thing she liked about Coldrock House was their visits. One time, she recalls, Uncle Gard managed to sneak her a peppermint candy, inadvertently reminding Samantha of how hard it was becoming to feed the girls unnoticed. She would bring them most of her own lunch and all her afternoon snack, and smuggle whatever she could from the pantry, and once she even bought a loaf of bread and carried it straight to the attic hidden in her plaid cape. One time, Gertrude caught her with a pot of cocoa she’d intended to bring to Bridget (who had been coming down with a cold) and insisted Samantha drink it in the kitchen instead of upstairs so she wouldn’t spill chocolate in her bedroom. Listening to Gertrude’s continued complaints about how much Samantha seemed to be eating, she decides to be extra careful. Tiptoeing into the pantry the next evening, Samantha eases the lid off the cookie jar and lifts out some heart-shaped cookies, hoping to have a tiny party for the girls because the next day was Valentine’s Day. Gertrude stops her, asking if Samantha’s been keeping a pet in the house without telling anyone. Samantha says no, and Gertrude says there must be something upstairs, since she’s been hearing noises at night. Samantha hurries away with the cookies and dashes upstairs as soon as she’s out of Gertrude’s sight. She warns the younger girls to be quieter than ever, and to Nellie (who had stayed inside that day) she says it might not be a good idea to keep going in and out, as Gertrude might catch her on the stairs. Nellie says it won’t make much difference, as no one wants to hire a maid as scrawny-looking as her. She considers aloud going back to the thread factory where she used to work, and Samantha urges her not to give up. Nellie reminds Samantha they can’t stay in the attic forever, and as if to prove her point Gertrude barges in, demanding to know who these children are and what they’re doing here. Samantha doesn’t know how to answer, only follows the others as Gertrude directs them downstairs and into the parlor. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia are surprised to see the O’Malleys, and asks why they are there. Gertrude claims that she found “these ragamuffins” in the attic and they’ve probably been sneaking through the house stealing from the family. Samantha exclaims that she herself was the thief, and she’d only been stealing essentials. Uncle Gard asks Samantha to calm down and explain, and Cornelia invites the girls to warm up by the fire. Samantha tells the whole story, that Nellie hadn’t wanted to run away but it was either that or be separated from her sisters forever, and Nellie had even insisted on only staying until she could find a suitable job. Cornelia asks how long the O’Malleys had been staying, and Samantha responds about four days, to which Cornelia asks how they’d been eating. Samantha tells her she’d been bringing them food and repeats that they would never steal. Cornelia assures Samantha that she knows they wouldn’t, as Gard looks at the girls. She asks him what they should do with the O’Malleys, to which Gard firmly responds they must be given warm baths and sent to bed. Decisions could wait until morning. That night, all four girls sleep in Samantha’s room as she wonders if this is the last night they’ll get to spend together. She can hear that Gard and Cornelia are talking, and worries about what they might decide.
The next morning, Samantha and her friends find three new place settings at the breakfast table, decorated with lacy paper hearts. Cornelia wishes them all a happy Valentine’s Day, and Gard invites them all to sit down for breakfast. Samantha begs Uncle Gard to tell her what he’s decided, asking if Nellie and her sisters can stay there. They won’t cause trouble, and they’ve been trained as maids...but Cornelia tells Samantha they don’t need any more maids. Before Samantha can become too disappointed, Uncle Gard puts in that they do need more girls, he’d say maybe three more, in three sizes; tiny, medium, and still not very big. He turns to Nellie and asks if she and her sisters would like to stay and be like daughters to himself and Cornelia, and sisters to Samantha. Nellie’s expression is very serious as she replies that they would like that very much. Samantha is gleeful and hugs Aunt Cornelia, then each girl in turn. Then they all hug Uncle Gard, who exclaims he must be the luckiest person in the world to have five of the sweetest valentines ever. Samantha says she’s the luckiest, because at long last she has a family of her own.
Looking Back: Changes for America in 1904
Discusses changes for turn of the century America. Topics include:
- The rising popularity of trains, airplanes, and automobiles at the turn of the century.
- Which kind of jobs newly arrived immigrants could get when they arrived, and how these new immigrants were able to find newer opportunities in America.
- How the education of women changed from Grandmary's day up to the 1900s, with many more women tackling jobs that were once held for men.
- Jane Addams, who founded a settlement house called Hull House, which helped new immigrants in Chicago learn English and trained them for work.
- The new appliances and technology that a common woman would have in her household, and why it was becoming harder for people to find new servants.
- How fashions were beginning to change for women, including the shortening of skirts and the discontinuation of corsets.
Items associated with Changes for Samantha
- Plaid Cape and Gaiters
- Elegant Hat and Muff
- Samantha's Ice Skates
- Samantha's Winter Amusements
- Victorian Valise