Only in Felicity Discovers a Secret
Felicity is out-of-doors on a fine spring day, playing with her large hoop, tapping it with a stick to make it go faster. Suddenly the hoop hits a stone, skips into midair, and lands splat in the middle of a large, messy puddle, scattering mud all over freshly laundered linen sheets. Always acting before thinking, Felicity dives to catch the hoop, but she makes things worse by crashing into the bushes and messing up the linens further.
Soaked to her skin, Felicity is confronted by Mrs. Burnie, a crabby and fussy woman who repairs and launders embroidery for the milliner. She berates Felicity for messing up the linens, and Felicity apologizes for the mess she makes. Mrs. Burnie tells Felicity to go away, but Felicity, remembering what her parents say she must do if something like that happens, volunteers to come back to her house the next day and repair the damage.
The first day is rather terrible for Felicity. Mrs. Burnie, as usual, is out of patience as she leads Felicity to her backyard. She commands Felicity to bring wood to stoke a fire under a cauldron filled with water, which she will use to scrub the dirty linens. Felicity is forced to go through the tedious task of bring armloads of wood and buckets of water. To make matters worse, Mrs. Burnie makes a fuss about almost everything during the laundering process. Felicity makes comments about how her mother does the laundry differently, but Mrs. Burnie is dead set on doing things her own way, concluding with the words, “Different isn’t better.” By the time the laundering is done, Felicity is completely exhausted.
As Felicity goes into Mrs. Burnie’s house to do the ironing, Felicity notices that her household is a tad odd. For instances, she notices that some of Mrs. Burnie’s books on the shelves are upside down, and she takes notice of a painting hug sideways over a well. She notices Mrs. Burnie’s large and scrawly handwriting on a spice label stuck to a large spice jar. She also notices some images of flowers on a piece of embroidery that are sewn upside down.
After taking notices of this weirdness, Felicity busies herself with the ironing under Mrs. Burnie’s nitpicking directions. When the ironing is done, Felicity notices that the lavender, which is used to scent the newly washed and ironed laundry, is gone. She volunteers to bring some lavender from the Merrimans' garden next time. It is during this time that Felicity sees some semblance of good in Mrs. Burnie, when Mrs. Burnie comments about how Felicity is "not so much of a bad child after all", and Felicity says something to the effect of Mrs. Burnie not being such a “terrible, mean old lady.”
Hoop Incident Day Plus Three: Felicity returns to Mrs. Burnie's house with the lavender, feeling quite optimistic about the woman feeling pleased about this generosity. However, she takes notice of Mrs. Burnie busying herself with her embroidery, with her head bent so far forward that her face is close to touching with the embroidery piece itself. Thinking that Mrs. Burnie is asleep, Felicity tiptoes into the house. Mrs. Burnie is startled by Felicity’s uninvited appearance, and out of sheer annoyance berates her again to the point that she tells her not to come back again. Felicity drops the lavender and flees the house, all they way back to the Merrimans’ garden. She is near tears as she flings herself on the garden bench. Thinking hard, she remembers all the oddities she notices in Mrs. Burnie's household, and it dawns on Felicity herself that Mrs. Burnie carries a secret that she doesn’t want known, for fear of losing her job.
Felicity, deciding to help Mrs. Burnie, returns to her house with a pair of eyeglasses she swiped from the Merriman General Store. Apart from that Felicity assures Mrs. Burnie that not all change is bad, concluding that "Sometimes different is better." It turned out that the oddities of Mrs. Burnie's household and demeanor was pretty much due to her poor eyesight. Mrs. Burnie appreciates the glasses, and her new friend Felicity herself.
Meet The Author
Looking Back: Eyeglasses in 1774
Discusses the history of eyeglasses. Topics include:
- Where colonists bought their eyeglasses.
- The design of temple eyeglasses in the 1700s.
- The special glasses that wealthy people wore, that were made just for them.
- Who would have worn a pair of lorgnettes, and how fashionable they were in colonial times.
- When people began wearing glasses, and the different lenses for different vision problems.
- The problem with wearing convex lenses, which were the earliest glasses made.
- Why glasses were rarely worn in the 1200s, and why they were being worn in the 1400s.
- New glasses, in the 1500s, that were made for nearsighted people.
- How people wore glasses without holding them.
- How Benjamin Franklin helped people with various vision problems use just one pair of glasses.
- The later improvements of eye doctors, and the first contact lenses.
Activity: Make Lorgnettes
Learn how to make lorgnettes, fancy eyeglasses from Felicity's time period.
- The story was originally published as Mrs. Burnie's Secret in the May/June 1997 issue of American Girl Magazine.