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Felicity Discovers a Secret is part of the Short Stories collections, focusing on Felicity Merriman.

Characters[]

Only in Felicity Discovers a Secret[]

Story Summary[]

Felicity is outside on a fine spring day, playing with her large hoop and tapping it with a stick to make it go faster on the sidewalk. After weeks of rain, it is finally sunny and a spring breeze is pushing the last of the gray clouds of the sky. Suddenly the hoop hits a stone, jumps into midair, and lands in the middle of a large, messy puddle, scattering mud all over freshly laundered linen sheets that are on some bushes. Acting before thinking, Felicity dives to catch the hoop; however, she makes things worse by crashing into the bushes. Some sheets and Felicity herself land in th epuddle and get soaked with mud.

Soaked to her skin, Felicity's heart sinks when she sees whose laundry she muddied. She's confronted by Mrs. Burnie, a crabby and fussy woman who repairs and launders embroidery for the milliner and launders fine linens. She berates Felicity for messing up the linens and calls her a "thoughtless, blundering girl." Felicity apologizes for the mess she makes, and she tries to wipe the mud off her hands, but she only succeeds in smearing it on her skirt. She's scared because she's heard the gossip about Mrs. Burnie. Everyone says she can't get along with others because she's opinionated and hates change. She wears outdated clothing and hates the new bell tower on the church so much that she's supposedly frowned through every service since then. Everyone says she is odd, and Felicity notices that Mrs. Burnie's apron is inside out and her hair is lopsided, as if it was pinned without looking. Felicity apologizes again and tries not to stare.

Mrs. Burnie tells Felicity to go away because she now has a lot of work to do. She's promised these linens would be ready by the next day. Felicity asks if she can help, and she gathers the cloths from the ground, but Mrs. Burnie says she's caused enough trouble. Besides, Felicity can't be of much help while she's covered in mud. Felicity hands over the muddy linens but feels terrible about the mess. Remembering what her parents would say in such a situation, Felicity knows what she ought to do, and she volunteers to come back to the house the next day to help. Mrs. Burnie hesitates, and she squints at Felicity as if to size her up. She scowls and says she dislikes people hanging around, but she agrees to have Felicity come early to work nonetheless. Felicity trudges home with her hoop and stick, and she feels very sorry for herself, because she's sure tomorrow will be terrible.

The first day is indeed rather terrible for Felicity. Mrs. Burnie is out of patience right when Felicity arrives. Felicity notices that her apron is on correctly today but her cap was backward. She leads Felicity to her back yard and comments that Felicity was able to move quickly when moving her hoop, so they'll see if she can work just as quickly today. She commands Felicity to bring wood to stoke a fire under a cauldron. She will then fill it with water from the well, put the dirty linens inside, scrub them with soap, and stir them with a paddle. Felicity is forced to go through the tedious task of carrying armloads of wood and buckets of water. To make matters worse, Mrs. Burnie complains about everything Felicity does during the laundering process, such as the size of the fire and how she rubs soap. Felicity comments that she's never seen such a big cake of soap. Mrs. Burnie replies that she makes her own and it's foolish to buy it at the store. Felicity notes that her mother does the laundry differently and in an easier way, but Mrs. Burnie is dead set on doing things her own way, concluding with the words, “Different isn’t better.” Once the linens are scrubbed and stirred, Felicity has to rinse them over and over again in cool water til the water is clear. Then she has to twist each linen to wring out the water before laying them on the boxwood bushes to dry. By the time the laundering is done, Felicity is completely exhausted. She asks what comes next, and Mrs. Burnie comments, "Let's hope no hoops!" Felicity is surprised to see that she said this with a small smile. Felicity smiles back and thinks to herself that although Mrs. Burnie is fussy, she's rather nice, too.

As Felicity goes into Mrs. Burnie's house to do ironing, Felicity notices that her household is a tad odd. Some of Mrs. Burnie's books on the shelves are upside down, a painting is hanging sideways, and Mrs. Burnie's handwriting on a spice label is large and scrawly like a child's. Felicity comments on a beautiful piece of embroidery on a chair arm, but while she's looking at the perfect stitches, she notices one flower is upside down. When she asks, Mrs. Burnie holds the embroidery close to her face, sighs unhappily, and seems lost in her thoughts before she seems to remember Felicity was there. She then directs Felicity to get a basket of napkins to iron.

Felicity busies herself with the ironing under Mrs. Burnie's directions, and she is unsurprised that Mrs. Burnie is just as picky about ironing as she was about washing. Mrs. Burnie instructs her to spread out and fold the napkins carefully, and when she finds one that has a wrinkle or mismatched edge, she instructs Felicity to redo it. Despite the difficulty of the work, Felicity finds she is starting to enjoy it. In one instance, Mrs. Burnie quickly takes a napkin from Felicity and irons and folds it perfectly herself. Felicity comments that she does it so perfectly and easily, even without looking, which makes Mrs. Burnie smile. She says her hands have done this hundreds of times, and besides, it's what she's paid to do. If she can't do it perfectly, she won't be paid and she can't eat.

When the sheets are done, Mrs. Burnie shows Felicity how to iron and fold them and how to put sprigs of lavender between them. When the ironing is done, Felicity notices that they are out of lavender. Mrs. Burnie feels the bottom of the basket and realizes she is right. Felicity eagerly offers for Mrs. Burnie to come to the Merrimans' to pick some in their garden, and she knows her mother would love to have Mrs. Burnie stay for tea. Mrs. Burnie politely but firmly turns her down and says she doesn't do much visiting these days. When the day is finally done, the linens are neatly folded and tied in stacks with blue ribbons. Felicity is tired but happy. Smiling, Mrs. Burnie says that Felicity is not such a bad child after all, and Felicity says, "And you're not..." but stops before she finishes the sentence. Mrs. Burnie laughs and says, "And I'm not such a terrible, mean old lady!" Felicity adds that she thinks Mrs. Burnie is very nice now that she has spent time with her, and Mrs. Burnie tells her she has a "winning way about you," before reminding her to be careful with her hoop. Felicity promises she will, and she grins as she says goodbye.

Felicity wakes up early the next day and she gathers lavender in her garden to surprise Mrs. Burnie, feeling pleased when she imagines how Mrs. Burnie will react. However, when she knocks on the front door, no one answers, and she can't see anyone out back. Felicity peeks in the window to see Mrs. Burnie over 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 to leave the lavender. However, Mrs. Burnie was actually awake and stitching her embroidery, so she is startled by Felicity's uninvited appearance. She reacts coldly when Felicity mentions her lavender, and Felicity apologizes for coming in. She asks why Mrs. Burnie leans so close to her embroidery, and Mrs. Burnie becomes angry and tells her not to come back ever again. Felicity drops the lavender and flees the house, all the way back to the Merrimans' garden. She cries as she flings herself on the garden bench because she had thought they were friends. Once she calms down, she remembers all the oddities she noticed in Mrs. Burnie's household. It dawns on Felicity that Mrs. Burnie carries a secret that she doesn't want known so she won't lose her job. She knows a way to help Mrs. Burnie, so she brushes off her tears and heads to her father's store.

When Felicity knocks on the door of her house, Mrs. Burnie answers and apologizes for being so angry before. Felicity says she thinks she knows why she was upset, so she brings her hands out from behind her back to hold out a pair of eyeglasses. She explains that she has borrowed them from her father's store because he sells used eyeglasses. Mrs. Burnie pauses because she's never heard of a lady wearing eyeglasses, but Felicity assures Mrs. Burnie that it has become normal for ladies to wear them at home. She explains that sometimes different is better. When she puts on the glasses, Mrs. Burnie smiles, then turns to pick up her embroidery. She is delighted to find that they help a great deal. Felicity smiles back and makes her promise to get a pair for herself. Mrs. Burnie smiles at her again and comments that she has two good new things in one week- new eyeglasses and a new friend.

Meet The Author[]

Valerie Tripp comments that she once struggled to thread a needle and realized she needed glasses. Like Mrs. Burnie, she is happy with the differences eyeglasses have made for her. There is a photo comparison of her as a child without glasses and her as an adult with them.

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.

Trivia[]

  • Valerie Tripp wanted Elizabeth Cole to have glasses initially; however, at the time glasses were rare, fragile, and not given to children at all. It is likely some elements of the initial desire for Elizabeth's glasses made it into the story.
  • In the magazine version of the story, the story's title and the drop cap at the start of each section are blurry. This is the way the words might appear to someone with poor eyesight.
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