Felicity Takes a Dare is part of the Short Stories collection, focusing on Felicity Merriman.


Story Summary

Felicity walks on the fence.

Felicity calls out to Nan and William to look at her, walking like a high-wire dancer. She has climbed up onto an old fence outside the house and is walking back and forth on the top of it, despite its unsteadiness. Nan says that Felicity does look like the high wire dancers and that she can't wait to see them at the fair. Felicity says that she wants to see everything including the racehorses. Everyone in Williamsburg has looked forward to the spring fair after a long winter—a fair that will include music, dancing, contests and prize animals.

Felicity rises on her toes and turns around to walk the other way along the fence. Nan and William clap and cheer loud enough to alert Mrs. Merriman, who rushes out of the house to see the commotion. Seeing Felicity on the fence, she gasps and demands her to get down at once from her dangerous nonsense. Felicity jumps off the fence and apologizes. Mother tells her to have more sense as she could have fallen. Felicity tries to assure her mother that she's not scared of falling and Mother tells her she should be and that she is setting a poor example for Nan and William; she goes on that if she hadn't come out when she did she would have probably helped Nan and William onto the fences. Mother concludes her fussing saying that Felicity must learn the difference between bravery and foolhardiness or she might hurt herself or others. Felicity agrees with her mother aloud. She thinks to herself that she would not have fallen as walking is not dangerous for her, and she would have never let Nan or William try it as well because there are things she can do they can't (such as go to the fireworks at the fair with Father.) Mother sighs and tells the three to go tidy up for the fair, but that they will be walking there on the ground, not on fences.

The family watches the high wire dancers.

The streets are crowded with people headed toward Market Square; Felicity takes in all the sights and sounds and tries to skip ahead with Nan, but Mother tells her to stay close. Felicity points out that a footrace is about to start, and asks to watch. Mother holds up William and they watch the race; Felicity and Nan shriek at the gun going off and cheer and jump so much they feel part of the race. Felicity wants to see the horses but then tumblers appear; Nan claps with delight and William tries to imitate them. The tumblers are followed by the high wire dancers and while the children are fascinated, Mother says just looking makes her dizzy and leads them all to the fiddlers' tent to listen to music. While Mother, Felicity, and Nan enjoy the music. William covers his ears and says it's squeaky.

Felicity is happier when they get to the animal pens as she knows the horses are near; she and her sister admire all the animals in the pens, including a large pink prize pig. Mother buys the children treats at a booth; Nan chooses a tart and William chooses gingerbread but drops it. Felicity, too excited about the horses to be hungry, gives William some of the cakes she chose and puts the rest in her pocket. As Mother dusts off William's crumbs, Mrs. Fitchett comes up. She greets Mrs. Merriman and the children and asks Mother if she's seen the new embroidery stitches from London, offering to show her. Felicity, who does not want to see stitches when she's so close to seeing horses, begs Mother to let her take Nan and William over to where the horses are. Mother starts to protest, but Mrs. Fitchett says to let them go as they won't come to harm. Mother relents and says that she'll come to fetch them in a while and to stay together. Felicity assures Mother they will and rushes her brother and sister to the horse pens.

A boy dares Felicity to get in the pen.

Nan sits on a stump to finish her tart and William begins to play with a stick and mud puddle. Felicity leans against the face and looks at the racehorses trotting around the pen. Felicity has ridden horses often at Grandfather's Plantation and is proud of the way she has learned from him to make friends with horses. She studies the horses quietly, wondering which one she would choose for her own. She is jolted out of her daydream by a lot of noisy boys coming up to the pen. She recognizes some of them from church but they are acting much differently. The boys rip up handfuls of grass and wave them at the horses, shouting at them to come eat. The horses nervously trot off, but the boys chase them around the fence.

Nan and William get up and come closer to Felicity; Felicity glares at the boys and tells them to stop. A few of the boys quiet, but the largest smirks and asks Felicity if the horses are scaring her (and calls her little girl). Felicity says that she's not scared of the horses at all. The boy argues she is, and dares her to feed on of the horses. Felicity hesitates, and thinks for a moment that taking any dares is foolish—this one is especially dangerous as she does not know any of the horses. She decides, however, that she is so good at making friends with horses that there is no risk. The boy dares her again and Felicity jumps over the fence into the pen. The horses are very skittish around Felicity. The boy tells her to go on and she tells him to be quiet. Taking the cakes out of her pocket, she holds her hands out palm up. The horses twitch around her, and Felicity walks forward, offering the cakes. She walks slower towards the horses, ignoring their backing away. One horse stretches its neck and Felicity stands still. The horse leans over and starts to eat the cakes and Felicity turns and gives the boys a triumphant look.

Felicity is startled by the rearing horse.

A gunshot goes off to start another race, and everything happens in a rush—the horse eating from her panics and rears up, Felicity shrinks away, and the other horses charge towards her in a scramble of panic. Nan screams and Felicity tries to get away, but one horse causes her to stumble and another knocks her into the ground. Before Felicity can get up another horse runs past, kicking her arm and hitting it so hard that she feels a crack and pain shoots up her arm. Nan and the boys' voices seem very far away as Felicity struggles to her feet and bites her lip to stop from crying, then staggers to the fence holding her hurt arm. (The horses have since run to the other side of the pen.) Felicity makes her way out of the pen and slumps against a fence pole. In pain, Felicity tells a frightened Nan to go get Mother. Felicity is carried home and put to bed while the apothecary, Mr. Galt, is sent for. When he arrives Mother tells Felicity he is here. She tries to sit up but the pain in her arm is so great she gasps. Mr. Galt has her lie back and has Mother hold out Felicity's elbow and wrist while he pulls it back into place. It hurts so much Felicity can't help but whimper. Mr. Galt says that Felicity has a simple break but there is a lot of swelling, and he will use leeches to bring the swelling down. Felicity closes her eyes as he does so, unable to watch the leeches being put on to suck the blood from her bruises. When the swelling goes down, Mr. Galt removes the leeches, puts a splint on Felicity's arm, and bandages it up before putting it into a sling. She is instructed that she must keep her arm in the sling constantly for six weeks and try not to move it. He then leaves medicine to help Felicity sleep and tells Mother that Felicity's arm will heal quickly.

Felicity winces as Mr. Galt puts leeches on her skin.

Felicity wakes up a few hours later with Mother next to her bed. Mother asks her how she feels. Felicity knows that Mother is talking about her arm, but she says that she feels foolish for taking a dare. Mother says that Nan told her about the boy and that he was wrong for daring. Felicity says she was wrong to take the dare as she had ignored her mother's warning and was foolhardy and not brave at all; her eyes fill with tears. Mother assures her she was very brave when her arm was set. Felicity says that she was looking forward to seeing the fireworks, as she was proud to be old enough to go. Mother helps Felicity into a chair next to the window so she'll see the fireworks out her window. The sight of the fireworks do make Felicity feel better, and she thanks her mother. Mother calls her a good girl and says that she is cheered by the fact Felicity won't be walking on fences any time soon. The two laugh, and then watch the fireworks together.

Meet The Author

Valerie Tripp reminisces about a carnival coming to her town when she was eight and how she liked the Ferris wheel best as she could see the lights of the town below her and the stars above her.

Looking Back: Publick Times in 1774

Discusses Publick Times during colonial times. Facts include:

  • The purpose of Publick Times—to hear trials, news of the colonies, and learn of new things and fashions from Europe.
  • How the population swelled and where people gathered to hear news from people in town and passing travelers such as sailors and drivers from other colonies.
  • Taverns—where men came for news and stayed (women would stay with friends and relatives).
  • The fair and things that could be seen and done at the fair.
  • The night life including elegant parties and plays, including plays by William Shakespeare, and the fireworks at the end of the fair.

Activity: Play Quoits

Instructions on how to create a quoits set and instructions for playing the game.

Changes from 1993 American Girl Magazine Publication

In the short story as published in the Magazine in March/April 1993, there are several changes that did not make it into the March/April 1997 reprint, the published book or the short story collection.

  • The story specifically states that the fair is held the day after Felicity's ninth birthday, placing it on April 22, 1774; there are several references to Felicity being nine now.
  • A line is mentioned about how Nan and Felicity should be minding William and hemming aprons, but instead Felicity is walking on the fence.
  • William asks to be put up on the fence like Felicity. She and Nan try to help William onto the fence, but he falls off; Nan falls onto the muddy ground, Felicity splatters mud on them jumping off, and it is Nan's wailing from muddiness and William's shrieking that bring out Mother. (The updated edit has Mother explicitly say that if she hadn't come out when she did, Felicity would have been helping them onto the fence.)
  • After they are caught, Felicity and Nan must finish their hemming before the family can go to the fair. Felicity does a very poor job. Mother fusses at Felicity, but does not make her redo it as she would like to leave for the fair as well.
  • During the high wire act, Nan saying the high wire is narrower than the fence, and Felicity mentions that she would love to try to walk on it.
  • One of the boys taunting the horses is outright named as Robert; he's the one that speaks to Felicity directly, including calling her a coward and daring her to go feed the horses.
  • Mother, instead of mentioning that Felicity will not be walking on fences after breaking her arm (and that cheers her), instead mentions that Felicity will be cheered by not having to do any stitching while her arm is in a sling.



  1. It was reprinted (in the edited form) in the Mar/Apr 1997 issue.
  2. This occurs before Felicity meets Penny and Ben moves in with the Merrimans. The magazine short story in 1993 specifically refers to the fair being the day after Felicity's ninth birthday.
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