Some of Isabella’s stories contain obvious themes or lessons she wanted to impart to readers.
The lesson in this month’s Pansy story is much more subtle. “Sadie’s Journey” first appeared in The Pansy magazine in 1893, and probably inspired many mothers to have earnest conversations with their children about the dangers of the outside world.
An added bonus: The story included a charming wood-cut illustration of Sadie, which you’ll see below at the end of Part I.
“It is so very warm,” said Aunt Sarah, stopping in her work of buttoning Sadie’s skirt to wipe the perspiration from her face. “Cannot Sadie have just this short-sleeved apron on, instead of a dress?”
“Why, it is very short, dear,” said Sadie’s mamma. “Think how she would look if anybody but ourselves saw her.”
“Nobody will,” returned Aunt Sarah. “It is too warm for people to come out here this afternoon, and she will stay this side of the gate, won’t you, Sadie?”
Sadie promptly promised, and the little muslin slip which now did duty as an apron was fastened to hide her pretty neck from the sun, leaving her arms bare; then she set her little old sun-hat on the back of her head, and proceeded to coaxing Aunt Louise to go out with her after “f’owers.”
“Louise is Sadie’s slave,” the other aunties said, laughing, as Sadie led her off in triumph; but they every one knew that they were slaves in the same way. Aunt Louise wandered on and on, beguiled by Sadie’s wishes. Several times she proposed going back to the house to wait until the sun dropped lower, but Sadie always wanted to go “just a weenie teeny bit further.” At last Aunt Louise said, with decision in her voice, “Now, pet, I really must go back. I cannot endure this heat any longer; I’m sure I wish I were only five, if it would give me as much energy as you have. You may stay out here by yourself, and pick all the ‘f’owers’ you want, only you won’t go out of the gate, will you? Remember you are not dressed to see people.”
“I’ll ’member,” said Sadie, and in a few minutes she was alone in the great lovely glen. No prettier spot within miles and miles could be found than the McMartins had chosen for their summer home. The house, a wide, old-fashioned rambling affair, although it was set on a hill, was almost hidden from view by great old trees; and before and behind it, and on either side, stretched the beautiful hills, and valleys, and trees, and flowers, and vines, and grasses, and all lovely things. People envied the McMartins this beautiful old-fashioned home. “So quiet,” they said, “and beautiful; it is like being in the depths of the country, yet they are only an hour’s ride from town.”
Left to herself, Sadie roved from flower to flower, going deeper into the glen every moment, until suddenly she turned and followed a winding path which she knew led in a round-about fashion to the lower gate. She had heard the sound of a hand-organ in the distance. The road from town was too hilly to tempt hand-organs in that direction very often, and Sadie felt that she could not afford to lose the treat. She thought of going for Aunt Louise to keep her company, but decided that she was too far from the house for that; the hand-organ might move on before she could get to it. She made all the speed she could over the winding path, and presently reached the lower gate, only to see the “music man” disappearing around the corner.
“He must be going to play for the Benhams,” said Sadie to herself. The Benhams were the McMartins’ nearest neighbors. They lived in the large house where the roads forked, about a quarter of a mile away. Sadie paused at the gate. She “’membered” her promise, but it was really going to be very hard to keep it. She peeped through the bars of the gate, and argued it out with herself.
“The reason Auntie did not want me to go outside the gate was because I wasn’t dressed to see people, but she wouldn’t mind a music man; music men never care how folks are dressed, and there isn’t a single anybody else to be seen on the road. I wouldn’t go all the way to the Benhams, ’course not! I’ll keep away back where folks can’t see me at all, and only listen to the music. That won’t be not keeping my pwomise, ’cause if peoples don’t see me they won’t care.”
Having reached this conclusion Sadie stood on tiptoe to unfasten the gate, and slipping through it walked briskly along the road toward the “music man.” He had seated himself by the side of the road to rest, and also to have a talk with a friend who appeared just then and sat down beside him. As Sadie neared the two she kept going slower, and wondering why the “music man” did not play his music. What if he should play a time just for her? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to have happen?
But it did not happen. The two men had started on together before Sadie reached them, and they turned down a lane before they reached the Benhams’ grounds. So much the better; she could hear the music without seeing any people, for Sadie felt sure that no neighbors lived down this lane. On and on she trudged until her little feet were tired, and until she did not know where she was. The lane had led into a meadow, which the two men had crossed, she following; then from the meadow they slipped through a break in the fence, Sadie following, and crossed a long, sunny field, then struck into a wood which was cool and inviting, but there was no music. At last they stopped to rest again, and Sadie came very close to them, then stopped with a long-drawn sigh. If she only dared to ask the man to make some music just for her.
Some movement which the little feet made just then among the rustling twigs startled the men; they turned quickly and stared at her, then at each other.
“Halloo!” said the music man. “What is all this?”
“More than I know,” said the other. “She ain’t a spirit, is she, from t’other world?” Then they laughed in a way which half-frightened Sadie; she could not have told why, for she was not easily frightened.
“Halloo!” said the man again. “Where did you come from, little Miss?” Sadie had been brought up to answer questions politely, so she explained matters as well as she could.
“Here’s a lark,” said the music man; “she must belong to that big house on the hill.” And while Sadie looked up into the sky to see the “lark” the two men put their heads close together and talked low. Presently the man who had no music said to her, “Look here, young one, do you know your way home?”
“Not quite,” said Sadie timidly; for not finding the lark, she had looked about her and discovered that she was in a strange world, and did not know which way to turn.
“I should think not,” he said. “You’re a long ways from home, an awful long ways, and a dangerous ways. There’s bears in these woods, and snakes, and I don’t know what all. You needn’t be scared, though; if you’ll keep close to me, and don’t make no noise, I’ll see that you get home safe and sound.”
* * * *
In the wide old-fashioned hall of the McMartin home Aunt Louise fanned herself and told how warm it was out of doors, and how wonderful it was that little Sadie did not seem to feel it. Presently she roused from a ten minutes’ nap to say, “I wonder if I ought not to go for Sadie? She won’t wander beyond the grounds, will she?”
“Oh, no!” answered mamma and Aunt Sarah in the same breath. “She promised she wouldn’t go outside the gates.”
“Besides, the child isn’t dressed, you know,” added Aunt Annie. “She would know better than to go on the street in that rig.”
Ten, twenty minutes passed, a half-hour, an hour. Then mamma said, “I wonder at Sadie for staying out alone all this time. She is generally too fond of company for that.”
Then up rose Aunt Louise. “I am going in search of her,” she said. “Why, it is after five o’clock; I did not think it was so late.”
Up and down the winding paths she wandered, calling “Sadie,” “Baby,” “Pet,” all the sweet names which belonged to the child, and receiving no reply. Then came mamma and joined in the search, then the other aunties, and finally Uncle Wells himself; but no Sadie was to be found.
Young Dr. Tremayne swung himself on to the train as it halted at Riverton. The hot day was over, and the air was quite chill. The doctor shivered a little as he took his seat, and told himself that a light overcoat would not be unpleasant. Then he wondered if he would find orders at his office which would take him out for the night, and decided to get a little nap while the train was running into the city. But he didn’t get it. Instead, he sat up straight and looked at a curious couple who were but two seats in front of him.
The man was a young fellow, hardly old enough to be called a man, and perhaps too ugly and shabby-looking to deserve that name; but on the seat beside him, sitting bolt upright and looking about her with half-frightened, half-defiant eyes, was a mouse of a girl, not dressed for the chilly evening; not dressed at all as one would expect a child to be who was in such company. She had on a little white slip, and a white sun hat. Her bare arms looked cold and uncomfortable, and her entire face expressed misery if ever a child’s did. The fellow tried to draw her toward him, and the child resisted. She was crying quietly, and once when the man bent over her and tried to say something, she shook herself, and said, “Let me be.” Then Dr. Tremayne, who had meantime quietly slipped into the next seat, heard him say distinctly:
“Look a-here, little Missy, if you behave yourself and do as I tell you, you won’t come to no harm; but if you make a fuss and get me into trouble, I’ll wallop you within an inch of your life, and you’ll be sorry for it as long as you live. Do you understand that?”
Whether she understood all the words or not, she was evidently frightened. She drew farther away from him, and shuddered, and choked back her sobs.
Dr. Tremayne leaned forward and touched the fellow’s arm. “Who have you there, my man?” he asked, nodding his head toward the child.
“It’s my sister’s girl,” he said quickly. “I found her out in the country; ran away from home, you see, and I’m taking her back.”
The little girl listened intently; she turned her head around so she could see the doctor’s face, then she spoke with eager haste:
“It isn’t true; I just went out of the lower gate to hear the music man, and I didn’t know just which road to go home; and he said he would take me home, and he isn’t. I don’t live on the cars.”
The man nodded his head in response to this story. “She followed a hand-organ, you see,” he said, “and got lost. Now she thinks she knows the way home better than I do; and she doesn’t want to get there, any way, ’cause she knows she will get whipped for running away.”
“I shan’t!” said the child, in a passion of grief and rage. “My mamma doesn’t whip me, and I didn’t run away. I just went down the road where nobody need see me, because I wasn’t dressed up, and you tooked me the wrong way. If I had only kept my pwomise!” With this the little girl’s heart utterly failed her, and she cried aloud.
“Shut up!” said the man sharply. “You needn’t bellow and get all the folks looking at you, just because you have been a bad girl, and run away, Your folks will tend to you when I get you home.”
“Do you live in town?” asked Dr. Tremayne, and a few minutes afterward he went to the rear end of the car and motioned the conductor to him. “There is something wrong up there, I fear,” he said, nodding toward the place where the man and child sat. “The fellow says she is his sister’s child, but I don’t believe it. It is hardly possible for a child with such a face to belong to a man of that stamp. The little one is evidently afraid of him; she says she went out of the gate to hear the ‘music man,’ and did not know the way back, and this man promised to take her home, and didn’t do it.”
“Is that so?” said the conductor. “There was a report of a child lost brought into the station just above Riverton. The country was in an uproar, the man said, but they seemed to think she was lost in the woods. She belonged to the people who have taken the old Singleton place. Do you know the spot?”
“Perfectly,” said Dr. Tremayne. “I believe this is the lost child, and the fellow has made off with her in the hope of securing a large reward.”
All right,” said the conductor; “pity to have him disappointed. We’ll help him to secure his reward, if that proves to be the case. Keep an eye on him, and if he undertakes to leave the train at the next station we’ll stop him; meantime I’ll send a message to Policeman Burns to be on hand when we get in town.”
Dr. Tremayne went back and seated himself behind the rough-looking man, who now began to watch him suspiciously.
“What is your name, my little girl?” he asked.
“Sadie,” said the child promptly.
“And whose little girl are you?”
“Mamma’s and papa’s, only now papa is away across the ocean, and I’m Uncle Wells’ little girl until he gets back. Oh, and I’m Aunt Sarah’s little girl, too, and Aunt Louise’s most of all, ’cause she’s the best auntie.”
“And do you live in the big city?”
“When the snow comes I do,” said Sadie; “but I live away out in the country now, where the glen is, you know, and the wiver. Don’t you know where our house is?” she asked, with a sudden pleading sound in her voice, “and couldn’t you take me home ’stead of this man, ’cause I like you best?”
The man laughed a coarse, hateful-sounding laugh. “I call that cool,” he said. “She’s the greatest young one to go on that you ever heard of; plays she’s Queen Victoria sometimes, you know, and she lives in all sorts of places, according to her notion. Here we are, young one,” he added, as the train whistled for the station. “Now you’ll know pretty soon what your mother thinks of your notions.”
“I thought you said she lived in the city?” said Dr. Tremayne. “This is Brierwood, two miles out.”
“I know, but we branch off here and wait for the accommodation that goes in at the other depot. Come on, quick! The train won’t wait for you more than a week.”
“No,” said Sadie firmly, resisting his attempts to pull her from the seat. “I don’t want to go with you; that isn’t the way home; I didn’t go on the cars to the music man’s. It is just through the woods; you don’t know the way, and you are a bad, naughty man. Won’t you take me home?”
This last sentence was spoken to Dr. Tremayne, who had risen and bent over the child, putting a protecting arm about her.
“You would better not wait for the accommodation tonight,” he said to the man, who was angrily pulling at Sadie’s dress. “It will not be along in more than an hour; you might better take an across-town omnibus than to keep a child waiting in this dress at the station. The evening is chilly.”
And at that moment the train, which had barely halted, sped on.
“There!” said the man, throwing himself back in his seat in great ill-humor. “Now we can’t get off. If I don’t make you pay for this night’s work I’ll know the reason.” This with a threatening shake of his head to Sadie; then to the doctor he said: “Seems to me you meddle with my business a good deal more than is necessary. Let the young one alone.”
“Oh, I’m keeping her warm,” said the doctor, as he wrapped his arms about her, Sadie clinging with all her strength. “The night is very chilly after such a warm day. Little people always take to me.”
“It’s precious little attention I ever pay to them,” said the man sullenly; “but I thought my sister would be howling if I didn’t bring this little plague back; and I’ve gone miles out of my way to do it.”
As the train steamed into the city depot he sprang to his feet again and reached out his arms for Sadie, who had dropped her head on Dr. Tremayne’s shoulder, and was lying perfectly still.
“Come along now,” he said, “and be quick about it.” But he felt at that moment a tap on his shoulder, and turned to meet the keen eyes of Policeman Burns, who had been for some seconds standing on the platform of the rear car, listening to the conductor’s story.
“Halloo, Jack!” he said to the man, who cowed before him. “I didn’t expect to meet you here. When did you adopt a sister? Just come with me, and I’ll give you a bed tonight.”
“Now, Doctor,” said the conductor, as they watched the ill-looking man go off with Policeman Burns, “you have a baby on your hands if she doesn’t prove to be the right one.”
“I’ll take my chances,” said the doctor, smiling, “and I thank you heartily for your help. Let me see, when is the next train for the Glen due? Shall I have time to get some sort of wrap for this little one?”
* * * *
It was Aunt Louise who was leaning over the garden fence two hours later when Dr. Tremayne came with swift strides down the road, Sadie carefully wrapped in a great woolly shawl sleeping peacefully in his arms. All the family, and all the neighbors for miles around, were scouring the country in search of the lost darling. As for Aunt Louise, she haunted the garden, though certainly there could be no hope of finding the child there; but it was there she had last been seen, and it seemed to the half-crazed auntie that if she hovered about the spot where she left the child, she would be more likely to see her again. What she said as Dr. Tremayne halted before her with his burden; how he told his story in few words; how she snatched the sleeping baby from him, almost smothering it with kisses, though Sadie clung sleepily to the doctor, and murmured: “I don’t want to;” how they sent the news far and wide, and had the doctor in the house to tell the wonderful and frightful and blessed story in detail; how they sat up until nearly morning listening, and talking, and crying, and laughing, and rejoicing, you must imagine, as there is not room to tell.
One queer question of Sadie’s you ought to hear. It was several weeks after it all happened. The family were gathered in the large, cheery parlor, and Dr. Tremayne, who had some way come to think of himself as one of the family, sat near Aunt Louise talking eagerly.
Suddenly Sadie turned from the young cousins with whom she was visiting, and ran over to her favorite auntie with her question.
“Aunt Louise, Willie says he guesses you are glad I got lost and stoled. You aren’t, are you?”
A perfect chorus of laughter greeted her, in the midst of which Sadie, wondering, begged for her answer; and Aunt Louise, hiding her blushing face with the child’s curls, said:
“I am glad you were found and brought back, darling.”
What did you think of “Sadie’s Journey”? Do you think Isabella was using the story to convey a specific lesson? Or do you think she wrote it simply to entertain children (and their mothers and aunts)?