Eight-year-old Edna worried when her mother told her that staying with Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Justus would be a fine opportunity, for she knew that when grownups said something would be an opportunity it rarely turned out to be a pleasant experience. But her mother’s health required her parents to spend time in Florida, and since the parents of her cousin Louis were traveling to California for health reasons, and Louis would be staying with his aunt and uncle, Edna would be good company for her cousin.
Edna packed up her favorite doll, said goodbye to her older sister and two brothers (who were staying home), and she and her papa started on the long train ride to her relative’s house in the city. She was put to bed in the top berth while her father went to the smoking car. The engine derailed, a porter told Edna she must leave the car, but she couldn’t find her papa. When the train journey continued a kind lady named Mrs. Porter watched after Edna, until she was reunited with her injured father.
They arrived late at her aunt and uncle’s house, and while her papa talked with Uncle Justus, ten-year-old cousin Louis got a candle and took Edna up to her room. Though the first three floors of the house had gaslights, the fourth floor, where Edna had a room next door to the home’s one servant, had no lighting other than candles.
Uncle Justus had a private school on the third floor, with Aunt Elizabeth teaching the boys and Miss Ashurst teaching the girls. Edna made friends with her classmates, but Aunt Elizabeth forbade visits with any of the girls after school hours. Her strict aunt was interested in many good causes, and promised to take Edna to visit children at her favorite charity – an institution with the dreadful name of The Home of the Friendless.
Aunt Elizabeth was helping to raise money for poor children by turning pasteboard and decorative papers into little boats and pitchers, which would be filled with candy and sold at a fair. (What would now be called a charity bazaar.) One day she told Edna to go downtown for ribbon, and hurry back. Edna was afraid of getting lost, but knew her aunt expected to be obeyed, so she boarded a trolley car, got off at the right stop and bought the ribbon. But then she had to cross a busy street, ran to the other side, tripped and fell into a mud puddle, and lost her return car fare.
She picked herself up and saw a dirty, ragged little girl named Maggie, who said she had no family and was living with a woman who beat and starved her. Edna said she would take Maggie to The Home of the Friendless, and the girl declared she wouldn’t go without her only friend, Moggins, a half-starved kitten who’d been injured by mean boys.
Upon arrival at the Home the girls discovered a child couldn’t be admitted until the Board of Managers voted, and cats were never allowed. Miss Barnes, one of the Home workers, took Edna and Moggins to Edna’s relatives’ house. Edna’s aunt was out, and the lady told the girl’s adventure to Uncle Justus, while Edna went up to her room. Ellen, the maid-of-all-work, came up to inform her that Uncle Justus had told Aunt Elizabeth she must not punish her niece, and that the kitten would not be banished from the home, though the aunt did insist Moggins had to stay in the kitchen.
Miss Barnes returned to the Home, and learned the matron declared the ragged girl must temporarily return to her abusive guardian. Untiring Miss Barnes took the girl to see wealthy Mrs. Ramsey, who was a patron of the Home. Mrs. Ramsey kept Maggie overnight, and provided her with new clothing. The next day a lawyer settled matters so that the girl could stay at The Home of the Friendless.
After that Aunt Elizabeth brought Edna to visit Maggie each week, and the two friends talked of how Moggins was thriving, and how Maggie, with her bad upbringing, had trouble following the Home’s rules, but she tried to be good so that neither Mrs. Ramsey nor Edna would be disappointed in her.
Another person who had trouble following rules was cousin Louis, who often received reprimands. He would tell his troubles to Edna, including how he had to sneak off to see his best friend because his relatives thought the friend wasn’t good enough to play with. Edna cautioned that it was wrong to disobey elders, but Louis insisted it was no different than when Edna had first talked to Maggie. He also warned her not to be a “telltale” and reveal what he’d told her.
Edna (along with the readers) eventually learned that Louis wasn’t always truthful, and that she shouldn’t keep secrets from her aunt and uncle.
One of the older pupils in the third-floor school was Agnes Evans, who spent weekdays staying in the city, but went home over the weekend. Agnes asked Uncle Justus if Edna could spend a weekend with her in the country, and he agreed. Edna’s family lived in what she called a half-and-half country place, so she looked forward to getting out of the city for a couple of days – even though she was afraid of cows.
Edna arrived at the country house, met Dorothy, the little sister of Agnes, who would share her room with the weekend guest. She also met a neighbor named Mrs. MacDonald, a rich widow with no children. When Edna learned the widow longed for a child to keep her company she told her all about Maggie, who was in need of someone to adopt her.
Alas, the next morning both Edna and Dorothy had the measles, so Edna’s visit had to be extended for a few weeks. That was enough time for her to become attached to the entire Evans family, and to learn that nice Mrs. MacDonald had adopted Maggie, and had no objection to Moggins joining the household.
On the day Edna returned to Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Justus’ house her parents came to get her, but before that could happen Edna saw a herd of cows on the street and became so frightened that she ran up some stairs and collapsed in front of the door to the house of Mrs. Porter, the lady who’d helped Edna after the train derailment. Mrs. Porter was so glad to see her again that she insisted the girl stay for a long visit. A note explaining the visit was sent to her aunt and uncle, and the servant, Ellen, placed it on a table, where it was not seen for several hours, while everyone rushed around worrying about where Edna was.
At long last everything was sorted out, and Edna’s papa asked her how she would like to live permanently in the city, for his work was sending him there. Edna said she’d prefer to live a few miles out in the country, near where the Evans family, Mrs. MacDonald and Maggie were. Everyone thought that was a fine idea, and thus ended the first of four Dear Little Girl novels.
I found Edna a likable character (though perhaps not quite a dear little girl) and enjoyed reading her adventures. There’s a good chance I’ll write about her Thanksgiving Holiday next month, because it’s rare to find an entire book with the November holiday of Thanksgiving in the title.
If you’d like to know the entire story A Dear Little Girl can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/31244