It began with Aunt Hetty’s being out of temper, which, it must be confessed, was nothing new. At its best, Aunt Hetty’s temper was none of the most charming, and this morning it was at its worst. She had awakened to the consciousness of having a hard day’s work before her, and she had awakened late, and so everything had gone wrong from the first. There was a sharp ring in her voice when she came to Jem’s bedroom door and called out, “Jemima, get up this minute!”
Jem knew what to expect when Aunt Hetty began a day by calling her “Jemima.” It was one of the poor child’s grievances that she had been given such an ugly name. In all the books she had read, and she had read a great many, Jem never had met a heroine who was called Jemima. But it had been her mother’s favorite sister’s name, and so it had fallen to her lot. Her mother always called her “Jem,” or “Mimi,” which was much prettier, and even Aunt Hetty only reserved Jemima for unpleasant state occasions.
It was a dreadful day to Jem. Her mother was not at home, and would not be until night. She had been called away unexpectedly, and had been obliged to leave Jem and the baby to Aunt Hetty’s mercies.
So Jem found herself busy enough. Scarcely had she finished doing one thing, when Aunt Hetty told her to begin another. She wiped dishes and picked fruit and attended to the baby; and when baby had gone to sleep, and everything else seemed disposed of, for a time, at least, she was so tired that she was glad to sit down.
And then she thought of the book she had been reading the night before–a certain delightful story book, about a little girl whose name was Flora, and who was so happy and rich and pretty and good that Jem had likened her to the little princesses one reads about, to whose christening feast every fairy brings a gift.
“I shall have time to finish my chapter before dinner-time comes,” said Jem, and she sat down snugly in one corner of the wide, old fashioned fireplace.
But she had not read more than two pages before something dreadful happened. Aunt Hetty came into the room in a great hurry–in such a hurry, indeed, that she caught her foot in the matting and fell, striking her elbow sharply against a chair, which so upset her temper that the moment she found herself on her feet she flew at Jem.
“What!” she said, snatching the book from her, “reading again, when I am running all over the house for you?” And she flung the pretty little blue covered volume into the fire.
Jem sprang to rescue it with a cry, but it was impossible to reach it; it had fallen into a great hollow of red coal, and the blaze caught it at once.
“You are a wicked woman!” cried Jem, in a dreadful passion, to Aunt Hetty. “You are a wicked woman.”
Then matters reached a climax. Aunt Hetty boxed her ears, pushed her back on her little footstool, and walked out of the room.
Jem hid her face on her arms and cried as if her heart would break. She cried until her eyes were heavy, and she thought she would be obliged to go to sleep. But just as she was thinking of going to sleep, something fell down the chimney and made her look up. It was a piece of mortar, and it brought a good deal of soot with it. She bent forward and looked up to see where it had come from. The chimney was so very wide that this was easy enough. She could see where the mortar had fallen from the side and left a white patch.
“How white it looks against the black!” said Jem; “it is like a white brick among the black ones. What a queer place a chimney is! I can see a bit of the blue sky, I think.”