Dreaming and Doing” was one of four works by Mrs. N. McConaughy to appear in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1863 and 1864. Its lessons were familiar to readers of the Museum and of other 19th-century American children’s magazines, which emphasized that no detail was too tiny to ignore and that attention to these details had moral implications, especially for children, who needed to adopt good habits. Taking action and being practical were touted in many pieces for children. The frugality of the times—here with a patriotic emphasis—and the character traits considered desirable for girls also are reflected here. And the details of thrifty housekeeping are fascinating.

“Dreaming and Doing,” by Mrs. N. McConaughy (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1863; pp. 166-168)

Ruth and Robbie obtained permission of their mother to wander out along the bank of the little brook among the marshes, and gather flowers and flag leaves. Their busy fingers, however, did not hinder their busier tongues a bit, and they went on telling each other what they would be and do when they were grown, as children are very apt to do.

“I shall contrive some way to get money enough to buy a sewing machine,” said Ruth. “Then I will learn to make dresses, and earn a great deal of money. I will have all the silk dresses I want, and a muff and a parasol, and mother need not work a bit. Won’t it be grand?”

“I am afraid you will never realize your dreams,” said practical Aunt Lois, who had overheard the conversation.

“Why not, aunty?” asked the children. “A great many poor girls have got sewing machines; there’s Hannah Webb has money in the bank, all of it she earned by dressmaking—her sister told me so,” said Ruth.

“The reason I think so,” said Aunt Lois, “is because you do not make the most of what you have. There are two hooks off your frock, I see,

p. 167

Ruth; and the skirt is ripped off nearly half a finger; and the string of your apron is set on with a pin. When I see these signs, I feel quite sure a girl will never accomplish much unless she changes her course.”

“But this old dress, Aunt Lois, is one I slipped on just to romp in.”

“Still, it would be a better dress for mending, and if it would, it would be best to mend it. Always make the best of what you have. A dress kept well repaired will outlast two kept as that is. Mend that up where it needs it, have it re-bound around the bottom, and then wash, starch, and iron it neatly, and it would be as good a morning dress as a little girl needs. All this you are quite old enough to do for yourself, and save your mother the labor. You must learn to be ‘faithful in that which is least’ if you ever expect to earn your sewing machine, Ruth. But there is no telling what a careful, saving, tidy girl may accomplish in half-a-dozen years, if she does her best.

“Now suppose you begin to-day to set your things to rights. Put every article into as good a condition as you can, and after they are all in order, try your best to keep them so. Remember, ‘a stitch in time saves nine,’ and though you may not see it now, all these stitches will be so much toward your sewing machine. Habits of order, formed when you are a child, are worth a great deal of money when you are a woman.”

Ruth’s thoughts took quite a new turn after this conversation with her aunt, and when her mother could spare her she sat to work to look over her things. It was a rather discouraging array, but mother and auntie were both pleased with her efforts, so she began at an old gingham dress which she thought could hardly be made “anything decent” of. Yet with her aunt’s assistance here and there, and suggestions about new wrist-bands for the sleeves, a new cording about the neck, and finally turning the skirt upside down and inside out, you would never have known it was the same dress.

“Very well done,” said mother; “you have saved a dollar at least by your industry, Ruth.”

That was very encouraging, so she kept on diligently until her whole wardrobe had been gone through. Especially did Aunt Lois counsel her never to permit the tiniest eyelet in one of her stockings without having it beautifully embroidered. She likewise showed her how to re-bind her Sunday shoes, after which they looked as good as new.

From her own things she went on to Robbie’s, and a great help it was to her feeble mother. She became very skillful at the business, as any one may in anything they practice often. It was surprising to see how much longer the hard-earned garments lasted for being kept in such good repair. If you would like to see, you have only to try the experiment, and I know you will be fully convinced. Who else would like to learn such a useful lesson?—one doubly useful in these war times.

The orderly habits Ruth was forming began to show themselves in everything she did. With all her new work she had more leisure than ever, and learned to prize it more, and use it more profitably in improving her mind. The busiest, most orderly people are those who find time for everything. The idle and disorderly are always in a hurry and behind time. Ruth never had time to accomplish

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much when she used to spend hours dreaming away under the apple-trees, carelessly pulling the clover-tops, and wishing for the golden future which was to bring so many treasures. She was far happier now, for she felt that she was really accomplishing something. Robbie, who was two years younger, was stimulated by her example, and as he was a stout, honest boy of ten, he was able to do a great deal about the little place which his mother owned, and which furnished their chief support. Everybody was pleased to see that the widow’s circumstances were improving. They said it was because the children were growing old enough to be a help to her—“they were such industrious, sensible children.” It is worth a great deal for a boy or girl to have a good name in their own neighborhood. If they ever need help they will be pretty sure to find hands stretched out.

They were never so snugly fixed away for the winter before, since their father died. Robbie had harvested the proceeds of the little garden himself, and banked up the cellar to keep out Jack Frost, thus saving a man’s wages, which would have been three dollars at least.

“Now I can easily afford you a new jacket and pair of pants, Robbie,” said mother. How glad he was he had taken the trouble, for the jacket he wore to Sunday-school was growing very thin, and short at the sleeves. We prize anything twice as much that we have got by our own industry. He had picked all the currants clean and nice from the bushes, and a good many baskets of raspberries from the common west of the village. Ruth had attended to the drying of them, and now they hung in clean white bags in the store-room, with bits of “sassafras bark mixed in to keep out all insects.” If they could not afford rich preserved fruits and jellies, these luxuries were cheap enough, and required only the labor and care of preparing. What other poor child can help provide such inexpensive stores for home comfort? They will add greatly to the health as well as the pleasure of the household.

Robbie’s perseverance and industry recommended him to a merchant in the place who wanted an errand-boy. He soon earned two dollars a week, which was a great help to them at home; and as he was a faithful boy, you may be sure it was only the stepping-stone to a better position. Ruth obtained a situation with the village seamstress, who wished for a tidy, handy girl to baste and help her about her work generally. She made herself so useful that she offered at length to teach her the business. She kept her old motto of “faithful in that which is least,” and by the time she was seventeen she had fairly earned the machine she so much desired, and was able to set up business for herself.

Now if Ruth had kept on dreaming all her days, do you think anything would ever have come of it? No; she was not even in the way of success until that day she sat to work to improve her present condition, humble though it was.

So if you would accomplish anything useful and desirable, set to work faithfully on the materials you have in hand, and it will be the first step in the course which, if followed out, will lead to very certain success.

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