Nellie's Promise is the companion book for Nellie O'Malley; it is considered an extension of the Samantha series. It was included with the Nellie doll when the doll was available for purchase; with the collection's archival, it can be purchased separately.
Recurring from Samantha's Series
- Nellie O'Malley
- Samantha Parkington
- Gardner Edwards
- Cornelia Edwards
- Bridget O'Malley
- Jenny O'Malley
- Mike O'Malley
Only in Nellie's Promise
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: The Luckiest Girl
Nellie is skipping down the sidewalk on a late afternoon in March; the wind is strong enough to cause Nellie's coat to flap open. Nellie bundles herself more into her coat and holds on to the newspaper; she knows she will soon be cozy and warm. She thinks fondly of the fact that she now has a home with her sisters; they have been living with the Edwards for a month since the events of Changes for Samantha. Nellie remembers a time where she would scurry past the houses she is walking by and only imagine what it was like inside. She feels good helping Gard and Cornelia and likes to run errands for them and feels like the luckiest girl in New York.
Nellie walks past a group of men doing road work. One of the men stops and grabs Nellie by the arm roughly—Uncle Mike. Nellie's heart stops. Uncle Mike snidely remarks on her fine appearance, saying that Nellie has clearly found some well off people to care for the girls. He asks where they live; Nellie doesn't answer. Uncle Mike calls her a stubborn brat and says that he'll find out where she is so as to take the girls away to live with him as he has that right—and that he'll put them in the factories to work for him. Nellie screams not to come near them, then stomps on his foot to twist out of his grasp and run away. Uncle Mike starts to give chase after Nellie but falls over his wheelbarrow; the crew boss yells at him to get back to work. Mike shouts after the running Nellie that she belongs to him. These words bother Nellie as she runs all the way home and even after she closes the door she shudders; the words are scary, awful and—worse—true.
That night after dinner the family is in the parlor. Bridget and Jenny beg Uncle Gard to read another page from the book they are being read from. Uncle Gard teases that they said that three pages ago but gives in. Bridget and Jenny are next to Gard in his chair like birds safe in a nest. Nellie is working on the hem of Bridget's pinafore and Aunt Cornelia is teaching Samantha to play chess. Nellie is quietly upset; she likes her new home and that Bridget and Jenny are so happy and well cared for. She feels that if the family knew Uncle Mike was around it would upset them, so she decides to keep the fact to herself. She sets down her sewing and tells Bridget and Jenny to come prepare for bed. The two girls beg not to and turn to Gard to beg not to go. Before Gard can reply, Nellie tells them to do as they are told and apologizes for their pestering, calling Gardner "sir". Gard says it's okay and tells Nellie not to call him "sir" as they are family. Cornelia says Gertrude can prepare the girls for bed. Nellie blushes; her sisters have easily adjusted to being part of a wealthy household where she has not as she has worked her whole life. Nellie has not felt that her new life would last and with Uncle Mike's reappearance she is sure it won't. Cornelia and Gard want to adopt the girls formally but Nellie cannot see how Uncle Mike can be prevented from taking them back.
Cornelia summons Gertrude to get Jenny and Bridget ready for bed. Nellie notices that Gertrude looks put upon; the girls would be in her position if the Edwards had not intervened. Gertrude tells the girls to come along and they cling to Gard. Nellie is about to chide them again before Samantha steps in and says she'll tell them a story while they're bathing. Bridget and Jenny are delighted at this. They kiss the others goodnight and go upstairs. Nellie returns to her sewing feeling lucky to have Samantha's friendship and such sweet sisters. She thinks about the promise she told her late mother just before she died—that no matter what, she would protect her sisters and keep them safe and happy. Nellie doesn't know how she'll do it if Mike takes them away but she resolves that she will.
Nellie and Samantha are at school at dance class; Nellie is feeling ungraceful. Samantha whispers to Nellie that her stocking has fallen again. The athletic uniform is too big on Nellie; the bloomers are supposed to fasten under the knees to hold up the stockings Nellie is so thin that the stockings always fall down. Nellie yanks the stocking up and tucks it into her loose bloomers; the stockings sink again. Nellie spends the rest of class doing droop and yank with her stocking. At lunch, Samantha says that Nellie's bloomers are too big and she should ask for a new pair. Nellie protests that the ones she has are brand new. Samantha points out they don't fit Nellie, and Nellie says that she doesn't fit the dance class and thinks the dancing is silly. Samantha says that everything must have a use and it's okay to learn things just because they're pretty or express feelings.
Nellie starts to argue but doesn't finish the sentence. She doesn't know how to tell Samantha that things are different for her. It's urgent that Nellie learn more practical things so she can work and care for her sisters. She doesn't want to work in a factory for the rest of her life if Mike takes them. For Nellie the dance class is a waste of time but she thinks telling Samantha this would appear ungrateful. Nellie does not fit in at her new school with Samantha (Bridget and Jenny have a home tutor). Samantha is so good natured and accepting that she hasn't noticed the other girls and their reactions towards Nellie, as they don't know if she's Samantha's sister or maid. Nellie doesn't blame them for the confusion; there is clearly a class gap in their lives. Sam says that since her birthday is coming up in two months, she'll ask for new bloomers for Nellie. The other girls at lunch join in the conversation; Louisa says that she hates the bloomers and that she'd like to toss them overboard on her birthday balloon ride and never see them again. Tissie says that Louisa will like the ride as she did the same thing for her eighth birthday. Louisa says she got a pony then and asks Nellie what she did on her eighth birthday. Nellie answers that she was working in the thread factory at the time and so didn't get a party. Louisa turns pink and there is awkward silence.
Samantha changes to another topic of what they want to be when they grow up. Louisa wants to be a dancer like Isadora Duncan. Tissie wants to marry a rich duke like Consuelo Vanderbilt. Samantha wants to either be a painter like Mary Cassatt or the first woman president of the US. Nellie says that she wants to work to get the best job she can and earn enough to keep her sisters safe. Louisa and Tissie exchange a glance and Samantha looks confused. Nellie realizes painfully that her answer sounds odd to the girls as if she is unhappy to be with Samantha's family. She can't explain her answer or reassure Samantha, and the rest of lunchtime is silent.
That evening, Samantha and Nellie get ready for dinner. Nellie lets Samantha button up the back of her dress. She is wearing a silver cross necklace, the only thing she has left from her mother. If her mother could see her now, she'd think she's the luckiest girl in the world. Samantha says that she knows Nellie and her sisters are still sad about the loss of their parents; Nellie nods. When Bridget and Jenny wake up crying for them, she doesn't know how to comfort them. Sam asks if the girls are happy living there. Nellie assures Sam they are and feel quite welcome. She starts to stammer about how long they will be there and stops because she does not want to discuss Uncle Mike. She instead says that she wishes she could show her gratitude properly.
Samantha says that she thinks that she understands—that Nellie wants to be useful. She asks if a settlement house is nearby. Nellie knows of one near the East River—she used to go there with her sisters. Nellie learned to sew there and help new immigrants adjust to American life. She knows the head of the house, Miss Brennan. Samantha says that Aunt Cornelia wants to see a settlement house so Nellie could take her there. Nellie is pleased at the idea of helping Cornelia and thinks she can also ask Miss Brennan for advice. Samantha says they can ask Aunt Cornelia right now and challenges her to a race downstairs—last one down is a pair of baggy bloomers. Nellie runs down the stairs with a lighter heart—she feels she can keep her promise even with Uncle Mike back.
Chapter Two: The Settlement House
Nellie and Samantha go straight to the parlor to speak to Cornelia about visiting the settlement house before dinner. Cornelia says that she has wanted to go very much; she thinks the work done there for educating women is important and wants to help. She asks Nellie if she'd like to go back and Nellie says yes. Cornelia says they will all go after school with Nellie to lead them; Nellie is glad to be useful.
The next day is cold and sleety, but the three go out anyways and head towards the rougher part of town. At Seventeenth Street—one of the busiest streets—Nellie tells Cornelia and Samantha to stay close and they join the crowd. Nellie pushes a path through, looking back to make sure she has not lost her family as they are not used to such commotion and could be overwhelmed. However, Cornelia looks very interested and Samantha is grinning. Nellie continues ahead, sure she is going the right way as the smell of the river is stronger.
Nellie then stops short (causing Samantha to bump into her)--she thinks she sees Uncle Mike up ahead and thinks frantically that she has to get out before they're seen. Cornelia asks what's going on; Nellie, shaken, stammers that she think she made a wrong turn. The other two follow her trustingly down a narrow side street. Nellie, while glad to have gotten away from what could have been Uncle Mike, gets a sinking feeling with every step. The alleyway has groups of men in the doorways. They stare and mutter but Nellie ignores them until one stands in their way. Nellie refuses to let the man scare Cornelia or Samantha; she squares her shoulders and scowls at the man, then yells for the "alley rat" to get out the way. Samantha and Cornelia gasp at Nellie's language, but the man smirks and steps back. Nellie asks Cornelia and Samantha to walk on; Cornelia balks but Samantha pulls her along. Nellie glares at the man until he goes back to his doorway, then scurries to catch up. She hopes Cornelia and Samantha are not upset and worries about having brought them to this part of the city.
They come upon the settlement house—which looks as welcome as a harbor—and Nellie says that they have made it. She does not say "at last" but she is thinking this and is sure Cornelia and Samantha are too. When they get inside Cornelia says something smells delicious and Nellie explains it's the cooking classes. She is going to take them to Miss Brennan and then they can be shown around. As they walk down the halls the rooms are full of activity. Miss Brennan has an office but is probably not inside; sure enough, she is found singing in a language class. She smiles at Nellie and waves, coming over as soon as the song is done. She happily greets "Miss Nellie O'Malley-All-Mended" and is glad to see her; she has missed her and her clever hands. She says Nellie looks happy and asks after her family. Nellie explains that they live with friends and introduces Cornelia and Samantha, explaining that Cornelia wants to help out here. Miss Brennan asks if there is anything Cornelia would like to do; Cornelia says she says she doesn't know as she is curious about everything. Mrs. Brennan says it's no worry—Nellie can show her around and she can decide from there. She talks about the settlement house itself before then apologizes for talking so much—she's just proud of her students and their work and is sure Cornelia will be too. Miss Brennan leaves the two to Nellie's guidance and hugs Nellie, calling her good for having come back after her life is better and that they will have to share some good Irish tea and talk. Nellie agrees as she can ask for advice then. Miss Brennan says that it was nice to meet Samantha and Cornelia, and then leaves briskly.
Nellie says Miss Brennan is probably on the way to dance class in the gymnasium, which she hates to miss because it's wonderful. Samantha says she thought Nellie didn't like dancing. Nellie says that these dances are different that what they do—they are real dances like waltzes and cultural dances (which Nellie thinks are the best). Samantha starts to say something but Nellie cuts her off—they are passing the kindergarten room and Nellie suggests they go in. The room is filled with children; many look thin and tired until they smile. One girls is asleep in a corner, and another is eating bread hastily. Nellie's heart aches for the littlest girls as it was not long ago her own sisters were in such a state—she resolves even more to make sure her sisters never suffer again. The kindergarten teacher, Mrs. VanVorst, introduces herself and says she misses Jenny and Bridget and their love of stories. Nellie says that they still love stories and that Samantha tells them stories now. Mrs. VanVorst asks Samantha if she would like to tell the children a story and Samantha shyly and uncertainly says she doesn't know. Nellie, empathizing, urges her to tell one of the ones she tells Bridget and Jenny. Samantha agrees and sits in a rocking chair; as Cornelia and Nellie leave Samantha says that she'll tell the children as story about a sailing ship, which the children eagerly agree to.
Nellie asks Cornelia if she wants to attend the cooking classes and Cornelia agrees. Nellie leads her to the kitchen and in no time at all Cornelia is in an apron helping to wash posts and pans the class has been using. She has to stop and dry her hands time to time as the women bring her samples of things to taste. Most of the class are German and Italian ladies who are generous with the samples. After another sample, she wishes she could say the bread is delicious in the native tongues. Nellie, having learned some of the languages, tells Cornelia what to say—but ends that "mmm" is the same in all languages. She continues to translate for Cornelia in the cooking class. Time passes quickly and soon it is time to go; they get Samantha and head home. It's now dark and sleeting again, and Cornelia and Samantha are tired. A cab is passing by, luckily, and Cornelia waves down the driver. Nellie sits between Samantha and Cornelia. Cornelia sighs happily, thanking Nellie for taking them there and expressing her gratitude before leaning back and closing her eyes. Nellie finds the hoofbeats on the pavement soothing as they head home; she also finds it soothing that they will be returning to the settlement house. She's a little sad she did not get to speak to Miss Brennan, but is sure she will get to as Cornelia has decided to go there once a week. Nellie's glad that her family liked the visit. She turns to look at Samantha and is alarmed and perplexed—Samantha's eyes are full of tears. She hands over her handkerchief and asks what's wrong. Samantha does not take the handkerchief and turns to look out the window of the cab, saying shortly that nothing is wrong and she's fine. Nellie knows she's not, however.
By dinnertime, Samantha has cleaned her face of tear marks; she is subdued at dinner but is still as sweet as usual. She listens even more attentively to Bridget and Jenny's chattering and seems to be studying them like they are new to her. She gently places Jenny's napkin back in her lap and tucks a wisp of Bridget's hair back. Nellie almost feels excluded from the three of them. Samantha is so distracted that Cornelia has to call her twice to get her attention, for which Samantha apologizes. Cornelia explains that she was telling Gard about Nellie being a wonderful guide in the settlement house. Samantha, her voice sounding strained, agrees. Cornelia goes on that she is proud of Nellie for guiding them to the house and defending them from the ruffian that got in their way. Gard asks with alarm what happened. Cornelia explains that Nellie defended them like a brave soldier. Gard thanks Nellie but makes Cornelia promise that from now on they will take a cab to the Settlement house. Cornelia agrees, explaining she will be going back weekly and that she likes the place and the people; she also talks about Nellie's speaking German and Italian. Gard asks Nellie if she does speak those languages and when she says only a little, Cornelia calls her a marvel. Gardner agrees and tugs on her hair bow.
Nellie blushes; she feels weird about the praise and helping Cornelia, but still suspects something is wrong with Samantha—who still looks unhappy, and looks more unhappy as Cornelia speaks. Cornelia says that Nellie found the perfect place for Samantha with the kindergarten class and asks Samantha is she loved it. Samantha says yes but when Cornelia pauses to let her continue she does not and instead turns back to Bridget and Jenny. Nellie catches a glimpse of Samantha's face—her eyes are bright with anger, not enthusiasm. Nellie's heart sinks—she realizes that Samantha did not enjoy the trip to the settlement house to the point that she does not want to talk about it, and is getting more displeases as Cornelia talks. Nellie frets that Samantha could be jealous or even angry at her.
Chapter Three: The Letter
Nellie normally enjoys bedtime. After Gardner and Cornelia have wished the two girls a good night, she and Samantha would talk about the day in hushed voices and giggle together. Sometimes they would talk so long that Gardner comes in and reminds them to go to sleep; many times he would get caught up in the conversation and then Cornelia would have to come and tell Gardner to go to bed. Tonight, however, Samantha curls up with her back to Nellie as soon as the lights are off. The wind outside is loud and Nellie thinks that if it was inside it would clear away the heavy silence. She sits up in bed and whispers to Samantha. When Samantha replies quietly, Nellie asks if the trip to the settlement house upset her. Samantha says it did and that she does not want to talk about it; her voice sounds like she is trying not to cry. Nellie pleased for Samantha to tell her what made her upset since she normally talks about everything. Samantha sits up with her knees to her chest. She sounds angry (to Nellie's surprise) and starts to say that she hated something.
Samantha is cut off when Bridget and Jenny burst into the room and scramble into their bed. Bridget says that they are scared of the wind and Jenny asks if they can stay in the room with Samantha. Samantha says sure; her voice is back to its normal gentleness and love. After much resettling of pillows and bodies, Jenny and Bridget settle down to sleep. The conversation can't continue with the girls there. Furthermore, Nellie can tell that Samantha doesn't want to talk about what is bothering her. Nellie finds it hard to sleep and is up a long time that night. She has always been sure of Samantha's friendship, but is worried that it's in danger. She blames it partially on Uncle Mike as his reappearance and her secret put a wedge between her and Samantha, and the settlement house visit widened it. She worries that Samantha might have seen Nellie as showing off and so resentful of that. Nellie, miserable, wants to make things right between her and Samantha but doesn't know what to do.
The next day is a clear Saturday, and Gardner says that it's a good day for a ride in the motorcar. Bridget and Jenny are eager to go; Cornelia declines but suggests that Nellie and Samantha go as they look tired—guessing that they were up at night talking again. Nellie doesn't meet Samantha's eyes; fortunately, Bridget and Jenny are the focus of attention. They get everyone's coats and the older girls must help them into them. The two younger girls are so giddy that their chattering covers the silence between Nellie and Samantha. The four girls and Gardner head out to the motorcar. Gardner cranks the engine and gets in to steer; the car sputters and smokes, then stops. Gardner climbs out and recranks the car, but it dies again. Gardner gets out with a sigh and opens the hood to take a look at it. Bridget and Jenny become restless; they get into the front seat and start to pretend to drive. Nellie and Samantha get out and stand next to the car. Nellie's father was a driver as well and he used to tinker with motorcars. Gardner wonders aloud what could be wrong. Nellie speaks up timidly to say it may be the carburetor and asks to take a look. Gardner laughs and tells Nellie she may, calling her quite a girl. Nellie smiles back at him weakly and then looks over to see if Samantha is upset by the praise; she can't see her face.
Bridget calls for Samantha to get back in the car so she and Jenny can pretend to drive. She asks where Samantha wants to go and Samantha says Mount Bedford. The girls make driving and car noises, bouncing on the seats enough that the car shakes and the hood wobbles over Gardner's and Nellie's heads. Nellie asks the girls to stop. They stop but start up a few moments later, and Bridget honks the horn accidentally and the girls laugh hysterically. Nellie scolds them to stop their nonsense. Bridget calls Nellie a spoilsport and Jenny says she's no fun. Samantha tells to two girls to come in the house with her; they'll have more fun there, and Nellie and Uncle Gard don't want them around. The girls agree and get out of the car. Nellie looks up from under the hood to see the three head inside laughing and chattering and feels left out again. Gardner calls them the gleesome threesome and Nellie suddenly feels hurt—her sisters like being with Samantha more than they do her, and she is jealous.
A few weeks later, Cornelia calls for Nellie, who goes outside to the cab that will take them to the settlement house. Cornelia thanks Nellie for going with her, and Nellie says that she likes going with her—which is true. Twice a week (after Nellie gets out of school) Nellie and Cornelia go to the settlement house; Nellie feels comfortable and useful there. Samantha always stays with Bridget and Jenny. Thus Nellie is spending more time away from her sisters and Samantha and more time with Cornelia. As the weather is getting warmer, Nellie and Samantha's friendship seems to be cooling. Nellie is hurt but doesn't know what to do; she is sure that she is damaging her friendship with Samantha daily. Samantha is noticing her impatience with their classes at school (which is because Nellie does not feel the classes will prepare her if Uncle Mike comes and takes them away). Samantha has started to leave Nellie alone with Uncle Gardner and Cornelia and shoos Nellie away when she tries to care for her sisters. One morning Jenny cried because she missed Mam; Samantha stepped in and comforted her, leaving Nellie feeling neither needed nor wanted. It is a tangle and Nellie thinks that perhaps they should have never come to live with the Edwards if it would have resulted in damaging her friendship. She wonders if it would be better if she left.
Mrs. Brennan greets Nellie and Cornelia cheerfully, calling them her two favorite helpers. Nellie and Cornelia greet her in unison and then laugh. Miss Brennan hurries Cornelia to the cooking class and then says she is going to borrow Nellie as she promised her tea and a chat. She also admits sheepishly that she has a clock that has stopped. Cornelia says that she'll do her best without Nellie translating. Nellie and Miss Brennan head to her office. Nellie fixes the clock easily (it needed winding and oiling). Miss Brennan pours them tea and says that while she knows Nellie's life has changed a lot, she still hopes she likes shortbread cookies. Nellie says she does. Miss Brennan sits down and says it feels good to do so as she has been very busy. She feels "blessed with work", as her grandmother would say, and feels blessed to have her job. Nellie asks Miss Brennan how she got her job and if she had to go to a special school. Miss Brennan says she trained to be a teacher. Her parents died when she was young; at about Nellie's age she went to Clark School in Boston. Many Irish girls went there hoping to become teachers instead of following their parents into factory work or maid work. She says she was very happy there, then asks Nellie if she is happy at her school. Nellie takes a deep breath before confessing she isn't. Miss Brennan asks her to talk about it.
Nellie explains that she feels ungrateful, but the school isn't for her—it's not preparing her for a real job, where she can care for her sisters like she promised her mother. She then confesses the real reason she feels she needs a real job is because she ran into Uncle Mike and he threatened to take her and her sisters away and make them work in a factory again. She feels that they are lucky they have yet to be found. Miss Brennan sighs heavily; she confesses that Uncle Mike was there the other day ranting and asking about Nellie and her sisters. Nellie stares at her wide-eyed. Miss Brennan continues that she gave him a piece of her mind and sent him away without saying anything about Nellie or her sisters as she wouldn't give Uncle Mike the time of day. Nellie's hand shakes as she sets her teacup down. She thanks Miss Brennan, but confesses that she feels Uncle Mike will find them at any time. She doesn't think she can keep her mam's promise if she's forced into factory work and Uncle Mike is drinking away her earnings, like before.
Miss Brennan calls Nellie smart and brave, having dealt with a lot of burdens. Nellie now lives with good people and Miss Brennan suggests that she talk toe the Edwards; Gardner is a lawyer and will know about laws to protect the sisters and will help them. Nellie starts to worry about if Uncle Mike comes, and Miss Brennan cuts her off and says that, no matter if she stays with the Edwards or if she is taken by her uncle, she'll have to choose what she wants her life to be and where she wants to go in life. Nellie solemnly says she thinks she has decided to be a teacher like Miss Brennan. Miss Brennan considers this the best compliment she has ever had. She then gets to her feet and tells Nellie to go one before she turns her head; Cornelia will need her help in the kitchen. Nellie thanks Miss Brennan for the tea and help. Miss Brennan thanks her for fixing the clock and gives her an Irish coin in payment to remind Nellie of her heritage. Nellie swears to keep it with her. Miss Brennan tells Nellie she is proud of her decision and of her.
Nellie has made another decision too that she did not tell Miss Brennan, though. That night after everyone is in bed, she gets out of bed and goes to the bathroom. She takes letter writing tools out of the linen cabinet where she hid them earlier. She addresses a letter to the Clark School asking about information about enrollment.
About a week later at night, Cornelia, Gardner, and Nellie are reading in the parlor. Bridget and Jenny have gone upstairs to bed already as Samantha has promised them a story. Cornelia notices that Gardner has a long face and that the letter he's reading isn't from someone before stopping mid sentence and looking at Nellie. Gardner says it isn't and Cornelia asks if there is bad news in the letter. Gardner clears his throat; his voice is odd. He says the letter is addressed to the guardians of Miss Nellie O'Malley, which is why he opened it. It is from Clark School and has offered Nellie enrollment. Cornelia sounds disbelieving. They both look at Nellie with confusion and hurt. Nellie feels terrible as she had hoped the letter would come to her first and did not want to spring this on them. Cornelia gently asks if Nellie wants to go to school in Boston, and isn't she happy with them. Nellie is unsure of how to explain how she feels—leaving seems the only way to stop Samantha's growing coldness and the school will help her protect her sisters and keep her mam's promise. She ducks her head. Hearing a sound at the doorway, she turns to see Samantha through her bangs. Samantha is pale and frozen, and Nellie knows she's heard everything. Nellie, quietly but firmly, tells everyone that she thinks it would be best for everyone if she left.
Chapter Four: Telling The Truth
Samantha runs upstairs. Cornelia says—in a soft, sad voice—that they will talk in a moment but Nellie should go speak to Samantha first. Nellie slowly goes upstairs to their room, dreading the looming conversation. Samantha is sitting on the window seat, starting at the pink-blossomed tree outside the open window. Samantha turns to face Nellie and flatly says that she's going to leave, sounding drained of life. Nellie nods. Samantha asks if she'll take Bridget and Jenny. Nellie says that she's responsible for them as they're her sisters, even if they like Samantha better. Samantha protests and Nellie insists it is true. Samantha spends more time with them, tells them stories, and puts them to bed. They turn to her for comfort now, not Nellie. Samantha says that she never meant to have Nellie feel left out; she has always wanted sisters and felt that she was helping Nellie by caring for them, since Nellie had said that it was hard to comfort them when they cried for their parents because she missed them. Nellie's jealousy starts to fade. Samantha continues that she knows she has been spending a lot of time with Nellie's sisters since they went to the settlement house. The children there made her think how the O'Malley sisters were once poor and hungry and made her want to hug Bridget and Jenny tight and make sure they were safe and happy. She wished to help all the children there and make things better; the knowledge she couldn't possibly do made her sad and angry, which is why (Nellie realizes) she was crying on the way back after the first visit. Nellie had wrongfully assumed that Samantha hated the place. Samantha wanted to go but felt it best to give Nellie time with Gardner and Cornelia alone. She could tell something was bothering Nellie and she didn't want to talk to Samantha about it, so Samantha had hoped that if Nellie was alone with their guardians she would tell them. Nellie says she completely misunderstood and was jealous of Samantha like she thought she was jealous of her. Samantha confesses she was jealous and while it felt horrible, she couldn't help it as everyone was proud of Nellie. She also felt hurt that Nellie was not happy at school.
Nellie apologizes and says that she could tell she was ruining their friendship and would have to leave to make things better. Samantha begs her not to go to Boston. Nellie says she must and will borrow money for the train ticket from the Edwards. Samantha protests that Gardner and Cornelia love Nellie and want to adopt the three girls and care for them always and have told Samantha this. Nellie says that they are good and kind, but they can't do that since they aren't Nellie's real parents. Samantha exclaims they aren't her real parents either; Nellie's heart twists as she realizes that she has forgotten in her troubles that Samantha is an orphan too. Samantha says that they're trying to start a new family and it won't matter if the Edwards aren't her real relatives. Nellie says it will and confesses her secret about Uncle Mike's reappearance and threat to take the sisters away. When asked by Samantha why she didn't say so, Nellie says she didn't want to make everyone worry and she felt that her could not be stopped as he's their real uncle. Samantha asks if Nellie wanted to go to Boston to hide. Nellie says that yes as this is part of the reason. She does not get to explain further as Samantha interrupts. Samantha says that while Nellie is brave, she can't handle this alone and that she will need to tell Gardner and Cornelia about Uncle Mike first thing tomorrow. Nellie promises to do so but isn't sure anyone can help and that the Edwards can't stop Uncle Mike. For the first time in weeks, the two girls are up talking late into the night; they are sure Gardner and Cornelia are doing the same as they do not come up to tuck them in while they are awake.
Nellie goes down the next morning feeling much happier as she has Samantha's friendship again. As they pass the door to the parlor, Nellie hears voices and freezes, grabbing Samantha's hand. One of the voices is Uncle Mike, and Nellie is sure he's come to take the girls away. Samantha asks what to do scared. Nellie sees Samantha's face and becomes furious that Uncle Mike has scared her. She is tired of being scared too. She squeezes Samantha's hand ans says that she's going in there to face him. She owes it to her sisters and herself; she will spend the rest of her life running if she doesn't stand up to him. Nellie bites her lip and says she will go with Nellie. The two girls go into the parlor and Nellie greets Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike is slouched in a chair and says he's found her. Gardner corrects Mike--they found him, and he's here because he was asked to be. Uncle Mike growls that he was chased by a detective and dragged there. Nellie, astounded, asks why. Cornelia comes over and tells Nellie that they have been looking for Uncle Mike since they took in the three girls to talk to him about adopting them. Uncle Gard adds that they found him a few days ago and when Nellie mentioned going to Boston, they felt they should speak to him sooner rather than later. Uncle Mike tells Nellie she's been keeping secrets and didn't say they have run into each other already and he swore to take them back. Nellie agrees as she didn't want to worry the Edwards. Cornelia hugs Nellie and says that this is why she wanted to go to Boston—to hide from her uncle. She says that Nellie won't have to leave because they are settling things today and that, if she wants to, Uncle Mike can sign the papers giving up his rights and allowing adoption. Gardner continues that with the laws that protect children, Mike won't be able to see them any more once he signs over his rights.
Mike crosses his arms and says that he may or may not sign the papers. The children are his late brother's and he says that not seeing them anymore would be a loss, and that rich people like the Edwards could pay him into signing. Gardner is offended. Nellie steps right in front of Uncle Mike and tells him that he had better sign the papers and not ask for money. Uncle Mike smirks and questions her. Nellie says he had better because otherwise she'll tell everyone about how he took the girls' money and left them to starve and freeze to death in January. This is clearly against the law and a judge won't let him take them if he knew what he'd done to them and would probably go to jail. Uncle Mike's jaw drops open. He hastily signs the papers and says good riddance to bad rubbish. As he leaves, he says he hopes he never sees any of them again. Nellie agrees with him for once. The door slams shut and Cornelia and Gardner collapse into chairs. Samantha hugs Nellie and jumps up and down, saying she won't have to go to Boston now. Nellie still looks solemn. Gardner pulls her into his lap and Cornelia asks what's wrong. Nellie leans against him; she has to tell him an unhappy truth. She explains that getting away from Mike was not the only reason she wanted to go to the Boston School; she promised her mother she would always care for her sisters and she wanted to go to learn to be a teacher to keep that promise. Now she still wants to be a teacher. She doesn't want to sound ungrateful but she is not happy at their school and feels it impractical. Cornelia says that she understands and that they can ask Miss Brennan if there is a school in New York for Nellie like Clark school and they can enroll her in it. Samantha pokes Nellie playfully and says that she can stay in New York and never have to flutter-arm dance again.
Several months pass and it is now a sunshine-filled May morning. Nellie is prodding Samantha to tell her about her secret wish as they have promised not to keep secrets any more. Nellie begs for a hint; Samantha says it is about her birthday in three weeks. Nellie hopes that Samantha has not wished for new bloomers for Nellie. Samantha says she didn't, but her wish is about Nellie. Nellie looks puzzled and Samantha laughs before explaining that she'll tell. She wishes that the adoption be done by her birthday, as the present she wants most is for Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny to be her sisters truly. Nellie smiles before saying she would like that too. They stop at the corner. Nellie says this is where they say good-bye; Nellie has been enrolled in a new school that Miss Brennan helped the family locate and she loves it as it is much more practical in focus. Samantha says she will see Nellie later, and Nellie says she will see Samantha at home. Samantha skips towards her school and Nellie watches her go. Samantha has noticed Nellie watching and without turning around, waves goodbye with a very fluttery arm that makes Nellie laugh aloud.
Looking Back: Adoption in 1906
Discusses adoption and other aspects of life in turn of the century America. Topics include:
- The rarity of non-relative adoption at the time and how most well to do people would not take in people "beneath their class"
- How relatives could take in orphaned children with no questions asked and reclaim them at any time despite any abuse or abandonment
- Orphans being expected to earn their keep with hard work til they were adults
- Orphan trains
- The surrender forms which allowed parents and guardians to give up rights to children and thus allow adoption
- The class divide that would exist between Samantha and Nellie as relatives
- Women who learned more practical skills at schools (example: Teachers College in New York); schools such as Samantha's were more devoted to teaching women to be rich wives
- Settlement houses
Items Associated with Nellie's Promise
- Many copies include a "sneak peek" of Meet Samantha; the excerpt is of Chapter Three which coincides with Samantha first meeting Nellie.
- With the release of Nellie's Promise, the covers of all the Central Series books were redone to line up with the new cover style, which continues to be used in Historical Book covers to the present.