Aunt Jane's Nieces - L. Frank Baum - ebook

Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, this book, which Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum wrote under the pen name Edith Van Dyne, is much in the same vein as Alcott's cozy coming-of-age tale. The first in a series, the story of this novel follows three nieces who are summoned to their wealthy aunt's estate so she can decide to whom she will bequeath her sizable inheritance. Although the girls couldn't be more different personality-wise, a series of calamities brings them closer together. Aunt Hane's Nieces is a delightful read for fans of classic young adult fiction.  

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Copyright © 2018 by L. Frank Baum.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

For information contact :

Sheba Blake Publishing




Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing

First Edition: August 2018

































Professor De Graf was sorting the mail at the breakfast table.

"Here's a letter for you, Beth," said he, and tossed it across the cloth to where his daughter sat.

The girl raised her eyebrows, expressing surprise. It was something unusual for her to receive a letter. She picked up the square envelope between a finger and thumb and carefully read the inscription, "Miss Elizabeth De Graf, Cloverton, Ohio." Turning the envelope she found on the reverse flap a curious armorial emblem, with the word "Elmhurst."

Then she glanced at her father, her eyes big and somewhat startled in expression. The Professor was deeply engrossed in a letter from Benjamin Lowenstein which declared that a certain note must be paid at maturity. His weak, watery blue eyes stared rather blankly from behind the gold-rimmed spectacles. His flat nostrils extended and compressed like those of a frightened horse; and the indecisive mouth was tremulous. At the best the Professor was not an imposing personage. He wore a dressing-gown of soiled quilted silk and linen not too immaculate; but his little sandy moustache and the goatee that decorated his receding chin were both carefully waxed into sharp points--an indication that he possessed at least one vanity. Three days in the week he taught vocal and instrumental music to the ambitious young ladies of Cloverton. The other three days he rode to Pelham's Grove, ten miles away, and taught music to all who wished to acquire that desirable accomplishment. But the towns were small and the fees not large, so that Professor De Graf had much difficulty in securing an income sufficient for the needs of his family.

The stout, sour-visaged lady who was half-hidden by her newspaper at the other end of the table was also a bread-winner, for she taught embroidery to the women of her acquaintance and made various articles of fancy-work that were sold at Biggar's Emporium, the largest store in Cloverton. So, between them, the Professor and Mrs. DeGraf managed to defray ordinary expenses and keep Elizabeth at school; but there were one or two dreadful "notes" that were constantly hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles, threatening to ruin them at any moment their creditors proved obdurate.

Finding her father and mother both occupied, the girl ventured to open her letter. It was written in a sharp, angular, feminine hand and read as follows:

"My Dear Niece: It will please me to have you spend the months of July and August as my guest at Elmhurst. I am in miserable health, and wish to become better acquainted with you before I die. A check for necessary expenses is enclosed and I shall expect you to arrive promptly on the first of July.

"Your Aunt,


A low exclamation from Elizabeth caused her father to look in her direction. He saw the bank check lying beside her plate and the sight lent an eager thrill to his voice.

"What is it, Beth?"

"A letter from Aunt Jane."

Mrs. De Graf gave a jump and crushed the newspaper into her lap.

"What!" she screamed.

"Aunt Jane has invited me to spend two months at Elmhurst" said Elizabeth, and passed the letter to her mother, who grabbed it excitedly.

"How big is the check, Beth?" enquired the Professor, in a low tone.

"A hundred dollars. She says it's for my expenses.

"Huh! Of course you won't go near that dreadful old cat, so we can use the money to better advantage."


The harsh, cutting voice was that of his wife, and the Professor shrank back in his chair.

"Your sister Jane is a mean, selfish, despicable old female," he muttered. "You've said so a thousand times yourself, Julia."

"My sister Jane is a very wealthy woman, and she's a Merrick," returned the lady, severely. "How dare you--a common De Graf--asperse her character?"

"The De Grafs are a very good family," he retorted.

"Show me one who is wealthy! Show me one who is famous!"

"I can't," said the Professor. "But they're decent, and they're generous, which is more than can be said for your tribe."

"Elizabeth must go to Elmhurst," said Mrs. De Graf, ignoring her husband's taunt.

"She shan't. Your sister refused to loan me fifty dollars last year, when I was in great trouble. She hasn't given you a single cent since I married you. No daughter of mine shall go In Elmhurst to be bullied and insulted by Jane Merrick."

"Adolph, try to conceal the fact that you're a fool," said his wife. "Jane is in a desperate state of health, and can't live very long at the best. I believe she's decided to leave her money to Elizabeth, or she never would have invited the child to visit her. Do you want to fly in the face of Providence, you doddering old imbecile?"

"No," said the Professor, accepting the doubtful appellation without a blush. "How much do you suppose Jane is worth?"

"A half million, at the very least. When she was a girl she inherited from Thomas Bradley, the man she was engaged to marry, and who was suddenly killed in a railway accident, more than a quarter of a million dollars, besides that beautiful estate of Elmhurst. I don't believe Jane has even spent a quarter of her income, and the fortune must have increased enormously. Elizabeth will be one of the wealthiest heiresses in the country!"

"If she gets the money, which I doubt," returned the Professor, gloomily.

"Why should you doubt it, after this letter?"

"You had another sister and a brother, and they both had children," said he.

"They each left a girl. I admit. But Jane has never favored them any more than she has me. And this invitation, coming; when Jane is practically on her death bed, is a warrant that Beth will get the money."

"I hope she will," sighed the music teacher. "We all need it bad enough, I'm sure."

During this conversation Elizabeth, who might be supposed the one most interested in her Aunt's invitation, sat silently at her place, eating her breakfast with her accustomed calmness of demeanor and scarcely glancing at her parents.

She had pleasant and quite regular features, for a girl of fifteen, with dark hair and eyes--the "Merrick eyes," her mother proudly declared--and a complexion denoting perfect health and colored with the rosy tints of youth. Her figure was a bit slim and unformed, and her shoulders stooped a little more than was desirable; but in Cloverton Elizabeth had the reputation of being "a pretty girl," and a sullen and unresponsive one as well.

Presently she rose from her seat, glanced at the clock, and then went into the hall to get her hat and school-books. The prospect of being an heiress some day had no present bearing on the fact that it was time to start for school.

Her father came to the door with the check in his hand.

"Just sign your name on the back of this, Beth," said he, "and I'll get it cashed for you."

The girl shook her head.

"No, father," she answered. "If I decide to go to Aunt Jane's I must buy some clothes; and if you get the money I'll never see a cent of it."

"When will you decide?" he asked.

"There's no hurry. I'll take time to think it over," she replied. "I hate Aunt Jane, of course; so if I go to her I must be a hypocrite, and pretend to like her, or she never will leave me her property.

"Well, Beth?"

"Perhaps it will be worth while; but if I go into that woman's house I'll be acting a living lie."

"But think of the money!" said her mother.

"I do think of it. That's why I didn't tell you at once to send the check back to Aunt Jane. I'm going to think of everything before I decide. But if I go--if I allow this money to make me a hypocrite--I won't stop at trifles, I assure you. It's in my nature to be dreadfully wicked and cruel and selfish, and perhaps the money isn't worth the risk I run of becoming depraved."


"Good-bye; I'm late now," she continued, in the same quiet tone, and walked slowly down the walk.

The Professor twisted his moustache and looked into his wife's eyes with a half frightened glance.

"Beth's a mighty queer girl," he muttered.

"She's very like her Aunt Jane," returned Mrs. De Graf, thoughtfully gazing after her daughter. "But she's defiant and wilful enough for all the Merricks put together. I do hope she'll decide to go to Elmhurst."



In the cosy chamber of an apartment located in a fashionable quarter of New York Louise Merrick reclined upon a couch, dressed in a dainty morning gown and propped and supported by a dozen embroidered cushions.

Upon a taboret beside her stood a box of bonbons, the contents of which she occasionally nibbled as she turned the pages of her novel.

The girl had a pleasant and attractive face, although its listless expression was singular in one so young. It led you to suspect that the short seventeen years of her life had robbed her of all the anticipation and eagerness that is accustomed to pulse in strong young blood, and filled her with experiences that compelled her to accept existence in a half bored and wholly matter-of-fact way.

The room was tastefully though somewhat elaborately furnished; yet everything in it seemed as fresh and new as if it had just come from the shop--which was not far from the truth. The apartment itself was new, with highly polished floors and woodwork, and decorations undimmed by time. Even the girl's robe, which she wore so gracefully, was new, and the books upon the center-table were of the latest editions.

The portiere was thrust aside and an elderly lady entered the room, seating herself quietly at the window, and, after a single glance at the form upon the couch, beginning to embroider patiently upon some work she took from a silken bag. She moved so noiselessly that the girl did not hear her and for several minutes absolute silence pervaded the room.

Then, however, Louise in turning a leaf glanced up and saw the head bent over the embroidery. She laid down her book and drew an open letter from between the cushions beside her, which she languidly tossed into the other's lap.

"Who is this woman, mamma?" she asked.

Mrs. Merrick glanced at the letter and then read it carefully through, before replying.

"Jane Merrick is your father's sister," she said, at last, as she thoughtfully folded the letter and placed it upon the table.

"Why have I never heard of her before?" enquired the girl, with a slight accession of interest in her tones.

"That I cannot well explain. I had supposed you knew of your poor father's sister Jane, although you were so young when he died that it is possible he never mentioned her name in your presence."

"They were not on friendly terms, you know. Jane was rich, having inherited a fortune and a handsome country place from a young man whom she was engaged to marry, but who died on the eve of his wedding day."

"How romantic!" exclaimed Louise.

"It does seem romantic, related in this way," replied her mother. "But with the inheritance all romance disappeared from your aunt's life. She became a crabbed, disagreeable woman, old before her time and friendless because she suspected everyone of trying to rob her of her money. Your poor father applied to her in vain for assistance, and I believe her refusal positively shortened his life. When he died, after struggling bravely to succeed in his business, he left nothing but his life-insurance."

"Thank heaven he left that!" sighed Louise.

"Yes; we would have been beggared, indeed, without it," agreed Mrs. Merrick. "Yet I often wonder, Louise, how we managed to live upon the interest of that money for so many years."

"We didn't live--we existed," corrected the girl, yawning. "We scrimped and pinched, and denied ourselves everything but bare necessities. And had it not been for your brilliant idea, mater dear, we would still be struggling in the depths of poverty."

Mrs. Merrick frowned, and leaned back in her chair.

"I sometimes doubt if the idea was so brilliant, after all," she returned, with a certain grimness of expression. "We're plunging, Louise; and it may be into a bottomless pit."

"Don't worry, dear," said the girl, biting into a bonbon. "We are only on the verge of our great adventure, and there's no reason to be discouraged yet, I assure you. Brilliant! Of course the idea was brilliant, mamma. The income of that insurance money was insignificant, but the capital is a very respectable sum. I am just seventeen years of age--although I feel that I ought to be thirty, at the least--and in three years I shall be twenty, and a married woman. You decided to divide our capital into three equal parts, and spend a third of it each year, this plan enabling us to live in good style and to acquire a certain social standing that will allow me to select a wealthy husband. It's a very brilliant idea, my dear! Three years is a long time. I'll find my Croesus long before that, never fear."

"You ought to," returned the mother, thoughtfully. "But if you fail, we shall be entirely ruined."

"A strong incentive to succeed." said Louise, smiling. "An ordinary girl might not win out; but I've had my taste of poverty, and I don't like it. No one will suspect us of being adventurers, for as long as we live in this luxurious fashion we shall pay our bills promptly and be proper and respectable in every way. The only chance we run lies in the danger that eligible young men may prove shy, and refuse to take our bait; but are we not diplomats, mother dear? We won't despise a millionaire, but will be content with a man who can support us in good style, or even in comfort, and in return for his money I'll be a very good wife to him. That seems sensible and wise, I'm sure, and not at all difficult of accomplishment."

Mrs. Merrick stared silently out of the window, and for a few moments seemed lost in thought.

"I think, Louise," she said at last, "you will do well to cultivate your rich aunt, and so have two strings to your bow."

"You mean that I should accept her queer invitation to visit her?"


"She has sent me a check for a hundred dollars. Isn't it funny?"

"Jane was always a whimsical woman. Perhaps she thinks we are quite destitute, and fears you would not be able to present a respectable appearance at Elmhurst without this assistance. But it is an evidence of her good intentions. Finding death near at hand she is obliged to select an heir, and so invites you to visit her that she may study your character and determine whether you are worthy to inherit her fortune."

The girl laughed, lightly.

"It will be easy to cajole the old lady," she said. "In two days I can so win her heart that she will regret she has neglected me so long."


"If I get her money we will change our plans, and abandon the adventure we were forced to undertake. But if, for any reason, that plan goes awry, we can fall back upon this prettily conceived scheme which we have undertaken. As you say, it is well to have two strings to one's bow; and during July and August everyone will be out of town, and so we shall lose no valuable time."

Mrs. Merrick did not reply. She stitched away in a methodical manner, as if abstracted, and Louise crossed her delicate hands behind her head and gazed at her mother reflectively. Presently she said:

"Tell me more of my father's family. Is this rich aunt of mine the only relative he had?"

"No, indeed. There were two other sisters and a brother--a very uninteresting lot, with the exception, of your poor father. The eldest was John Merrick, a common tinsmith, if I remember rightly, who went into the far west many years ago and probably died there, for he was never heard from. Then came Jane, who in her young days had some slight claim to beauty. Anyway, she won the heart of Thomas Bradley, the wealthy young man I referred to, and she must have been clever to have induced him to leave her his money. Your father was a year or so younger than Jane, and after him came Julia, a coarse and disagreeable creature who married a music-teacher and settled in some out-of-the-way country town. Once, while your father was alive, she visited us for a few days, with her baby daughter, and nearly drove us all crazy. Perhaps she did not find us very hospitable, for we were too poor to entertain lavishly. Anyway, she went away suddenly after you had a fight with her child and nearly pulled its hair out by the roots, and I have never heard of her since."

"A daughter, eh," said Louise, musingly. "Then this rich Aunt Jane has another niece besides myself."

"Perhaps two," returned Mrs. Merrick; "for her youngest sister, who was named Violet, married a vagabond Irishman and had a daughter about a year younger than you. The mother died, but whether the child survived her or not I have never learned."

"What was her name?" asked Louise.

"I cannot remember. But it is unimportant. You are the only Merrick of them all, and that is doubtless the reason Jane has sent for you."

The girl shook her blonde head.

"I don't like it," she observed.

"Don't like what?"

"All this string of relations. It complicates matters."

Mrs. Merrick seemed annoyed.

"If you fear your own persuasive powers," she said, with almost a sneer in her tones, "you'd better not go to Elmhurst. One or the other of your country cousins might supplant you in your dear aunt's affections."

The girl yawned and took up her neglected novel.

"Nevertheless, mater dear," she said briefly, "I shall go."



"Now, Major, stand up straight and behave yourself! How do you expect me to sponge your vest when you're wriggling around in that way?"

"Patsy, dear, you're so sweet this evening, I just had to kiss your lips."

"Don't do it again, sir," replied Patricia, severely, as she scrubbed the big man's waistcoat with a damp cloth. "And tell me, Major, how you ever happened to get into such a disgraceful condition."

"The soup just shpilled," said the Major, meekly.

Patricia laughed merrily. She was a tiny thing, appearing to be no more than twelve years old, although in reality she was sixteen. Her hair was a decided red--not a beautiful "auburn," but really red--and her round face was badly freckled. Her nose was too small and her mouth too wide to be beautiful, but the girl's wonderful blue eyes fully redeemed these faults and led the observer to forget all else but their fascinations. They could really dance, these eyes, and send out magnetic, scintillating sparks of joy and laughter that were potent to draw a smile from the sourest visage they smiled upon. Patricia was a favorite with all who knew her, but the big, white-moustached Major Doyle, her father, positively worshipped her, and let the girl rule him as her fancy dictated.

"Now, sir, you're fairly decent again," she said, after a few vigorous scrubs. "So put on your hat and we'll go out to dinner."

They occupied two small rooms at the top of a respectable but middle-class tenement building, and had to descend innumerable flights of bare wooden stairs before they emerged upon a narrow street thronged with people of all sorts and descriptions except those who were too far removed from the atmosphere of Duggan street to know that it existed.

The big major walked stiffly and pompously along, swinging his silver-trimmed cane in one hand while Patricia clung to his other arm. The child wore a plain grey cloak, for the evening was chill. She had a knack of making her own clothes, all of simple material and fashion, but fitting neatly and giving her an air of quiet refinement that made more than one passer-by turn to look back at her curiously.

After threading their way for several blocks they turned in at the open door of an unobtrusive restaurant where many of the round white tables were occupied by busy and silent patrons.

The proprietor nodded to the major and gave Patricia a smile. There was no need to seat them, for they found the little table in the corner where they were accustomed to eat, and sat down.

"Did you get paid tonight?" asked the girl.

"To be sure, my Patsy."

"Then hand over the coin," she commanded.

The major obeyed. She counted it carefully and placed it in her pocketbook, afterwards passing a half-dollar back to her father.

"Remember, Major, no riotous living! Make that go as far as you can, and take care not to invite anyone to drink with you."

"Yes, Patsy."

"And now I'll order the dinner."

The waiter was bowing and smiling beside her. Everyone smiled at Patsy, it seemed.

They gave the usual order, and then, after a moment's hesitation, she added:

"And a bottle of claret for the Major."

Her father fairly gasped with amazement.


People at the near-by tables looked up as her gay laugh rang out, and beamed upon her in sympathy.

"I'm not crazy a bit. Major," said she, patting the hand he had stretched toward her, partly in delight and partly in protest. "I've just had a raise, that's all, and we'll celebrate the occasion."

Her father tucked the napkin under his chin then looked at her questioningly.

"Tell me, Patsy."

"Madam Borne sent me to a swell house on Madison Avenue this morning, because all her women were engaged. I dressed the lady's hair in my best style, Major, and she said it was much more becoming than Juliette ever made it. Indeed, she wrote a note to Madam, asking her to send me, hereafter, instead of Juliette, and Madam patted my head and said I would be a credit to her, and my wages would be ten dollars a week, from now on. Ten dollars. Major! As much as you earn yourself at that miserable bookkeeping!"

"Sufferin' Moses!" ejaculated the astonished major, staring back into her twinkling eyes, "if this kapes on, we'll be millionaires, Patsy."

"We're millionaires, now." responded Patsy, promptly, "because we've health, and love, and contentment--and enough money to keep us from worrying. Do you know what I've decided, Major, dear? You shall go to make that visit to your colonel that you've so long wanted to have. The vacation will do you good, and you can get away all during July, because you haven't rested for five years. I went to see Mr. Conover this noon, and he said he'd give you the month willingly, and keep the position for you when you returned."

"What! You spoke to old Conover about me?"

"This noon. It's all arranged, daddy, and you'll just have a glorious time with the old colonel. Bless his dear heart, he'll be overjoyed to have you with him, at last."

The major pulled out his handkerchief, blew his nose vigorously, and then surreptitiously wiped his eyes.

"Ah, Patsy, Patsy; it's an angel you are, and nothing less at all, at all."

"Rubbish, Major. Try your claret, and see if it's right. And eat your fish before it gets cold. I'll not treat you again, sir, unless you try to look happy. Why, you seem as glum as old Conover himself!"

The major was positively beaming.

"Would it look bad for me to kiss you, Patsy?"


"Now and right here in this very room!"

"Of course it would. Try and behave, like the gentleman you are, and pay attention to your dinner!"

It was a glorious meal. The cost was twenty-five cents a plate, but the gods never feasted more grandly in Olympus than these two simple, loving souls in that grimy Duggan street restaurant.

Over his coffee the major gave a sudden start and looked guiltily into Patricia's eyes.

"Now, then," she said, quickly catching the expression, "out with it."

"It's a letter," said the major. "It came yesterday, or mayhap the day before. I don't just remember."

"A letter! And who from?" she cried, surprised.

"An ould vixen."

"And who may that be?"

"Your mother's sister Jane. I can tell by the emblem on the flap of the envelope," said he, drawing a crumpled paper from his breast pocket.

"Oh, that person," said Patsy, with scorn. "Whatever induced her to write to me?" "You might read it and find out," suggested the major.

Patricia tore open the envelope and scanned the letter. Her eyes blazed.

"What is it, Mavoureen?"

"An insult!" she answered, crushing the paper in her hand and then stuffing it into the pocket of her dress. "Light your pipe, daddy, dear. Here--I'll strike the match."



"How did you enjoy the reception, Louise?"

"Very well, mamma. But I made the discovery that my escort. Harry Wyndham, is only a poor cousin of the rich Wyndham family, and will never have a penny he doesn't earn himself."

"I knew that," said Mrs. Merrick. "But Harry has the entree into some very exclusive social circles. I hope you treated him nicely, Louise. He can be of use to us."

"Oh, yes, I think I interested him; but he's a very stupid boy. By the way, mamma, I had an adventure last evening, which I have had no time to tell you of before."


"It has given me quite a shock. You noticed the maid you ordered to come from Madam Borne to dress my hair for the reception?"

"I merely saw her. Was she unsatisfactory?"

"She was very clever. I never looked prettier, I am sure. The maid is a little, demure thing, very young for such a position, and positively homely and common in appearance. But I hardly noticed her until she dropped a letter from her clothing. It fell just beside me, and I saw that it was addressed to no less a personage than my rich aunt, Miss Jane Merrick, at Elmhurst. Curious to know why a hair-dresser should be in correspondence with Aunt Jane, I managed to conceal the letter under my skirts until the maid was gone. Then I put it away until after the reception. It was sealed and stamped, all ready for the post, but I moistened the flap and easily opened it. Guess what I read?"

"I've no idea," replied Mrs. Merrick.

"Here it is," continued Louise, producing a letter and carefully unfolding it. "Listen to this, if you please: 'Aunt Jane.' She doesn't even say 'dear' or 'respected,' you observe."

'Your letter to me, asking me to visit you, is almost an insult after your years of silence and neglect and your refusals to assist my poor mother when she was in need. Thank God we can do without your friendship and assistance now, for my honored father, Major Gregory Doyle, is very prosperous and earns all we need. I return your check with my compliments. If you are really ill, I am sorry for you, and would go to nurse you were you not able to hire twenty nurses, each of whom would have fully as much love and far more respect for you than could ever

'Your indignant niece,

'Patricia Doyle.'

"What do you think of that, mamma?'"

"It's very strange, Louise. This hair-dresser is your own cousin."

"So it seems. And she must be poor, or she wouldn't go out as a sort of lady's maid. I remember scolding her severely for pulling my hair at one time, and she was as meek as Moses, and never answered a word."

"She has a temper though, as this letter proves," said Mrs. Merrick; "and I admire her for the stand she has taken."

"So do I," rejoined Louise with a laugh, "for it removes a rival from my path. You will notice that Aunt Jane has sent her a check for the same amount she sent me. Here it is, folded in the letter. Probably my other cousin, the De Graf girl, is likewise invited to Elmhurst? Aunt Jane wanted us all, to see what we were like, and perhaps to choose between us."

"Quite likely," said Mrs. Merrick, uneasily watching her daughter's face.

"That being the case," continued Louise, "I intend to enter the competition. With this child Patricia out of the way, it will be a simple duel with my unknown De Graf cousin for my aunt's favor, and the excitement will be agreeable even if I am worsted."

"There's no danger of that," said her mother, calmly. "And the stakes are high, Louise. I've learned that your Aunt Jane is rated as worth a half million dollars."

"They shall be mine," said the daughter, with assurance. "Unless, indeed, the De Graf girl is most wonderfully clever. What is her name?"

"Elizabeth, if I remember rightly. But I am not sure she is yet alive, my dear. I haven't heard of the De Grafs for a dozen years.'"

"Anyway I shall accept my Aunt Jane's invitation, and make the acceptance as sweet as Patricia Doyle's refusal is sour. Aunt Jane will be simply furious when she gets the little hair-dresser's note."