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Mistress Mary

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"Mistress Mary" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It is one selection in Baum's 1897 collection Mother Goose in Prose. It is Baum's version of the rhyme known as "Mistress Mary, so contrary," or "Mary, Mary, quite contrary."

Summary

Mary is a little girl who lives in a cottage with her parents and her two older brothers. Her father and brothers are sailors, who will soon depart on a voyage to the Black Sea in their ship, the Skylark. The father tells his daughter that they will not return until the local wildflowers, the cowslips, cockle shells, and dingle bells, have bloomed and then faded.

Once the three are gone, Mary decides to plant a garden of the three flowers, so that she can watch their cycle of life. Her mother advises Mary to make her garden on the sheltered side of the house; but Mary is sometimes willful and contrary, and she chooses to set her garden at the front of the house where the sunshine is strongest. She plants her flowers in neat rows, and they blossom, but soon fade in the sharp sea wind. When the dingle bells die, Mary worries that their deaths are bad omens; when the rest die too, she expects her family members home soon. But the local squire takes her riding about the countryside on his mare, and shows her that the flowers are still blooming lushly in the meadows, fields, and woods.

So Mary learns to be more patient and a bit less contrary; and in time, after the wildflowers have faded, her father and brothers return from their voyage as promised, healthy and happy.

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