Written in 1988 by Valerie Tripp; illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Luann Roberts
As the book starts, it seems that life is good. After many years, Grandmary finally accepted the marriage proposal from Admiral Beemis, and they're on a long sailing trip on his yacht. Samantha now lives with Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia, in exciting New York City. One day after school, Samantha and Aunt Cornelia make valentines for the people close to them, chatting about what makes their loved ones special and planning surprises for them. Then Uncle Gard comes home with a letter from Nellie. Influenza hit Mount Bedford hard, and her parents died. The Van Sicklens are unable to keep the girls on, so Nellie and her sisters are moving in with their uncle in New York City. Nellie says she will come visit Samantha soon, and Samantha waits impatiently for her to come so she can be with her friend in her time of need.
But days pass with no word from Nellie. Samantha begins to worry, especially when a long-distance telephone call to Mrs. Van Sicklen confirms that Nellie and her sisters left Mount Bedford two weeks ago. She doesn't know where the uncle lives, only the neighborhood. Samantha is determined to find Nellie, no matter how difficult navigating the unfamiliar area might be. She is somewhat successful, only because the uncle is a known worthless drunk. She learns that he stole everything he could from Nellie and her sisters and disappeared. Another woman in the cramped apartment building took them in for a week, but as that family was destitute as well, Nellie felt she couldn't ask them to make the stay permanent. Nellie and her sisters are now in an orphanage a few block away. She quickly confesses her adventure to Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia, who warn her to never go to such a dangerous part of the city alone again, but also immediately make plans for Aunt Cornelia and Samantha to visit with treats for Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny.
The visit doesn't do much to comfort Samantha. The orphanage is less a place to care for children who have been through traumatic losses than a strict house of order designed to tear down fragile little ones and build up mousy, almost robotic servants in their places. The director (Miss Tusnelda Frouchy) won't allow Nellie and her sisters to have the gifts and barely allows a visit with Nellie at all. Samantha and Nellie are able to arrange that they will meet for a few brief minutes every afternoon when Nellie empties the ashes from the stoves into the trash. Samantha brings food for Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny, who are malnourished. Any other gifts, like the gloves Samantha gives Nellie to protect her chapped hands, are snatched away by Miss Frouchy. After several days of clandestine meetings, Nellie reveals that she's being sent away to be hired out in the West--without her sisters. Samantha convinces Nellie to sneak her sisters out with the next day, and she hides them in the attic of Uncle Gard's and Aunt Cornelia's house. It's not a long-term solution, especially with the eagle-eyed and strict maid Gertrude lurking about, but it will keep the sisters together until Samantha and Nellie come up with a better plan.
Sure enough, after a few days, Gertrude finds them. Samantha is heart-broken at the thought of the girls having to go back to the orphanage. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia instruct all four of them to have warm baths and get some decent sleep; they'll decide what to do next in the morning.
The next day is Valentine's Day, and there are six places set with valentine cards. Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia explain that they have no need for maids, but would love three daughters. Nellie, Bridget, and Jenny happily accept the offer of adoption, and Samantha is elated at the thought of having sisters.
As new technology rapidly became available to the general public, the distinction between the upper and lower classes became less apparent. Electricity became more widespread, and the cost of goods relative to wages went down. As Samantha grew up, fewer people were willing to work as servants, because the emerging middle class meant that more of them could get better jobs. Women were also working outside the household more and more, and gaining more freedoms with that. It was still considered improper for a woman to live alone, but women were becoming more independent.
The book is dedicated to Petty, Heuer, and Dalton families.
So far, two people have died of the flu in my state this year. At least one had no other health concerns like a compromised immune system or lung disease. As I've written before, vaccines are a god-send that work so well, a lot of people have forgotten how terrible the diseases they prevent against can be. The flu--influenza--can be fatal. Gastroenteritis, or the "stomach flu" as it's sometimes called, is not the same thing at all.