"Deer Ant Roxy,—Ive hed consider'ble many calls for mittins along back this Winter: mostly they're wove goods, thet dont last no time. Its come into my head that mabbe you'd jest as lives make a leetle suthin to buy snuff an' handkerchers with, odd times, and reklectin you used to be a master hand to knit this is for to say that ef you'd fall to and knit a lot of them two-threaded mittins we boys set by so, why I could sell 'em for ye—on commission. Ef you're agreeble why drop me a line to 117 Blank St St Josephs, you see its mostly drovers and sech wants 'em.
"Yours to command,
"The lands sakes!" ejaculated Miss Roxy Blair, as she laid down her spectacles after reading this letter. "John was allers the beateree for gumption. I allers said he'd make a spoon or spile a horn, an' I do b'lieve it's the spoon. Well said! I've got full twenty run o' blue yarn I spun last year, an' some red: guess there won't be no white wanted in them parts. I'll set to an' get a lot more red over to Miss Billins's. Wonder ef she'd git wind on't, and go to makin' mittins herself?—she beats all to question folks up. I'll tell her I'm a-goin' to teach Nance to knit; and so I be: 'ta'n't no lie. I will teach her to knit an' help on the mittins. It'll be suthin for her to do nights, 'stead of readin' all the newspaper scraps she can pick up."
Nancy Peck was Miss Roxy's bound girl; the old lady lived alone in a small brown house on a hill-side far above Bassett; a grass-grown track ran by the house, through the woods that clothed the hill-top, over and away into the heart of the Green Mountains.
Little Nancy had been bound out to Miss Roxana only about a year when John Jackson's letter reached Bassett. Miss Roxy was getting old; rheumatism had laid hold of her, and she could not hobble up and down hill to the village any longer: so she resolved to take a young girl into her house to wait on her.
"'Twon't cost a great deal," she said to herself. "There's the gardin a'n't half planted; she can drop potaters as well as a man, and hill 'em up too; and I can set more beans outside the fence; when Isr'el comes up to spade the gardin, he can fix up a place for more beans, and Ingin meal's cheap. Fact is, anyway, I durstn't be up here alone no longer, and hirin' some feller or 'nother to do arrands would cost more'n it come to. There's ma's old gownds can be cut over for her, sech as is too ragged for me."
Having made up her mind, the old lady persuaded a neighbor who sometimes drove by her house to mill to take her in, and leave her at the poor-house, which was on his way, until he came back with his grist. When he returned he found two passengers, for Miss Roxy had fixed on Nancy for an experiment.
"'Twas Hobson's choice," she explained to Mr. Tucker, as they drove along; "there wa'n't no other gal there. She's real small, but Miss Simons says she's spry an' handy, and she ha'n't got nobody belongin' to her, so's't I sha'n't be pestered with folks a-comin' round."
In six months little Nancy had become so useful that she was formally bound out to the old lady, and now she went to school in summer half a day, and had learned to read and write tolerably. She was very lonesome in that solitary house. There were children at the poor-house whom she played with, tended, and loved, but Miss Roxy had not even a cat; and when Nancy, in the longing of her loving little heart, took a crook-necked squash out of the shed, tied a calico rag about its neck, and made a dolly of it to be company for her in the little garret where she slept, Miss Roxy hunted it up—for she kept count of everything she had—boxed Nancy's ears soundly, and cut up poor little yellow Mary Ann, and boiled her in a pot for pies.
Until the mitten business began, Miss Roxy found it hard to find enough work for the child's active fingers to do; but after that she had no trouble in keeping the little girl busy, as poor Nancy found out to her sorrow. The evenings of spring, when she used to love to sit on the door-step with her apron over her head, and listen to the frogs peeping in a swamp far below, were now spent in winding hanks of yarn, or struggling, with stiff little fingers, to slip the loops off one needle and on to another, her eyes tired with the dull light of a tallow candle, and her head aching with the effort to learn and the slaps her dullness earned from Miss Roxy's hard hands. It was worse as summer came on, and she had to knit, knit, all the time, with not a minute to get new posies for her garden. Only by early dawn did she get her chance to watch the blue liverwort open its sunny cup; the white eggs of bloodroot buds come suddenly out of the black ground; the tiny rows of small flowers that children call "Dutchman's breeches" hang and flutter on their red stems; the azure sand-violet, dancing columbine, purple crane's-bill, lilac orchis, and queer moccasin flower make that hidden corner gay and sweet.
Even when school began, she had to work still. Miss Roxy was determined to send a big box of double-knit mittens to John Jackson before winter set in; and as fast as they were finished they were dampened, pressed, and laid away in the old hair trunk in the garret where Nancy slept.
Poor little girl! she hated the sight of mittens, and this summer a wild wish came into her head, that grew and grew, as she sat alone at her knitting, until it quite filled head and heart too.
A child from the city, spending the summer near Bassett, came now and then to school as a sort of pastime, and brought with her a doll that really went to sleep when you laid it down: shut its bright blue eyes, and never opened them until it was taken up!
It seemed to lonely little Nancy that such a doll would be all anybody could want in the world. If only Nancy had such a dear lovely creature to sleep in her bed at night, and sit up in the door beside her while she knit, she knew she would be perfectly happy; but that could never be. However, after much dreaming, wishing, and planning, one day a bright and desperate idea came across her. That night she asked a great many questions of Miss Roxy, who at last gave her a sharp answer, and told her to hold her tongue; but the child had found out all she wanted to know and did not mind the crossness.
Next morning she got up very early, and stealing across the garret, took an old book from a dusty pile on a shelf, then with a pair of scissors she had brought up overnight she cut out a blank leaf, and pinned it, carefully folded, into the pocket of her dress.
She did not go out-of-doors at the school recess, but took the pen with which she had been writing her copy, and smoothing the paper out, wrote this queer little letter:
"Deer gentilman,—I am a poor little gurl who nits mittins for Miss Roxy. I am bound out and I havent got no folks of my own, not so much as a verry smal baby. I wish I had a dol. I am real lonesum. wil you send mee a dol. My naim is Nansy Peck, and I live to Mis Roxy Blair's house in Baset Vermonte. I nit this mittin. when I am big I wil pay for the dol.
The letter once written, and waved up and down under the desk to dry, the paper was pinned into her pocket again, and when the next pair of mittens she knit were done, pressed, caught together with a bit of yarn, and sent up, by her, to the trunk, the daring and odd little note was slipped safely inside one of them, and lay there several months undiscovered.
One bitter cold day, at the end of the next November, a young man came hastily into John Jackson's shop in St. Joseph.
"Hullo!" he said. "I want a pair of those knit mittens of yours. I'm ordered off to the Denver station, and they do say it's colder 'n blazes there. Handling express packages ain't real warm work anyhow!"
And so, while little Nancy, washing potatoes for dinner, wondered who had got her mitten with the letter in it, Joe Harris, Adams Express Agent for Denver, was cramming the pair into his pocket. The next week a snow-squall with a gale and a half of wind swooped down on Denver with all fury, and the new agent's teeth chattered and his hands smarted as he stood waiting for the train that had just whistled; he pulled the heavy mittens out of his overcoat pocket, twitched them apart, and sticking his left hand into one of them, found the note. He had no time to look at it then, for there was work on hand; but that evening, in the bare little room at the hotel, he took the letter out of his pocket, and, big strong man that he was, two great tears hopped out of his eyes on to the eager, anxious little letter.
"By jinks! she shall have her dolly!" he exclaimed, fetching his fist down on the rickety table, where his lamp stood, with a thump that almost sent lamp and all to the floor. But how to get it? Denver was no place then, whatever it is now, to buy dolls, and Joe was much disturbed at it; but it happened that the very next week he was recalled to St. Louis on some business which must be seen to in person; so, just as soon as his errand was done, he went about to all the toy-shops until he was satisfied at last with a doll. And well he might be! the dolly was of bisque, with movable eyes and real golden hair, joints in her arms and legs, and a face almost as lovely as a real baby; for a baby doll it was, in long clothes, with little corals to tie up its sleeves, and tiny socks on its feet. Joe had it boxed up carefully, directed to Miss Nancy Peck, at Bassett, Vermont, and then stepped into the express office, told the story, and read the letter. The Superintendent had little girls of his own.
"It shall go free all the way there," he said, and wrote on the outside: "Pass along the dolly, boys! get it there by Christmas, sure. Free. X.Y.Z."
So the doll-baby began its journey; and the story Joe Harris told at St. Louis was told and retold from one messenger to another, and many a smile did it rouse on the tired faces; and here one man tied on a gold dollar wrapped in paper and tucked in under the box lid, and there another added a box of candy, and another a bundle of gay calico for a child's dress, and one a picture-book, each labelled "Merry Christmas for Nancy," till the agent at the last large town had to put all the things into a big box, and pack the corners with oranges.
Can any words tell what Nancy thought when that box climbed up to her from Bassett on Mr. Tucker's wagon—the very same wagon that brought her from the poor-house? Luckily for her, Miss Roxy could not leave her bed, where she had lain a month now with acute rheumatism; for when she heard Nancy's story she was angry enough to box her ears well, and did scold furiously, and call the poor child many a bad name for her "brazen impudence," as she called it. But what did Nancy care when at last, with an old hatchet, she had pried off the box lid, and discovered its hidden treasures! Miss Roxy was glad enough of a sweet ripe orange, and stopped scolding to eat it at once; but Nancy could not look at another thing when the doll box was opened at last, and the lovely sleeping baby discovered. The child could not speak. She threw her apron over her head, and ran into the garret. Miss Roxy smiled grimly under her orange.
"Little fool!" said she; "what upon airth does she want to cry for?"
But all the expressmen smiled when each one read a quaint little letter dropped soon after into the Bassett Post-office, and directed "To all the adams express Gentlemen betwene Basset and st louis Miss." It was duly forwarded along the line, and ran thus:
"Dere gentlemen,—I know by the Laybels how good everyboddy was, and the doly is goodest of All, but everything is good. I Thank you ten thowsand times. I am so glad, the Things was splendidd!
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