Dolly. A Western Drover’s Story: 1870

DOLLY.

A Western Drover’s Story.

My name is Anthony Hunt. I am a drover; and I live miles and miles away upon the Western prairie. There wasn’t a house in sight, when we moved there, my wife and I, and now we haven’t many neighbors, though those we have are good ones.

One day, about ten years ago, I went away from home to sell some fifty head of cattle–fine creatures as I ever saw. I was to buy some dry goods and groceries before I came back–and, above all, a doll for our youngest, Dolly. She had never had a store doll of her own, only the rag babies her mother made her.

Dolly could talk of nothing else, and went down to the very gate to call after me to “buy a big one.” Nobody but a parent can understand how full my mind was of that toy, and how, when the cattle were sold, the first thing I hurried off to buy Dolly’s doll. I found a large one, with eyes that would open and shut when you pulled a wire, and had it wrapped in a paper and tucked it under my arm, while I had the parcels of calico and delaine and tea and sugar put up. Then, late as it was, I started for home. It might have been more prudent to stay until morning; but I felt anxious to get back, and eager to hear Dolly’s prattle about her doll.

I was mounted on a steady-going horse of mine, and was pretty well loaded. Night set in before I was a mile from town, and settled down dark as pitch while I was in the middle of the darkest bit of road I knew of. I could have felt my way, though, I remembered it so well, and it was almost midnight when the storm that had been brewing broke, and pelted the rain in torrents. I was five miles or may be six, from home yet, too.

I rode on as fast as I could. All of a sudden I heard a little cry like a child’s voice. I stopped short and listened–I heard it again, and again was answered. Then I began to wonder. I’m not timid; but I was known to be a drover, and to have money about me. It might be a trap to catch me unawares, and rob and murder me.

I am not superstitious–not very; but how could a real child be out on the prairie on such a night, at such an hour? It might be more than human.

The bit of coward that hides itself in most men showed itself to me then, and I was half inclined to run away; but once more I heard that cry, and said I:

“If any man’s child is hereabouts, Anthony Hunt is not the man to let it die.”

I searched again. At last I bethought me of a hollow under the hill, and groped that way. Sure enough, I found a little dripping thing that moaned and sobbed as I took it in my arms. I called my horse, and the beast came to me, and I mounted, and tucked the little soaked thing under my coat as well as I could, promising to take it home to mammy. It seemed tired to death, and pretty soon cried itself to sleep against my bosom.

It had slept there over an hour when I saw my own windows. There were lights in them, and I supposed my wife had lit them for my sake: but when I got into the dooryard I saw something was the matter, and stood still with a dead fear of heart five minutes before I could lift the latch. At last I did it, and saw the room full of neighbors, and my wife amidst them, weeping.

When she saw me she hid her face.

“Oh, don’t tell him,” she said. “It will kill him!”

“What is it, neighbors?” I cried.

And one said, “Nothing now, I hope. What’s that in your arms?”

“A poor, lost child!” said I. “I found it on the road. Take it will you! I’ve turned faint;” and I lifted the sleeping thing and saw the face of my own child, my own Dolly.

It was my own darling, and none other, that I had picked up upon the drenched road.

My little child had wandered out to meet “daddy” and the doll, while her mother was at work, and I had picked up her whom they were lamenting as one dead. I thanked Heaven on my knee before them all. It is not much a story, neighbors; but I think of it often in the nights, and wonder how I could bear to live now if I had not stopped when I heard the cry for help on the road, the little baby cry, hardly louder than a squirrel’s chirp.

That’s Dolly yonder with her mother, a girl worth saving—I think (but, then, I ‘m her father, and partial, may be)—the prettiest and sweetest thing this side of the Mississippi.

The Greensboro [NC] Patriot 10 February 1870: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt we are all exhaling and mopping our foreheads in relief at that happy ending. A very near thing, indeed…

 

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

2 thoughts on “Dolly. A Western Drover’s Story: 1870

  1. Cymbaline

    So many things to love about this story: The loving father eager to bring home gifts for his family, the sense of foreboding in supernatural darkness, a pitiful cry in the night, and finally, the grateful heart of that man realizing how close he came to losing his baby. I also love the term “rag baby” – it makes me wistful for the days when children appreciated simple joys created from little by loving hands. I hope little Dolly and her dolly shared fun and happiness every day thereafter, and that her dear Papa’s kindness was repaid by her in devotion for the rest of his life.

    Like

    Reply

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