Read FOURTH LETTER of The Little Nightcap Letters. , free online book, by Frances Elizabeth Barrow, on

“A LETTER for Miss Bella Curtis,” said the postman; “two cents.”

Oh, what delightful words those were.  Bella began quite to love the postman; and she asked him if he wouldn’t please to take three cents — which astonished him so much, that I do believe nobody had ever thought of saying so to him before.

The little girl pulled off the envelope with trembling eagerness, and Edith read this: 


“I was so delighted with your letter that I kissed every word once, and the dear little scratch, that meant your name, about a dozen times.  Yesterday was Sunday, and I went to church.  Just in front of me sat a dear little girl so like you, that I wanted to lift her over the back of the pew and kiss her.  She was such a little thing, that she did not know how to sit still.  She had on a pair of worsted sleeves, and the very first thing she did, was to poke all the fingers of one little hand through the ruffle round the other, just as you do with your sleeves.  Then she smiled at me, and I smiled at her; then she spread out her little pocket handkerchief, and found a small hole in the corner, about as big as a three-cent piece.  She stuck her finger through that, and held it up, and danced it up and down; then she dusted the pew with it, which made it rather dirty.  She was such a little bit of a thing that you could hardly expect her to sit quite still; but this that I am going to tell you now, was really naughty.

“There was a boy in the pew just in front.  She gave him three pretty hard taps on the back of his head, and when he looked round, she pretended to be asleep.  What a girl!

“When we came out I shook hands with her, and said:  ’I have a little girl at home in the North, her name is Bella; what is your name?’

“‘My name is Bella, too,’ she said.  Wasn’t that wonderful?

“As I walked home, I saw such a sweet little white girl, carried in the arms of a great black woman, whose head looked like an immense butterfly, fastened on her shoulders; for she had a handkerchief on it, of all the colors of the rainbow, and it was spread out on either side like wings.

“The sweet little child seemed to love her black nurse dearly, for as I walked behind, I saw her press her tender, lovely, pink and white cheek, close against the dusky face of her nurse, and I heard her say in a sweet lisping tone:  ’Oh, Binah, I love you.  When I go to Heaven, I will take you with me.  Oh, B-i-n-a-h!’ she said this last word just like the cooing of a little dove.

“‘Bress de darlin’ chile,’ said Binah.  ’I am gwine back now, little missis.  Olé Binah hab to go to Heben fust, and wait dere for little darlin’ missis.’

“You see Binah meant by ‘gwine back now,’ that she was old.  When people are old, they say, they are going ‘down hill,’ but Binah said, ’going back.’  You are climbing up the hill of life, my dear little Bella; and I pray that God will lead you in the right path, and then the hill both up and down will end in a happy home in Heaven.

“Dear me! what a long letter.  Give my best love to papa and sister; and kiss yourself on your dear little cheek if you can, for your loving


Here is Bella’s answer: 


“I was so glad to get your letter!  What a naughty little girl that was in the church!  She behaved twice as bad as me.  I speak out loud sometimes, not very often; only sometimes.  I had a party yesterday — Minnie, and Lilly, and Jeannie; and we had tea out of my cups and saucers that Cousin Caroline gave me — real tea — and one orange that papa brought home — it was all pulled to pieces, and we eat it all up.

“We played with my paper dolls; and one of them, Miss Hattie Smith, knocked down a little table and broke one of my glass candle stickers, that Cousin Caroline gave me.

“Really, and truly, I FOUND it broke; but we made believe that she broke it because she is so ugly.

“Dolly has been very naughty.  She fighted with sister’s Kitty, and Kitty tore all the lace off her cap.  Kitty slapped her first.  Then sister Edith told dolly and Kitty about ‘dogs delight to bark and bite,’ and dolly was so sorry, and Kitty too; and they never mean to do so any more — never — sister Edith mended the cap, and she is good now — next time papa brings me candy, I will give her a big piece — only pretend, you know — for her mouth can’t open like mine, it is all shut up tight — what a pity!  Oh mamma!  I want to see you so much, I don’t know what to do.  Why can’t the postman bring you home?  Oh mamma, I can’t wait any longer.”

Here poor little Bella began to cry; and her papa thought her letter was long enough, and that the little thing was tired, as well as grieved.  So he folded up the letter, and took Bella upon his knee, and kissed her, and wiped away her tears, and said:  “My darling little pet, would you like to hear a story that I know?”

“Oh yes, papa,” said Bella, lifting her head from his breast, and smiling:  though a great tear still trembled on her long lashes, “I love a story.”

“And I love you,” said her papa; “so here it is.”


“Once upon a time, there lived a little girl, named Edith.  She was a dear good little puss, and that was the reason everybody loved her.  Don’t you think it was a very good reason?”

“Yes, papa,” said Bella; and she squeezed her soft cheek lovingly against him, and he gave her a little hug; and then they went on again quite comfortable with the story.

“Well, one day her papa said to her mamma, ’My dear, I shall not be home to-day to dinner; but what shall I order for yours?’

“‘Well, dear,’ she answered, ’I think one beef-steak, and some green peas, and potatoes, will do for Edith and me; and the cook shall make a poor man’s pudding, with raisins in it; that will be a very nice little dinner.’

“‘If I see any thing very nice, I will send that too.’

“‘Very well.’  Then Edith’s papa kissed all the family.  It did not take him very long, for he had only Edith and her mamma for a family at that time; and then he went away.

“Pretty soon after, Edith said:  ’Mamma, will you please to let me go next door, and play with Annie, and Mary?’

“‘Yes, dear,’ answered her mother; ’but do not forget to come home at five o’clock to dinner.’

“Edith promised to come, and then skipped joyfully off — with her best doll, Miss Polly Dolly Adeline, and two big apples to play ‘party’ with, and in a few minutes her mother thought there must be at least twenty children next door, instead of three; for they were having such a good time that they made noise enough to frighten the crows into fits, if any crows happened that way.

“As her mother was sitting at her sewing, some one knocked at the door, and who should come in, but the fat cook, with a great goose, fatter than she was; who cried out:  ’Only see what a big goost, mum; and only you and Miss Edith to eat it; besides a beef-steak to brile, and peas and potatoes.’

“‘Dear me,’ said her mistress, ’we could not eat a quarter of that goose.  Save it for to-morrow, Mrs. Jellybag.  Only cook the beef-steak and vegetables; and make a poor man’s pudding, with raisins, for dessert; that will do nicely.’  So the fat cook put the fat goose carefully away in the refrigerator; then she shelled enough peas for a small dish, and peeled about a dozen potatoes, and prepared the raisins for the pudding, and had them all nicely done in time.

“When five o’clock came, the bell rang for dinner, and Edith’s mother went down, and took her seat at the table.

“Just then she heard a whole chorus of merry little voices, and to her great surprise, in marched Edith, and seven little girls after her!  They were all nearly of the same size, with their hair braided in two tails apiece, as fine as you please.

“‘Why, Edith!!’ exclaimed her mother.

“‘Yes, mamma,’ said Edith, ’I told them to come in and get some dinner, and some nice poor man’s pudding, with raisins in it; they are Annie’s and Mary’s cousins.  They are real nice, and we are having such fun!’

“You see Edith had no idea that her mother would not like her bringing the little girls in to dine with her; she did not mean to do wrong; and her eyes glittered so brightly with pleasure at having so many friends, that her mamma burst out laughing; and then Edith and all the children giggled in such a funny way, that I do believe if the Mayor of New York could have seen their happy faces, he would have given his best wig, to have such pleasant people at his dinner parties.

“And now the children began to stare at the beef-steak with hungry eyes; and Edith’s mother thought it grew smaller and smaller, and was afraid if she gave each one a piece, they would swallow the whole of it at once like a pill.  Dear me! how she did wish the goose had been cooked; but there was no help for it now:  so seven extra plates were set, like buttons round the table, and seven extra knives and forks were laid across like button holes, and seven extra goblins (as little Edith called the ‘goblets’) stared down at the plates, and seven extra chairs were rattled up and scratched up to the table, by the children themselves, because the waiting-maid was almost crazy with so much company; and down they sat in a prodigious hurry, and the dinner began.

“Such a famous dinner as it was!  Perfectly delicious.  If there had only been a little more of it.  But never mind, the knives and forks rattled merrily, and the children laughed, and the two long braids of hair on each head flew right and left so fast, that the flies couldn’t get near the table to taste of a thing, and were almost distracted when they saw every single crumb eaten up, and the plates nearly scraped into holes.

“Here is the portrait of the cook as she looked when the waiter brought the beef-steak dish.

“But when the poor man’s pudding came in, smoking like a Turk, and speckled in every direction with great black raisins, oh! then was the time for bright looks! and when one little girl clapped her hands, and exclaimed, ‘My! that looks good!’ all the rest laughed, and whisked their heads round so, that it was quite fortunate their braids were fast at one end, or they would have been shaken off up the chimney, and out of the door, and nobody knows where else.

“The best thing was, that there was plenty of pudding, and the children thought it was the very nicest they had ever eaten, particularly as the maid brought to each one the bowl of powdered sugar — so that they might help themselves to as much as they liked — that made a great difference, I can tell you! and they showered down the sugar in grand style — they put it on good and thick, just as much sugar as pudding, and that was what made it so very nice; besides, Edith had whispered to her mamma to give the company ’all the raisinest parts!! because that was the way to be polite to company,’ and so her mother did — and they had a grand time picking out the raisins to eat by themselves — and the little spoons went so fast, chopping at the pudding, and clicking on the plates, that Edith’s mother said it sounded like little stone-cutters at work — at which they grew perfectly red in their faces laughing at themselves.

“Didn’t they have a fine time?  I think so — and I laughed very much — oh! — I mean, Edith’s papa laughed, when he came home and heard about the grand dinner-party, all out of one small beef-steak, and a poor man’s pudding.  There! how do you like that story?”

“Oh, papa! I know,” exclaimed Bella, laughing, and patting his cheek.  “I found you out! it was sister Edith! wasn’t it?  Dear me! what a funny girl!  Did you ever!”

“Yes, it was her, and she was a funny girl — and you are a little darling — and now, kiss papa, and run off to bed.”