The Dolls House
It was late autumn.
How do dolls know when it is autumn? The same way that you do. They smell the London autumn smells of bonfires, of newly lit chimneys, of fog and leaves soaking in the wet. When they go out they see that Michaelmas daisies are out in the Park and chrysanthemums are in the flower shops and violets have come back on to the street flower-sellers' trays. The grownups talk of the first winter colds, and winter coats, and the difficulties of central heating, and the children begin to think of parties and dancing class and even Christmas.
It was also, of course, much colder. It was cold in the shoe-boxes in the colder weather; their cardboard sides were thin and too low to keep out draughts, and Mr Plantaganet began to suffer. He was a delicate little doll and he looked quite drawn with cold. Emily was knitting Tottie a cloak in red wool. 'I do wish she were knitting a muffler or a little waistcoat for Mr Plantaganet instead,' said Tottie. She could go no further than wishing.
Dolls cannot tell anything, but often their wishing is as strong as telling. Have you never felt a doll's wish? I am afraid Emily did not feel Tottie's; she finished the cloak and tried it on and Tottie looked very well in it. Mr Plantaganet remained cold, a little miserable, a little neglected, and draughty in the shoe-box.
Then it happened, in that very autumn, that Emily and Charlotte's great-aunt died, the very great-aunt who had been the little girl of that Great-Great-Aunt Laura who had owned the doll's house and gathered the shells at the seaside. Her relations and friends found a dolls' house in the attic, an old dolls' house on which the cream paint was dirtied and hung with cobwebs, but on which painted ivy could be seen. It had a green front door with a knocker and six steps going up to it, exactly as Tottie had described.
'Fancy this being here,' said the friends and relations.
'What shall we do with it?'
'It could be sold,' they said. 'It is really as good as new.'
This was not quite true, for it was dusty and thick with dirt; the butler had gone quite to dust, the velvet of the sofa and chairs was rotten and ripped, the shells had come off the pictures in places, and the lace curtains were torn.
'Still, it would fetch a good price,' they said.
'I don't think it ought to be sold,' said one relation who perhaps had more heart than the others. 'It was played with by Great-Aunt, perhaps by her mother. Are there no little girls in the family who might like to play with it now?'
There were two little girls. There were Emily and Charlotte.
The letter came at breakfast when the Plantaganet family were on the hearthrug where Charlotte had arranged them, pretending it was a park. When Mother read the letter they listened with all their ears, except Apple, whom Charlotte had incautiously put to play up on the fire irons. He was sliding dangerously near the dirty coals. Tottie was watching him from the corner of her eye.
'Can we have it, Mother?' begged Emily and Charlotte.
'Oh, can we?'
'Can we?' begged the Plantaganet family, except Apple.
'You had better ask Father.'
'Can we, Father?'
'Can we?' begged the Plantaganets.
Apple was getting nearer and nearer to the coal.
'We had better take it,' said Father. 'And then we can advertise it in the newspapers and
get twenty-five pounds.'
'Do we need twenty-five pounds?' asked Mr Plantaganet, but Tottie told him Father was only teasing.
'I wish he wouldn't only tease,' said Mr Plantaganet. Mr Plantaganet could never tell when Father was teasing. 'Ought Fathers to tease?' he asked wistfully. 'Perhaps I am not a proper sort of Father.' He very much wanted to be a proper sort of everything. 'A house!' said Mr Plantaganet, forgetting Father. 'I suppose it is that house, Tottie?'
'I should think it must be,' said Tottie in in her calming, calm wood voice. 'An old dolls' house that belonged to Great-Great-Aunt Laura. What else could it be?'
'That - that dream house?' said Mr Plantaganet.
'You didn't dream it, I told you of it,' said Tottie, who was strictly truthful; she could see Mr Plantaganet was getting into a state.
'I can't believe it,' said Mr Plantaganet. 'I can't.'
'Yes, you can,' say Tottie, 'easily. Now Father has said "Yes," it is going to happen.'
'No more shoe-boxes!' said Mr Plantaganet, with a catch in his voice. 'And it has been awfully cold in those shoe-boxes sometimes, hasn't it, Tottie?'
'Yes, but that's all over now,' said Tottie. 'At least, soon it will be over. Apple! Apple! Take care!'
'That little doll is nearly in the coal,' said Father, and he touched Apple with his foot.
Charlotte picked him out of the fender just in time.
'And Birdie will have her birdcage, and Apple will have his cot, and Darner his kennel.'
'And you will be able to wish Emily and Charlotte to shut the front when they have done playing with us, and I am sure they will,' said Tottie. 'And we shall live there happy ever after.'
'Yes. Oh Yes! Oh YES!' said Mr Plantaganet, and he said to himself, 'No more shoe-boxes. No more dark toy cupboards. No more dark at all; we shall have the little lamp and even if they forget the candle, with a lamp it is easy to pretend that it is light. Red walls,' whispered Mr Plantaganet, 'taps that really run (if you fill the tank first), wax roses in the vase, nicked blankets on the beds.'
His eyes looked as if they might break their glass. No doll can cry tears, they have to keep their tears in, but Mr Plantaganet's eyes looked as if they held tears of joy. Did you know people could cry for joy as well as for sorrow? They can, and dolls would too sometimes if they could.
'Happy ever after,' said Mr Plantaganet. 'Happy ever after, Tottie.'
As I told you, they had forgotten Marchpane.
The Doll's House © Rumer Godden, 2006. Published by Macmillan.