Story of the Month – December 2016

Scents and Scentsability
For Hannah

With a prodigious yawn, Junior Bruin awoke from his nap. The warm sun and fresh air had made him sleepy. It had not been that long since he and Mama Bruin had come out of the den where he had been born and Mama had spent the winter hibernating.

He stretched each leg in turn, and then looked about to see where his mother was, and what she was doing. Mama Bruin was busy rooting in an old rotten log, searching for the crunchy white grubs that she loved so well. When she saw that her offspring had wakened, she gave a grunt of warning that very clearly said, “Don’t go wandering off too far on your own, Junior,” and returned to the all-engrossing hunt before her.

Junior didn’t pay much heed to the warning. There were so many wonderful and unusual things to see in this new and unexplored place. He pawed at a half-rotted log with indifferent success; somehow, it was more challenging than he expected to get out the little treats. Mama Bruin made it look so easy. Pretending that he didn’t really want any after all, he followed a racing beetle with his nose, bumping it every once in a while, sending it sprawling ignominiously.
Losing interest in the beetle, he found himself at the top of a grassy slope. He had never seen such a long way before (not that he could see much, for you know how short-sighted bears are) and had never guessed that there could be so much space. He romped along the edge, feeling incredibly daring, and then peered back over his shoulder. Mama Bruin had her back to him and was paying him no mind, so with a whisk of his stubby tail, he began to run down the hill.

Now, running down a hill is all very well, but you know what happens when you get going too fast. Yes, that’s right–soon Junior’s back legs were going faster than his front legs, and he started turning somersaults, head over teakettle. Junior was rather surprised and perhaps a bit frightened. However, he reached the bottom without coming to grief, and when he had picked himself up, and given a brisk shake, he felt rather proud of himself.

A sound of snuffling and crunching reached his ears, and he waddled off to see who it could be. About three steps away through the grass, he came upon another animal, who, like Mama Bruin, was excavating for grubs. At first, the other animal ignored him completely. But Junior was hungry now and very sure of himself.

“Hey,” he said, swaggering forward, “give me some of those grubs.”

“Fetch your own,” said the stranger, his voice muffled as he stuck paws and snout into a crack, and drew out a particularly fat and luscious maggot.

“But I don’t see why you shouldn’t share with me,” said Junior, his mouth watering. “Surely there’s more there than you need for yourself.”

“Look, youngster; there’s never enough to share. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, so I suggest that you go find your own log to dine on.”

And with this, the shiny-haired animal turned back to his meal. But Junior could not believe it. Why, this upstart, who was less than half his size, was impudent enough to refuse to share his grubs. He started to rush forward belligerently, and then he stopped, an instinct of caution momentarily over-riding his brashness. The stranger had raised his striped tail in the air, and was stamping his feet.

“I wouldn’t,” hissed the offended skunk, glaring at Junior. “Your friends won’t like you much if you bother me.”

“He’s right, you know,” came the sleepy voice of Bat from the stick where he hung upside down.

“Nonsense,” bragged Junior, with his nose in the air. “My friends would all agree with me that you are being utterly selfish if you won’t share with me. In fact, why don’t you just go find a different place to eat; I’m going to have this log for myself.”
But before he reached it, Mouse and Chipmunk squeaked at him. He turned aside to see what they were saying.

“Oh Junior, don’t mess with that fellow. He’s–he’s terrible!” whispered Mouse, covering her eyes with one paw.

“What’s so dreadful about him anyway?” asked Junior, looking puzzled. Chipmunk’s teeth chattered.

“I don’t know, but I’ve heard things–things to make you shudder, things to make you shake in your boots. I’ve always heard, ‘Leave black and white striped things strictly alone.’ Don’t you go near him, Junior.”

Junior Bruin looked uncertain for a moment, but then he swelled with self-importance.

“I’m not going to allow that creature to tell me where I can eat or not. He can just move out of the way.”

“Hold on a minute, Junior,” came the voice of Beaver, as he swam across to them. “Let me assure you that you will not be allowed to come into my pond and foul its purity forever, if you insist on following through with your ideas. Have some consideration, if you please. Besides, if you wash never so many times, it still won’t come out. Look at me. I’m as castored as ever, and I’m in the water all the time. No use, no use at all. So I suggest that you think before you consider polluting our neighbourhood.”
“Psst! Junior!” called Raccoon, making frantic motions with his paws in an effort to distract the young bear. “Here’s a nice log, with some beautiful grubs in it. I’ll share with you. Just leave Skunk alone.”
“Huh! You guys are all just a bunch of cowards. What can that little fellow do to me, a great big bear as I am! Just you watch!”

And so he strutted toward the log. If there was one thing he had learned in his first few days in the wide world, it was that bears were absolutely invincible. His mother was not afraid of anything; everybody else moved out of her way with a great deal of respect. Naturally, the same must be true for himself. Unconquerable! Victorious! Unquenchable!

A sudden greenish cloud of nauseous, stinging liquid flew up in his face. Coughing, choking, and gagging, Junior rolled on the ground in terror and agony. He didn’t know what terrible weapon the nasty animal had used, but he didn’t want any more of it. Bawling madly, he raced around, spreading the reek everywhere.
“Oh dear,” Mouse said, with a gasp of dismay. “What strong, offensive smell is this that smites upon my nose? Oh, where have I left my smelling salts? I fear I shall pass out from this shock to my system.”

And she held a tiny paw to her nose to block the worst of it. Chipmunk pretended to fall back in poisoned paroxysms.

“Who’s been mixing up the chemicals in the lab? It smells like a experiment gone badly wrong. Oh, is it you, Junior? We told you to leave Skunk alone. Why didn’t you listen to us?” cackled Chipmunk, pinching his nose shut.

“What odour passeth this way?” quipped Raccoon, as he groaned at the disaster. “Phew! What glorious noisomeness, what squalid fetor, what malodorous stench is this? Some sweet perfume, no doubt.”

“What is that terrible stink?” said Fox, coming upon the scene. “It smells like a half dozen polecats rolled into one.”

All the other animals pointed with their free paw to where Junior lay rubbing his face frantically.

“We have been forced to conclude,” commented Bat, from where he hung above, “that the diagnosis must be an acute encounter with mephitis mephitica. It appears to be creating quite a stink, in both senses of the word. But whatever the case, do stop talking about it. You keep waking me up.” And he deliberately closed his eyes with an exaggerated snore.

“All very well,” said Fox, burying his nose in his tail. “And what do you propose to do about this–this disgraceful redolence that hangs on the air?”
“Hey, everyone!” shouted out Raccoon. “Don’t they use tomatoes to neutralize skunk spray? Why not make Junior go roll in a patch of tomatoes?”

“Yes, yes!” squeaked Mouse and Chipmunk together. “What a wonderful idea.”

“What is a tomato?” asked Junior Bruin in bewilderment. Fox shook his head slowly.

“What do they teach youngsters these days? Fancy not knowing what a succulent, tasty, mouth-watering tomato is. But alas, my friends, you forget. It is not yet the season of tomatoes. You need ripe red tomatoes, not little green knobs no bigger than a pea. But don’t despair, Junior. They should be ripe soon–in about two months.”

At this, everybody groaned, and Junior was left to return to his mother in disgrace.


Finished, finished, finished

Okay, that’s not strictly true. There are always multiple edits, large and small. But the book (#4) is done. 50,000 words, 30 days. Just barely.

And here’s the final word list:

Wed., Nov. 30, 2016 laicism
Tue., Nov. 29, 2016 quinquennium
Mon., Nov. 28, 2016 toggery
Sun., Nov. 27, 2016 soliloquize
Sat., Nov. 26, 2016 heartsease
Fri., Nov. 25, 2016 schlockmeister
Thu., Nov. 24, 2016 boon
Wed., Nov. 23, 2016 savoir-faire
Tue., Nov. 22, 2016 equipoise

Into the backstretch

Finish line is not quite in sight, but nearly. Caught up once, fell back. It seems that this year it’s a constant struggle just to keep up. If only I could write as easily as I talk…

Mon., Nov. 21, 2016 duende
Sun., Nov. 20, 2016 incipient
Sat., Nov. 19, 2016 ripsnorter
Fri., Nov. 18, 2016 juvenilia
Thu., Nov. 17, 2016 sycophant
Wed., Nov. 16, 2016 pleonasm
Tue., Nov. 15, 2016 manna

Nearly the middle of November

And nearly halfway there. I’ve been behind every day, but I’m slowly catching up.

This word of the day thing is going to be the end of me yet. I thought I had missed one, but whew! I hadn’t.

New crop:
Mon., Nov. 14, 2016 anathema
Sun., Nov. 13, 2016 immure
Sat., Nov. 12, 2016 cloudburst
Fri., Nov. 11, 2016 eximious
Thu., Nov. 10, 2016 frowzy
Wed., Nov. 09, 2016 syncretism
Tue., Nov. 08, 2016 suffrage

Welcome to November

The madness has begun. 50,000 words in 30 days. (See The only way I seem to get a complete novel done in a short period of time, instead of taking three or more years. And I don’t want just 50k: I want to finish the book (first draft) in November.

This year, I decided to add another challenge (I needed more, didn’t I?) My favourite online dictionary ( has a word of the day feature. The challenge? Incorporate the word of the day into the story. Here’s the list so far:

Mon., Nov. 07, 2016 circumspect
Sun., Nov. 06, 2016 bathos
Sat., Nov. 05, 2016 quotidian
Fri., Nov. 04, 2016 obdurate
Thu., Nov. 03, 2016 galimatias
Wed., Nov. 02, 2016 infra dig
Tue., Nov. 01, 2016 hagiography

So far, so good. (I checked out the Merriam-Webster site as well. They have some neat words. No, no, no! I am not going to go there. One is enough!)

Behind though I am, there is still hope. I will write the wretched work, I will! 8,000 words on the sixth…heading for 10,000.

Story of the Month – November 2016

For Heidi
(many thanks to the “Adopt-a-Quote” thread on

“Good morning. I see the assassins have failed again.”
That was all the greeting I got when I came to the breakfast table that morning. My younger brother looked up from his bowl for maybe three seconds before returning to inhaling his cereal. Odd, you might think, but I guess I was used to it. He was a little–well, weird, let’s put it. I wondered whether I was the hero or the villain of his current story. Or, as he would insist, protagonist or antagonist. He was most annoyed if you failed to use precise terms.
Box of cereal half-cocked, I studied him as he raised his bowl to his mouth and slurped down the rest of the milk in the bottom.
There was no doubt that he took after Mom, at least as far as looks were concerned. He had the same golden hair, the same rosy cheeks and her melting brown eyes–the picture of angelic innocence. The rest of us were like Dad. We all agreed that it was only fair that Mom should have at least one to look like her, but none of us girls thought it quite fair that we should have straight, dark hair while he got curls. Harry certainly didn’t appreciate the honour as we would have.
“You should wash your face, kid. You have a moustache that would grace a musk-ox.”
He gave a swipe at his face with the back of his hand, which was not exactly what I had meant. I couldn’t help trying to keep him moderately tidy and well-behaved, as I felt responsible for him. No doubt about it, Uncle Simon and Aunt Milly had been very kind to take us in while we recovered from a case of the measles. But they were older now; all their own children were grown up and married, and they weren’t used to dealing with someone like Harry.
Not that he was a bad kid, you understand; he just had an imagination the size of a woolly mammoth, and sometimes he got a bit carried away. Maybe he was a wee bit spoilt, being the youngest of the family, with six older sisters to dote on him. But a nice kid, in spite of that.
We spent the morning helping in the house. Harry happily followed Uncle Simon about, fetching firewood and feeding the dozen or so chickens. I dried the dishes while Aunt Milly washed them, and then swept and made the beds. Then we made a cake to have at supper.
When we were free after lunch, the kid suggested going for a hike, and I willingly agreed. After all, what trouble could he be concocting on a walk? I should have known better.
He refused to leave the house without his pellet gun. Currently his dearest possession, he carried it everywhere he went, only reluctantly leaving it behind when we went to church. As he said, you never knew when you would need it. One might be assailed by pirates or smugglers or highwaymen or bushrangers at any given moment.
It was a whole lot easier letting him bring it than trying to argue about it. Besides, he did show a reasonable amount of caution. Perhaps he knew that his prize would be confiscated if he proved too much of a reckless menace.
The best part about Uncle Simon’s property was that, while it was in town, it was right on the verge, with miles of Crown land behind to be roamed over. There was a little path that led into the forest, and then you were as cut off from the rest of the world as if none of them existed.
Sometimes I could even sympathize with the kid’s flights of fancy. Today he was a pioneer, with his musket over his shoulder, stalking through the woods to find venison for the settlement. The starving folks depended on him to bring back meat, so he walked with great care, making sure that no twig crackled beneath his moccasin-shod foot. Of course, his boots weren’t the best substitute for moccasins, but that did nothing to hinder his involvement in the story. I could picture his coonskin cap, the powder horn hanging from his shoulder, and well nigh felt the pangs of hunger beneath my tightened belt. Which was quite ridiculous, seeing that we had just eaten lunch.
Stealthily he crept, froze, and staring through the trees, slowly raised his gun to his shoulder. I could almost see the majestic stag standing proudly aloof as he rattled his mighty antlers. Then the spell was broken as Harry pulled the trigger.
Blam! blam! blam! blam!
The shots were real enough, though the breeze caused by the pellets would have had trouble giving a gnat a cold.
“Did you see that? I got him first shot!” crowed Harry, forgetting the dignity of his responsibilities in a flash.
“I hope so. Why did you shoot so many times? Were you trying to make hamburger?” I asked, repressing a grin. He looked a bit taken aback, so I followed up my advantage.
“Don’t you know how scarce ammunition is? You’d be lucky to have three balls, and need to bring back an animal for each shot. And you forgot to prime and reload in between shots.”
The kid was so crestfallen that I was kind of sorry that I had thrown cold water on his boreal romance. To make up for it, I said,
“Here, I’ll help you skin your beast. Look at that, shot right dead centre!”
It didn’t take much to make him happy again. Soon he was staggering along under 500 pounds of meat, the saviour of the colony. I would hardly go so far as to walk bent over, pretending to carry heavy bundles of greasy raw meat, so he had to carry it all. Nor would I help him fend off the horde of ferocious wolves and tigers that beset him along the way.
By the time he caught up to me he was deep in the jungle, fighting his way through swamps and past lashings of venomous snakes, having shed his pounds of meat, probably to placate the savage beasts.
I was too busy thinking my own thoughts to pay much heed to him, though I noticed the occasional popping of his pellet gun. Not much chance of seeing any real wildlife today, what with all the racket. I wondered what they were doing at home. While I was enjoying our visit, I was also pretty homesick at times.
The forest quite unexpectedly opened out into a little glade. An old ramshackle building stood near the middle, and to my delight there were three or four horses grazing in front of it.
“It’s the maharajah’s deserted palace, waiting for us to plunder it,” I heard the kid say from behind me. “Hey, are those wild horses, Lyd? Let’s catch them and take them home.”
“Of course not, Harry; they would have run away by now if they were wild. They must belong to somebody,” I answered impatiently, partly because in my inner self I wished that I could do just that.
“Let’s go look inside. Maybe there really is some kind of treasure hidden in there. Some old prospector might have hidden a sack of gold,” Harry switched gears as effortlessly as usual. “Just think if we could spend the night here; we could hunt for it all night.”
I rolled my eyes. Hope dies hard in certain people.
“I don’t think we should. Someone is sure to live there, and they won’t like us poking around.”
“Oh, come on! Even you should be able to see that nobody lives in that death trap.”
“Maybe that’s why we shouldn’t go in,” I said with resignation, seeing that he was already squeezing his way in past a collapsed window sill. I couldn’t let him go in alone, and really, if I would only admit it, I did want to see inside myself. I pushed aside all my responsible elder-sisterly thoughts, and crawled in after him.
It was very dusty, very dark, and very full of spider webs. Harry’s voice bounced around as he joyously poked into corners and throughout the lower floors. I shivered a bit.
“Come on, kid,” I called. “I’m going out again. It’s about as cosy in here as a den of rattlesnakes.”
“Yeah, maybe the old prospector got bitten by a rattlesnake, and his bones are still here, and….”
Whether I was too careless in my haste, or whether the boards were just ready to collapse, I’ll never know, but as I crossed the room I felt the floor give way. With a rending crash it sent me and a good number of timbers with me down into the emptiness below.
At first I was so stunned that I wasn’t sure what had happened. By the time the dust had cleared a bit, though, my senses had started to return, and I looked up at the jagged, broken boards well above my head.
The light, what little of it there was, was blocked out completely. I heard Harry’s scared voice, echoing hollowly down the hole.
“Are you okay, Lydia?”
“Well, I’m not dead, if that’s what you mean,” I snapped.
“I guess that’ll have to do.”
I would have had something to say to that, but just then I moved incautiously, and all that came out was a yelp of sheer agony. At that moment I realized something. I might not be dead, but I most assuredly was in trouble.
Here we were, miles from anywhere, with me stuck down a hole with a badly sprained ankle, if nothing worse. I hated to have to do it, but I called up to the kid,
“Harry, you’re going to have to go for help. Do you think you can find your way back? If you stay right on the path you shouldn’t get lost.”
“Of course I wouldn’t get lost, a fine explorer like me. Don’t you know that I’ve sailed the seven seas and explored every continent?”
I was not too impressed, to say the least, by his falling into the realm of imagination at this critical juncture.
“Look, Harry, this is serious…” I began to say, when I realized that he was not listening to me, and what he was saying registered in my mind.
“Not only am I a famous explorer, but I am also a renowned rescuer, whose fine work would be celebrated around the world, if only I were not so modest.”
“Harry, go for help!” I yelled in the most commanding voice I could muster.
But I might as well have saved my energy. Harry was having the time of his life planning out his wonderful scheme. I heard some banging around and then his head poked over the edge of the pit again.
“Harry,” I began pleadingly, but before I had time to get any further, a coil of flimsy, rat-chewed rope came cascading down on my head.
“There; now you can climb up,” he said, “it’s tied firmly on this end. Or if you want, I’ll catch one of the horses and get it to pull you out. That’s a good idea, in fact.”
“Harry,” I said ominously, “I am not going to climb that rope, horse or no horse. I can’t stand on my foot, and I don’t think that rotten rope would support a flea. Go for help!”
“No, no! Just keep calm. If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters,” he said, in a thoughtful manner. “Professor Harry will discover a fantastic formula if he just thinks hard enough.”
I must say that at that point I was ready to scream. My leg was beginning to throb heavily, and I could picture having to spend the night and who knows how much longer, waiting for my little brother to realize that he was not clever enough to rescue me.
“It might be true that you can’t stand, and you’ve never been much good at tying knots, so I’ll have to come down to you.”
And he began to cautiously slither over the edge.
I yelled out a warning, just as the lower end of the much-abused rope parted company with the upper portion. I didn’t even have time to decide whether to try to roll out of the way or to stay put and try to break his fall.
He landed on his hands and knees right beside me, and after a moment stood up, brushing himself off.
“Congratulations, genius! Now we’re both stuck in this miserable hole, and nobody knows where to find us,” I wailed, my relief that he was not too badly hurt reducing me to tears.
“Well, who would have thought that the rope would break like that? Good thing you didn’t try to climb it, isn’t it?” He sat down on a fallen timber, drumming his heels against the side of it. “Say, I wonder if the old prospector would have buried his treasure down here? Wouldn’t it be something if I found it?”
“Look, kid,” I said, regaining a measure of calmness through sheer desperation, “if we don’t find a way out of here, our bones will be all there will be to be found of us. You’re so good at thinking–you’d better conjure up some way of getting out.”
“Give me a bit of time, and I will, never fear.”
And he proceeded to wander off, leaving me in the dark. I have no idea how he could see at all. I hoped he wouldn’t fall over the old prospector’s skeleton. It must be the middle of the night by now–it felt like weeks since I had fallen through that treacherous floor. Aunt Milly would be so worried. Would she have called home by now, and told Mom that we were missing?
Before I had any more time to follow that train of thought, I heard Harry coming back, whistling. It must be nice to have such brash confidence, I thought. Here we were, trapped in an old wreck of a house, and he was whistling as if nothing was amiss.
“All is well, my hearty lass. Your trusty steed awaits your pleasure. Come at once.” Harry strolled back into dim view, pretending to remove a hat that must have had a plume at least a foot long. I couldn’t help giggling, almost in spite of myself.
“Here, let my shoulder be your friend. Lean on me, sweet sister, and I will waft you to a sphere of purer air.”
“Thanks, kid,” I said, “but I’d prefer not to move more than I have to, until we can get out of here.”
Harry stared at me as if thunderstruck.
“What do you think I mean? I’ve found a way out, a secret passage out of the Caliph’s dank and dreary dungeon–a cellar door, to the uninitiated,” resuming his grand mannerism.
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Seriously. Come on.”
Hobbling badly, I allowed him to lead me along. Sure enough, there was a half-height door that he had contrived to pry open, though don’t ask me how he had managed it. And he wasn’t joking about the steed, either. He had caught one of the horses and formed a make-shift halter with the frayed piece of rope.
I looked at it doubtfully.
“I’m not sure that I can ride it. And I’m not sure that I should.”
“I think that you can–and should. There’s no point arguing. Because if I agree with you, then we’ll both be wrong.”
So I decided to trust his judgment, this one time at least. It turned out that we were not that far from town after all. The lane leading from the decrepit house brought us to the edge of town within half an hour.
Uncle Simon agreed with Harry that it was no crime to borrow the horse for such an urgent reason. Better than that, when my ankle was well enough, he arranged with the owner of the horses that we should be allowed to ride them for the rest of our time there. So all ended most happily for us. But I never did want to go back to that house.

Story of the Month – October 2016

For Rosa
Once upon a time, there were four dolls called Holly, Molly, Polly, and Dolly Varden. They were by no means the only dolls in the nursery, for there were three little sisters who shared this room, each with a large family of her own. Nor were Holly, Molly, Polly, and Dolly Varden their real names.

For instance, Holly was really named Antoinette Marguerite de Lafayette Barclay (she was a French doll), and Dolly Varden was really named Euphosia Clementina Isabella Barclay. For everyday use, though, those were too long, so they were always called Holly, Molly, Polly, and Dolly Varden instead. Holly fancied blue dresses, Molly wore green, and Polly dressed in purple. Dolly Varden had the most cunning red dress with the top all smocked and flowers embroidered all around its hem.

One day, the dolls were being taken on an outing. Holly and Molly and Polly all let their coats and boots be put on without a murmur, but Dolly Varden wouldn’t cooperate. She didn’t like coats and boots and umbrellas, or socks or baths or any of those necessary sorts of things. (Which is why Faith and Hope and Charity’s older brothers had christened her Dolly Varden–she had so many freckles and she disliked the water so).

Faith and Hope stayed close to nurse, trotting along in her footsteps, pushing prams loaded with their various families. Charity, on the other hand, was always stopping to look at things or to tie her shoe or to sort out some squabble amongst her charges. This, combined with the fact that her legs were a good bit shorter than her sisters’, meant that she was always farther behind than she should have been.

I’m sure that if she hadn’t had to hurry so, the events of this story would not have happened, for she was a most particular mother to her dolls. Nevertheless, when she had fallen farther behind more than usual, and Hope and Faith both shouted at her to catch up or they would be late for tea, she ran after them, jostling the dolls’ pram horribly. So hard did it shake that Dolly Varden, holding on precariously enough already, was flung out, and landed with a thump in the gutter.

olly1 Molly and Polly tried to grab her, but could only watch despairingly as they were bourne away. Doly wanted to cry out after them to stop and pick her up, but she didn’t, because–well, dolls don’t.

When she had slipped out of the pram, her coat and boots, not well fastened, had stayed behind. How she wished she had them now, as she shivered there. Dolly feared she would have to sit alone in that hard, damp gutter all night.

“Just what my Tildie will like,” she heard, as she found herself scooped up by a big rough hand. The room into which she was carried was not terribly clean, nor was the little person lying on the pile of bedding. However, the light that came into the child’s eyes when she saw the new treasure made Dolly Varden happy.

* * *

Meanwhile, back at the house, consternation reigned among the doll folk. Charity had not discovered the absence of her precious doll until she had reached home. Nurse would not let her go out to search, as it was growing dusk. Her brothers, who were no longer under nursery rule, offered to go out and look for the missing child, but came back empty-handed.ollybottle

After their young mistress had fallen asleep, with tear-wet lashes, a most solemn meeting was held. At first, they all just gabbled together aimlessly, with no clear results. Finally Solly (whose name was really Solomon Ezekiel Obadiah Jonah Barclay) stood up and cleared his throat.

“Ladies and beasts and all, may I have your worthy attention? We must find some way of restoring our own Dolly Varden to our midst.” He was interrupted by cries of “Hear, hear!” When it was quiet enough for him to continue, he said, “We must have a plan.”

Again cheers broke out, and he put up his hand to stay them. “Listen closely…”

* * *

cresoleneFor the next few hours, Dolly Varden was never out of little Tildie’s arms. She supped on her bread and milk, sat by her when she said her prayers, and was tucked in for the night beside her. This made the other toys very jealous. There weren’t very many of them, and none of them had a bright red dress with flowers on it and two silk petticoats–two! They were home-made, they were shabby, they were clothed in bits of rag. It wasn’t fair that this store-bought stranger should usurp their place!

Mostly, Dolly just ignored them. But in the morning, when a kind neighbour took the little lame girl to her own rooms to stay while the father was away at work, Dolly was left behind. Worse than that, she was thrown down with the other toys. At first they contented themselves with calling her names; when nobody came and nobody came and still nobody came, they began to get bolder.

ollycorn“I’ve always wanted a nice red dress,” said the corn-husk doll, standing with hands on hips.

“That’s funny. I’ve always wanted a silk petticoat,” said one of the cotton-reel dolls, and the other giggled.

“Me too! Then we can be twins.”

“These are my clothes–you can’t have them,” said Dolly, slowly backing away. “What will I wear?”

“Have this piece of potato sack, darling, and be grateful for what you get,” drawled a sock doll, and they all fell upon her, snatching and pulling at her clothes. They were too many for her and all she could do was stand and sob.

“And if a little upstart like you makes too much fuss, I’ll come and bite you–hard,” growled the stuffed dog, who was so worn he was missing an eye, his tail and both ears. Such a hideous sight was he, that Dolly shrank back against the door, as far from him as could be.

Just then, the door opened behind her. Dolly skittered across the floor, unseen, as the neighbour came bustling in, spied the corn-husk doll in the bright red dress, and with a muttered, “Ha, there’s the one she’s crying for,” bore it away with her.

Dolly was having an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable introduction to stairs. Prior to this, she had always been carried up and down. Rolling, tumbling, bouncing, she wondered if these ones went on forever. Or if they did have an end, would she survive the fall to the bottom?

Even when she did come to a halt, her troubles didn’t seem to be any less. The journey down hadn’t added to her cleanliness at all, and she was feeling shaken and inclined to cry. A mischievous doll, left out in the squalid court for the night, crept up behind her and shouted, “Boo!”

He went off into a cackle of laughter at the sight of her fright, which changed abruptly into a yell of pain, as a goose came out of a hole in the wall. It pecked him hard, and the fellow ran off howling.
Dolly was frightened, until the goose turned to her, and with a gracious bow said, “Madam, it is obvious that you are a lady, in spite of your unfortunate circumstances. May I humbly offer you a place of shelter from the cold?”

Hesitating only a moment, Dolly followed the goose. The hole in the wall led into a little chamber where the goose had made a snug nest. It wasn’t the roomiest place, and the clockwork key tended to dig into her, but it was out of the wind. And anything was better than staying out in the open to be tormented by unkind strangers.

In such close quarters, Dolly Varden had the chance to see how truly ugly her companion was, though she would not have said a word for anything.

“I once was considered quite handsome,” sighed the threadbare goose, seeming to sense Dolly’s thoughts. “I used to be able to lay a little golden egg as I ran along. But now my clockwork is worn out and my feathers worn off. But never mind,” she said more cheerfully, “we must see what we can do to get you back to your own people.”

So when Holly went out in the carriage with Charity, as part of Solly’s plan, she saw the doll and the clockwork goose beside the road. At first glance she didn’t even recognize poor Dolly, but the goose waved its creaky wings and Holly looked again.

ollydesmondThen she did a very brave thing. Most assuredly the little girl would stop to pick her up; still, it was a risky thing to do: she might break on the pavement or be squashed underfoot, or, worst of all, what if Charity didn’t see? Then she too would be left out in the hard, cold world.

In spite of this, Holly leapt out of the carriage and tumbled into the street. As loud as she could, she began to cry out, “Mamma, Mamma!” which was the only thing she could say.

And Charity did notice, and set up such an uproar that the carriage stopped instantly. The little girl was out in a twinkling. To her great surprise, Dolly Varden was lying right beside Holly, and she picked them both up.

“Look, nurse, here’s Dolly Varden come back again. I do wonder where she has been?”

“Are you sure?” asked nurse doubtfully, looking at the disreputable bundle of rags. But Charity had no doubts. She bore off the two dolls in triumph, while Dolly waved a hand in farewell to the helpful goose.

Nurse saw to it that the doll received a very good scrub indeed. That night they had a party in the dolls’ house; Dolly had to wear a yellow dress that didn’t fit nearly so well as her pretty red dress, but it was infinitely better than wearing burlap.

And, strangely enough, she never objected to having baths anymore.