This is a story for kids about the one lost toy that must be found and the whole house is up in arms to find it.
“I suppose people who have children transfer their childish follies and fancies to them, and become properly sedate and grown-up. Perhaps it is because I am an old maid, and have none, that some of my nursery whims stick to me, and I find myself liking things, and wanting things, quite out of keeping with my cap and time of life. For instance. Anything in the shape of a toy-shop (from a London bazaar to a village window, with Dutch dolls, leather balls, and wooden battledores) quite unnerves me, so to speak. When I see one of those boxes containing a jar, a churn, a kettle, a pan, a coffee-pot, a cauldron on three legs, and sundry dishes, all of the smoothest wood, and with the immemorial red flower on one side of each vessel, I fairly long for an excuse for playing with them, and for trying (positively for the last time) if the lids do come off, and whether the kettle will (literally, as well as metaphorically) hold water. Then if, by good or ill luck, there is a child flattening its little nose against the window with longing eyes, my purse is soon empty; and as it toddles off with a square parcel under one arm, and a lovely being in black ringlets and white tissue paper in the other, I wish that I were worthy of being asked to join the ensuing play. Don’t suppose there is any generosity in this. I have only done what we are all glad to do. I have found an excuse for indulging a pet weakness. As I said, it is not merely the new and expensive toys that attract me; I think my weakest corner is where the penny boxes lie, the wooden tea-things (with the above-named flower in miniature), the soldiers on their lazy tongs, the nine-pins, and the tiny farm.
“I need hardly say that the toy booth in a village fair tries me very hard. It tried me in childhood, when I was often short of pence, and when ‘the Feast’ came once a year. It never tried me more than on one occasion, lately, when I was re-visiting my old home.
“It was deep Midsummer, and the Feast. I had children with me of course (I find children, somehow, wherever I go), and when we got into the fair, there were children of people whom I had known as children, with just the same love for a monkey going up one side of a yellow stick and coming down the other, and just as strong heads for a giddy-go-round on a hot day and a diet of peppermint lozenges, as their fathers and mothers before them. There were the very same names—and here and there it seemed the very same faces—I knew so long ago. A few shillings were indeed well expended in brightening those familiar eyes: and then there were the children with me…. Besides, there really did seem to be an unusually nice assortment of things, and the man was very intelligent (in reference to his wares):…. Well, well! It was two o’clock P.M. when we went in at one end of that glittering avenue of drums, dolls, trumpets, accordions, workboxes, and what not; but what o’clock it was when I came out at the other end, with a shilling and some coppers in my pocket, and was cheered, I can’t say, though I should like to have been able to be accurate about the time, because of what followed.
“I thought the best thing I could do was to get out of the fair at once, so I went up the village and struck off across some fields into a little wood that lay near. (A favourite walk in old times.) As I turned out of the booth, my foot struck against one of the yellow sticks of the climbing monkeys. The monkey was gone, and the stick broken. It set me thinking as I walked along.
“What an untold number of pretty and ingenious things one does (not wear out in honourable wear and tear, but) utterly lose, and wilfully destroy, in one’s young days—things that would have given pleasure to so many more young eyes, if they had been kept a little longer—things that one would so value in later years, if some of them had survived the dissipating and destructive days of Nurserydom. I recalled a young lady I knew, whose room was adorned with knick-knacks of a kind I had often envied. They were not plaster figures, old china, wax-work flowers under glass, or ordinary ornaments of any kind. They were her old toys. Perhaps she had not had many of them, and had been the more careful of those she had. She had certainly been very fond of them, and had kept more of them than any one I ever knew. A faded doll slept in its cradle at the foot of her bed. A wooden elephant stood on the dressing-table, and a poodle that had lost his bark put out a red-flannel tongue with quixotic violence at a windmill on the opposite corner of the mantelpiece. Everything had a story of its own. Indeed the whole room must have been redolent with the sweet story of childhood, of which the toys were the illustrations, or like a poem of which the toys were the verses. She used to have children to play with them sometimes, and this was a high honour. She is married now, and has children of her own, who on birthdays and holidays will forsake the newest of their own possessions to play with ‘mamma’s toys.’
“I was roused from these recollections by the pleasure of getting into the wood.
“If I have a stronger predilection than my love for toys, it is my love for woods, and, like the other, it dates from childhood. It was born and bred with me, and I fancy will stay with me till I die. The soothing scents of leaf-mould, moss, and fern (not to speak of flowers)—the pale green veil in spring, the rich shade in summer, the rustle of the dry leaves in autumn, I suppose an old woman may enjoy all these, my dears, as well as you. But I think I could make ‘fairy jam’ of hips and haws in acorn cups now, if any child would be condescending enough to play with me. “This wood, too, had associations.
“I strolled on in leisurely enjoyment, and at last seated myself at the foot of a tree to rest. I was hot and tired; partly with the mid-day heat and the atmosphere of the fair, partly with the exertion of calculating change in the purchase of articles ranging in price from three farthings upwards. The tree under which I sat was an old friend. There was a hole at its base that I knew well. Two roots covered with exquisite moss ran out from each side, like the arms of a chair, and between them there accumulated year after year a rich, though tiny store of dark leaf-mould. We always used to say that fairies lived within, though I never saw anything go in myself but wood-beetles. There was one going in at that moment.
“How little the wood was changed! I bent my head for a few seconds, and, closing my eyes, drank in the delicious and suggestive scents of earth and moss about the dear old tree. I had been so long parted from the place that I could hardly believe that I was in the old familiar spot. Surely it was only one of the many dreams in which I had played again beneath those trees! But when I re-opened my eyes there was the same hole, and, oddly enough, the same beetle or one just like it. I had not noticed till that moment how much larger the hole was than it used to be in my young days.
“‘I suppose the rain and so forth wears them away in time,’ I said vaguely.
“‘I suppose it does,’ said the beetle politely; ‘will you walk in?’
“I don’t know why I was not so overpoweringly astonished as you would imagine. I think I was a good deal absorbed in considering the size of the hole, and the very foolish wish that seized me to do what I had often longed to do in childhood, and creep in. I had so much regard for propriety as to see that there was no one to witness the escapade. Then I tucked my skirts round me, put my spectacles into my pocket for fear they should get broken, and in I went.
“I must say one thing. A wood is charming enough (no one appreciates it more than myself), but, if you have never been there, you have no idea how much nicer it is inside than on the surface. Oh, the mosses—the gorgeous mosses! The fretted lichens! The fungi like flowers for beauty, and the flowers like nothing you have ever seen!
“Where the beetle went to I don’t know. I could stand up now quite well, and I wandered on till dusk in unwearied admiration. I was among some large beeches as it grew dark, and was beginning to wonder how I should find my way (not that I had lost it, having none to lose), when suddenly lights burst from every tree, and the whole place was illuminated. The nearest approach to this scene that I ever witnessed above ground was in a wood near the Hague in Holland. There, what look like tiny glass tumblers holding floating wicks, are fastened to the trunks of the fine old trees, at intervals of sufficient distance to make the light and shade mysterious, and to give effect to the full blaze when you reach the spot where hanging chains of lamps illuminate the ‘Pavilion’ and the open space where the band plays, and where the townsfolk assemble by hundreds to drink coffee and enjoy the music. I was the more reminded of the Dutch ‘bosch’ because, after wandering some time among the lighted trees, I heard distant sounds of music, and came at last upon a glade lit up in a similar manner, except that the whole effect was incomparably more brilliant.
“As I stood for a moment doubting whether I should proceed, and a good deal puzzled about the whole affair, I caught sight of a large spider crouched up in a corner with his stomach on the ground and his knees above his head, as some spiders do sit, and looking at me, as I fancied, through a pair of spectacles. (About the spectacles I do not feel sure. It may have been two of his bent legs in apparent connection with his prominent eyes.) I thought of the beetle, and said civilly, ‘Can you tell me, sir, if this is Fairyland?’ The spider took off his spectacles (or untucked his legs), and took a sideways run out of his corner.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s a Province. The fact is, it’s the Land of Lost Toys. You haven’t such a thing as a fly anywhere about you, have you?’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry to say I have not.’ This was not strictly true, for I was not at all sorry; but I wished to be civil to the old gentleman, for he projected his eyes at me with such an intense (I had almost said greedy) gaze, that I felt quite frightened.
“‘How did you pass the sentries?’ he inquired.
“‘I never saw any,’ I answered.
“‘You couldn’t have seen anything if you didn’t see them,’ he said; ‘but perhaps you don’t know. They’re the glow-worms. Six to each tree, so they light the road, and challenge the passers-by. Why didn’t they challenge you?’
“‘I don’t know,’ I began, ‘unless the beetle—’
“‘I don’t like beetles,’ interrupted the spider, stretching each leg in turn by sticking it up above him, ‘all shell, and no flavour. You never tried walking on anything of that sort, did you?’ and he pointed with one leg to a long thread that fastened a web above his head.
“‘Certainly not,’ said I.
“‘I’m afraid it wouldn’t bear you,’ he observed slowly.
“‘I’m quite sure it wouldn’t,’ I hastened to reply. I wouldn’t try for worlds. It would spoil your pretty work in a moment. Good-evening.’
“And I hurried forward. Once I looked back, but the spider was not following me. He was in his hole again, on his stomach, with his knees above his head, and looking (apparently through his spectacles) down the road up which I came.
“I soon forgot him in the sight before me. I had reached the open place with the lights and the music; but how shall I describe the spectacle that I beheld?
“I have spoken of the effect of a toy-shop on my feelings. Now imagine a toy-fair, brighter and gayer than the brightest bazaar ever seen, held in an open glade, where forest-trees stood majestically behind the glittering stalls, and stretched their gigantic arms above our heads, brilliant with a thousand hanging lamps. At the moment of my entrance all was silent and quiet. The toys lay in their places looking so incredibly attractive that I reflected with disgust that all my ready cash, except one shilling and some coppers, had melted away amid the tawdry fascinations of a village booth. I was counting the coppers (sevenpence halfpenny), when all in a moment a dozen sixpenny fiddles leaped from their places and began to play, accordions of all sizes joined them, the drumsticks beat upon the drums, the penny trumpets sounded, and the yellow flutes took up the melody on high notes, and bore it away through the trees. It was weird fairy-music, but quite delightful. The nearest approach to it that I know of above ground is to hear a wild dreamy air very well whistled to a pianoforte accompaniment.
“When the music began, all the toys rose. The dolls jumped down and began to dance. The poodles barked, the pannier donkeys wagged their ears, the wind-mills turned, the puzzles put themselves together, the bricks built houses, the balls flew from side to side, the battledores and shuttlecocks kept it up among themselves, and the skipping-ropes went round, the hoops ran off, and the sticks ran after them, the cobbler’s wax at the tails of all the green frogs gave way, and they jumped at the same moment, whilst an old-fashioned go-cart ran madly about with nobody inside. It was most exhilarating.
“I soon became aware that the beetle was once more at my elbow.
“‘There are some beautiful toys here,’ I said.
“‘Well, yes,’ he replied, ‘and some odd-looking ones too. You see, whatever has been really used by any child as a plaything gets a right to come down here in the end; and there is some very queer company, I assure you. Look there.’
“I looked, and said, ‘It seems to be a potato.’
“‘So it is,’ said the beetle. ‘It belonged to an Irish child in one of your great cities. But to whom the child belonged I don’t know, and I don’t think he knew himself. He lived in the corner of a dirty, overcrowded room, and into this corner, one day, the potato rolled. It was the only plaything he ever had. He stuck two cinders into it for eyes, scraped a nose and mouth, and loved it. He sat upon it during the day, for fear it should be taken from him, but in the dark he took it out and played with it. He was often hungry, but he never ate that potato. When he died it rolled out of the corner, and was swept into the ashes. Then it came down here.’
“‘What a sad story!’ I exclaimed.
“The beetle seemed in no way affected.
“‘It is a curious thing,’ he rambled on, ‘that potato takes quite a good place among the toys. You see, rank and precedence down here is entirely a question of age; that is, of the length of time that any plaything has been in the possession of a child; and all kinds of ugly old things hold the first rank; whereas the most costly and beautiful works of art have often been smashed or lost by the spoilt children of rich people in two or three days. If you care for sad stories, there is another queer thing belonging to a child who died.’
“It appeared to be a large sheet of canvas with some strange kind of needlework upon it.
“‘It belonged to a little girl in a rich household,’ the beetle continued; ‘she was an invalid, and difficult to amuse. We have lots of her toys, and very pretty ones too. At last some one taught her to make caterpillars in wool-work. A bit of work was to be done in a certain stitch and then cut with scissors, which made it look like a hairy caterpillar. The child took to this, and cared for nothing else. Wool of every shade was procured for her, and she made caterpillars of all colours. Her only complaint was that they did not turn into butterflies. However, she was a sweet, gentle-tempered child, and she went on, hoping that they would do so, and making new ones. One day she was heard talking and laughing in her bed for joy. She said that all the caterpillars had become butterflies of many colours, and that the room was full of them. In that happy fancy she died.’
“‘And the caterpillars came down here?’
“‘Not for a long time,’ said the beetle; ‘her mother kept them while she lived, and then they were lost and came down. No toys come down here till they are broken or lost.’
“‘What are those sticks doing here?’ I asked.
“The music had ceased, and all the toys were lying quiet. Up in a corner leaned a large bundle of walking-sticks. They are often sold in toy-shops, but I wondered on what grounds they came here.
“‘Did you ever meet with a too benevolent old gentleman wondering where on earth his sticks go to?’ said the beetle. ‘Why do they lend them to their grandchildren? The young rogues use them as hobby-horses and lose them, and down they come, and the sentinels cannot stop them. The real hobby-horses won’t allow them to ride with them, however. There was a meeting on the subject. Every stick was put through an examination. “Where is your nose? Where is your mane? Where are your wheels?” The last was a poser. Some of them had got noses, but none of them had got wheels. So they were not true hobby-horses. Something of the kind occurred with the elder-whistles.’
“‘The what?’ I asked.
“‘Whistles that boys make of elder-sticks with the pith scooped out,’ said the beetle. ‘The real instruments would not allow them to play with them. The elder-whistles said they would not have joined had they been asked. They were amateurs, and never played with professionals. So they have private concerts with the combs and curl-papers. But, bless you, toys of this kind are endless here! Teetotums made of old cotton reels, tea-sets of acorn cups, dinner-sets of old shells, monkeys made of bits of sponge, all sorts of things made of breastbones and merrythoughts, old packs of cards that are always building themselves into houses and getting knocked down when the band begins to play, feathers, rabbits’ tails—’
“‘Ah! I have heard about the rabbits’ tails,’ I said.
“‘There they are,’ the beetle continued; ‘and when the band plays you will see how they skip and run. I don’t believe you would find out that they had no bodies, for my experience of a warren is, that when rabbits skip and run it is the tails chiefly that you do see. But of all the amateur toys the most successful are the boats. We have a lake for our craft, you know, and there’s quite a fleet of boats made out of old cork floats in fishing villages. Then, you see, the old bits of cork have really been to sea, and seen a good deal of service on the herring-nets, and so they quite take the lead of the smart shop ships, that have never been beyond a pond or a tub of water. But that’s an exception. Amateur toys are mostly very dowdy. Look at that box.’
“I looked, thought I must have seen it before, and wondered why a very common-looking box without a lid should affect me so strangely, and why my memory should seem struggling to bring it back out of the past. Suddenly it came to me—it was our old Toy Box.
“I had completely forgotten that nursery institution till recalled by the familiar aspect of the inside, which was papered with proof-sheets of some old novel on which black stars had been stamped by way of ornament. Dim memories of how these stars, and the angles of the box, and certain projecting nails interfered with the letter-press and defeated all attempts to trace the thread of the nameless narrative, stole back over my brain; and I seemed once more, with my head in the Toy Box, to beguile a wet afternoon by apoplectic endeavours to follow the fortunes of Sir Charles and Lady Belinda, as they took a favourable turn in the left-hand corner at the bottom of the trunk.
“‘What are you staring at?’ said the beetle.
“‘It’s my old Toy Box!’ I exclaimed.
“The beetle rolled on to his back, and struggled helplessly with his legs: I turned him over. (Neither the first nor the last time of my showing that attention to beetles.)
“‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘set me on my legs. What a turn you gave me! You don’t mean to say you have any toys here? If you have, the sooner you make your way home the better.’
“‘Why?’ I inquired.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘there’s a very strong feeling in the place. The toys think that they are ill-treated, and not taken care of by children in general. And there is some truth in it. Toys come down here by scores that have been broken the first day. And they are all quite resolved that if any of their old masters or mistresses come this way they shall be punished.’
“‘How will they be punished?’ I inquired.
“‘Exactly as they did to their toys, their toys will do to them. All is perfectly fair and regular.’
“‘I don’t know that I treated mine particularly badly,’ I said; ‘but I think I would rather go.’
“‘I think you’d better,’ said the beetle. ‘Good-evening!’ and I saw him no more.
“I turned to go, but somehow I lost the road. At last, as I thought, I found it, and had gone a few steps when I came on a detachment of wooden soldiers, drawn up on their lazy tongs. I thought it better to wait till they got out of the way, so I turned back, and sat down in a corner in some alarm. As I did so, I heard a click, and the lid of a small box covered with mottled paper burst open, and up jumped a figure in a blue striped shirt and a rabbit-skin beard, whose eyes were intently fixed on me. He was very like my old Jack-in-a-box. My back began to creep, and I wildly meditated escape, frantically trying at the same time to recall whether it were I or my brother who originated the idea of making a small bonfire of our own one 5th of November, and burning the old Jack-in-a-box for Guy Fawkes, till nothing was left of him but a twirling bit of red-hot wire and a strong smell of frizzled fur. At this moment he nodded to me and spoke.
“‘Oh! that’s you, is it?’ he said.
“‘No, it’s not,’ I answered hastily; for I was quite demoralized by fear and the strangeness of the situation.
“‘Who is it, then?’ he inquired.
“‘I’m sure I don’t know,’ I said; and really I was so confused that I hardly did.
“‘Well, we know,’ said the Jack-in-a-box, ‘and that’s all that’s needed. Now, my friends,’ he continued, addressing the toys who had begun to crowd round us, ‘whoever recognizes a mistress and remembers a grudge—the hour of our revenge has come. Can we any of us forget the treatment we received at her hands? No! When we think of the ingenious fancy, the patient skill, that went to our manufacture; that fitted the delicate joints and springs, laid on the paint and varnish, and gave back-hair-combs and ear-rings to our smallest dolls, we feel that we deserved more care than we received. When we reflect upon the kind friends who bought us with their money, and gave us away in the benevolence of their hearts, we know that for their sakes we ought to have been longer kept and better valued. And when we remember that the sole object of our own existence was to give pleasure and amusement to our possessors, we have no hesitation in believing that we deserved a handsomer return than to have had our springs broken, our paint dirtied, and our earthly careers so untimely shortened by wilful mischief or fickle neglect. My friends, the prisoner is at the bar.’
“‘I am not,’ I said; for I was determined not to give in as long as resistance was possible. But as I said it I became aware, to my unutterable amazement, that I was inside the go-cart. How I got there is to this moment a mystery to me—but there I was.
“There was a great deal of excitement about the Jack-in-a-box’s speech. It was evident that he was considered an orator, and, indeed, I have seen counsel in a real court look wonderfully like him. Meanwhile, my old toys appeared to be getting together. I had no idea that I had had so many. I had really been very fond of most of them, and my heart beat as the sight of them recalled scenes long forgotten, and took me back to childhood and home. There were my little gardening tools, and my slate, and there was the big doll’s bedstead, that had a real mattress, and real sheets and blankets, all marked with the letter D, and a work-basket made in the blind school, and a shilling School of Art paint-box, and a wooden doll we used to call the Dowager, and innumerable other toys which I had forgotten till the sight of them recalled them to my memory, but which have again passed from my mind. Exactly opposite to me stood the Chinese mandarin, nodding as I had never seen him nod since the day when I finally stopped his performances by ill-directed efforts to discover how he did it.
“And what was that familiar figure among the rest, in a yellow silk dress and maroon velvet cloak and hood trimmed with black lace? How those clothes recalled the friends who gave them to me! And surely this was no other than my dear doll Rosa—the beloved companion of five years of my youth, whose hair I wore in a locket after I was grown up. No one could say I had ill-treated her. Indeed, she fixed her eyes on me with a most encouraging smile—but then she always smiled, her mouth was painted so.
“‘All whom it may concern, take notice,’ shouted the Jack-in-a-box, at this point, ‘that the rule of this honourable court is tit for tat.’
“‘Tit, tat, tumble two,’ muttered the slate in a cracked voice. (How well I remembered the fall that cracked it, and the sly games of tit tat that varied the monotony of our long multiplication sums!)
“‘What are you talking about?’ said the Jack-in-a-box, sharply; ‘if you have grievances, state them, and you shall have satisfaction, as I told you before.’
“‘—— and five make nine,’ added the slate promptly, ‘and six are fifteen, and eight are twenty-seven—there we go again.’ I wonder why I never get up to the top of a line of figures right. It will never prove at this rate.’
“‘His mind is lost in calculations,’ said the Jack-in-a-box, ‘besides—between ourselves—he has been “cracky” for some time. Let some one else speak, and observe that no one is at liberty to pass a sentence on the prisoner heavier than what he has suffered from her. I reserve my judgment to the last.’
“‘I know what that will be,’ thought I; ‘oh dear! oh dear! that a respectable maiden lady should live to be burnt as a Guy Fawkes!’
“‘Let the prisoner drink a gallon of iced water at once, and then be left to die of thirst.’
“The horrible idea that the speaker might possibly have the power to enforce his sentence diverted my attention from the slate, and I looked round. In front of the Jack-in-a-box stood a tiny red flower-pot and saucer, in which was a miniature cactus. My thoughts flew back to a bazaar in London where, years ago, a stand of these fairy plants had excited my warmest longings, and where a benevolent old gentleman whom I had not seen before, and never saw again, bought this one and gave it to me. Vague memories of his directions for repotting and tending it reproached me from the past. My mind misgave me that after all it had died a dusty death for lack of water. True, the cactus tribe being succulent plants do not demand much moisture, but I had reason to fear that, in this instance, the principle had been applied too far, and that after copious baths of cold spring water in the first days of its popularity it had eventually perished by drought. I suppose I looked guilty, for it nodded its prickly head towards me, and said, ‘Ah! you know me. You remember what I was, do you? Did you ever think of what I might have been? There was a fairy rose which came down here not long ago—a common rose enough, in a broken pot patched with string and white paint. It had lived in a street where it was the only pure beautiful thing your eyes could see. When the girl who kept it died there were eighteen roses upon it. She was eighteen years old, and they put the roses in the coffin with her when she was buried. That was worth living for. Who knows what I might have done? And what right had you to cut short a life that might have been useful?’
“Before I could think of a reply to these too just reproaches, the flower-pot enlarged, the plant shot up, putting forth new branches as it grew; then buds burst from the prickly limbs, and in a few moments there hung about it great drooping blossoms of lovely pink, with long white tassels in their throats. I had been gazing at it some time in silent and self-reproachful admiration, when I became aware that the business of this strange court was proceeding, and that the other toys were pronouncing sentence against me.
“‘Tie a string round her neck and take her out bathing in the brooks,’ I heard an elderly voice say in severe tones. It was the Dowager Doll. She was inflexibly wooden, and had been in the family for more than one generation.
“‘It’s not fair,’ I exclaimed, ‘the string was only to keep you from being carried away by the stream. The current is strong and the bank steep by the Hollow Oak Pool, and you had no arms or legs. You were old and ugly, but you would wash, and we loved you better than many waxen beauties.’
“‘Old and ugly!’ shrieked the Dowager. ‘Tear her wig off! Scrub the paint off her face! Flatten her nose on the pavement! Saw off her legs and give her no crinoline! Take her out bathing, I say, and bring her home in a wheelbarrow with fern roots on the top of her.’
“I was about to protest again, when the paint-box came forward, and balancing itself in an artistic, undecided kind of way on two camel’s-hair brushes which seemed to serve it for feet, addressed the Jack-in-a-box.
“‘Never dip your paint into the water. Never put your brush into your mouth—”
“‘That’s not evidence,’ said the Jack-in-a-box.
“‘Your notions are crude,’ said the paint-box loftily; ‘it’s in print, and here, all of it, or words to that effect;’ with which he touched the lid, as a gentleman might lay his hand upon his heart.
“‘It’s not evidence,’ repeated the Jack-in-a-box. ‘Let us proceed.’
“‘Take her to pieces and see what she’s made of, if you please,’ tittered a pretty German toy that moved to a tinkling musical accompaniment. ‘If her works are available after that it will be an era in natural science.’
“The idea tickled me, and I laughed.
“‘Hard-hearted wretch!’ growled the Dowager Doll.
“‘Dip her in water and leave her to soak on a white soup-plate,’ said the paint-box; ‘if that doesn’t soften her feelings, deprive me of my medal from the School of Art!’
“‘Give her a stiff neck!’ muttered the mandarin. ‘Ching Fo! give her a stiff neck.’
“‘Knock her teeth out,’ growled the rake in a scratchy voice; and then the tools joined in chorus.
“‘Take her out when it’s fine and leave her out when it’s wet, and lose her in—
“‘The coal-hole,’ said the spade.
“‘The hay-field,’ said the rake.
“‘The shrubbery,’ said the hoe.
“This difference of opinion produced a quarrel, which in turn seemed to affect the general behaviour of the toys, for a disturbance arose which the Jack-in-a-box vainly endeavoured to quell. A dozen voices shouted for a dozen different punishments, and (happily for me) each toy insisted upon its own wrongs being the first to be avenged, and no one would hear of the claims of any one else being attended to for an instant. Terrible sentences were passed, which I either failed to hear through the clamour then, or have forgotten now. I have a vague idea that several voices cried that I was to be sent to wash in somebody’s pocket; that the work-basket wished to cram my mouth with unfinished needlework; and that through all the din the thick voice of my old leather ball monotonously repeated:
“‘Throw her into the dust-hole.’
“Suddenly a clear voice pierced the confusion, and Rosa tripped up.
“‘My dears,’ she began, ‘the only chance of restoring order is to observe method. Let us follow our usual rule of precedence. I claim the first turn as the prisoner’s oldest toy.’
“‘That you are not, Miss,’ snapped the Dowager; ‘I was in the family for fifty years.’
“‘In the family. Yes, ma’am; but you were never her doll in particular. I was her very own, and she kept me longer than any other plaything. My judgment must be first.’
“‘She is right,’ said the Jack-in-a-box; ‘and now let us get on. The prisoner is delivered unreservedly into the hands of our trusty and well-beloved Rosa—doll of the first class—for punishment according to the strict law of tit for tat.’
“‘I shall request the assistance of the pewter tea-things,’ said Rosa, with her usual smile. ‘And now, my love,’ she added, turning to me, ‘we will come and sit down.’
“Where the go-cart vanished to I cannot remember, nor how I got out of it; I only know that I suddenly found myself free, and walking away with my hand in Rosa’s. I remember vacantly feeling the rough edge of the stitches on her flat kid fingers, and wondering what would come next.
“‘How very oddly you hold your feet, my dear,’ she said; ‘you stick out your toes in such an eccentric fashion, and you lean on your legs as if they were table legs, instead of supporting yourself by my hand. Turn your heels well out, and bring your toes together. You may even let them fold over each other a little; it is considered to have a pretty effect among dolls,’
“Under one of the big trees Miss Rosa made me sit down, propping me against the trunk as if I should otherwise have fallen; and in a moment more a square box of pewter tea-things came tumbling up to our feet, where the lid burst open, and all the tea-things fell out in perfect order; the cups on the saucers, the lid on the teapot, and so on.
“‘Take a little tea, my love?’ said Miss Rosa, pressing a pewter teacup to my lips.
“I made believe to drink, but was only conscious of inhaling a draught of air with a slight flavour of tin. In taking my second cup I was nearly choked with the teaspoon, which got into my throat.
“‘What are you doing?’ roared the Jack-in-a-box at this moment; ‘you are not punishing her.’
“‘I am treating her as she treated me,’ answered Rosa, looking as severe as her smile would allow. ‘I believe that tit for tat is the rule, and that at present it is my turn.’
“‘It will be mine soon,’ growled the Jack-in-a-box, and I thought of the bonfire with a shudder. However, there was no knowing what might happen before his turn did come, and meanwhile I was in friendly hands. It was not the first time my dolly and I had sat together under a tree, and, truth to say, I do not think she had any injuries to avenge.
“‘When your wig comes off,’ murmured Rosa, as she stole a pink kid arm tenderly round my neck, ‘I’ll make you a cap with blue and white rosettes, and pretend that you have had a fever.’
“I thanked her gratefully, and was glad to reflect that I was not yet in need of an attention which I distinctly remember having shown to her in the days of her dollhood. Presently she jumped up.
“‘I think you shall go to bed now, dear,’ she said, and, taking my hand once more, she led me to the big doll’s bedstead, which, with its pretty bed-clothes and white dimity furniture, looked tempting enough to a sleeper of suitable size. It could not have supported one quarter of my weight.
“‘I have not made you a night-dress, my love,’ Rosa continued; ‘I am not fond of my needle, you know. You were not fond of your needle, I think, I fear you must go to bed in your clothes, my dear.’
“‘You are very kind,’ I said, ‘but I am not tired, and—it would not bear my weight.’
“‘Pooh! pooh!’ said Rosa. ‘My love! I remember passing one Sunday in it with the rag-doll, and the Dowager, and the Punch and Judy (the amount of pillow their two noses took up I shall never forget!), and the old doll that had nothing on, because her clothes were in the dolls’ wash and did not get ironed on Saturday night, and the Highlander, whose things wouldn’t come off, and who slept in his kilt. Not bear you? Nonsense! You must go to bed, my dear. I’ve got other things to do, and I can’t leave you lying about.’
“‘The whole lot of you did not weigh one quarter of what I do,’ I cried desperately. ‘I cannot and will not get into that bed; I should break it all to pieces, and hurt myself into the bargain.’
“‘Well, if you will not go to bed I must put you there,’ said Rosa, and without more ado, she snatched me up in her kid arms, and laid me down.
“Of course it was just as I expected. I had hardly touched the two little pillows (they had a meal-baggy smell from being stuffed with bran), when the woodwork gave way with a crash, and I fell—fell—fell—
“Though I fully believed every bone in my body to be broken, it was really a relief to get to the ground. As soon as I could, I sat up, and felt myself all over. A little stiff, but, as it seemed, unhurt. Oddly enough, I found that I was back again under the tree; and more strange still, it was not the tree where I sat with Rosa, but the old oak-tree in the little wood. Was it all a dream? The toys had vanished, the lights were out, the mosses looked dull in the growing dusk, the evening was chilly, the hole no larger than it was thirty years ago, and when I felt in my pocket for my spectacles I found that they were on my nose.
“I have returned to the spot many times since, but I never could induce a beetle to enter into conversation on the subject, the hole remains obstinately impassable, and I have not been able to repeat my visit to the Land of Lost Toys.
“When I recall my many sins against the playthings of my childhood, I am constrained humbly to acknowledge that perhaps this is just as well.”