In the first place, Sarah Jane had no right to take the doll to school, but the temptation was too much for her. The doll was new—it was, in fact, only one day old—and such a doll! Rag, of course—Sarah Jane had heard only vague rumors of other kinds—but no more like the ordinary rag doll than a fairy princess is like a dairy-maid. The minute that Sarah Jane saw it she knew at once that there never had been such a doll. It was small—not more than seven or eight inches tall—not by any means the usual big, sprawling, moon-faced rag baby with its arms standing out at right angles with its body. It was tiny and genteel in figure, slim-waisted, and straight-backed. It was made of, not common cotton cloth, but linen—real glossy white linen—which Sarah Jane’s mother, and consequently the doll’s grandmother, had spun and wove. Its face was colored after a fashion which was real high art to Sarah Jane. The little cheeks and mouth were sparingly flushed with cranberry juice, and the eyes beamed blue with indigo. The nose was delicately traced with a quill dipped in its grandfather’s ink-stand, and though not quite as natural as the rest of the features, showed fine effort. Its little wig was made from the fine ravellings of Serena’s brown silk stockings.
Serena was Sarah Jane’s married sister, who lived in the next house across the broad green yard, and she had made this wonderful doll. She brought it over one evening just before Sarah Jane went to bed. “There,” said she, “if you’ll be a real good girl I’ll give you this.”
“Oh!” cried Sarah Jane, and she could say no more.
Serena, who was only a girl herself, dandled the doll impressively before her bewildered eyes. It was dressed in a charming frock made from a bit of Serena’s best French calico. The frock was of a pale lilac color with roses sprinkled over it, and was cut with a low neck and short puffed sleeves.
“Now, Sarah Jane,” said Serena, admonishingly, “there’s one thing I want to tell you: you mustn’t carry this doll to school. If you do, you’ll lose it; and if you do, you won’t get another very soon. It was a good deal of work to make it. Now you mind what I say.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Sarah Jane. It was not her habit to say ma’am to her sister Serena, if she was twelve years older than she; but she did now, and reached out impatiently for the doll.
“Well, you remember,” said Serena. “If you take it to school and lose it, it’ll be the last doll you’ll get.”
And Sarah Jane said, “Yes, ma’am,” again.
She had to go to bed directly, but she took the new doll with her; that was not forbidden, much to her relief. And before she went to sleep she had named her with a most flowery name, nothing less than Lily Rosalie Violet May. It took her a long time to decide upon it, but she was finally quite satisfied, and went to sleep hugging Lily Rosalie, and dreamed about her next day’s spelling lesson—that she failed and went to the foot of the class.
It was singular, but for once a dream of Sarah Jane’s came true. She actually did miss in her spelling lesson the next day; and although she did not go quite to the foot of the class, she went very near to it. But if Sarah Jane was not able to spell scissors correctly, she could have spelled with great success Lily Rosalie Violet May. All the evening she had been printing it over and over on a fly-leaf of her spelling-book. She could feel no interest in scissors, which had no connection, except a past one, with her beloved new doll.
Poor Sarah Jane lived such a long way from school that she had to carry her dinner with her, so there was a whole day’s separation, when she had only possessed Lily Rosalie for a matter of twelve hours. It was hard.
She told some of her particular cronies about her, and described her charms with enthusiasm, but it was not quite equal to displaying her in person.
The little girls promised to come over and see the new doll just as soon as their mothers would let them, and one, Ruth Gurney, who was Sarah Jane’s especial friend, said she would go home with her that very night—she didn’t believe her mother would care—but they were going to have company at tea, and she was afraid if she were late, and had to sit at the second table, that she wouldn’t get any currant tarts.
Sarah Jane did not urge her; she had a shy little pride of her own; but she felt deeply hurt that Ruth could prefer currant tarts to a sight of Lily Rosalie.
She was rather apt to loiter on her way home. There was much temptation to at this time of the year, when the meadows on either side of the road were so brimful of grass and flowers, when the air was so sweet, and so many birds were singing. There was a brook on the way, and occasionally Sarah Jane used to stop and have a little secret wade. It was one of those pleasures which, although not actually prohibited, was doubtful. Sarah Jane had at times got the hem of her little blue calico gown draggled, and met with a reprimand at home.
But to-night neither nodding way-side flowers nor softly rippling brook had any attraction for her. Straight home, her little starched white sun-bonnet pointing ahead unswervingly, her small pattering feet never turning aside from the narrow beaten track between the way-side grasses, she went to Lily Rosalie Violet May.
She found her just as beautiful as when she left her. That long day of absence, filled in with her extravagant childish fancy, had not caused her charms to lessen in the least.
Sarah Jane ran straight to the linen chest, in whose till she had hidden for safety the precious doll, and there she lay, her indigo blue eyes staring up, smiling at her with the sweet cranberry-colored smile which Serena had fixed on her face. Sarah Jane caught her up in rapture.
Her mother told Serena that night that she didn’t know when she’d seen the child so tickled with anything as she was with that doll.
“She didn’t carry it to the school, did she?” said Serena.
“No. I guess she won’t want to, as long as you told her not to,” replied her mother.
Sarah Jane had been always an obedient little girl; but—she had never before had Lily Rosalie Violet May. Her mother did not consider that.
Sarah Jane did not have a pocket made in her dress; it was not then the fashion. Instead, she wore a very large-sized one, made of stout cotton, tied around her waist by a string under her dress skirt. The next day, when Sarah Jane went to school, she carried in this pocket her new doll. She was quite late this morning, so there was no time to display it before school commenced.
Once, when the high arithmetic class was out on the floor, she pulled it slyly out of her pocket, held it under her desk, and poked Ruth Gurney, who sat in the next seat.
“Oh!” gasped Ruth, almost aloud. The doll seemed to fascinate everybody. “Let me take it,” motioned Ruth; but Sarah Jane shook a wise head, and slid Lily Rosalie back in her pocket. She was not going to run the risk of having her confiscated by the teacher. But when recess came Sarah Jane was soon the proud little centre of an admiring group.
“Sarah Jane’s got the handsomest new doll,” one whispered to another, and they all crowded around. Even some of the “big girls” came, and two or three of the big boys. Sarah Jane was one of the smallest girls in school, and sat in the very front seat. Now she felt like a big girl herself. This wonderful doll raised her at once to a position of importance. There she stood in the corner by the window, and proudly held it. She wore a blue cotton dress cut after the fashion of Lily Rosalie’s, with a low neck and short sleeves, displaying her dimpled childish neck and arms. Her round cheeks were flushed with a softer pink than the doll’s, and her honest brown eyes were full of delight.
One and another of the girls begged for the privilege of taking the doll a moment for a closer scrutiny, and Sarah Jane would grant it, and then watch them with thinly veiled anxiety. Suppose their fingers shouldn’t be quite clean, and there should be a spot on Lily Rosalie’s beautiful white linen skin! One of the girls rubbed her cheeks to see if the red would come off, and Sarah Jane wriggled.
Joe West was one of the big boys who had joined the group. Years after, he was Joseph B. West, an eminent city lawyer. Years after that, he was Judge West of the Superior Court. Now he was simply Joe West, a tall, lanky boy with a long rosy face and a high forehead. His arms came too far through his jacket sleeves, and showed his wrists, which looked unnaturally knobby and bony. He went barefoot all summer long, and was much given to chewing sassafras.
He offered a piece to Sarah Jane now, extracting it with gravity from a mass of chalk, top strings, buttons, nails, and other wealth with which his pocket was filled.
Sarah Jane accepted it with a modest little blush, and plumped it into her rosy mouth.
Then Joe West followed up his advantage. “Say, Sarah Jane,” said he, “lemme take her a minute.”
She eyed him doubtfully. Somehow she mistrusted him. Joe West had rather the reputation of being a wag and a sore tease.
“She’s just the prettiest doll I ever saw,” Joe went on. “Lemme take her just a minute, Sarah Jane; now do.”
“He’s just stuffing you, Sarah Jane; don’t you let him touch it,” spoke out one of the big girls.
“Stuffing” was a very expressive word in the language of the school. Sarah Jane shook her head with a timid little smile, and hugged Lily Rosalie tighter.
“Now do, Sarah Jane. I wouldn’t be stingy. Haven’t I just given you some sassafras?”
That softened her a little. The spicy twang of the sassafras was yet on her tongue. “I’m afraid you won’t give her back to me,” murmured she.
“Yes, I will, honest. Now do, Sarah Jane.”
It was against her better judgment; the big girl again raised her warning voice; but Joe West adroitly administered a little more flattery, and followed it up with entreaty, and Sarah Jane, yielding, finally put her precious little white linen baby into his big grimy, out-reaching hands.
“Oh, the pretty little sing!” said Joe West then, in an absurdly soft voice, and dandled it up and down. “What’s its name, Sarah Jane?”
And Sarah Jane in her honesty and simplicity repeated that flowery name.
“Lily Rosalie Violet May,” said Joe, after her, softly. And everybody giggled.
A pink color spread all over Sarah Jane’s face and dimpled neck; tears sprang to her eyes. She felt as if they were poking fun at something sacred; her honest childish confidence was betrayed. “Give her back to me, Joe West!” she cried.
But Joe only dandled it out of her reach, and then the bell rang. The children trooped back into the school-room, and Joe quietly slipped the doll into his pocket and marched gravely to his seat.
Every time when Sarah Jane gazed around at him he was studying his geography with the most tireless industry. She could hardly wait for school to be done; when it was, she tried to get to Joe, but he was too quick for her. He had started with his long stride down the road before she could get to the door. She called after him, but he appeared to have suddenly grown deaf. The other girls condoled with her, all but the big girl who had given the warning. “You’d ought to have listened to me,” said she, severely, as she tied on her sun-bonnet in the entry. “I told you how it would be, letting a boy have hold of it.”
Sarah Jane was not much comforted. She crept forlornly along towards home. Joe West’s house was on the way. There was a field south of it. As she came to this field she saw Joe out there with the bossy. This bossy, which was tethered to an old apple-tree, was cream-colored, with a white star on her forehead and a neck and head like a deer. She stood knee-deep in the daisies and clover, and looked like a regular picture-calf. If Sarah Jane had not been so much occupied with her own troubles, she would have stopped to gaze with pleasure at the pretty creature.
Joe stood at her head and appeared to be teasing her. She twitched away from him, and lunged at him playfully with her budding horns.
“Joe! Joe!” called quaking little Sarah Jane.
Joe West gave one glance at her; his face flushed a burning red; then he left the bossy and went with long strides across the fields towards his home. The poor girl followed him.
“Joe! Joe!” called the little despairing voice, but he never turned his head.
Sarah Jane got past his house; then she sat down beside the road and wept. She did not know how Joe West, remorseful and penitent, was peeping at her from his window. She did not know of the tragedy which had just been enacted over there in the clover-field. The bossy calf, who was hungry for all strange articles of food, had poked her inquiring nose into Joe West’s jacket pocket, whence a bit of French calico emerged, had caught hold of it, and, in short, had then and there eaten up Lily Rosalie Violet May. Joe had made an attempt to pull her by her silken wig out of that greedy mouth, but the bossy calmly chewed on.
It was just as well that Sarah Jane did not know it at the time. She had enough to bear—her own distress over the loss of the doll, and the reproaches of Serena and her mother. They agreed that the loss of the doll served her right for her disobedience, and that nothing should be said to Joe West. They also thought the affair too trivial to fuss over. Lily Rosalie even in her designer’s eyes was not what she was to Sarah Jane.
“If you’d minded me you wouldn’t have lost it,” said Serena. “I am not going to make you another.”
Sarah Jane hung her head meekly. But in the course of three months she had another doll in a very unexpected and curious way.
One evening there was a knock on the side door, and when it was opened there was no one there, but on the step lay a big package directed to Sarah Jane. It contained a real bought doll, with a china head and a cloth body, who was gorgeously and airily attired in pink tarlatan with silver spangles. The memory of Lily Rosalie paled.
There was great wonder and speculation. Nobody dreamed how poor Joe West had driven cows from pasture, and milked, and chopped wood, out of school-hours, and taken every cent he had earned and bought this doll to atone for the theft of Lily Rosalie Violet May.
Sarah Jane’s mother declared that she should not carry this doll, no matter whence it came, to school, and she never did but once—that was on her birthday, and she teased so hard, and promised not to let any one take her, that her mother consented.
At recess Sarah Jane was again the centre of attraction. She turned that wonderful pink tarlatan lady round and round before the admiring eyes; but when Joe West, meek and mildly conciliatory, approached the circle, she clutched her tightly and turned her back on him.
“I’m not going to have Joe West steal another doll,” said she. And Joe colored and retreated.
Years afterwards, when Joe was practising law in the city, and came home for a visit, and Sarah Jane was so grown-up that she wore a white muslin hat with rosebuds, and a black silk mantilla, to church, she knew the whole story, and they had a laugh over it.