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Stories, Dreams and Allegories. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
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The Wax Doll and the Stepmother

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ROLLY was a small boy five years old who wore knickerbockers. He had great brown eyes and curls that hung over his forehead; but Nina, his sister, who was a year older, had yellow hair and a white face. She was so thin that when Rolly tried hard he could lift her off the ground.

They had no mother, but their Papa was kind to them, and one day when he came from town he brought a beautiful wax doll for Nina. She had many dolls, but none like this one. Its hair was real; you could curl and comb it as much as you pleased; it had real eyelashes, and fingers and toes of wax, and the best of all was it had little teeth. You could see them always, for its mouth was never shut.

Nurse Bromage, who looked after the children, said it was quite too good to play with, and put the doll away on the top shelf. Nina cried; she loved the doll so much, with its little teeth. But Nurse Bromage did not care; for, you see, she was a cross old thing and didn’t mind if other people weren’t page: 100 happy, if only she was. But sometimes she went to visit her cousin in the country, and then Jennie the housemaid used to let them play with it as much as they pleased. One day when they were playing with her one of the tucks in the doll’s flannel petticoat got loosened. Nina kissed her and Rolly told her they didn’t mean to do it; and so they thought it was all right.

A little time after that Nurse Bromage told them that when their Papa came home the next day he was going to bring them a new Mamma. The children clapped their hands when they heard that.

“Then we will have a Mamma too!” they said, “like the other children!”

“Yes,” said Nina. “Perhaps she will come and kiss us when we are in bed, like the pretty lady kisses the little girl in the picture in Papa’s bedroom!”

But Nurse Bromage knit up her forehead and shook her head.

“All the house will belong to your new Mamma,” she said, “and all the things in it. She will not like you at all, because if it were not for you she would get all your Papa’s things when he dies; but now you will have to get some.”

Then Nina and Rolly were quite unhappy. They went and sat on a little box behind the door where they always sat when Nurse Bromage scolded them.

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“We’ll tell the new Mamma that we don’t want any of Papa’s things,” said Nina. “Won’t we, Rolly?”

“We’ll tell her just as soon as she comes,” said Rolly. “But perhaps she looks like Nurse Bromage!”

“Oh dear!” said Nina, and hung her head. Her neck was so thin that when she hung it, it always seemed as though it might break off.

The next day when the carriage came the servants and the two children went into the great hall to meet their Papa and the lady. Nina had on a white dress with a blue sash; and Rolly had a black velvet suit with three pockets, one in the jacket and two in the trousers.

“I think she’ll think I’m quite a big boy, when she sees me in this,” said Rolly.

When the carriage stopped their Papa helped out the lady. She was very beautiful; tall, with red cheeks, and lips like cherries, and black hair shining like a crow’s wing. She had on a silk dress with a black rustling train, and that made her grander still. She was very beautiful, but she had not a happy face. No one had ever taught her that it was not money and fine houses and fine clothes that could make a person happy; and so her heart felt all over as though it were pricked by little pins. So the hearts of all people feel, when they want more than they have got and are not full of love.

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“She isn’t like Nurse Bromage. She’s just like your best wax‐doll,” Rolly whispered; but Nina was so afraid she did not lift her face.

When their new Mamma came into the hall, “These are my little children,” the Papa said. But she did not look at them; she only bent down and touched Rolly’s forehead with her lips. Nina she did not kiss at all.

“Rolly, I can’t tell her she can have all Papa’s things! Oh! I am so afraid of her,” said Nina, when they went up the long stairs holding each other’s hands.

I’m not frightened,” said Rolly, “I’m a man and you are only a woman, you know. But I don’t like her. Why didn’t she kiss you?”

“Oh, Rolly, I love her!” said Nina, with tears in her eyes.

That evening Nurse Bromage brought them to sit in the parlour for a little while. Their Papa gave them some nuts to crack, but the beautiful lady never spoke to them; she sat with her screen before the fire.

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“You see, Nina,” said Rolly, when they were lying in their little beds in the dark, “it is quite true; she does hate us. And I don’t love her; not a bit. I’d like to take my big drum and beat it at her bedroom door when she’s asleep!”

“Oh, you mustn’t say so, Rolly!” said Nina.

But Rolly didn’t care, and soon went to sleep and so did she. But the cough soon woke her up again, and she lay alone in the dark, and a beautiful thought came to her. She wished it would be morning soon that she might tell Rolly. She folded her little hands together, and pressed the palms. For all that she couldn’t tell him when the morning came, for Nurse Bromage was by, and no one could say anything nice while she was there. After breakfast she taught them their letters. When Nina called B, D, she whipped her hands with a little rod tied with a red string; but she didn’t whip Rolly because he was her favourite.

By and by, when it was afternoon, Nurse Bromage went to sleep on the sofa. Then Nina called Rolly behind the door.

“What is it?” said Rolly, coming close and lifting his ear.

“You know my wax doll, Rolly; my best wax doll?” said Nina.

“Yes,” said Rolly.

“I want to give it to her, Rolly. Do you think she’ll like it?”


“Our new Mamma.”

“Oh, yes!” said Rolly, “of course she will. I don’t believe she ever saw one like it in her life before!”

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“And you’ll take it to her, Rolly? You are not afraid, are you?”

“I should think not,” said Rolly, sticking his hands into his knickerbocker pockets, and swelling himself out. “I’ll take it.”

“Let us go and fetch it before Nurse wakes,” said Nina. But Rolly paused, shaking his head and looking very sagacious.

“She’ll find out and she’ll whip you, Nina!”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Nina, a little sorrowfully. “You know she will whatever I do.”

So they went to the next room. Rolly pulled the chair, and Nina put the footstool on; and he climbed up, while she held fast. When he had got the doll he came down quickly; and they took a beautiful piece of white paper with a silver edge, that came with the china tea‐service, to wrap it in.

“Isn’t she lovely?” said Nina, as she laid it in the paper and smoothed out the little soft curls.

“She just is!” said Rolly. “Aren’t you sorry to give her away?”

“No,” said Nina; but when she looked at the little teeth her lip trembled. She gave it to Rolly to hold while she went for a piece of string. They neither of them knew how to tie a bow; but Rolly said he didn’t think it mattered, because their new Mamma could untie a knot by herself, he guessed.

“You must tell her I’m sorry the one tuck is out,” page: 105 said Nina, “and I would have mended it only I don’t know how to work.”

Rolly put the doll under his arm, and Nina went with him to the door of the long passage.

“You are not afraid, are you?”

“Oh, no!” said Rolly; but his heart beat so that the doll against his breast went up and down, up and down.

He walked up the long passage to the door of the new Mamma’s bedroom. He gave a little knock with his forefinger, but no one answered. He thought there could be no one inside, so gave a very brave one with his fist.

The new Mamma said, “Who is there?”

“I,” said Rolly; and he pushed open the door, and walked in.

It was almost dinner‐time, and there were going to be visitors that evening. The lady was sitting before the glass dressing. She had on a black velvet dress, and the sleeves were wide open to show her arms, as white as the snow, and covered with bracelets.

Rolly walked in and stood before her looking at her.

“What do you want?” she asked.

He was such a wee boy when he stood so close beside her, and she was a grand, beautiful woman.

“I’ve brought this for you,” said Rolly, “and you may keep it for your own. It’s Nina sends it to you.”

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He put the parcel down in her lap, and folded his hands behind him.

“And who is Nina?” asked the lady.

“Why, Nina is Nina, to be sure! My sister,” said Rolly. “And she says you mustn’t mind the one tuck being out, because she would have mended it if she could.”

The lady unrolled the parcel and looked at the doll.

“You see,” he said, picking up the doll’s dress and showing the petticoat, “that’s the tuck; but it’s all that’s the matter with her. Isn’t it lovely?” said Rolly, sticking his hands in his pockets and watching to see what effect it would have upon her.

“You didn’t notice the teeth, I suppose, did you?” said Rolly, eyeing her critically. “It’s real teeth, and the hair too. You can put oil on if you like.”

“Who told Nina to send it?” asked the lady.

“Why, no one,” said Rolly; “she thought of it last night when she was in bed.”

“What made her want to send it to me?”

“Well,” said Rolly, drawing confidentially nearer, “you mustn’t tell, of course; but Nina, she said if she gave it you, perhaps you’d kiss her, like the lady in the picture kisses the little girl, you know, when she’s in bed.”

The lady looked down at the doll. “Go and tell Nina, that I say ‘thank you.’”

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“It’s a beautiful doll,” said Rolly, fearing she had not enough admired it, “and the boots are red. Good‐bye!”

When he got to the door he looked back. “I’ll tell her you don’t mind about the petticoat, eh?”

“Yes,” said the lady, so Rolly went.

That evening the children sat on their hassocks before the fire. Nurse Bromage had taken the light out and gone downstairs to get some of the nice things that were over from the big people’s dinner; so they drew their little hassocks as close together as they could and sat looking at the fire.

“She said ‘thank you,’” said Rolly; “she must have liked it!”

“Oh no, I think she’s angry,” said Nina.

Rolly could see two large tears on her face, so he rubbed her cheeks with his coat sleeve. It was rather rough, but it did her good.

“I don’t believe she could be so bad as not to like your doll,” he said; and they sat still looking at the fire.

Then the door opened softly.

“There she comes!” said Rolly, looking round—“I knew she would.”

But the little girl sat quite huddled up with fear, and quite cold. The lady came in; you could see in the firelight how beautiful she was, with her diamonds sparkling, and her velvet dress and her black hair.

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“This is Nina!” said Rolly. “Here she sits!”

The lady did not speak. She brought the rocking‐chair from the corner and put it before the fire and sat down.

“Come!” she said; and she lifted the little girl up with her strong white hands and sat her on her knee. She held the thin little face fast and kissed the mouth six times, very softly.

“My dear little daughter,” she said, and laid the head down on her breast.

Rolly, on his hassock before the fire, stroked his little knees for gladness, and his round eyes were just as bright as the coals.

The new Mamma called him to come and stand at her side. She put her arm quite tight round him.

“You are just like the wax doll, and much prettier too,” he said, looking up at her. “Nina and I, we like you very much. But I didn’t like you first.”

“Why not?”

“Because—a—because—a—because—you didn’t kiss her. But I like you now,” he said, edging suddenly nearer to her, and taking hold of her face with one hand to turn it to him. “And you know, New Mamma, we didn’t want any of Papa’s things. You can have them all. I’ll take care of Nina,” he added, drawing himself up; “I’m nearly a big man already. I can climb into bed right from the ground by myself, and button my clothes too!”

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“You dear little boy!” said the lady, and she kissed him on his eyes, and on his forehead, and on the brown curls that hung down.

Then Rolly put his head down on her shoulder, and rubbed his curls softly against her neck.

“It’s so nice and happy; just like a birthday! Isn’t it, Nina?” he said.

But Nina only pressed the lady’s waist with all her little strength.

“And you won’t let Nurse Bromage s‐col‐d Nina for giving you her doll; will you, my New Mamma?” said Rolly. “Poor Nina, you know!”

“No one shall hurt her now,” said the lady, “she is my little daughter.”

“Yes; and I’ll be your big son too, if you like!” said Rolly, looking up, “and take care of you!”

“So you shall, my darling.”

“Yes,” said Rolly, very much excited, “and—I—I’ll always get you—canary seed—for your bird—and—I—I’ll build you a house of shells—and—and—”

“You shall do it all for me, just to‐morrow,” said the lady. “Where are your little beds? I shall carry Nina, and you shall show me. I want to undress you both.”

“Will you kiss us when we have our nightgowns on?”


Rolly put his mouth close to her ear.

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“Will you lie with us a little while?”




“Oh! it’s just like a birthday,” said Rolly—“only it’s much nicer!”