The Doll's Ghost by F. Marion Crawford
IT was a terrible accident, and for one moment the splendid
machinery of Cranston House got out of gear and stood still. The
butler emerged from the retirement in which he spent his elegant
leisure. Two grooms of the chambers appeared simultaneously from
opposite directions. There were actually housemaids on the grand
staircase, and those who remember the facts most exactly assert that
Mrs. Pringle herself positively stood upon the landing. Mrs. Pringle
was the housekeeper.
As for the head nurse, the undernurse, and the nursery maid, their
feelings cannot be described. The head nurse laid one hand upon the
polished marble balustrade and stared stupidly before her. The
undernurse stood rigid and pale, leaning against the polished marble
wall while the nursery maid collapsed and sat down upon the polished
marble step--just beyond the limits of the velvet carpet--and burst
The Lady Gwendolen Lancaster-Douglas-Scroop, youngest daughter of
the ninth Duke of Cranston--of the age of six years and three
months--picked herself up quite alone, and sat down on the third step
from the foot of the grand staircase in Cranston House.
"Oh!" exclaimed the butler before he disappeared again.
"Ah!" responded the grooms of the chambers, as they also went
"It's only that doll," Mrs. Pringle was distinctly heard to say,
in a tone of contempt.
The undernurse heard her say it. Then the three nurses gathered
round Lady Gwendolen and patted her, gave her unhealthy things out of
their pockets, and hurried her out of Cranston House as fast as they
could, lest it should be found out upstairs that they had allowed the
Lady Gwendolen Lancaster-Douglas-Scroop to tumble down the grand
staircase with her doll in her arms. And as the doll was badly
broken, the nursery-maid carried it, and the pieces, wrapped up in
Lady Gwendolen's little cloak. It was not far to Hyde Park, and when
they had reached a quiet place they took means to find out that Lady
Gwendolen had no bruises--for the carpet was very thick and soft, and
there was thick stuff under it to make it softer.
Lady Gwendolen Douglas-Scroop sometimes yelled, but she never
cried. It was because she had yelled that the nurse had allowed her
to go downstairs alone, with Nina the doll under one arm, steadying
herself with her other hand on the balustrade as she trod upon the
polished marble steps beyond the edge of the carpet. So she had
fallen, and Nina had come to grief.
When the nurses were quite sure that she was not hurt, they
unwrapped the doll and looked at her in her turn. She had been a very
beautiful doll, very large, and fair, and healthy. She had real
yellow hair and eyelids that would open and shut over very grown-up
dark eyes. Moreover, when you moved her right arm up and down, she
said "Pa-pa," and when you moved the left, she said "Ma-ma," very
"I heard her say 'Pa' when she fell," said the undernurse, who
heard everything. "But she ought to have said 'Pa-pa.'"
"That's because her arm went up when she hit the step," said the
head nurse. "She'll say the other 'Pa' when I put it down again."
"Pa," said Nina, as her right arm was pushed down. She spoke
through a face that was cracked, with a hideous gash, from the upper
corner of the forehead, through the nose, and down to the little
frilled collar of the pale green silk Mother Hubbard frock--where two
little three-cornered pieces of porcelain had fallen out. "I'm sure
it's a wonder she can speak at all, being all smashed," said the
"You'll have to take her to Mr. Puckler," said her superior. "It's
not far, and you'd better go at once."
Lady Gwendolen was occupied with digging a hole in the ground with
a little spade, and paid no attention to the nurses.
"What are you doing?" inquired the nursery maid, looking on.
"Nina's dead, and I'm diggin' her a grave," replied her ladyship
"Oh, she'll come to life again all right," said the nursery
The undernurse wrapped Nina up again and departed. Fortunately a
kind soldier, with very long legs and a very small cap, happened to
be there; and as he had nothing to do, he offered to see the
undernurse safely to Mr. Puckler's and back.
Mr. Bernard Puckler and his little daughter lived in a little
house in a little alley, which led out off a quiet little street not
very far from Belgrave Square. He was the great doll doctor whose
extensive practice lay in the most aristocratic quarter. He mended
dolls of all sizes and ages, boy dolls and girl dolls, baby dolls in
long clothes, grown-up dolls in fashionable gowns. He repaired
talking dolls and dumb dolls, dolls that shut their eyes when they
lay down, and those whose eyes had to be shut for them by means of a
mysterious wire. His daughter Else was only twelve years old, but she
was already very clever at mending dolls' clothes and at doing their
hair--which is harder than you might think, though the dolls sit
quite still while it is being done.
Mr. Puckler had originally been a German, but he had dissolved his
nationality in the ocean of London many years ago, like a great many
foreigners. He still had one or two German friends, however, who came
on Saturday evenings to smoke with him and play picquet or "skat" for
farthing points. They called him "Herr Doctor," which seemed to
please Mr. Puckler very much.
He looked older than he was, for his beard was rather long and
ragged, his hair was grizzled and thin, and he wore horn-rimmed
spectacles. As for Else, she was a thin, pale child--very quiet and
neat--with dark eyes and brown hair that was plaited down her back
and tied with a bit of black ribbon. She mended the dolls' clothes
and took the dolls back to their homes when they were strong
The house was a little one, but too big for the two people who
lived in it. There was a small sitting room facing the street, three
rooms upstairs, and the workshop was at the back. But the father and
daughter lived most of their time in the workshop, because they were
generally at work, even in the evenings.
Mr. Puckler laid Nina on the table and looked at her a long
time--until the tears began to fill his eyes behind the horn-rimmed
spectacles. He was a very sensitive man who often fell in love with
the dolls he mended, and who found it hard to part with them when
they had smiled at him for a few days. They were real little people
to him, with characters and thoughts and feelings of their own and he
was very tender with them all. But some attracted him especially from
the first, and when they were brought to him maimed and injured,
their state seemed so pitiful to him that the tears came easily. You
must remember that he had lived among dolls during a great part of
his life, and understood them.
"How do you know that they feel nothing?" he went on to say to
Else. "You must be gentle with them. It costs nothing to be kind to
the little beings, and perhaps it makes a difference to them."
And Else understood him, because she was a child, and she knew
that she was more to him than all the dolls.
He fell in love with Nina at first sight, perhaps because her
beautiful brown glass eyes were something like Else's, and he loved
Else first and best, with all his heart. And, besides, it was a very
Nina had not been long in the world. Her complexion was perfect,
her hair was smooth where it should be smooth, curly where it should
be curly, and her silk clothes were perfectly new. But across her
face was that frightful gash, like a sabre cut, deep and shadowy
within, but clean and sharp at the edges. When he tenderly pressed
her head to close the gaping wound, the edges made a fine grating
sound that was painful to hear, and the lids of the dark eyes
quivered and trembled as though Nina were suffering dreadfully.
"Poor Nina!" he exclaimed sorrowfully. "I shall not hurt you much,
but you will take a long time to get strong."
He always asked the names of the broken dolls when they were
brought to him. Sometimes the people knew what the children called
them, and told him. He liked "Nina" for a name. Altogether and in
every way she pleased him more than any doll he had seen for many
years, and he felt drawn to her. He made up his mind to make her
perfectly strong and sound, no matter how much labor it might cost
Mr. Puckler worked patiently a little at a time while Else watched
him. She could do nothing for poor Nina, whose clothes needed no
mending. The longer the doll doctor worked, the more fond he became
of the yellow hair and the beautiful brown glass eyes. He sometimes
forgot all the other dolls that were waiting to be mended, lying side
by side on a shelf, and sat for an hour gazing at Nina's face while
he racked his ingenuity for some new invention by which to hide even
the smallest trace of the terrible accident.
Eventually she was wonderfully mended. Even he was obliged to
admit that. All the conditions had been most favorable for a cure,
since the cement had set quite hard at the first attempt and the
weather had been fine and dry, which makes a great difference in a
dolls' hospital. But the scar--a very fine line right across the
face, downwards from right to left--was still visible to his keen
At last he knew that he could do no more, and the undernurse had
already come twice to see whether the job was finished, as she
coarsely expressed it.
"Nina is not quite strong yet," Mr. Puckler had answered each
time, for he could not make up his mind to face the parting.
And-now he sat before the square table at which he worked. Nina
lay before him for the last time with a big brown paper box beside
her. It stood there like her coffin, waiting for her, he thought. At
the thought of placing her into it, laying tissue paper over her dear
face, putting on the lid, and tying the string, his sight was dim
with tears again. He was never to look into the glassy depths of the
beautiful brown eyes anymore nor to hear the little wooden voice say
"Pa-pa" and "Ma-ma." It was a very painful moment.
In the vain hope of gaining time before the separation, he took up
the little sticky bottles of cement, glue, gum and colour, looking at
each one in turn, and then at Nina's face. And all his small tools
lay there, neatly arranged in a row, but he knew that he could not
use them again for Nina. She was quite strong at last, and in a
country where there should be no cruel children to hurt her, she
might live a hundred years with only that almost imperceptible line
across her face to tell of the fearful thing that had befallen her on
the marble steps of Cranston House.
Suddenly Mr. Puckler's heart was quite full, and he rose abruptly
from his seat and turned away.
"Else," he said unsteadily, "you must do it for me. I cannot bear
to see her go into the box." So he went and stood at the window with
his back turned, while Else did what he had not the heart to do.
"Is it done?" he asked, not turning round. "Then take her away, my
dear. Put on your hat, and take her to Cranston House quickly. When
you are gone I will turn round."
Else was used to her father's queer ways with the dolls, and
though she had never seen him so much moved by a parting, she was not
"Come back quickly," he said, when he heard her hand on the latch.
"It is growing late. I should not send you at this hour. But I cannot
bear to look forward to it any more."
When Else was gone, he left the window and sat down in his place
before the table again, to wait for the child to come back. He
touched the place where Nina had lain, very gently, and he recalled
the softly tinted pink face, the glass eyes, and the ringlets of
yellow hair, till he could almost see them.
The evenings were long, for it was late in the spring, but it
began to grow dark soon and Else had not come back. She had been gone
an hour and a half, much longer than he had expected, for it was
barely half a mile from Belgrave Square to Cranston House. He
reasoned that the child might have been kept waiting, but as the
twilight deepened he grew anxious and walked up and down in the dim
workshop, no longer thinking of Nina, but of Else, his own living
child, whom he loved.
An undefinable, disquieting sensation came upon him by fine
degrees, a chilliness and a faint stirring of his thin hair, joined
with a wish to be in any company rather than to be alone much longer.
It was the beginning of fear.
He told himself in strong German-English that he was a foolish old
man and began to feel about for the matches in the dusk. He knew just
where they should be, for he always kept them in the same place,
close to the little tin box that held bits of sealing wax of various
colours for some kinds of mending. But somehow he could not find the
matches in the gloom.
Something had happened to Else, he was sure. As his fear
increased, he felt as though it might be allayed if he could get a
light and see what time it was. He called himself a foolish old man
again and the sound of his own voice startled him in the dark. He
could not find the matches.
The window was grey. Still, he thought he might see what time it
was if he went close to it. He could go and get matches out of the
cupboard afterwards. He stood back from the table, to get out of the
way of the chair, and began to cross the board floor.
He stopped. Something was following him in the dark. There was a
small pattering, as of tiny feet, upon the boards. He stopped and
listened as the roots of his hair tingled. It was nothing. He was a
foolish old man he thought. Then he made two steps more and he was
sure that he heard the little pattering again. He turned his back to
the window, leaning against the sash until the panes began to crack,
and he faced the dark. Everything was quite still and it smelt of
paste and cement and wood filings as usual.
"Is that you, Else?" he asked, and he was surprised by the fear in
There was no answer in the room, and he held up his watch and
tried to make out what time it was by the grey dusk that was just not
quite darkness. So far as he could see, it was within two or three
minutes often o'clock. He had been a long time alone. He was shocked,
and frightened for Else, out in London so late. He ran across the
room to the door and as he fumbled for the latch, he distinctly heard
the running of little feet after him.
"Mice!" he exclaimed feebly, just as he got the door open. He shut
it quickly behind him, feeling as though some cold thing had settled
on his back and was writhing upon him. The passage was quite dark,
but he found his hat and was out in the alley in a moment--breathing
more freely--and surprised to find how much light there still was in
the open air. He could see the pavement clearly under his feet, and
far off in the street to which the alley led, he could hear the
laughter and calls of children playing some game out of doors. He
wondered how he could have been so nervous and for an instant he
thought of going back into the house to wait quietly for Else, but
instantly he felt that nervous fright of something stealing over him
again. In any case it was better to walk up to Cranston House and ask
the servants about the child. One of the women had perhaps taken a
fancy to her, and was even now giving her tea and cake.
He walked quickly to Belgrave Square, and then up the broad
streets, listening as he went--whenever there was no other sound--for
the tiny footsteps. But he heard nothing and was laughing at himself
when he rang the servants' bell at the big house. Of course, the
child must be there.
The person who opened the door was quite an inferior person, for
it was a back door, but affected the manners of the front while
staring superciliously at Mr. Puckler under the strong light. "No
little girl had been seen," he said and he knew "nothing about no
"She is my little girl," said Mr. Puckler tremulously, for all his
anxiety was returning tenfold, "and I am afraid something has
The inferior person said rudely that "nothing could have happened
to her in that house, because she had not been there." Mr. Puckler
was obliged to admit that the man ought to know, as it was his
business to keep the door and let people in, still he wished to be
allowed to speak to the undernurse, who knew him. But the man was
ruder than ever, and finally shut the door in his face.
When the doll doctor was alone in the street, he steadied himself
by the railing, for he felt as though he were breaking in two--just
as some dolls break--in the middle of the backbone.
Presently he knew that he must be doing something to find Else,
and that gave him strength. He began to walk as quickly as he could
through the streets, following every highway and byway which his
little girl might have taken on her errand. He also asked several
policemen in vain if they had seen her. Most of them answered him
kindly, for they saw that he was a sober man, in his right senses,
and some of them had little girls of their own.
It was one o'clock in the morning when he returned to his own
door, worn out, hopeless and broken-hearted. As he turned the key in
the lock, his heart stood still, for he knew that he was awake and
had not been dreaming. He had really heard those tiny footsteps
pattering to meet him inside the house along the passage. But he was
too unhappy to be much frightened any more, and his heart was a dull
regular pain, that found its way all through him with every pulse.
Sadly he went in, hung up his hat in the dark, and found the matches
in the cupboard and the candlestick in its place in the corner.
Mr. Puckler was so overcome and so completely worn out that he sat
down in his chair before the work table and almost fainted; his face
dropped forward upon his folded hands. Beside him the solitary candle
burned steadily with a low flame in the still warm air.
"Else! Else!" he moaned against his yellow knuckles. It was all he
could say, but it was of no relief to him. On the contrary, the very
sound of her name was a new and sharp pain that pierced his ears and
his head and his very soul. For every time he repeated her name it
meant that little Else was dead, somewhere out in the streets of
London in the dark.
He was so terribly hurt that he did not even feel something
pulling gently at the skirt of his old coat, so gently that it was
like the nibbling of a tiny mouse. He might have thought that it was
really a mouse if he had noticed it.
"Else! Else!" he groaned against his hands. Then a cool breath
stirred his thin hair and the low flame of the one candle dropped
down almost to a mere spark, not flickering as though a draught were
going to blow it out, but just dropping down as if it were tired out.
Mr. Puckler felt his hands stiffening with fright. Then he heard a
faint rustling sound, like some small silk thing blown in a gentle
breeze. He sat up straight, stark and scared, as a small wooden voice
spoke in the stillness.
"Pa-pa," it said, with a break between the syllables.
Mr. Puckler stood up in a single jump. His chair fell over
backwards with a smashing noise upon the wooden floor. The candle had
almost gone out.
It was Nina's doll voice that had spoken. He would have known it
among the voices of a hundred other dolls, yet there was something
more in it, a little human ring with a pitiful cry, a call for help,
and the wail of a hurt child. Mr. Puckler stood up, stark and stiff,
and tried to look round, but at first he could not, for he seemed to
be frozen from head to foot.
He made a great effort and raised one hand to each of his temples
to press his own head around as he would have turned a doll's. The
candle was burning so low that it might as well have been out
altogether. The room seemed quite dark at first, then he saw
something. He would not have believed that he could be more
frightened than he had been just before, but he was. His knees shook,
for he saw Nina the doll, standing in the middle of the floor. She
was shining with a faint and ghostly radiance. Her beautiful glassy
brown eyes fixed on his. And across her face the very thin line of
the break he had mended shone as though it were drawn in light with a
fine point of white flame.
But there was something more in the eyes, something human, like
Else's, but as if only the doll saw him through them, and not Else.
Still there was enough of Else to bring back all his pain and to make
him forget his fear.
"Else! my little Else!" he cried aloud.
The small ghost moved. Its doll arm slowly rose and fell with a
stiff, mechanical motion. "Pa-pa," it said.
It seemed this time that there was even more of Else's tone
echoing somewhere between the wooden notes that reached his ears so
distinctly, and yet so far away. Else was calling him, he was
His face was perfectly white in the gloom, but his knees did not
shake any more. He felt that he was less frightened.
"Yes, child! But where? Where?" he asked. "Where are you,
The syllables died away in the quiet room. There was a low
rustling of silk, the glassy brown eyes turned slowly away, and Mr.
Puckler heard the pitter-patter of the small feet in the bronze kid
slippers as the figure ran straight to the door. The candle burned
high again. The room was full of light, and he was alone.
Mr. Puckler passed his hand over his eyes and looked about him. He
could see everything quite clearly and he felt that he must have been
dreaming, though he was standing instead of sitting down, as he
should have been if he had just awakened. The candle burned brightly
now. There on the shelf were the dolls to be mended, lying in a row
with their toes up. The third one had lost her right shoe, and Else
had been making a new one.
He knew that. He certainly was not dreaming now. And he had not
been dreaming when he had come in from his fruitless search and had
heard the doll's footsteps running to the door. He had not fallen
asleep in his chair. How could he possibly have fallen asleep when
his heart was breaking? He had been awake all the time.
He steadied himself, set the fallen chair upon its legs, and said
to himself again, very emphatically, that he was a foolish old man.
He ought to be out in the streets looking for his child, asking
questions, and inquiring at the police stations where all accidents
were reported as soon as they were known, or at the hospitals.
The longing, wailing, pitiful little wooden cry rang from the
passage outside the door. Mr. Puckler stood for an instant, his white
face transfixed and rooted to the spot. A moment later his hand was
on the latch. Then he was in the passage, with the light streaming
from the open door behind him.
Quite at the other end he saw the little phantom shining clearly
in the shadow. The right hand seemed to beckon to him as it rose and
fell once more. He knew all at once that it had not come to frighten
him but to lead him. When it disappeared and he walked boldly towards
the door, he knew that it was in the street outside waiting for him.
He forgot that he was tired and had eaten no supper, and had walked
many miles, for a sudden hope ran through him, like a golden stream
And sure enough, at the corner of the alley, at the corner of the
street, and out in Belgrave Square, he saw the small ghost flitting
before him. Sometimes it was only a shadow, where there was other
light, but then the glare of the lamps made a pale green sheen on its
little Mother Hubbard frock of silk; and sometimes, where the streets
were dark and silent, the whole figure shone out brightly with its
yellow curls and rosy neck. It seemed to trot along like a tiny
child. Mr. Puckler could almost hear the pattering of the bronze kid
slippers on the pavement as it ran. It went so very fast that he
could only just keep up with it, tearing along with his hat on the
back of his head and his thin hair blown by the night breeze; his
horn-rimmed spectacles firmly set upon his broad nose.
On and on he went with no idea where he was. He did not even care,
for he knew certainly that he was going the right way. Then at last,
in a wide, quiet street, he was standing before a big, sober-looking
door that had two lamps on each side of it, and a polished brass
bellhandle, which he pulled.
Just inside, when the door was opened, in the bright light, there
was the pale green sheen of the little silk dress, and once more the
small cry came to his ears, less pitiful, more longing.
The shadow turned suddenly bright, and out of the brightness the
beautiful brown glass eyes were turned up happily to his, while the
rosy mouth smiled so divinely that the phantom doll looked almost
like a little angel.
"A little girl was brought in soon after ten o'clock," said the
quiet voice of the hospital doorkeeper. "I think they thought she was
only stunned. She was holding a big brown paper box against her, they
could not get it out of her arms, and she had a long plait of brown
hair that hung down as they carried her."
"She is my little girl," said Mr. Puckler, but he hardly heard his
He leaned over Else's face in the gentle light of the children's
ward, and when he had stood there a minute the beautiful brown eyes
opened and looked up to his.
"Pa-pa!" cried Else, softly, "I knew you would come!"
Mr. Puckler did not know what he did or said for a moment and what
he felt was worth all the fear and terror and despair that had almost
killed him that night. But by and by Else was telling her story, and
the nurse let her speak, for there were only two other children in
the room, who were getting well and were sound asleep.
"They were big boys with bad faces," said Else, "and they tried to
get Nina away from me, but I held on and fought as well as I could
till one of them hit me with something. I don't remember any more,
for I tumbled down. I suppose the boys ran away and somebody found me
there, but I'm afraid Nina is all smashed."
"Here is the box," said the nurse. "We could not take it out of
her arms till she came to herself. Would you like to see if the doll
She undid the string quickly. There Nina lay, all smashed to
pieces, but the gentle light of the children's ward made a pale green
sheen in the folds of her little Mother Hubbard frock.