Bessie's Doll by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Tommy Puffer, sauntering up the street, stopped to look at Miss
Octavia's geraniums. Tommy never could help stopping to look at Miss
Octavia's flowers, much as he hated Miss Octavia. Today they were
certainly worth looking at. Miss Octavia had set them all out on her
verandah—rows upon rows of them, overflowing down the steps in waves
of blossom and colour. Miss Octavia's geraniums were famous in
Arundel, and she was very proud of them. But it was her garden which
was really the delight of her heart. Miss Octavia always had the
prettiest garden in Arundel, especially as far as annuals were
concerned. Just now it was like faith—the substance of things hoped
for. The poppies and nasturtiums and balsams and morning glories and
sweet peas had been sown in the brown beds on the lawn, but they had
not yet begun to come up.
Tommy was still feasting his eyes on the geraniums when Miss Octavia
herself came around the corner of the house. Her face darkened the
minute she saw Tommy. Most people's did. Tommy had the reputation of
being a very bad, mischievous boy; he was certainly very poor and
ragged, and Miss Octavia disapproved of poverty and rags on principle.
Nobody, she argued, not even a boy of twelve, need be poor and ragged
if he is willing to work.
"Here, you, get away out of this," she said sharply. "I'm not going to
have you hanging over my palings."
"I ain't hurting your old palings," retorted Tommy sullenly. "I was
jist a-looking at the flowers."
"Yes, and picking out the next one to throw a stone at," said Miss
Octavia sarcastically. "It was you who threw that stone and broke my
big scarlet geranium clear off the other day."
"It wasn't—I never chucked a stone at your flowers," said Tommy.
"Don't tell me any falsehoods, Tommy Puffer. It was you. Didn't I
catch you firing stones at my cat a dozen times?"
"I might have fired 'em at an old cat, but I wouldn't tech a flower,"
avowed Tommy boldly—brazenly, Miss Octavia thought.
"You clear out of this or I'll make you," she said warningly.
Tommy had had his ears boxed by Miss Octavia more than once. He had no
desire to have the performance repeated, so he stuck his tongue out at
Miss Octavia and then marched up the street with his hands in his
pockets, whistling jauntily.
"He's the most impudent brat I ever saw in my life," muttered Miss
Octavia wrathfully. There was a standing feud between her and all the
Arundel small boys, but Tommy was her special object of dislike.
Tommy's heart was full of wrath and bitterness as he marched away. He
hated Miss Octavia; he wished something would happen to every one of
her flowers; he knew it was Ned Williams who had thrown that stone,
and he hoped Ned would throw some more and smash all the flowers. So
Tommy raged along the street until he came to Mr. Blacklock's store,
and in the window of it he saw something that put Miss Octavia and her
disagreeable remarks quite out of his tow-coloured head.
This was nothing more or less than a doll. Now, Tommy was not a judge
of dolls and did not take much interest in them, but he felt quite
sure that this was a very fine one. It was so big; it was beautifully
dressed in blue silk, with a ruffled blue silk hat; it had lovely long
golden hair and big brown eyes and pink cheeks; and it stood right up
in the showcase and held out its hands winningly.
"Gee, ain't it a beauty!" said Tommy admiringly. "It looks 'sif it was
alive, and it's as big as a baby. I must go an' bring Bessie to see
Tommy at once hurried away to the shabby little street where what he
called "home" was. Tommy's home was a very homeless-looking sort of
place. It was the smallest, dingiest, most slatternly house on a
street noted for its dingy and slatternly houses. It was occupied by a
slatternly mother and a drunken father, as well as by Tommy; and
neither the father nor the mother took much notice of Tommy except to
scold or nag him. So it is hardly to be wondered at if Tommy was the
sort of boy who was frowned upon by respectable citizens.
But one little white blossom of pure affection bloomed in the arid
desert of Tommy's existence for all that. In the preceding fall a new
family had come to Arundel and moved into the tiny house next to the
Puffers'. It was a small, dingy house, just like the others, but
before long a great change took place in it. The new family were
thrifty, industrious folks, although they were very poor. The little
house was white-washed, the paling neatly mended, the bit of a yard
cleaned of all its rubbish. Muslin curtains appeared in the windows,
and rows of cans, with blossoming plants, adorned the sills.
There were just three people in the Knox family—a thin little mother,
who went out scrubbing and took in washing, a boy of ten, who sold
newspapers and ran errands—and Bessie.
Bessie was eight years old and walked with a crutch, but she was a
smart little lassie and kept the house wonderfully neat and tidy while
her mother was away. The very first time she had seen Tommy she had
smiled at him sweetly and said, "Good morning." From that moment Tommy
was her devoted slave. Nobody had ever spoken like that to him before;
nobody had ever smiled so at him. Tommy would have given his useless
little life for Bessie, and thenceforth the time he was not devising
mischief he spent in bringing little pleasures into her life. It was
Tommy's delight to bring that smile to her pale little face and a look
of pleasure into her big, patient blue eyes. The other boys on the
street tried to tease Bessie at first and shouted "Cripple!" after her
when she limped out. But they soon stopped it. Tommy thrashed them
all one after another for it, and Bessie was left in peace. She would
have had a very lonely life if it had not been for Tommy, for she
could not play with the other children. But Tommy was as good as a
dozen playmates, and Bessie thought him the best boy in the world.
Tommy, whatever he might be with others, was very careful to be good
when he was with Bessie. He never said a rude word in her hearing, and
he treated her as if she were a little princess. Miss Octavia would
have been amazed beyond measure if she had seen how tender and
thoughtful and kind and chivalrous that neglected urchin of a Tommy
could be when he tried.
Tommy found Bessie sitting by the kitchen window, looking dreamily out
of it. For just a moment Tommy thought uneasily that Bessie was
looking very pale and thin this spring.
"Bessie, come for a walk up to Mr. Blacklock's store," he said
eagerly. "There is something there I want to show you."
"What is it?" Bessie wanted to know. But Tommy only winked
"Ah, I ain't going to tell you. But it's something awful pretty. Just
Bessie reached for her crutch and the two went up to the store, Tommy
carefully suiting his steps to Bessie's slow ones. Just before they
reached the store he made her shut her eyes and led her to the window.
"Now—look!" he commanded dramatically.
Bessie looked and Tommy was rewarded. She flushed pinkly with delight
and clasped her hands in ecstasy.
"Oh, Tommy, isn't she perfectly beautiful?" she breathed. "Oh, she's
the very loveliest dolly I ever saw. Oh, Tommy!"
"I thought you'd like her," said Tommy exultantly. "Don't you wish you
had a doll like that of your very own, Bessie?"
Bessie looked almost rebuking, as if Tommy had asked her if she
wouldn't like a golden crown or a queen's palace.
"Of course I could never have a dolly like that," she said. "She must
cost an awful lot. But it's enough just to look at her. Tommy, will
you bring me up here every day just to look at her?"
"'Course," said Tommy.
Bessie talked about the blue-silk doll all the way home and dreamed of
her every night. "I'm going to call her Roselle Geraldine," she said.
After that she went up to see Roselle Geraldine every day, gazing at
her for long moments in silent rapture. Tommy almost grew jealous of
her; he thought Bessie liked the doll better than she did him.
"But it don't matter a bit if she does," he thought loyally, crushing
down the jealousy. "If she likes to like it better than me, it's all
Sometimes, though, Tommy felt uneasy. It was plain to be seen that
Bessie had set her heart on that doll. And what would she do when the
doll was sold, as would probably happen soon? Tommy thought Bessie
would feel awful sad, and he would be responsible for it.
What Tommy feared came to pass. One afternoon, when they went up to
Mr. Blacklock's store, the doll was not in the window.
"Oh," cried Bessie, bursting into tears, "she's gone—Roselle
Geraldine is gone."
"Perhaps she isn't sold," said Tommy comfortingly. "Maybe they only
took her out of the window 'cause the blue silk would fade. I'll go in
A minute later Tommy came out looking sober.
"Yes, she's sold, Bessie," he said. "Mr. Blacklock sold her to a lady
yesterday. Don't cry, Bessie—maybe they'll put another in the window
"It won't be mine," sobbed Bessie. "It won't be Roselle Geraldine. It
won't have a blue silk hat and such cunning brown eyes."
Bessie cried quietly all the way home, and Tommy could not comfort
her. He wished he had never shown her the doll in the window.
From that day Bessie drooped, and Tommy watched her in agony. She grew
paler and thinner. She was too tired to go out walking, and too tired
to do the little household tasks she had delighted in. She never spoke
about Roselle Geraldine, but Tommy knew she was fretting about her.
Mrs. Knox could not think what ailed the child.
"She don't take a bit of interest in nothing," she complained to Mrs.
Puffer. "She don't eat enough for a bird. The doctor, he says there
ain't nothing the matter with her as he can find out, but she's just
Tommy heard this, and a queer, big lump came up in his throat. He had
a horrible fear that he, Tommy Puffer, was going to cry. To prevent it
he began to whistle loudly. But the whistle was a failure, very unlike
the real Tommy-whistle. Bessie was sick—and it was all his fault,
Tommy believed. If he had never taken her to see that hateful,
blue-silk doll, she would never have got so fond of it as to be
breaking her heart because it was sold.
"If I was only rich," said Tommy miserably, "I'd buy her a cartload of
dolls, all dressed in blue silk and all with brown eyes. But I can't
By this time Tommy had reached the paling in front of Miss Octavia's
lawn, and from force of habit he stopped to look over it. But there
was not much to see this time, only the little green rows and circles
in the brown, well-weeded beds, and the long curves of dahlia plants,
which Miss Octavia had set out a few days before. All the geraniums
were carried in, and the blinds were down. Tommy knew Miss Octavia was
away. He had seen her depart on the train that morning, and heard her
tell a friend that she was going down to Chelton to visit her
brother's folks and wouldn't be back until the next day.
Tommy was still leaning moodily against the paling when Mrs. Jenkins
and Mrs. Reid came by, and they too paused to look at the garden.
"Dear me, how cold it is!" shivered Mrs. Reid. "There's going to be a
hard frost tonight. Octavia's flowers will be nipped as sure as
anything. It's a wonder she'd stay away from them overnight when her
heart's so set on them."
"Her brother's wife is sick," said Mrs. Jenkins. "We haven't had any
frost this spring, and I suppose Octavia never thought of such a
thing. She'll feel awful bad if her flowers get frosted, especially
them dahlias. Octavia sets such store by her dahlias."
Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Reid moved away, leaving Tommy by the paling. It
was cold—there was going to be a hard frost—and Miss Octavia's
plants and flowers would certainly be spoiled. Tommy thought he ought
to be glad, but he wasn't. He was sorry—not for Miss Octavia, but for
her flowers. Tommy had a queer, passionate love for flowers in his
twisted little soul. It was a shame that they should be nipped—that
all the glory of crimson and purple and gold hidden away in those
little green rows and circles should never have a chance to blossom
out royally. Tommy could never have put this thought into words, but
it was there in his heart. He wished he could save the flowers. And
couldn't he? Newspapers spread over the beds and tied around the
dahlias would save them, Tommy knew. He had seen Miss Octavia doing it
other springs. And he knew there was a big box of newspapers in a
little shed in her backyard. Ned Williams had told him there was, and
that the shed was never locked.
Tommy hurried home as quickly as he could and got a ball of twine out
of his few treasures. Then he went back to Miss Octavia's garden.
The next forenoon Miss Octavia got off the train at the Arundel
station with a very grim face. There had been an unusually severe
frost for the time of year. All along the road Miss Octavia had seen
gardens frosted and spoiled. She knew what she should see when she got
to her own—the dahlia stalks drooping and black and limp, the
nasturtiums and balsams and poppies and pansies all withered and
But she didn't. Instead she saw every dahlia carefully tied up in a
newspaper, and over all the beds newspapers spread out and held neatly
in place with pebbles. Miss Octavia flew into her garden with a
radiant face. Everything was safe—nothing was spoiled.
But who could have done it? Miss Octavia was puzzled. On one side of
her lived Mrs. Kennedy, who had just moved in and, being a total
stranger, would not be likely to think of Miss Octavia's flowers. On
the other lived Miss Matheson, who was a "shut-in" and spent all her
time on the sofa. But to Miss Matheson Miss Octavia went.
"Rachel, do you know who covered my plants up last night?"
Miss Matheson nodded. "Yes, it was Tommy Puffer. I saw him working
away there with papers and twine. I thought you'd told him to do it."
"For the land's sake!" ejaculated Miss Octavia. "Tommy Puffer! Well,
wonders will never cease."
Miss Octavia went back to her house feeling rather ashamed of herself
when she remembered how she had always treated Tommy Puffer.
"But there must be some good in the child, or he wouldn't have done
this," she said to herself. "I've been real mean, but I'll make it up
Miss Octavia did not see Tommy that day, but when he passed the next
morning she ran to the door and called him.
"Tommy, Tommy Puffer, come in here!"
Tommy came reluctantly. He didn't like Miss Octavia any better than he
had, and he didn't know what she wanted of him. But Miss Octavia soon
informed him without loss of words.
"Tommy, Miss Matheson tells me that it was you who saved my flowers
from the frost the other night. I'm very much obliged to you indeed.
Whatever made you think of doing it?"
"I hated to see the flowers spoiled," muttered Tommy, who was feeling
more uncomfortable than he had ever felt in his life.
"Well, it was real thoughtful of you. I'm sorry I've been so hard on
you, Tommy, and I believe now you didn't break my scarlet geranium. Is
there anything I can do for you—anything you'd like to have? If it's
in reason I'll get it for you, just to pay my debt."
Tommy stared at Miss Octavia with a sudden hopeful inspiration. "Oh,
Miss Octavia," he cried eagerly, "will you buy a doll and give it to
"Well, for the land's sake!" ejaculated Miss Octavia, unable to
believe her ears. "A doll! What on earth do you want of a doll?"
"It's for Bessie," said Tommy eagerly. "You see, it's this way."
Then Tommy told Miss Octavia the whole story. Miss Octavia listened
silently, sometimes nodding her head. When he had finished she went
out of the room and soon returned, bringing with her the very
identical doll that had been in Mr. Blacklock's window.
"I guess this is the doll," she said. "I bought it to give to a small
niece of mine, but I can get another for her. You may take this to
It would be of no use to try to describe Bessie's joy when Tommy
rushed in and put Roselle Geraldine in her arms with a breathless
account of the wonderful story. But from that moment Bessie began to
pick up again, and soon she was better than she had ever been and the
happiest little lassie in Arundel.
When a week had passed, Miss Octavia again called Tommy in; Tommy
went more willingly this time. He had begun to like Miss Octavia.
That lady looked him over sharply and somewhat dubiously. He was
certainly very ragged and unkempt. But Miss Octavia saw what she had
never noticed before—that Tommy's eyes were bright and frank, that
Tommy's chin was a good chin, and that Tommy's smile had something
very pleasant about it.
"You're fond of flowers, aren't you, Tommy?" she asked.
"You bet," was Tommy's inelegant but heartfelt answer.
"Well," said Miss Octavia slowly, "I have a brother down at Chelton
who is a florist. He wants a boy of your age to do handy jobs and run
errands about his establishment, and he wants one who is fond of
flowers and would like to learn the business. He asked me to recommend
him one, and I promised to look out for a suitable boy. Would you like
the place, Tommy? And will you promise to be a very good boy and learn
to be respectable if I ask my brother to give you a trial and a chance
to make something of yourself?"
"Oh, Miss Octavia!" gasped Tommy. He wondered if he were simply having
a beautiful dream.
But it was no dream. And it was all arranged later on. No one rejoiced
more heartily in Tommy's success than Bessie.
"But I'll miss you dreadfully, Tommy," she said wistfully.
"Oh, I'll be home every Saturday night, and we'll have Sunday
together, except when I've got to go to Sunday school. 'Cause Miss
Octavia says I must," said Tommy comfortingly. "And the rest of the
time you'll have Roselle Geraldine."
"Yes, I know," said Bessie, giving the blue-silk doll a fond kiss,
"and she's just lovely. But she ain't as nice as you, Tommy, for all."
Then was Tommy's cup of happiness full.