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A Granted Wish by Susan Coolidge

 

This is a story about princesses and beggar-girls, hovels and palaces, sweet things and sad things, fullness and scarcity. It is a simple story enough, and mostly true. And as it touches so many and such different extremes of human condition and human experience, it ought by good rights to interest almost everybody; don't you think so?

Effie Wallis's great wish was to have a doll of her own. This was not a very unreasonable wish for any little girl to feel, one would think, yet there seemed as little likelihood of its being granted as that the moon should come down out of the sky and offer itself to her as a plaything; for Effie and her parents belonged to the very poorest of the London poor, and how deep a poverty that is, only London knows.

We have poor people enough, and sin and suffering enough in our own large cities, but I don't think the poorest of them are quite so badly off as London's worst. Effie and her father and mother and her little sister and her three brothers all lived in a single cellar-like room, in the most squalid quarter of St. Giles. There was almost no furniture in the room; in winter it was often fireless, in summer hot always, and full of evil smells. Food was scanty, and sometimes wanting altogether, for gin cost less than bread, and Effie's father was continuously drunk, her mother not infrequently so. It was a miserable home and a wretched family. The parents fought, the children cried and quarrelled, and the parents beat them. As the boys grew bigger, they made haste to escape into the streets, where all manner of evil was taught them. Jack, the eldest, who was but just twelve, had twice been arrested, and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for picking pockets. They were growing up to be little thieves, young ruffians, and what chance for better things was there in the squalid cellar and the comfortless life, and how little chance of a doll for Effie, you will easily see. Poor doll-less Effie! She was only six years old, and really a sweet little child. The grime on her cheeks did not reach to her heart, which was as simple and ignorant and innocent as that of white-clad children, whose mothers kiss them, and whose faces are washed every day.

In all her life Effie had only seen one doll. It was a battered object, with one leg gone, and only half a nose, but, to Effie's eyes, it was a beauty and a treasure. This doll was the property of a little girl to whom Effie had never dared to speak, she seemed to her so happy and privileged, so far above herself, as she strutted up and down the alley with other children, bearing the one-legged doll in her arms. It was not the alley in which the Wallises lived, but a somewhat wider one into which that opened. One of Effie's few pleasures was to creep away when she could, and, crouched behind a post at the alley's foot, watch the children playing there. No one thought of or noticed her. Once, when the owner of the doll threw her on the ground for a moment and ran away, Effie ventured to steal out and touch the wonderful creature with her finger. It was only a touch, for the other children soon returned, and Effie fled back to her hiding-place; but she never forgot it. Oh, if only she could have a doll like that for her own, what happiness it would be, she thought; but she never dared to mention the doll to her mother, or to put the wish into words.

If any one had come in just then and told Effie that one day she was to own a doll far more beautiful than the shabby treasure she so coveted, and that the person to give it her would be the future Queen of England,—why, first it would have been needful to explain to her what the words meant, and then she certainly wouldn't have believed them. What a wide, wide distance there seemed from the wretched alley where the little, half-clad child crouched behind the post, to the sunny palace where the fair princess, England's darling, sat surrounded by her bright-faced children,—a distance too wide to bridge, as it would appear; yet it was bridged, and there was a half-way point where both could meet, as you will see. That half-way point was called “The Great Ormond Street Child's Hospital.”

For one day a very sad thing happened to Effie. Sent by her mother to buy a quartern of gin, she was coming back with the jug in her hand, when a half-tipsy man, reeling against her, threw her down just where a flight of steps led to a lower street. She was picked up and carried home, where for some days she lay in great pain, before a kind woman who went about to read the Bible to the poor, found her out, and sent the dispensary doctor to see her. He shook his head gravely after he had examined her, and said her leg was badly broken, and ought to have been seen to long before, and that there was no use trying to cure her there, and she must be carried to the hospital. Mrs. Wallis made a great outcry over this, for mothers are mothers, even when they are poor and drunken and ignorant, and do not like to have their children taken away from them; but in the end the doctor prevailed.

Effie hardly knew when they moved her, for the doctor had given her something which made her sleep heavily and long. It was like a dream when she at last opened her eyes, and found herself in a place which she had never seen before,—a long, wide, airy room, with a double row of narrow, white beds like the one in which she herself was, and in most of the beds sick children lying. Bright colored pictures and texts painted gaily in red and blue hung on the walls above the beds; some of the counterpanes had pretty verses printed on them. Effie could not read, but she liked to look at the texts, they were so bright. There were flowers in pots and jars on the window-sills, and on some of the little tables that stood beside the beds, and tiny chairs with rockers, in which pale little boys and girls sat swinging to and fro. A great many of them were playing with toys, and they all looked happy. An air of fresh, cheerful neatness was over all the place, and altogether it was so pleasant that for a long time Effie lay staring about her, and speaking not a word. At last, in a faint little voice, she half whispered, “Where is this?”

Faint as was the voice, some one heard it, and came at once to the bedside. This somebody was a nice, sweet-faced, motherly looking woman, dressed in the uniform of Miss Nightingale's nurses. She smiled so kindly at Effie that Effie smiled feebly back.

“Where is this?” she asked again.

“This is a nice place where they take care of little children who are ill, and make them well again,” answered the nurse, brightly.

“Do you live here?” said Effie, after a pause, during which her large eyes seemed to grow larger.

“Yes. My name is Nurse Johnstone, and I am your nurse. You've had a long sleep, haven't you, dear? Now you've waked up, would you like some nice milk to drink?”

“Y-es,” replied Effie, doubtfully. But when the milk came, she liked it very much, it was so cool and rich and sweet. It was brought in a little blue cup, and Effie drank it through a glass tube, because she must not lift her head. There was a bit of white bread to eat besides, but Effie did not care for that. She was drowsy still, and fell asleep as soon as the last mouthful of milk was swallowed.

When she next waked, Nurse Johnstone was there again, with such a good little cupful of hot broth for Effie to eat, and another slice of bread. Effie's head was clearer now, and she felt much more like talking and questioning. The ward was dark and still, only a shaded lamp here and there showed the little ones asleep in their cots.

“This is a nice place I think,” said Effie, as she slowly sipped the soup.

“I'm glad you like it,” said the nurse, “almost all children do.”

“I like you, too,” said Effie, with a contented sigh, “and that,” pointing to the broth. She had not once asked after her mother; the nurse noticed, and she drew her own inferences.

“Now,” she said, after she had smoothed the bed clothes and Effie's hair, and given the pillow a touch or two to make it easier, “now, it would be nice if you would say one little Bible verse for me, and then go to sleep again.”

“A verse?” said Effie.

“Yes, a little Bible verse.”

“Bible?” repeated Effie, in a puzzled tone.

“Yes, dear,—a Bible verse. Don't you know one?”

“No.”

“But you've seen a Bible, surely.”

Effie shook her head. “I don't know what you mean,” she said.

“Why, you poor lamb,” cried Nurse Johnstone, “I do believe you haven't! Well, and in a Christian country, too! If that ain't too bad. I'll tell you a verse this minute, you poor little thing, and to-morrow we'll see if you can't learn it.” Then, very slowly and reverently, she repeated, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” Twice she repeated the text, Effie listening attentively to the strange, beautiful words; then she kissed her for good-night, and moved away. Effie lay awake awhile saying the verse over to herself. She had a good memory, and when she waked next morning she found that she was able to say it quite perfectly.

That happened to be a Thursday, and Thursday was always a special day in Great Ormond Street, because it was that on which the Princess of Wales made her weekly visit to the hospital. Effie had never heard of a princess, and had no idea what all the happy bustle meant, as nurses and patients made ready for the coming guest. Nothing could be cleaner than the ward in its every-day condition, but all little possible touches were given to make it look its very best. Fresh flowers were put into the jars, the little ones able to sit up, were made very neat, each white bed was duly smoothed, and every face had a look as though something pleasant was going to happen. Children easily catch the contagion of cheerfulness, and Effie was insensibly cheered by seeing other people so. She lay on her pillow, observing everything, and faintly smiling, when the door opened, and in came a slender, beautiful lady, wrapped in soft silks and laces, with two or three children beside her. All the nurses began to courtesy, and the children to dimple and twinkle at the sight of her. She walked straight to the middle of the ward, then, lifting something up that all might see it, she said in a clear sweet voice: “Isn't there some one of these little girls who can say a pretty Bible verse for me? If there is, she shall have this.”

What do you think “this” was? No other than a doll! A large, beautiful creature of wax, with curly brown hair, blue eyes which could open and shut, the reddest lips and pinkest cheeks ever seen, and a place, somewhere about her middle, which, when pinched, made her utter a squeaky sound like “Mama.” This delightful doll had on a pretty blue dress with a scarlet sash, and a pair of brown kid boots with real buttons. She wore a little blue hat on top of her curly head, and sported an actual pocket-handkerchief, three inches square, or so, on which was written her name, “Dolly Varden.” All the little ones stared at her with dazzled eyes, but for a moment no one spoke. I suppose they really were too surprised to speak, till suddenly a little hand went up, and a small voice was heard from the far corner. The voice came from Effie, too, and it was Effie herself who spoke.

“I can say a verse,” said the small voice.

“Can you? That is nice. Say it, then,” said the princess, turning toward her.

Then the small, piping voice repeated, very slowly and distinctly, this text: “Suffer the little children to come unto—Nurse Johnstone —and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven!”

What a laugh rang through the ward then! The nurses laughed, the little ones laughed too, though they did not distinctly understand at what. Nurse Johnstone cried as well as laughed, and the princess was almost as bad, for her eyes were dewy, though a smile was on her sweet lips as she stepped forward and laid the doll in Effie's hands. Nurse Johnstone eagerly explained: “I said 'Come unto Me,' and she thought it meant me, poor little lamb, and it's a shame there should be such ignorance in a Christian land!” All this time Effie was hugging her dolly in a silent rapture. Her wish was granted, and wasn't it strange that it should have been granted just so?

Do you want to know more about little Effie? There isn't much more to tell. All the kindness and care which she received in Great Ormond Street could not make her well again. She had no constitution, the doctors said, and no strength. She lived a good many weeks, however, and they were the happiest weeks of her life, I think. Dolly Varden was always beside her, and Dolly was clasped tight in her arms when she finally fell asleep to waken up no more. Nurse Johnstone, who had learned to love the little girl dearly, wanted to lay the doll in the small coffin; but the other nurses said it would be a pity to do so. There are so few dolls and so many children in the world, you know; so in the end Dolly Varden was given to another little sick girl, who took as much pleasure in her as Effie had done.

So Effie's wish was granted, though only for a little while. It is very often so with wishes which we make in this world. But I am very sure that Effie doesn't miss the dolly or anything else in the happy world to which she has gone, and that the wishes granted there are granted fully and forever, and more freely and abundantly than we who stay behind can even guess.