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Voyage of the Paper Dolls

by Matthew White

It was a hot summer afternoon, and the great play-room in the garret was deserted.

There was not even breeze enough blowing in at the open window to stir Angelina Mary, Matilda Agnes, and General Adolphus Popgun, as they lay upon their paper backs on the table.

"Oh dear," complained Angelina, with a sigh, "I do wish those girls wouldn't leave us in such attitudes when they go down to dress! It's so undignified."

"But you must remember, my love," rejoined her friend Matilda, "that it has a tendency to sprain our ankles if we remain long standing; and, by-the-way, did you not hear the children speak about our having some new paper-muslins?" and thereupon the two ladies fell to discussing dress with great animation. General Popgun growing meanwhile quite puffed out with pride, as he reflected on the fact that his blazing red coat, ornamented with yellow braid, and his jaunty cap with its conspicuous tricolored pompon, must be particularly becoming to him.

He was not as yet very well acquainted, with his two companions, having only arrived at the post (as he professionally termed the garret) the previous day, and since then he had been obliged to attend so many drillings of the tin soldiers that he had enjoyed but few opportunities for social recreation. Now, however, he thought he would enter into conversation with the two fair members of his race beside him, and was just endeavoring to think of something new to say about the weather, when a great clattering was heard on the stairs, and the next instant two boys made their appearance in the garret, both breathing very hard, and looking as if they had been running races with the sun.

"I beat, anyhow," said one, as he sat down on an old trunk and wiped his face.

"All right," returned the other; adding, "and now what'll we get to put in the Foam?" and then the two rummaged around the room for a while, till suddenly one of them pounced upon the table where lay the paper dolls, and catching all three of them up in his hand, cried out: "Here! these'll do. Come on, Frank;" and the boys hurried down stairs again with even more racket than they had made coming up.

As may be imagined, Angelina Mary and Matilda Agnes grew paler than foolscap with fright when they felt Tom's fingers closing over them so roughly, and General Adolphus Popgun, although somewhat nervous himself, felt called upon to postpone his weather remarks, and endeavor, instead, to calm the fears of his companions.

"Pray don't be alarmed, I beg," he said; "I have no doubt we are being transported to a grand review of the Tin Regiment. It will be a very fine sight, and I shall try to provide seats for you in the grand stand."

The boys, however, did not stop at the garden play-house, where the tin soldiers were encamped, but kept straight onto the gate, passed through the latter, and then walked briskly off down the road. The General ventured to peep out between the fingers that inclosed him, and to his horror saw that Frank held in his hand a little boat six inches long, roughly whittled out of a common stick of wood.

And soon his dread anticipations were realized, for striking into a path that ran through a corn field, the boys made straight for the brook, where Frank proceeded to cut a long switch from a willow-tree, while Tom took out three pins from his coat, and deliberately impaled the two paper ladies to the stern, and General Popgun to the bow of the boat.

Fortunately the pin in each case pierced only some portion of the dress of the terror-stricken creature, otherwise the consequences might have been most tragical.

And now the Foam was launched, and the ladies and the General floated upon the rippling deep.

"Hi, don't they look fine?" cried Tom, as with the long willow switch he guided the little bark on its course down the stream, while his cousin walked by his side, much interested in the operation.

Having recovered from their first shock, the passengers began to look about them and enjoy their voyage.

"How very delightful!" exclaimed Matilda Agnes. "'Tis quite a pity, General, that you're not an Admiral."

"Oh yes. I always adored the navy," added Angelina Mary.

At these remarks the General blushed as red as the white paper out of which he was manufactured would allow, and hastened to change the subject by calling attention to the beauties of the country through which they were passing. He had just begun a poetical discourse on the wild flowers which an army tramples down on the field of battle, when Tom's switch happened to strike him in the face with such force as caused him to flutter for an instant like a sheet of paper in a high wind.

And now the ladies' fears returned, for the brook was growing wider and wider, and the Foam drifting constantly further and further from the bank.

Suddenly Tom, who had been busy talking about water turtles with Frank, noticed this, and struck out with his willow branch to bring the truant back, but it was too late; the boat had got beyond his reach, and was now floating swiftly down the middle of the stream with the current.

The ladies screamed, and the General groaned; but as neither the screams nor the groans were louder than paper is thick, they were not heard by human ears.

"The boys will surely save us," said Matilda Agnes, hopefully. "We are too valuable to lose, to say nothing of the boat."

Before long, however, Tom exclaimed: "Oh, I'm tired trudging after the thing. Come on, Frank, let's go back home, and I'll beat you a game of croquet."

"But the dolls," the other ventured to interpose. "What'll the girls say when we tell 'em what's become of them? They'll be mad, won't they?"

"Oh, I guess not, if we make up a nice story about their sailing off down to the ocean, and going to Europe and Africa, and seeing gorillas and bears, and kings and princes;" and with these words Tom gave up the pursuit, and, followed by Frank, soon disappeared in the woods.

Being thus cruelly abandoned, with not so much as a match at hand by means of which to row themselves ashore, the three paper voyagers gave up all as lost, and were beginning to bemoan their awful fate, when the General suddenly spoke out, in cheerful tones: "Perhaps somebody'll pick us up."

"Or a steam-boat may run us down," added Angelina Mary, somewhat spitefully.

"Maybe we'll land on a water-lily," murmured Matilda Agnes, with a poetical sigh.

But time passed, and none of these things happened. The little boat drifted on and on, through woods full of singing-birds, and by fields covered with waving grain, beside houses, around hills, under bridges, and over mill-dams. To be sure, when they emerged from the latter, the paper travellers were wet to the skin, but the Foam always came out right side up, and the sun soon dried them.

By-and-by the sun went down, and when the moon rose the little river had changed into a big one, and the tiny boat still floated down the middle of it, on and on, all through the night, and during the whole of the next day; and discovering that nothing terrible befell them, the three paper dolls began to grow quite contented with their life of constant change; and when they sailed down past the great city, with its many piers, big steamers, middle-sized ferry-boats, and little tugs, they forgot all about being frightened, so interested were they in gazing at the strange sights about them.

And thus they floated down the harbor, out at the Narrows, and so into the great broad ocean, and there they may be drifting to this very day.

At any rate, the girls say they are going to keep a good look-out for them when they go to Europe.