Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll’s-house; it was red brick with white windows, and it had real muslin curtains and a front-door and a chimney.
In the doll’s-house lived two dolls. Jane was tall and thin and unyielding, her dark hair scraped back in a tight painted bun. She was the Cook, although she never cooked, and the white apron she sometimes wore over her flower-sprigged print dress was always spotless. Her wooden face never changed, with its tight smiling line of mouth and pin-point painted eyes, and crude round circles of pink paint lending a rosiness to her hard countenance. Her body was narrow, with no curve of waist or bosom, and her peg-legs came to useless stumps, her peg-hands to tiny, stilted ends.
Lucinda was the Mistress, although she never ordered meals, nor ordered Jane at all. She had a blue silk dress with lacy flounces and a blue ribbon tied in a bow with a flourish in her bright golden curls. Her soft cushioned body was shapeless, but her porcelain hands and head and feet were perfectly and exquisitely moulded, shapely palms always opening outwards.
The house belonged to both of them – or at least it belonged to Lucinda.
Every morning they sat together at their wooden table, covered with a white linen cloth, and set with tiny china dishes and perfect small lead knives and forks and tin spoons. Lucinda sat on her chair with comfortable grace, but Jane’s straight back and stiff knees would not bend, and she could not sit at all. Some mornings she was propped in the empty second chair at an awkward angle, but most often, she stood propped against the kitchen dresser and watched Lucinda pretend to eat, ready to hand her plates with tiny plaster pats of golden butter or stiff plaster fish, lying flat across the china platter with open, painted eyes. Lucinda never ordered, so Jane never served.
Every morning and noon and evening, Jane set the table with china and cutlery and plates of food: the blushing apples and speckled plaster pears, the perfect ham on the bone with its painted rim of yellow-white fat and pink flesh. The lead knives made no impression on any of it, and the moulded red lobsters with their stiff claws refused to come off the plate they were glued upon at all. Every morning and noon and evening, Jane brought the dishes back to the kitchen untouched, while Lucinda sat alone at the table, staring across the room at the patterned wallpaper.
Sometimes, when Lucinda was sitting in the drawing room staring glassily at the red crinkled-paper fire glowing in the grate, or the red fabric roses peeping in through the real panes of glass in the window frames, Jane pretended to cook, taking down the pretty painted tin canisters from their kitchen shelves and making messes of blue and red glass beds which she called sago and tapioca and rice puddings, and served anxiously to Lucinda, who pretended to eat them, spoon awkward in her fixed grasp.
At night they lay in their beds upstairs, Jane’s a narrow cot, Lucinda’s a lush featherbed filled with soft white down from real birds, plucked and bleached from tiny unmoving breasts.
Some mornings they went for a ride together in the doll’s perambulator, drawn around the nursery floor by invisible horses. They sat side-by-side propped up by flounced cushions and stared straight ahead, making stilted conversation about the weather and the pace and the bracing air putting imagined colour in Jane’s pink cheeks. Sometimes Lucinda wore her bonnet, and Jane smoothed a cloth across their laps to protect their skirts from flying clods of invisible mud, tucking it carefully around Lucinda’s jointed knees. Their hands rested side-by-side on the blanket, wood and porcelain, never touching.
They went for just such a ride the morning that the mice broke in to the doll’s-house, turning its dainty static neatness into wanton disorder. Jane and Lucinda did not see what had been done until they had gone in through their little front-door, but inside – all was topsy-turvy, the table overset and the tablecloth crumpled up, one chair tipped over and the other quite vanished, the dishes scattered and the hard plaster pears rolling across the floor. In the kitchen the canisters had been cast down, the tiles covered in a thousand beads; the little tin shovel and dust-pan had been stolen, and the wooden broom with the real horsehair bristles which was usually propped up in a dusty corner beside Jane.
Upstairs, Lucinda’s bolster had been torn in two, and her feather mattress was gone all-together. The cunningly-woven wicker cradle with its pink baby-blanket which had sat in the corner of her pink bedroom, eternally empty, was gone too. Jane’s dresses and aprons had been torn out of her chest of drawers and thrust through the open window; some were still scattered in the little strip of rose-garden below.
Gone, too, was their book-case, the little plaster books with painted spines which never opened all over the parlour floor; and gone, too, was the little brass bird-cage, in which a green-and-gold painted plaster parrot sat on its perch and never sang.
Lucinda sat upon the upset kitchen stove and stared; and Jane leant against the kitchen dresser and smiled – but neither of them made any remark. If Jane’s painted mouth could move, perhaps it would have formed an O of surprise, or despair; but perhaps it would have simply continued to smile.
There were changes in the doll’s-house after that; one was the crooked sixpence the mouse Tom Thumb stuffed into the striped stocking Jane left hanging at the end of her bed, in payment for his sins; the book-case was returned and the books shelved, and the parrot set back in his corner of the parlour. The empty cradle and the featherbed never returned at all, but every morning the mouse Hunca-Munca came squarely at seven, stuffed into one of Jane’s printed wrappers and white aprons, the purloined broom and dustpan tightly gripped in each of her tiny, pink, motile hands. Her bright eyes were set in a furry face, and they moved around the sitting room with covetousness cunning; but after her visits, the mantelpiece, painted to look like marble, was always spotless and innocent of dust, and the shining tiles of the kitchen floor shone brighter still. Jane and Lucinda did not often rise early enough anymore to catch her at her maid’s work, but when they did she curtsied low and addressed them as Miss Lucinda Doll and Miss Jane Doll, and some mornings she served them at the table, carrying the butter dish first to Jane and then to Lucinda, and pouring imaginary hot tea from the tin kettle polished and tinted until it shone like copper.
In the evening they had supper together, Lucinda seated and Jane standing, propped comfortably against the edge of the table where once there had been an empty chair. At night, they went to bed not in their separate rooms but in one, because the mice had never returned the featherbed at all. They shared the mended bolster, with its clumsy stitches put in by childish fingers, and lay side-by-side with their heads resting together on the pillows, a too-large wax candle not-burning on the floor in its glass lantern. Jane had one stiff arm thrust into the air, and Lucinda one porcelain hand curled into the bolster. Wood and porcelain, they never touched, but in the dark Jane’s mouth smiled, and smiled, and Lucinda’s glass eyes stared at the ceiling with something like satisfaction.