Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents
.

THE HOUSE THAT RAN AWAY.

SARAH O. JEWETT.

     It was a baby-house, and in the winter it stood in a corner of the nursery; but when the spring weather came, and the dandelions and green grass, it was pleasant to be out of doors, and then one of the girls would say: "Let us play in the garden." But the other, no matter which had spoken first, would always answer: "No; I wish to stay with the dolls." And they often were cross and called names about it, which was very silly.

     Happily, just then, the older brother came home to stay awhile, for it was vacation at his school. One day he was reading behind the parlor curtains, and heard the children outside trying to settle whether they would spend the morning indoors or out; for you must know they were usually together, and were always unhappy when they were separated! Next morning, when they went into the nursery, after they were dressed, to see if the dolls had slept well, and had neither been troubled by bad dreams nor fallen out of their beds, alas! there was no dolls' house at all, and the children looked at each other in dismay. One sat down and took out her handkerchief; and the other looked round for her arm-chair, to do the same. It was a great calamity.

     "Nobody's kilt!" said cheerful Ann. "Before ye redden your pretty eyes, look out of the window." What should they see, but the elder brother, whose name was Tom, standing by the dear house, and the dear house itself mounted upon some wheels which used to belong to his truckle-cart. It was very charming, and the children ran down-stairs and spent their time between breakfast and dinner in dragging it about everywhere. But they soon tired of that, and after dinner walked slowly with it down the long gravel walk through the garden, to the little hill at the [he] end, where the chestnut tree grew, there to set up housekeeping. It was quite a tug to get the heavy house up; but they did it finally. Just as they were beginning to play, they saw the carriage standing before the door, and ran away to have a drive. They were taken to a pond, four or five miles away, and did not get home till nearly bed-time. However, they thought of the baby-house; and one ran out beyond the corner of the great house, and came back with the news that she could not see it, and Patrick must have brought it in. They had their supper, and were nearly asleep before it was half through, and did not even look in at the play-room door, but went straight to bed.

     The wisest of the dolls, who had traveled all the way from Paris, said: "They have gone for more playthings." And the others waited patiently for at least half an hour; for they thought everything the big doll said was true.

     "There must be company at the house." And they waited again. "They are going to stay to tea," said the wise doll. "It is no matter; the children will leave them and be out soon, and in the meantime let us enjoy ourselves. Shall we have a dance?"

     But the children had left the house in a very awkward position for that. The shade of the little chestnut tree was only at the side of the knoll; and so they had drawn the house only part way up, and one end of it was much higher than the other. Besides this, the doll in blue had only one foot; though she was very graceful looking, and had pretended the evening before that she knew all the fancy dances. She said now she would like it of all things; but she had lost one of her slippers and never danced in boots, so that was given up. Then a boy doll said: "Let us play it is winter, and coast." But the great doll was charming in a tarletan ball-dress, and it would not be in keeping with her costume.

     And now a sensible doll, with a china head, said: "Let us tell stories." But the Paris doll was contemptuous; she wished for exercise. This was all pretense. The truth was, she felt herself slipping from her chair; and the next thing that happened she fell over on her face and went quite to the other side of the room. She was heavy, and it jarred the house, and the wheels under it moved, and the whole establishment went down over the smooth turf, across the gravel walk, and finally stopped in a clump of lilacs.

     Some of the dolls screamed and all were terribly frightened; but the moment they were still every one took it as a matter of course. "It is the children," said one. "But why did we not hear them?" "It was an earthquake," said the French doll; and when I put my foot on the floor it felt as the steamer did when I was coming from France.

     "It was not in the least like it," said the doll in yellow. But every one knew she was a great liar. She pretended to know more about foreign countries than any one, and always contradicted the Paris doll, who really did not know much about the voyage, after all, as she was all the time in a trunk in the hold. It was a pity they knew the doll in yellow to be untruthful. They would have liked to believe her stories; and now they all said "I don't believe it" as fast as she finished them. She had been given the children by a girl who had outgrown her. And with her came a boy doll, who whispered about this wicked habit of hers the very first day to his next neighbor, and made her promise not to tell; but she did. And when the doll in yellow found that they knew it, her wonders were more marvelous than ever. "For," said she, "they shall at least believe that I have a fine imagination." She had been down behind one of the parlor sofas two evenings while a book of travels was being read aloud, and ever after prided herself upon her journeyings in foreign parts with her first mistress.

     The baby-house was in great confusion. The jolting was much worse than when the children had drawn it carefully, and the furniture looked as if the dolls had just moved in, and they themselves were sadly scattered about. One little fellow had fallen off the chair where he had been sitting, and had gone hurriedly into a red tin pail near by, and was now standing on his head in it. He was a boy doll, but there had been no clothes that would fit him; so, though he wore a seal-ring on his little finger and had a large mustache and side-whiskers, it was decided to keep him in petticoats a while longer till his tailor - that is to say, Ann - had a little leisure. His wife had been lying on the floor from the very first, and the great doll now chanced to be just over her, and she was very uncomfortable, and said so frequently; but she was never satisfied with anything, and no one took any notice of her. The doll in green used to be able to cry and open and shut her eyes by means of a spring; but one of the children had one day pulled it all out, which made her back very weak. So when she was not carefully seated her head was apt to fall into her lap, and her figure was very bad; but she was good tempered.

     The china dolls were around everywhere, as usual. The children's brother had brought them one day two dozen, all exactly alike. They were about two inches tall, and had dark complexions; and there never was anything which made the children more unhappy than this accession to their family did after a day or two. Not even the strange disappearance of their eleven white mice, which their mother never liked, and it was always supposed the cat did. If they had ever had two dolls which looked at all alike, they took great pleasure in saying they were twins, like themselves; but that was no good now. Ann positively refused to dress more than six of them, and there unfortunately were no young ladies at the house. So they buried a number in the garden, and enjoyed having funerals for a time, until they found Patrick invariably raked them up and brought them back. Finally one of the children tied up seven in her pocket-handkerchief, and dropped them out of the carriage while they were driving to town. Alas! The handkerchief was marked, and she was obliged to give ten cents to a very dirty little boy who kindly brought them back.

     The untruthful doll in yellow was at the down-hill side of the room before the building moved, and was not disturbed. But the wise Parisian was lying on her back; and, though she still smiled, and held her handkerchief as gracefully as ever, they all knew she was much mortified.

     "Can any one see out of the window?" said she. Seven of the china dolls said they could.

     "And what is the country like?" said the great doll.

     "It is much darker than where we were at first, and there are leaves and branches of trees all around."

     "We are in a forest," said the doll in yellow immediately: "and we shall all be robbed and murdered. I have heard frightful stories of robbers; and, do you believe, once I was traveling through some dense woods at nightfall, and I heard a rustling, and a tall man wearing a black mask came out from the bushes. My servant was behind me, on another horse, and had the presence of mind to throw my purse, which he was carrying, directly in his face. It was filled with gold and was very heavy; it must have hurt him severely. He jumped back again out of sight; and my servant picked up the purse, and we rode on. Next day we heard that two men and five women and three children were murdered near there that very night. Was not it a narrow escape?"

     "No," said the rest of the family. "What a sad end you will come to if you tell such lies!"

     "Now," said the sensible large china doll, "we cannot dance, and it is absurd to think of coasting. Why not tell stories till the children come? They will not rest until they find us; but it may be a long time." No one objected, and the Paris doll was called upon to begin; the doll in yellow first proposing that it be made a rule that no one must tell anything but the truth. And when they all said, 'Certainly, we will not,' she alone was silent.

     "I will tell you," said the great doll, "about a friend of mine whom I was very fond of. Her name was Jeanne Hallé, and she lived in Paris. I was at her house a long while, and she treated me very kindly. Her father had been an artist, and I have heard he painted beautiful pictures; but he died when Jeanne was a little child, when he was still young and had put away no money. Madame Hallé went away from their pleasant home, to live in some rooms up ever so many flights of stairs. A man who had known her husband gave her work to do, coloring dolls' faces, and she earned money enough, with the little she had of her own, to live quite comfortably; and this went on until Jeanne was nearly fourteen, and could help her a great deal. Then the mother had a terrible fall, and was ill a long time; and the doctor said she must not paint any more for some months at least.

     "Jeanne could not go to school any more; and, one morning, while Madame Hallé was sleeping, she took some dolls which she had painted herself, even to their eyelashes, and went to the manufacturer's. And they were done so nicely that he said immediately she might take her mother's place; though, of course, she could not color quite so many at first. Then every week a boy came with a great wicker basket full of us, without any complexions at all; and carried it away filled with beau - dolls, just like me. The employer chose me because I was most nicely done, and told her to keep me awhile for a pattern, until she had become more experienced. So for many weeks little Jeanne worked away busily, and I used to sit upon the table and watch her. After a time she could do quite as well without looking at me; but I think she had grown fond of me, and I am sure I had of her. She had no time to play with me; but she used often to talk to me, and she dressed me with great taste.

     "One day she went to her employer's to be paid, and was gone so long that we were very much frightened. It was dark when she came in; but such an interesting story as she had to tell us! While she was waiting in the shop, a gentleman who was waiting too looked at her a great deal, and at last spoke to her. He was an artist, whom every one talked about, and said that he wished her for a model in a picture he was painting. Her employer told her to go with him, and told the artist about her; so she went to his studio, and looked at pictures while he painted a little. He had known her father long ago; and she was to go again the next day, if her mother was willing. He would pay her enough, he said, more than to make up for the time taken from the dolls. I used to miss her, and so did her mother, who was now growing so well that she began to paint again a very little. After the first picture was finished, the artist began another; and one day, while Madame Hallé was out, and little Jeanne working away busily at a doll's eye, she said: 'Don't you tell, dolly dear; but some day I mean to be an artist, like Mr. Philip and my father. I shall paint beautiful pictures, and you may be in one.' I knew she could if she tried; but I did not say so, for fear of making her conceited, and I looked as if I had not heard her.

     "It was not long after this that one day she came home early, and her mother was not there; and Jeanne took the kitten and me and her little pots of paint and went into her own little room. Then she opened a drawer, and took out some worn brushes and some old paints, which I suppose had been thrown away at the studio, and began to paint a picture of us. I had wondered what she wanted the kitten for. It was a long time before the picture was done, for sometimes it was days before Jeanne had time for painting and sometimes the kitten would run away; but at last it was finished, and she was so delighted. It was very pretty - a capital likeness of both the kitten and me. I was sitting in a chair, and she was striking me with her paw, looking very cross. The next day Jeanne carried the picture away with her, under her cloak; and, dear me, how happy she was when she came back! The artist was with her, and poor Madame Hallé was surprised and delighted to hear him say the child had a great deal of talent and would be a fine animal painter. The end of it was that some rich woman offered to pay her expenses at a school of design. The day it was settled, Jeanne caught me up and kissed me. But, alas! next morning the boy came for the dolls that were finished; and Madame Hallé, knowing, I suppose, that I was not Jeanne's own, and having no use for me herself, took off my dress and sent me with the rest. Ah! I was so unhappy. I think Jeanne would have kept me always, and must have been sorry. I wish every day I knew whether she is happy and is a famous artist yet; but I suppose I never shall. After I was dressed in these clothes I was in a shop-window a day or two before I was sold; and I saw her go by. She had grown taller and looked contented."

     All the dolls said, "That is a charming story," but the doll in yellow, who was disappointed, for she thought some rich relation had found her and was to carry her away to live in a palace. But the rest said it was much better as it was, and then it was so pleasant to know it was true.

     "Oh!" said the good-tempered doll in green. "I wish the rag-doll were alive. She knew such interesting stories, and more about old times than any of us. She belonged first to the children's mother, and had been covered nobody knows how many times, my dears! You never knew her much, for she was kept over our heads in the garret a great deal, and was not a talkative person. I was there by accident for a night or two once, and we became great friends.

     "Where is she now?" asked the Paris doll.

     "One of the china babies told me that the children had a play-house on one of the fence-ledges, with some bits of broken china, and made mud-pies, and took Joanna to clean the dishes on; so when they carried her in she was so much soiled that Ann threw her among the rags and sold her to the rag-man. It was wrong; for, though she had so many cotton skins, she was stuffed with bran. I heard her laughing about it to the cook."

     "Did I ever tell you," said the doll in yellow, "what I heard in Ann's basket the other day, when I was waiting to have my overskirt made? It is horrible. There is a crazy black button in one of the partings; a spool told me all about him. Ann put some other buttons in with him, and they were nearly frightened out of their wits. But luckily one of the children tipped the basket over before he did them any harm; but there's no knowing what might have happened. And, indeed - "

     "It is all a wicked lie!" said some of the dolls. And the next minute they were sorry, for they really wished to hear the rest, and the doll in yellow would not say another word.

     It was then proposed to give the forlorn gentleman in the red tin pail a chance to speak. But the sensible china doll said that it would not be at all interesting, as, being upside down, he would, of course, talk backward. Then a pert little china affair, without being asked, began to talk rapidly; but no one listened, and he seemed likely to keep on all night, and the green doll said it was late for him to be awake, and he had better finish in the morning. They were all tired after their journeyings, and a number of the little ones had already fallen asleep. They were much worried at being forsaken by the children, and one proposed that some one should keep watch for robbers. No one seemed to hear, however.

     Next morning there was a great affliction when it was discovered that no one had seen the dolls' house, and it was some time before it was found. Tom saw it first and showed it to the children; and they ran to it eagerly, but found nothing had been harmed or stolen, and all the family well, and saw that it was a pleasant, shady place. So they sat down contentedly under the lilacs and played with the dolls till dinner-time.



NOTES

"The House That Ran Away" appeared in The Independent (23:3) on 14 September, 1871. Errors in the text have been corrected and indicated with brackets.
     [ Back ]

partings: a division or compartment inside the sewing basket.
     [ Back ]

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.


Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents
If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.