Choosing a Doll

It was Judy’s birthday. For some reason, her presents this year included an unusually large proportion of money. There were several postal orders, a half-crown or two, a ten-shilling note from Clem's father, and fourpence-halfpenny from Toby, who had bought her a purse as a present and thoughtfully put into it everything that he happened to have got left. Altogether it came to nearly thirty shillings, which was an unprecedented amount.

Judy had long ago discovered that the chief problem about spending present-money was to choose between quality and quantity; between the satisfaction of buying something really worthwhile, far beyond the scope of her weekly allowance, and the excitement of returning home with an armful of smaller parcels: so she had worked out a form of compromise which she called Crust and Crumb. This time she decided to lay out about fifteen shillings on Crust, in the shape of a new doll, and to spend the rest later on Crumb. So the day after her birthday she persuaded her mother to come on a shopping expedition.

The choice of a doll, Judy found, was unexpectedly difficult. They were things you didn't usually get a chance to choose for yourself: they arrived as presents, chosen for you by other people, and you had to get to know them and love them as they were. But when you saw rows and rows of them together it was almost impossible to be sure which you liked best. She explained this to her mother.

"You see. it would be so awful to pick the wrong one. I mean, suppose you could have gone and bought me in a shop instead of just having me; you might have made a mistake and chosen Marigold Thompson instead."

Mrs. Miniver's mouth twitched. She couldn't somehow imagine herself choosing Marigold Thompson. A nice child, but pudding-faced.

"Well," she said, "I like Marigold."

"Oh, so do I. But what I mean is, she wouldn't have done for you. And what's more," pursued Judy, "Marigold's mother wouldn't have done for me. At all," she added with conviction.

"Why don't you like Marigold's mother?" asked Mrs. Miniver. "She's always very kind to you. And she's frightfully fond of children."

"Oh, I know. She told me so. But you see, when people are frightfully fond of children you never know whether they really like you or not, do you?"

Mrs. Miniver felt a quick glow of sympathy. It was exactly what she had so often thought about the boringness of the sort of man who "likes women."

"And besides," Judy went on, "she makes such a Thing about everything, if you know what I mean."

Mrs. Miniver knew only too well. She had been at school with Marigold's mother.

"And do you happen to know," she asked, "what Marigold thinks of me?"

"Oh, she likes you," said Judy. "She says you leave people alone."

Mrs. Miniver cast her mind back, trying to remember whether she and her contemporaries had discussed one another's parents so freely and with such perception. Not till much later, she felt sure -- fourteen or fifteen, perhaps; at Judy’s age one had more or less taken them for granted, comparing them only in degree of strictness. And to discuss them with one's own parents would have been quite impossible: horizontal divisions were far stronger in those days than vertical ones. Perhaps the psychologists were right, and the "child mind" -- that convenient abstraction -- matured earlier nowadays. On the other hand, she herself had outgrown dolls by the age of nine, and here was Judy, at eleven, buying a new one.

One thing was certain: the ultra-modern dolls, with felt features realistically modelled, had no appeal for Judy at all. Mrs. Miniver, quite early in the expedition, had pointed one of them out. "Look, it's exactly like a real child -- isn't it lovely?"

"Oh, no! " said Judy with unexpected vehemence. "I don't like it at all. You see, it's not in the least like a real doll." And she turned away again to the ringlets, the huge eyes, and the tiny rose-bud mouths. It was odd, thought her mother: dolls, which had begun by being crude imitations of men and women, had ended by developing a racial type of their own; and now apparently they could not stray from this without becoming less lovable.

Judy eventually managed to narrow her field of choice down to two -- a blonde in blue silk and a brunette in pink organdie; but between these she was quite unable to decide. "Better toss up, " said her mother at last. They tossed with Toby's halfpenny, and the blonde doll won. Judy stood staring at the two open boxes, her eyes round with surprise.

"Mummy, how extraordinary! I thought I liked them both exactly the same, but now I know for certain it's the dark one I want. Have you ever noticed that about tossing up?"

"Often," said Mrs. Miniver, smiling. She remembered with what astonishment, in her own childhood, she had stumbled upon that particular piece of knowledge; and reflected once more how much of the fun of parenthood lay in watching the children remake, with delighted wonder, one’s own discoveries.


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