The Automobile Doll: 1914

The Automobile Doll.

There was once a little girl who had no home. Her father owned houses and lands and was worth thousands and thousands of dollars; her mother had beautiful gowns and everything she wished, and in the beginning there was a home.

One day, the little girl’s father took her on his knee and told her he had sold their home and for three years the family would do nothing but travel. At first the little girl was delighted, but one morning in London she was suddenly homesick. She wished to go back to America and sit in her own rocking-chair. But that, of course, was impossible.

“Let’s go and buy a doll,” suggested mother.

“All right,” agreed the little girl, “and let’s buy one that likes to travel!”

To Peter Robinson’s famous shop went the whole family—father, mother, and little girl; there for a gold sovereign they bought a beautiful doll from Germany.

“She hasn’t any clothes,” suggested the little girl.

“She must be dressed like a princess,” her father said, laughing.

“If that is so,” said mother, “we must take her to a court dressmaker.”

“What’s a court dressmaker?” asked the little girl. “Does it mean that all the dressmakers who have ‘Court Dressmaker’ on their signs make dresses for princesses?”

“We will see,” replied mother. Whereupon the whole family called upon a French dressmaker on Bond Street, who told the little girl that she designed gowns for the royal family and for all the titled ladies of England.

Madame agreed to provide the proper wardrobe for the doll if the little girl’s father cared to pay what it was worth. Father consented. He felt so sure little girls belonged in homes that he was willing to do anything to make his little girl forget that she had no home.

From London the family went to Paris, and from Paris they travelled all over Europe. Wherever they visited, the little girl bought treasures for the doll; in Paris, hats and gowns; in Switzerland, a tiny watch; in Holland, Dutch costumes; in Germany and Austria, beautiful little dishes; and in Italy, necklaces and jewels. Perhaps there was never a doll so bountifully supplied with personal belongings as Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane. That was the name father gave the doll one day when he wished to make the little girl laugh.

Owning things never made any one happy. The doll cared nothing for her wee fans and tiny parasols. She was soon tired of travel, and if she ever wished for anything it was for a home. She was particularly tired of the automobiles in which the little girl’s father took them flying through the country.

At the end of two years the family returned to America and, without asking the doll if she preferred staying in Boston, they took her to California for the winter.

To be sure, the doll didn’t know that the little girl’s father talked of buying a home in the West; all she knew was that from one week’s end to another she passed most of her time in an automobile.

The little girl enjoyed the rides, but the doll slid back among the cushions and fell asleep every time she had a chance. If the little girl tried to make the doll sit straight, she was sure to pitch forward.

“Her sawdust is getting all wibblywobbly,” the little girl said to her mother one day.

“Well,” laughed mother, “it is no wonder. Think how many miles the poor thing has travelled. She doesn’t seem to enjoy automobiles.”

“I never thought of it before,” remarked the little girl, “but I suppose she is like me, and would rather have a home than anything else, especially when to-morrow is Christmas. Always hanging up your stockings in a hotel fireplace! Dear me!”

It was perhaps five minutes later that the automobile broke down beside an orange grove a few miles outside of Redlands.

The doll fell asleep the minute the little girl and her mother climbed out of the back seat. The accident happened about three o’clock in the afternoon. Father walked to a ranch house and telephoned for help. Hours passed, while the family ate oranges and watched the men work at repairing the machine.

“Let’s take a walk,” suggested the little girl; “let’s go straight back through the orange grove.”

Hidden among the trees, the two came upon a tiny cottage covered with climbing roses.

“Oh, it’s a real home!” whispered the little girl.

“Children live here,” added mother.

“Yes,” the little girl went on, “and look at the tracks of bare baby feet going along by the irrigating ditch. Let’s play it’s an adventure and follow the footsteps.”

“Oh, they’re having a good time!” whispered the little girl. “Hear them laugh! Let’s hurry! Oh, it’s a Christmas-tree!”

A group of children were so busy decorating a little cypress-tree that they didn’t notice the strangers until the child and her mother saw what they were doing. They were tying paper dolls to the tree, and the dolls were cut from a merchant’s catalogue.

“To-morrow’s Christmas,” explained the oldest child, twisting her apron and digging her toes in the sand when she saw the little girl and her mother. The other children, mere babies, ran away.

“It’s a ‘streemly pretty tree,” ventured the little girl.

“It’s for the children,” went on the sister, “our children and two little boys that never even went to Redlands. Mother said we could have a tree.”

“It’s—it’s ‘streemly pretty,” repeated the little girl.

“There’s a present for everybody.” The sister’s face brightened as she spoke. “Not presents that cost money, but mother and all of us have made things and it’s going to be lovely. We’re to have it in the morning.”

“Are you going to have any presents your own self?” demanded the little girl.

“Why, yes,” was the reply. “Of course I won’t get anything big, like dolls, because our orange grove isn’t paid for yet, and you always pay for your orange grove and water tax before your mother can buy big things, but everybody’!! get something. Our mother is—is pretty, too!”

This the small sister added as she realized for the first time that the little girl’s mother was beautiful.

“I just wish,” she continued, “that we could give her something lovely. I’m afraid she’ll be disappointed.”

“Would she like a new hat?” asked the little girl’s mother.

“Would she?” echoed the small sister. “But, you see, a hat’s a big thing!”

“Can you keep a secret until to-morrow morning?” inquired the little girl’s mother as she untied a pink silk scarf and took off her hat. “Because if you can, here is a Christmas surprise for your mother.”

“That lovely hat?” gasped the small sister.

“That lovely hat!” echoed mother, laughing, while the little girl clapped her hands. “I’ll wear my scarf home.”

The sun went down and the moon rose before the automobile was in order. The cottage children were asleep when the little girl remembered Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane.

“Oh, wake up, wake up,” said she, giving the doll a shake. “You’ll never have to take another journey. Mother, mother, may I put her on that Christmas-tree? Those children will love her, and she acts as if she doesn’t like automobiles. I am sure it will make her happy to be a Christmas doll in California, and have a home!”

Through the orange grove went the whole family until they reached the Christmas tree in the shining moonlight. Father tied the doll where the little sister could reach it in the morning, and then, fearing to be seen, the three ran back to the automobile and were soon speeding away toward their hotel.

Father had planned a Christmas surprise, and, if the automobile had not broken down where it did, Henrietta Maria Florabel Jane might have ended her days in the attic of the new home instead of in the little cottage among the orange trees, where she helped the small sister take care of the babies.

“If you’re good,” the small sister used to say to the little ones, “you may hold the automobile Christmas doll.”

If smiles mean anything, the doll was happy ever after.—Frances Margaret Fox, in Little Folks.

The Unitarian Register, Volume 93, 1914

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ever-curious Mrs Daffodil cannot help but speculate on why the gentleman sold his home and decided to travel. Was he, as the Americans say, “on the run”?

The story suggests that the automobile doll needed to be fitted for a proper travelling wardrobe at that Court Dressmaker’s establishment.

WARDROBE OF THE MOTOR CAR DOLL

The automobile doll is nothing short of entrancing. She is pretty enough to excite envy in the breast of any woman, for no matter how long the drive and how strong the wind, she arrives at the end of her journey looking as fresh as when she started out.

Over her frock she wears a light weight automobile coat made in the latest fashion. On her hands are strong automobile gloves, while her eyes are protected by miniature automobile goggles which cannot spoil her beauty, ugly as they are. For old days the automobile doll has a heavy ulster, sometimes fur lined, and a fur lined hood to keep her ears protected from biting winds. One of the newest doll importations is an automobile doll wearing a stunning automobile veil to match her coat. Kansas City [MO] Star 17 December 1907: p. 12

Perhaps then the automobile doll would have been happier, although that might have led to an altogether less uplifting ending to the story.

It is singular how dolls and Christmas are inseparably linked, particularly in Holiday numbers of illustrated papers for the Young. There is also the popular tradition of the Fairy or Angel Doll for the top of the Christmas tree.

Should her readers be interested, Mrs Daffodil has written about Cora’s Christmas Doll, The Christmas Doll House, and “Mademoiselle Frou-Frou,” a highly fashionable Christmas bazaar doll.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Automobile Doll: 1914

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      It is a charming story; just one of many heart-warming tales of dolls that the Victorians/Edwardians were so very good at writing. One finds so few stories of dolls these days. There is little inspiration in “Brats,” one fears.
      Best Wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

      Like

      Reply

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