There was not much light in the room; the London skies were dark. In the gentle, greyish-green gloom, the sage-green coverings and the curtains and the rugs all blended with each other. The doll blended, too. She lay long and limp and sprawled in her green-velvet clothes and her velvet cap and the painted mask of her face. She was not a doll as children understand dolls. She was the Puppet Doll, the whim of Rich Women, the doll who lolls beside the telephone, or among the cushions of the divan. She sprawled there, eternally limp and yet strangely alive. She looked a decadent product of the 20th century.
Sybil Fox, hurrying in with some patterns and a sketch, looked at the doll with a faint feeling of surprise and bewilderment. She wondered—but whatever she wondered did not get to the front of her mind. Instead, she thought to herself, “Now, what’s happened to the pattern of the blue velvet? Wherever have I put it? I’m sure I had it here just now.” She went out on the landing and called up to the workroom. “Elspeth. Elspeth, have you the blue pattern up there? Mrs. FellowsBrown will be here any minute now.”
She went in again, switching on the lights. Again she glanced at the doll. “Now where on earth – ah, there it is,” She picked the pattern up from where it had fallen from her hand. There was the usual creak outside on the landing as the elevator came to a halt and in a minute or two Mrs. Fellows-Brown, accompanied by her Pekinese, came puffing into the room rather like a fussy local train arriving at a wayside station.
“It’s going to pour,” she said, “simply pour!” She threw off gloves and a fur. Alicia Coombe came in. She didn’t always come in nowadays, only when special customers arrived, and Mrs. Fellows-Brown was such a customer.
Elspeth, the forewoman of the workroom, came down with the frock and Sybil pulled it over Mrs. Fellows-Brown’s head. “There,” she said. “It really does suit you. It’s a lovely colour, isn’t it?” Alicia Coombe sat back a little in her chair, studying it. “Yes,” she said, “I think it’s good. Yes, it’s definitely a success.”
Mrs. Fellows-Brown turned sideways and looked in the mirror. “I must say,” she said, “your clothes do do something to my behind.” “You're much thinner than you were three months ago,” Sybil assured her. “I’m really not,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown, “though I must say I look it in this. There's something about the way you cut, it really does minimize my behind. I almost look as though I hadn't got one – I mean only the usual kind that most people have.”
She sighed and gingerly smoothed the troublesome portion of her anatomy. “It’s always been a bit of a trial to me,” she said. “Of course, for years I could pull it in, you know, by sticking out my front. Well, I can't do that any longer because I've got a stomach now as well as a behind. And I mean—well, you can’t pull it in both ways, can you?”
Alicia Coombe said, “You should see some of my customers!” Mrs. FellowsBrown experimented to and fro. “A stomach is worse than a behind,” she said. “It shows more. Or perhaps you think it does, because, I mean, when you’re talking to people you’re facing them and that’s the moment, they can’t see your behind but they can notice your stomach. Anyway, I’ve made it a rule to pull in my stomach and let my behind look after itself.” She craned her neck round still farther, then said suddenly, “Oh, that doll of yours! She gives me the creeps. How long have you had her?”
Sybil glanced uncertainly at Alicia Coombe who looked puzzled but vaguely distressed. “I don’t know exactly... some time I think – I never can remember things. It’s awful nowadays – I simply cannot remember. Sybil, how long have we had her?” Sybil said shortly, “I don't know.” “Well,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown, “she gives me the creeps. Uncanny! She looks, you know, as though she was watching us all, and perhaps laughing in that velvet sleeve of hers. I’d get rid of her if I were you.” She gave a little shiver. Then she plunged once more into dressmaking details. Should she or should she not have the sleeves an inch shorter? And what about the length? When all these important points were settled satisfactorily, Mrs. Fellows-Brown resumed her own garments and prepared to leave. As she passed the doll, she turned her head again. “No,” she said, “I don't like that doll. She looks too much as though she belonged here. It isn’t healthy.”
“Now what did she mean by that?” demanded Sybil, as Mrs. Fellows-Brown departed down the stairs. Before Alicia Coombe could answer, Mrs. FellowsBrown returned, poking her head round the door. “Good gracious, I forgot all about Fou-Ling. Where are you, ducksie? Well I never!” She stared and the other two women stared, too. The Pekinese was sitting by the green-velvet chair, staring up at the limp doll sprawled on it. There was no expression, either of pleasure or resentment, on his small popeyed face. He was merely looking.
“Come along, mum’s darling,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown. Mum’s darling paid no attention whatever. “He gets more disobedient every day,” said Mrs. FellowsBrown, with the air of one cataloguing a virtue. “Come on, Fou-Ling. Dindins. Luffly liver.” Fou-Ling turned his head about an inch and a half toward his mistress, then with disdain resumed his appraisal of the doll.
“She certainly made an impression on him,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown. “I don’t think he’s ever noticed her before. I haven’t either. Was she here last time I came?” The two other women looked at each other. Sybil now had a frown on her face, and Alicia Coombe said, wrinkling up her forehead, “I told you – I simply can’t remember anything nowadays. How long have we had her, Sybil?”
“Where did she come from?” demanded Mrs. Fellows-Brown. “Did you buy her?” “Oh, no.” Somehow Alicia Coombe was shocked at the idea. “Oh no. I suppose – I suppose someone gave her to me.” She shook her head. “Maddening!” she exclaimed. “Absolutely maddening, when everything goes out of your head the very moment after it’s happened.”
“Now don’t be stupid, Fou-Ling,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown sharply. “Come on. I’ll have to pick you up.” She picked him up. Fou-Ling uttered a short bark of agonized protest. They went out of the room with Fou-Ling’s popeyed face turned over his fluffy shoulder, still staring with enormous attention at the doll on the chair
“That there doll,” said Mrs. Groves, “fair gives me the creeps, it does.” Mrs. Groves was the cleaner. She had just finished a crablike progress backward along the floor. Now she was standing up and working slowly round the room with a duster. “Funny thing,” said Mrs. Groves, “never noticed it really until yesterday. And then it hit me all of a sudden, as you might say.”
“You don’t like it?” asked Sybil. “I tell you, Mrs. Fox, it gives me the creeps,” said the cleaning woman. “It ain’t natural, if you know what I mean. All those long hanging legs and the way she’s slouched down there and the cunning look she has in her eye. It doesn’t look healthy, that’s what I say.” “You've never said anything about her before,” said Sybil. “I tell you, I never noticed her – not till this morning... Of course I know she’s been here some time but–” She stopped and a puzzled expression flitted across her face. “Sort of thing you might dream of at night,” she said, and gathering up various cleaning implements she departed from the fitting room and walked across the landing to the room on the other side.
Sybil stared at the relaxed doll. An expression of bewilderment was growing on her face. Alicia Coombe entered and Sybil turned sharply. “Miss Coombe, how long have you had this creature?” “What, the doll? My dear, you know I can't remember things. Yesterday – why, it's too silly! I was going out to that lecture and I hadn’t gone halfway down the street when I suddenly found I couldn't remember where I was going. I thought and I thought. Finally I told myself it must be Fortnums. I knew there was something I wanted to get at Fortnums. Well, you won’t believe me, it wasn’t till I actually got home and was having some tea that I remembered about the lecture. Of course, I’ve always heard that people go gaga as they get on in life, but it’s happening to me much too fast. I’ve forgotten now where I’ve put my handbag – and my spectacles, too. Where did I put those spectacles? I had them just now – I was reading something in the Times.”
“The spectacles are on the mantelpiece here,” said Sybil, handing them to her. “How did you get the doll? Who gave her to you?” “That's a blank, too,” said Alicia Coombe. “Somebody gave her to me or sent her to me, I suppose... However she does seem to match the room very well, doesn’t she?”
“Rather too well, I think,” said Sybil. "Funny thing is, I can’t remember when I first noticed her here.” “Now don't you get the same way as I am,” Alicia Coombe admonished her. “After all, you’re young still.” “But really, Miss Coombe,