All sorts of toys were to be found in that toy-shop. It was truly a place to please any child! A little girl, who had come to stay there with her aunt—the owner of the shop—and her little cousin, was always to be found amongst the toys; she was forever picking up and admiring this one, stroking that one, nursing another. All her spare moments were spent in the shop.
It so happened one evening that she wandered in after the shutters were put up, and the place was deserted. She paused before the spot where she was accustomed to find her favorite doll, a little lady Marionette, who, when wound up, danced gayly in company with her partner, a very fine gentleman.
They were both very prettily dressed. The little lady Marionette wore a beautiful white silk dress brocaded with pink roses, whilst her partner had on a blue velvet coat, knee breeches, white silk stockings, and diamond shoe buckles. Their clothes were really very grand!
And they danced so gayly, too.
“Just as if they like dancing with each other!” the little girl once said to her aunt.
“You are a fanciful child, Molly,” answered the woman, laughing.
“All the same, I believe I am right,” replied the little girl.
This evening, however, they were not to be found in their accustomed place. The little platform on which they danced was there, but the dolls themselves were gone!
The little girl looked round the shop much bewildered.
“Where can they be?” she said.
At last she saw the little lady Marionette sitting on the right hand counter, with her back against the Noah’s Ark.
“Well, how funny!” exclaimed the little girl aloud. “How have you got there?”
“Walked, of course,” answered the little Marionette in a sweet little voice.
The little girl’s astonishment at this reply was very great. So great that it kept her silent.
“You seem rather surprised,” said the little Marionette. “Why?”
“Why, I never knew you could talk!” she exclaimed, recovering a little from her surprise. “Or any other toy, either,” she added.
“Life is full of surprises,” remarked the little Marionette; “especially in the toy-shop.”
“I wish you would tell me all about it,” said the little girl, becoming bolder. “If toys can walk and talk, why don’t children know it?”
“Because, although they have known many toys, yet they are very ignorant regarding their habits,” she answered. “That is the reason.
“At the same time,” she continued, “as it is, generally speaking, only when mortals are not present that we can move and speak freely, this ignorance is, perhaps, partly excusable.”
“But how long will you be able to go on talking to me?”
“That I can’t tell you. I can only say that our power of talking to a Mortal—a power which comes but once in the lifetime of every toy—generally lasts from a fortnight to three weeks.”
The little girl clapped her hands.
“You will be able to talk to me, then, every day that I am here!” she exclaimed with pleasure. “I am only going to stay with my aunt and my cousin for twelve days longer.”
She paused a moment, then added:
“How I should like you to tell me some stories of toys—a new story every day, you know. Couldn’t you do that?”
The little Marionette looked doubtful.
“Before I attempt anything of the sort, I shall have to consult Father Christmas—the well-known and much-esteemed patriarch....