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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

A Recollection of Childhood

A Recollection of Childhood.

Things happened so simply then, without preparation and without any shock. They let me go into my mother's room (I remember page 49 standing on tiptoe and using both hands to turn the big white china door-handle) and there lay my mother in bed with her arms along the sheet, and there sat my grandmother before the fire with a baby in a flannel across her knees. My mother paid no attention to me at all. Perhaps she was asleep, for my grandmother nodded and said in a voice scarcely above a whisper, “Come and see your little sister.” I tiptoed to her voice across the room, and she parted the flannel, and I saw a little round head with a tuft of goldy hair on it and a big face with eyes shut—white as snow. “Is it alive?” I asked. “Of course,” said grandmother. “Look at her holding my finger.” And—yes, a hand, scarcely bigger than my doll's, in a frilled sleeve, was wound round her finger. “Do you like her?” said my grandmother. “Yes. Is she going to play with the doll's house?” “By-and-by,” said the grandmother, and I felt very pleased. Mrs. Heywood had just given us the doll's house. It was a beautiful one with a verandah and a balcony and a door that opened and shut and two chimneys. I wanted badly to show it to someone else.

“Her name is Gwen,” said the grandmother. “Kiss her.”

I bent down and kissed the little goldy tuft. But she took no notice. She lay quite still with her eyes shut.

“Now go and kiss mother,” said the grandmother.

But mother did not want to kiss me. Very languid, leaning against the pillows, she was eating page 50 some sago. The sun shone through the windows and winked on the brass knobs of the big bed.

After that grandmother came into the nursery with Gwen, and sat in front of the nursery fire in the rocking chair with her. Meg and Tadpole were away staying with Aunt Harriet, and they had gone before the new doll's house arrived, so that was why I so longed to have somebody to show it to. I had gone all through it myself, from the kitchen to the dining-room, up into the bedrooms with the doll's lamp on the table, heaps and heaps of times.

When will she play with it?” I asked grandmother.

“By-and-by, darling.”

It was spring. Our garden was full of big white lilies. I used to run out and sniff them and come in again with my nose all yellow.

“Can't she go out?”

At last, one very fine day, she was wrapped in the warm shawl and grandmother carried her into the cherry orchard, and walked up and down under the falling cherry flowers. Grandmother wore a grey dress with white pansies on it. The doctor's carriage was waiting at the door, and the doctor's little dog, Jackie, rushed at me and snapped at my bare legs. When we went back to the nursery and the shawl was taken away, little white petals like feathers fell out of the folds. But Gwen did not look, even then. She lay in grandmother's arms, her eyes just open to show a line of blue, her face very white, and the one tuft of goldy hair standing up on her head.

page 51

All day, all night grandmother's arms were full. I had no lap to climb into, no pillow to rest against. All belonged to Gwen. But Gwen did not notice this; she never put up her hand to play with the silver brooch that was a half-moon with five little owls sitting on it; she never pulled grandmother's watch from her bodice and opened the back by herself to see grandfather's hair; she never buried her head close to smell the lavender water, or took up grandmother's spectacle case and wondered at its being really silver. She just lay still and let herself be rocked.

Down in the kitchen one day old Mrs. M'Elvie came to the door and asked Bridget about the poor little mite, and Bridget said, “Kep' alive on bullock's blood hotted in a saucer over a candle.” After that I felt frightened of Gwen, and I decided that even when she did play with the doll's house I would not let her go upstairs into the bedroom—only downstairs, and then only when I saw she could look.

Late one evening I sat by the fire on my little carpet hassock and grandmother rocked, singing the song she used to sing to me, but more gently. Suddenly she stopped and I looked up. Gwen opened her eyes and turned her little round head to the fire and looked and looked at, and then—turned her eyes up to the face bending over her. I saw her tiny body stretch out and her hands flew up, and “Ah! Ah! Ah!” called the grandmother.

Bridget dressed me next morning. When I went into the nursery I sniffed. A big vase of page 52 the white lilies was standing on the table. Grandmother sat in her chair to one side with Gwen in her lap, and a funny little man with his head in a black bag was standing behind a box of china eggs.

“Now!” he said, and I saw my grandmother's face change as she bent over little Gwen.

“Thank you,” said the man, coming out of the bag. The picture was hung over the nursery fire. I thought it looked very nice. The doll's house was in it—verandah and balcony and all. Gran held me up to kiss my little sister.