The Doll's House
A Magical Christmas Story by Lauren Erica Baker, aged 10
“I’d like to know the story behind that house,” Hettie thought to herself, her head cupped in both of her hands, with her elbows and long, blonde plaits resting on the windowsill as she gazed out of her bedroom window at the large, dilapidated house on the hill facing the back of her house. It looked like the type of house that you would see in a horror movie that was almost certainly haunted. Over the fence at the bottom of their garden was a tree-lined stream that separated the land on their side of the stream from the long, sloping garden on the other side of the stream that lead up to the old house.
Hettie, aged 10, had recently moved with her family to their current house, which was situated in a quiet village and was somewhat isolated from other houses in the area. Her parents loved the solitude, but being an only child, Hettie thought it would have been nicer if there were some other children nearby to play with when she wasn’t at school. Still, she thought, she was lucky to have loving parents and to be surrounded by such beautiful countryside and she was always allowed to have her friends from school over for tea whenever she asked.
Hettie was a very thoughtful, loving and intelligent child with a gift for writing. When she was a toddler, she would always talk to her parents about her special friends who came to play with her in her room and when she had learned to read and write, she would write amazingly descriptive stories about her “adventures” with them. Although her parents could hear her talking to her friends, they never admitted to Hettie that they couldn’t see them and just assumed that she had a very active imagination. They had never been able to have any more children, so they thought that Hettie had invented playmates out of loneliness. They never told her that they thought it was just her imagination; they listened to her chatting excitedly about her friends, nodded and smiled. However, after Hettie had started school, she stopped talking about her imaginary friends. What Hettie didn’t tell her parents was that it was because they no longer seemed to visit her anymore. Maybe they no longer felt that Hettie needed them, because she had her other friends at school.
Hettie ran downstairs, put on her long boots and heavy winter coat and went out the back door to the bottom of the garden to play. As she neared the gate at the bottom, which led to the stream, she suddenly heard the sound of a small child sobbing. Peering over the gate, she saw a frail, fair-haired boy, no more than about six-years-old, sitting by the stream on a little stool crying. He was wearing what Hettie thought were rather old fashioned clothes; almost like the clothes that she had seen children wearing in photos that her teacher had showed them at school when they were studying life in the Second World War. Hettie felt a pang in her heart. She hated seeing anyone upset, least of all a young child.
Hettie opened the gate and walked across to the boy. She coughed gently to announce her presence without alarming him. The boy wiped his eyes and gazed up at her. He had the largest, bluest eyes she had ever seen. Hettie thought he looked like an angel.
“What’s your name and why are you crying?” Hettie asked him.
“Michael,” said the boy, his voice shaking. “It’s my grandma....” he said and began sobbing once more.
Hettie crouched down beside him and put her arm around his shoulders.
“What’s wrong with your grandma?” asked Hettie in a concerned voice.
Michael explained that his grandma was sick and hungry, but that he had no money to buy her food to make her well again.
Many thoughts raced through Hettie’s mind, but she didn’t bother asking Michael any questions, because she thought that he would be too young to know the answers. The only thing that seemed to matter at that moment was the fact that he and his grandma needed help.
Hettie told Michael to stay where he was and that she would be back shortly.
She raced back up to the house, rushed past her mother in the kitchen like a whirlwind and sprang two steps at a time up the stairs to her bedroom.
“My, you’re in a rush aren’t you? What are you up to?” shouted her mother up the stairs. “And please be careful by that stream. I don’t want you slipping in.”
“I’ll be fine Mum!” Hettie shouted back, not wishing to tell her mother what she was planning to do.
Hettie’s mother smiled to herself, assuming that her daughter was just playing another of her make-believe games.
“Don’t forget that you only have a few more days to enter this competition. It doesn’t matter how small the chance is of winning, you won’t have any chance if you don’t enter it. Besides, it’s only four weeks until Christmas and the postal system is under pressure, so you don’t want your entry to be delayed in the post,” her mother continued.
It was a competition to win a wooden doll’s house, which was her ultimate dream. All the ones that they had ever looked at in stores, even ones that came as a kit that you had to build yourself, were ridiculously expensive. She knew that her parents didn’t have a great deal of money, so she never put any pressure on them to buy her one.
In her bedroom, Hettie climbed carefully onto her chair and reached up to her top shelf to lift down her piggy bank. Inside was several months’ worth of her pocket money that she had been saving, in the hope that she would eventually be able to afford to buy her own doll’s house. She pulled out the rubber stopper from beneath the pig’s belly and shook it vigorously to release all the coins onto her bed.
Without a second thought, Hettie gathered up all the coins and filled both of her coat pockets. She knew that the little boy’s needs and that of his sick grandmother were far greater than her desire for a doll’s house. She wasn’t entirely sure how much she had saved, but she was sure it would be enough to buy at least a couple of meals for the boy and his grandma.
Hettie raced back down the stairs again, through the kitchen and out the back door. Her mother just watched her and smiled, thinking how wonderful it was to have a child who was able to amuse herself. When all the other mothers at the school were moaning about how to keep their children entertained in the school holidays, Hettie’s mother never felt able to join in the conversation for fear of sounding smug if she mentioned that her daughter was never bored.
Reaching the garden gate, Hettie was relieved to see that Michael was still sitting on his stool by the stream. He looked troubled, but he had at least stopped crying. Bouncing excitedly across to the boy, Hettie emptied out her pockets and put all her money into his lap. He started crying again as he flung his arms around her neck and hugged her tightly, his soft fair hair tickling Hettie’s cheek. She felt an incredible warmth surround her and her own eyes filled with tears.
“Thank you soooo much!” sobbed the boy. “I will repay you; I promise,” he said, as he gathered up the coins, jumped across the stream and ran up the garden on the other side towards the big, old house, leaving his little stool at the edge of the stream. Hettie thought to herself that the joy you gained from giving was far greater than that of receiving.
As Hettie watched Michael’s tiny figure growing even smaller as he moved further away, she heard her mother calling her in because it was getting dark.
Hettie ran back up to her house to find her mother waving a piece of paper at her. “The competition,” she said. “Why don’t you sit down and do it now and I can post it for you tomorrow?”
Hettie took the entry form from her mother and sat down at the kitchen table. “Win a one-off handcrafted wooden doll’s house,” read the title. Of course, plastic dolls’ houses were available everywhere, but Hettie didn’t want a plastic one. She wanted a natural one with character that would last a lifetime and which she could hand down to her children and grandchildren.
Hettie read the instructions. All that she has to do was to answer the question in no more than thirty words, “What would owning this doll’s house mean to you?” Without even pondering on the question, Hettie began to write, the words flowing effortlessly. “A thing of natural beauty is a joy forever and the love and care invested into it will be passed down through the generations. True love is proved by giving.” She didn’t even need to count up the number of words. She just knew that it was 30. After writing down her name, address and age on the form, she gave it to her mother to put into an envelope.
For the next week, Hettie continued to race down to the bottom of the garden on the chance that Michael might be there, but he never was. The little stool that he been sitting on had also disappeared, so she assumed that he must have come back for it when she had been at school. She did feel rather disappointed that he wasn’t there, because she wanted to know whether he and his grandma were ok.
Hettie’s school Christmas holiday began, so she spent most of her time playing down by the stream, hoping and praying that she would see Michael. She took her own chair down to the stream and would sit for hours just gazing at the house and wondering why it always looked so still and empty.
Hettie could not stop thinking about Michael and his grandma, especially since it was almost Christmas and she wondered how they were going to cope. On Christmas Eve, Hettie ran down to the bottom of the garden and peered over the gate towards the spot where she had first seen Michael. As usual, there was no sign of him, but just as she was about to turn and walk back to the house, she noticed something shining in the grass by the stream. She opened the gate and walked across to investigate. There, lying in the grass was a pile of coins; the money from her piggy bank that she had given to Michael.
Tears trickled down Hettie’s cheeks as she gathered up the coins. Perhaps Michael’s grandmother had been too proud to accept the money. Perhaps she had asked Michael to return it. Hettie worried about them both going hungry and, in that moment, prayed to the angels that they would be ok.
As Hettie was feeding the coins reluctantly back into her piggy bank, she eventually decided to ask her mother if she knew who lived in the big old house at the top of the hill.
“You mean the empty house over the back?” asked her mother.
“Empty?” said Hettie. “I thought somebody lived there.”
“Not any more. It’s been empty for years. Mrs Rogers at the post office told me that an elderly woman used to live there with her young grandson; Michael I think his name was. Apparently, his parents had been killed in a car accident when he was a baby, so she raised him like her own son. She absolutely adored him, but one day when he was playing by the stream, he slipped in and drowned. The poor old woman never got over the loss and rumour has it that she starved herself to death.”
Hettie face went white and her eyes widened in horror.
“Are you alright?” asked her mother. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost!”
The doorbell sounded in the background, so Hettie’s mother left her standing there with her mouth open as she went downstairs to answer the door.
A couple of minutes later, Hettie heard her mother yelling excitedly up the stairs. “Hettie! Hettie! Come here quickly! There’s a surprise for you!”
Hettie hurried downstairs, still trying to absorb what her mother had told her. As she entered the front room, she saw an enormous parcel on the table with an envelope on it addressed to her. Hettie carefully tore open the envelope, her fingers shaking, not from excitement, but from the story that her mother had told her.
Hettie pulled out a letter from the envelope, which read: “CONGRATULATIONS! We are pleased to inform you that you have won first prize in the recent Doll’s House Competition. The competition attracted hundreds of entries, but after careful consideration the judges decided that your slogan was the best.”
“I’ve won, Mum! I’ve won! I can’t believe it!”
“See, I told you! If I hadn’t reminded you to enter it, you would never have had the chance.”
For the briefest of moments, Hettie forgot about her previous shock as she and her mother removed the packing tape from the box and opened it up. Hettie’s mother lifted out the most magnificent wooden doll’s house that either of them had ever seen, but it somehow looked familiar.
“How strange,” said Hettie’s mother. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that it was an exact replica of that empty old house that I was just telling you about.”
Hettie experienced a sense of déjà vu. She had spent so many days previously just staring at the big, old house on the hill that she felt as though she knew every detail of its outside. Curiously, she opened up the front of the house, but as she did so, she gasped in amazement.
Hettie’s mother thought she was gasping at the beautiful decor, but there was something else that had captured Hettie’s attention. In the front room, in an armchair by the fireplace, sat an elderly lady with the kindest, jolliest face ever. Opposite her, sitting on a small stool, was a young, fair-haired boy smiling from ear-to-ear. In the middle of the room was a table laden with miniature plates of every type of food imaginable.
Hettie peered more closely at the young boy, who was dressed in rather old-fashioned clothes.
“Michael?” she whispered.
As Hettie gazed in wonderment at the little boy, she was absolutely certain that she saw one of his sparkling blue eyes wink at her.
My daughter Lauren wrote the above story especially for BBC Radio Wiltshire. She recorded it on 21 December 2009 and it was broadcast in two parts on the Mark O'Donnell Show on 24 December 2009 . Lauren's idol is the children's author, Jacqueline Wilson. Lauren hopes to be an equally successful author in the future.