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‘The Mander Family Doll’, by Diana Humphrey

Short stories
Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire

I sit, back poker-straight, by the pillow in this room of dreams. The light is dim, blue-grey and the great trees rise over me, taller than the four-poster bed. Their trunks and branches glimmer white, they twist and writhe like strange bare bodies. Some are half clothed in leaves that spike out toward me. I have learned to brave them. These arrowheads are frozen, dark green with white tips. They guard the trees and the plants and bushes. Maybe they guard me.

Although I am seated. I am among great mountains. They rise to sharp summits against the sky which is lit, I believe, by moonlight or sunrise. There are no tracks up them. I imagine I am a bird, a white bird with a song in its throat and I swoop and soar over the high town with its turrets and tall church, higher and higher up the steep slopes and the thick forests to rest at the very top from where I can survey everything.

This is a strange land indeed. No fields are mown, no food grown here as in our own valley. Do white birds provide all? Flowers like bells hang from the branches. A high-stepping animal full of pride is planning to cross this land soon. It has a fine red bridle but who rides it I wait to learn. He is hidden still by the curtain that hangs at the window of my room.

I turn my head away from a sight that disturbs me though I do not know why. A man in a plain brown gown, a man with no legs has raised his arms high in the air and two men are pulling on them or are they pushing him down? I wonder, have they removed his legs and now seek to take his arms? I believe, but I do not know why, that there are more men, waiting, watching. I have a dread of them too. I cannot take their measure as now a dresser prevent my view.

This room is full of things which do give me pleasure. Things I remember from earlier times and other parts of the house, a horn book that many a child has used to learn its letters, a tiny shoe hidden once to bring luck to the house. At night. the spinning wheel hums as it used to, the way I remember my young mistress, Betsey, making it do. The thread she span, made the fine cover on the bed where I sit erect, or one much like it. I think her mother designed its pattern of crosses and squares and raised stitches.

There are times, when I lie in my own wooden bed at the foot of the wide one, where I sit now, my eyes open wide to the smooth ceiling, in this fine brocade dress, full-skirted, stiff with its daring stomacher or in my other one which is even grander. My hair is curled high under my flat bonnet, a wooden creature with a pale painted face and a head full of thoughts in a room of painted cloths.

Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire

Owlpen Manor

Uley, near Dursley, Gloucestershire, GL11 5BZ

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