Authors: Rumer Godden
They were two little Japanese dolls, only about five inches high. Their faces and hands were made of white plaster, their bodies of rag, which meant they could bow most
beautifully – and Japanese people bow a great deal. Their eyes were slits of black glass and they had delicate plaster noses and red-painted mouths. Their hair was real, black and straight
and cut in a fringe. They were exactly alike except that Miss Flower was a little taller and thinner, while Miss Happiness’s cheeks were fatter and her red mouth was painted in a smile.
They wore thin cotton kimonos – a kimono is like a dressing-gown with wide-cut sleeves – and they each had a wide sash high up under their arms which was folded over into a heavy pad
at the back.
Miss Happiness had a red kimono patterned with chrysanthemums, Miss Flower’s was blue with a pattern of cherry blossom; both their sashes were pink and on their feet they had painted white
socks and painted sandals with a V-shaped strap across the toes.
They were not new: Miss Flower had a chip out of one ear, her pretty kimono was torn and the paint had come off one of Miss Happiness’s shoes. I do not know where they had been all their
lives, but when this story begins they had been wrapped in cotton wool and tissue paper, packed in a wooden box and tied with red and white string, wrapped again in brown paper, labelled and
stamped and sent all the way from San Francisco in America to England. I do not think they had been asked if they wanted to come – dolls are not asked.
‘Where are we now?’ asked Miss Flower. ‘Is it
‘I think it is,’ said Miss Happiness.
‘It’s strange and cold. I can feel it through the box,’ said Miss Flower, and she cried, ‘No one will understand us or know what we want. Oh, no one will ever understand
But Miss Happiness was more hopeful and more brave. ‘I think they will,’ she said.
‘How will they?’
‘Because there will be some little girl who is clever and kind.’
‘Will there be?’ asked Miss Flower longingly.
‘Why will there be?’
‘Because there always has been,’ said Miss Happiness.
All the same, Miss Flower gave a doll shiver, which means she felt as if she shivered though it could not be seen. Miss Flower was always frightened; perhaps the child who made the chip in her
ear had been rough. ‘I wish we had not come,’ said Miss Flower.
Miss Happiness sighed and said, ‘We were not asked.’
Children are not asked either. No one had asked Nona Fell if she wanted to be sent from India to live with her uncle and aunt in England. Everyone had told her she would like
it, but ‘I don’t like it at all,’ said Nona.
‘Nona is a good name for her,’ said her youngest cousin, Belinda. ‘All she does is to say No, no, no, all the time.’
With her dark hair and eyes, her thinness, and her skin that was pale and yellow from living so long in the heat, Nona looked a stranger among her pink-cheeked, fair-haired cousins. There were
three of them: Anne, who was fourteen, slim and tall; Tom, who was eleven, with freckles; and Belinda, who was a rough tough little girl of seven.
Nona was eight. Her mother had died when she was a baby and she had been brought up by an old Ayah – an Ayah is an Indian nurse – on her father’s tea garden, Coimbatore in
Southern India. It had been hot in Coimbatore, the sun had shone almost every day; there had been bright flowers and fruit, kind brown people and lots of animals. Here it was winter and Nona was
always cold. Her cousins laughed at her clothes; it was no wonder, for they had been chosen by old Ayah who had no idea what English children wore in England, and Nona had a stiff red velvet dress,
white socks, black strap shoes and silver bangles. They laughed at the way she spoke English, which was no wonder either, for she talked in a sing-song voice like Ayah.
She did not like the food; living in a hot country does not make one hungry and she had not seen porridge, or puddings, or sausages, or buns before, and ‘No thank you,’ said Nona.
She said ‘No thank you’ too when anyone asked her to go out for she had never seen so many buses and cars, vans and bicycles; they went so fast it made her dizzy. She said ‘No
thank you’ when her cousins asked her to play; there had been no other English boys and girls in Coimbatore and she had never ridden a bicycle, or roller-skated, or played ping-pong, or
rounders, or hide and seek, or even card games like Snap or Beggar-my-neighbour. All she did was to sit and read in a corner or stand by the window and shiver. ‘And cry,’ said Belinda.
‘Cry, baby, cry.’
‘Belinda, be kind,’ said Nona’s aunt, who was Belinda’s mother. Nona called her Mother too. ‘Be kind. We must all help her to settle down.’
‘I don’t want her to settle down,’ said Belinda.
All through Christmas Nona was unhappy and when Christmas was over it was no better. She stood by the window and ran her bangles up and down her wrist, up and down and round
and round. They were thin and of Indian silver; she had had them since she was almost a baby and to feel them made her seem closer to Coimbatore.
‘Come to the park, Nona. We’re going to skate.’
‘No thank you.’
‘I’m going to the shops, Nona. Come along.’
‘No thank you.’
‘Have some of this nice hot toast.’
‘No thank you.’
At last Mother spoke to her seriously. ‘You really must try to be happier, Nona. You’re not the only small person to come from far away.’
‘I’m the only one here,’ said Nona.
At that moment the bell pinged and the postman’s rat-tat sounded at the door, and ‘You go,’ said Mother.
When Nona opened the front door the postman gave her a brown paper parcel. It had American stamps, it felt like a box and was very light. I wonder if you can guess what it was.
Nona took the parcel from the postman and brought it to Mother. Written on it was ‘The Misses Fell’. ‘It’s for Anne and Belinda,’ said Nona.
‘It might be for you as well,’ said Mother. ‘You are a Miss Fell.’
‘Am I?’ asked Nona in surprise.
‘Don’t you know your own name, stupid?’ asked Belinda.
Nona shook her head. Ayah used to call her Little Missy, but no one in Coimbatore had called her Miss Fell.
‘It’s from your Great-Aunt Lucy Dickinson,’ said Mother, looking at the writing. ‘It must be a late Christmas present.’
‘A late Christmas present! A late Christmas present!’ shouted Belinda, and she shouted for Anne to come.
‘Undo it, Nona,’ said Tom.
‘Why should Nona . . .?’ began Belinda.
‘Because I said so,’ said Tom in such a terrible voice that Belinda was quiet.
Nona took off the brown paper and found the wooden box with the red and white strings. ‘Cut them,’ said Belinda impatiently, but Nona’s small fingers untied the bow and the
knot and carefully smoothed out the strings. ‘Oh, you are
!’ said Belinda.
‘She’s not, she’s careful,’ said Tom.
Nona lifted the lid and carefully, perhaps even more carefully than usual because Tom had praised her, she unrolled the cotton wool and tissue paper, and there on the table, looking very small
and cold and white, lay Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.
‘What queer little dolls,’ said Belinda, disappointed, and Nona answered, ‘They’re not queer. They’re Japanese.’
You can imagine how frightened and lost Miss Happiness and Miss Flower felt when they found themselves on the big slippery table. They had to lie there looking up into the
faces of Nona and Belinda. If Nona and Belinda had been Japanese children, one of them, Miss Flower was sure, would have made her and Miss Happiness bow. ‘We can’t even be
polite,’ said Miss Flower in despair, and she cried, ‘Can one of
be the kind and clever girl?’
‘Wish that she may be,’ said Miss Happiness. ‘Wish.’ As I have often told you before, wishes are very powerful things, even dolls’ wishes, and as Miss Happiness
wished, Nona put out a finger and very gently stroked Miss Flower’s hair. Her finger felt the chip, and ‘You poor little doll,’ said Nona.
‘They’re not even new,’ said Belinda in disgust. ‘Stupid old Great-Aunt Lucy Dickinson,’ and in a temper she began to crumple up the wrappings. Then she stopped.
She had found a piece of paper written on in spidery old-fashioned writing. Mother read it out. It was from Great-Aunt Lucy Dickinson. ‘I send you with my love,’ wrote Great-Aunt Lucy
Dickinson, ‘Miss Happiness, Miss Flower and Little Peach.’ ‘Happiness and Flower,’ said Mother. ‘What pretty names.’
‘Peach is the one I like best,’ said Belinda. ‘But where
‘Was there no other doll in the parcel?’ asked Anne.
‘No. There were only two, not three.’
‘Nothing in the wrappings?’
‘In the cotton wool or tissue paper?’
It was very odd. There was no sign of Little Peach. ‘And he is the one I would have liked best,’ mourned Belinda.
‘Never mind,’ said Mother. ‘Anne is too big for dolls so there is one each for you and Nona.’
‘They have been a long time getting here,’ said Anne, looking at the postmark on the brown paper. ‘Poor little things, spending Christmas in a
‘They don’t mind about Christmas,’ said Nona quickly.
It was strange how Nona seemed to know about these little dolls. ‘
have never been to Japan,’ said Belinda rudely.
That was true, but, like Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Nona had come from far away, and could feel for them. ‘Perhaps,’ said Miss Flower, ‘she might be the kind and clever
‘Why shouldn’t they mind about Christmas?’ argued Belinda.
‘They don’t have Christmas in Japan.’
‘Don’t be silly.’
‘I’m not silly. They don’t.’
‘What do they have then?’
Nona was not sure but, as you know, she was always reading, and it seemed to her that in some story about Japanese children or in a geography book she had read . . . What did I read? thought
Nona, wrinkling up her forehead to try and remember. Then, ‘They have a Star Festival,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ said Nona. They were all looking at her and she blushed and stammered, though she remembered more clearly now. ‘S-something to do with the stars, t-two stars,’ she
said. ‘I think they are the spirits of two people who loved each other long, long ago, a thousand years ago, and were separated. Now they are up in two stars each side of the M-milky Way, and
one night each year they can cross and meet.’
‘Across the Milky Way?’ said Anne. ‘How pretty.’
‘Yes,’ said Nona again, and now her eyes shone so that she, too, looked almost pretty. ‘And on earth that night children – grown-up people as well, but mostly children
– write wishes on pieces of coloured paper and tie them outside on the bamboos, all over Japan,’ she said, her eyes shining.
They looked at her in surprise. ‘Why, Nona’, said Mother, ‘you seem a different child when you tell a story like that.’