A Live Dummy by Mrs. Molesworth
The Merediths were spending the autumn on the French coast, at a
sea-bathing place called Sablons-sur-mer. It is a nice bright little
place. I am afraid the inhabitants would be offended if they heard it
called "little," for they think it a very important town! It consists
of two long streets—one facing the sea, one inland, where the shops
and the houses of the people who live there all the year round, are.
And between these two streets run smaller ones—so small that they are
more passage-ways than streets. The most imposing one is called an
"arcade"; in it are the best shops, a bazaar of all sorts of fancy
things to delight children's eyes, from tin buckets and spades to dig
with in the sands, to rocking-horses, though not of a very expensive
kind. At one corner of this arcade is a large, ready-made tailor's
establishment; this shop, for reasons I will explain to you, divided
the children's attention with the bazaar.
There were ever so many Merediths; three girls and two boys and a
couple of cousins. The Sablons people are accustomed to English
visitors, so the sight of this band of children was not startling to
them; and the little messieurs, and the jeunes mees, soon had
several friends in the place, whom they never passed without a
friendly nod and a bon jour or bon soir, as the case might be.
The cousins I have mentioned were not with the Merediths on their
first arrival. There had been some doubt of finding a house large
enough to take the whole party in, so Bessie and Hugh had waited at
their own home in the country in England in a state of frantic
anxiety, till one fine day came a letter from their aunt with the
delightful news that the children might be despatched as soon as they
could be got ready.
Bessie and Hugh had never paid a visit to France before; so the two
new-comers had plenty of "guides" to explain everything to them, and
show them the "lions" of Sablons-sur-mer. Only one condition was made
by Lilian, the eldest and nearly "grown up" Meredith girl. Bessie and
Hugh must manage not to seem like English tourists "gaping about
with guide-books in their hands, and looking as if they had never been
out of an English country village."
"But we scarcely ever have been," said Bessie; "at least, only when we
go to grandmamma's at Cheltenham, and Hugh was once three days in
"That doesn't matter," said Miss Meredith; "you needn't look like some
of the English people one sees over here. I feel quite ashamed
sometimes to own them for my country people."
Bessie was too much in awe of her big cousin to ask her to explain
more exactly what it was she was not to do, or to "look." But she
resolved to herself to be on her very best behaviour, and Madge and
Letty assured her it would be "all right"—she needn't talk French
when there was any one who "mattered" to hear, and she needn't seem
as if things were strange to her, that was what Lilian minded.
"Mayn't I look in at the shop-windows, even?" asked Bessie, rather
Shop-windows were very delightful and charming to the little country
"Of course you may. Every body does," said Letty; "especially at the
bazaar. It's not windows; it's all open, you know, like stalls at a
market," explained Madge; "it's a regular bazaar. Not look at it!—why
it's made to be looked at. And oh; Bessie," Letty went on again,
"you will be amused at the big tailor's, or ready-made clothier's,
as mamma calls it, at the corner of the arcade. It's something like
Madame Tussaud's—such a lot of wax dummies at the door. And they
change their clothes every few days. Some of them are quite big, like
men; and some little boys. They've got one now which they think is
dressed like an English sailor-suit boy—you never saw such a
costume! And there's a man in a red coat—our boys say he is meant to
be an English 'milord' dressed for 'the hunt.'"
When Bessie saw the bazaar she was as full of admiration of it as even
Madge and Letty could desire, especially of the big tailor's. There
was a brilliant show of figures, from the little wax boy in imaginary
English sailor costume, to a moustached gentleman elaborately got up
in evening suit, white tie and all.
"Oh, how funny they are!" Bessie exclaimed. "But I don't see the one
in the red coat."
"He's not there to-day," said Madge. "Perhaps we'll see him again
to-morrow, in something different."
"It must be great fun dressing, and undressing them," said Bessie. "Do
they change them nearly every day?"
"Oh no, not so often as that. But we watch them always, to see."
But for the next two or three days there was no change. Bessie looked
in vain for the red-coated one she was so curious to see.
Now I must tell you that there was sometimes a regiment, or part of a
regiment, at Sablons. They came for rifle-practice on the sands; and
there was always a great excitement when a new detachment came in. And
a few days after Bessie and Hugh made their appearance, the town was
awakened early one morning by the tramp of a number of red-coats, who
had marched over from an inland town, where there were large barracks.
Next day on their way home, as usual, from their morning bath, the
little girls passed through the arcade. Madge and Letty did not give
the dummies more than a passing glance, till suddenly they noticed
that Bessie had stayed behind.
"There she is," said Letty; "she's staring at the figures. Why—is
that—?" and she hesitated.
There she was, sure enough—Bessie, that is to say—standing in front
of a tall figure, a red-coated one in all the glory of a scarlet
uniform, and with several medals on the right breast, which the little
girl on her tip-toes was reaching up to and examining, one after
another, with great interest. Letty and Madge drew near and looked at
her with a curious misgiving. She glanced round.
"Letty, Madge," she said, "do come here and look at this new dummy.
It's got a lot of medals, and——"
She stopped with a little shriek. The "new dummy" had suddenly raised
its right arm, saluting Bessie with military precision as it stepped
slightly to one side, with the words—
"A votre service, Mademoiselle."
"Oh, oh!" gasped Bessie. "It's alive—it's—it's a man, a living
And so the supposed dummy was! A young officer, who, happening like
the children themselves to be standing in front of the tailor's
staring at the figures, had actually been mistaken by Bessie for one
of the waxen group. He had entered into the joke, and remained
perfectly motionless while the little girl made her investigation,
doubtless explaining all to himself by the fact of her being a jeune
mees—one of that extraordinary English nation of whom it is
impossible to say what they won't do next.
Oh, how ashamed Bessie was! How scarlet grew Letty and Madge! But
there was nothing to be done. The officer had already disappeared at
the other end of the arcade with a second friendly and smiling though
One thought struck the three children—Susanne, the maid, was
fortunately a little in advance and had not seen the strange mistake.
"Don't let's tell Lilian," they said. "She'd never get over it, she
But mother—aunty as she was to Bessie—was told, and comforted the
mortified and shamefaced little girl as well as she could.
"After all," she said, "it was nothing naughty; Bessie had not meant
to be rude; and she was quite sure the officer had not thought her
Nor had he. But it was a very amusing story to relate; and if
Bessie had been within hearing of him when he told it to his
brother-officers, I think she could not but have joined in their