"The Doll" by Robert Westall is from his 1989 collection Antique Dust.
The stories in the book are adventures of antique dealer Geoff Ashden, a scamp with a heart of gold. Like Lovejoy.
In "The Doll" he buys the doll collection of the terrified Mrs. Westover for a tenth of its value. Geoff, and lovely Christies' appraiser Ursula, quickly discover that something is animating the figures.
....We couldn’t seem to find anything to say, except I kept bursting out that I hadn’t meant Mrs Westover any real harm, and Ursula kept assuring me she knew that. Once she said, ‘I won’t leave you alone in this house till . . . it’s all over, Geoff.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, and meant it. As if finally to reassure me, she rang up Christie’s and cancelled her appointments for the next two days, merely saying calmly that she was on to something ‘interesting’.
When she came back to the table, I said to her, ‘You know more about this than you’re letting on.’
She raised one eyebrow. ‘Perhaps. You can’t be around dolls long without coming across some funny things. They’re images of people, you see.’
‘So are toy soldiers . . . so are bronze statues.’
‘Toy soldiers are too little . . . and European statues are empty, somehow. People don’t have feelings about them. They’re just art.’
‘What about crucifixes?’
‘Crucifixes know their Master. So do most Buddhist statues. I wouldn’t be without my Buddhas – they’re better company than a cat. But Hindu stuff can be nasty. And there are the little Eastern cults. I’ve seen one or two things out of Mesopotamia I wouldn’t give house-room to, at any price. Be careful of anything with wings and little moveable arms.’
‘But dolls . . .’ Even in a near panic, I was scornful.
‘The French for doll is poupée. Did you ever hear of something called a poppet?’
‘Some might say you’re rather a poppet yourself.’ Feeble, but the best I could do in the circumstances.
She smiled wanly. ‘How the meanings of words do change. In Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s, you could be hanged as a witch for having poppets. Little figures made of cloth or wax, in the image of some neighbour you didn’t like . . . stick a pin in them, the neighbour got sick. Melt them, the neighbour died. That’s what the witchcraft tribunals reckoned, anyway – and hanged people on the strength of it.’
‘Oh, come on, this is the twentieth century.’
‘What difference does that make? I am sick and tired of people telling me it’s the twentieth century, as if that ever solved anything...."
Antique Dust can be purchased here: