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New mother.

From Anyhow stories by Lucy Lane Clifford.

Start of Story

The children were surprised at this, for they had never seen her before, and -yet they thought they knew all the village folk by sight. " We often go to the village," they said, thinking it might interest her. " Indeed," she answered. That was all ; and again they wondered what to do. Then the Turkey, who had an inquiring mind, put a good straightforward question. " What are you sitting on ? " she asked. " On a peardrum," the girl answered, still speaking in a most cheerful voice, at which the children won- dered, for she looked very cold and uncomfortable. " What is a peardrum ?" they asked. "I am surprised at your not knowing," the girl answered. " Most people in good society have one." And then she pulled it out and showed it to them. It was a curious instrument, a good deal like a guitar in shape ; it had three strings, but only two pegs by which to tune them. The third string was never tuned at all, and thus added to the singular effect produced by the village girl's music. And yet, oddly, I the peardrum was not played by touching its strings, but by turning a little handle cunningly hidden on one side. But the strange thing about the peardrum was not the music it made, or the strings, or the handle, but a little square box attached to one side. The box had a little flat lid that appeared to open by a spring. That was all the children could make out at first. They were most anxious to see inside the box, or to know what it contained, but they thought it might look curious to say so. "It really is a most beautiful thing, is a pear- drum," the girl said, looking at it, and speaking in a voice that was almost affectionate. " Where did you get it ?" the children asked. " I bought it," the girl answered. " Didn't it cost a great deal of money?" they asked. "Yes," answered the girl slowly, nodding her head, "it cost a great deal of money. I am very rich," she added.

And this the children thought a really remarkable statement, for they had not supposed that rich people dressed in old clothes, or went about without bonnets. She might at least have done her hair, they thought ; but they did not like to say so. " You don't look rich," they said slowly, and in as polite a voice as possible. " Perhaps not," the girl answered cheerfully. At this the children gathered courage, and ven- tured to remark, "You look rather shabby" they did not like to say ragged. "Indeed?" said the girl in the voice of one who had heard a pleasant but surprising statement. " A little shabbiness is very respectable," she added in a satisfied voice. " I must really tell them this," she continued. And the children wondered what she meant. She opened the little box by the side of the peardrum, and said, just as if she were speaking to some one who could hear her, "They say I look rather shabby ; it is quite lucky, isn't it ? " " Why, you are not speaking to any one ! " they said, more surprised than ever. " Oh dear, yes ! I am speaking to them both." " Both?" they said, wondering. "Yes. I have here a little man dressed as a peasant, and wearing a wide slouch hat with a large feather, and a little woman to match, dressed in a red petticoat, and a white handkerchief pinned across her bosom. I put them on the lid of the box, and when I play they dance most beautifully. The little man takes off his hat and waves it in the air, and the little woman holds up her petticoat a little bit on one side with one hand, and with the other sends forward a kiss." " Oh ! let us see ; do let us see ! " the children cried, both at once. Then the village girl looked at them doubt- fully. " Let you see!" she said slowly. " Well, I am not sure that I can. Tell me, are you good?" " Yes, yes," they answered eagerly, " we are very good!" "Then it's quite impossible," she answered, and resolutely closed the lid of the box.

They stared at her in astonishment. " But we are good," they cried, thinking she must have misunderstood them. "We are very good. Mother always says we are." " So you remarked before," the girl said, speaking in a tone of decision. Still the children did not understand. "Then can't you let us see the little man and woman?" they asked. " Oh dear, no !" the girl answered. " I only show them to naughty children." c 18 "To naughty children !" they exclaimed. " Yes, to naughty children," she answered ; " and the worse the children the better do the man and woman dance." She put the peardrum carefully under her ragged cloak, and prepared to go on her way. " I really could not have believed that you were good," she said, reproachfully, as if they had accused themselves of some great crime. " Well, good day." " Oh, but do show us the little man and woman," they cried. " Certainly not. Good day," she said again. " Oh, but we will be naughty," they said in despair. " I am afraid you couldn't," she answered, shaking her head. " It requires a great deal of skill, especi- ally to be naughty well. Good day," she said for the third time. " Perhaps I shall see you in the village to-morrow." And swiftly she walked away, while the children felt their eyes fill with tears, and their hearts ache with disappointment. " If we had only been naughty," they said, " we should have seen them dance ; we should have seen the little woman holding her red petticoat in her hand, and the little man waving his hat. Oh, what shall we do to make her let us see them ?" " Suppose," said the Turkey, " we try to be naughty to-day ; perhaps she would let us see them to-morrow." "But, oh!" said Blue-Eyes, "I don't know how to be naughty ; no one ever taught me." The Turkey thought for a few minutes in silence. " I think I can be naughty if I try," she said. " I'll try to-night." And then poor Blue-Eyes burst into tears.

" Oh, don't be naughty without me ! " she cried. " It would be so unkind of you. You know I want to see the little man and woman just as much as you do. You are very, very unkind." And she sobbed bitterly. And so, quarrelling and crying, they reached their home. Now, when their mother saw them, she was greatly astonished, and, fearing they were hurt, ran to meet them. " Oh, my children, oh, my dear, dear children," she said ; "what is the matter?" But they did not dare tell their mother about the village girl and the little man and woman, so they answered, "Nothing is the matter; nothing at all is the matter," and cried all the more. "But why are you crying?" she asked in sur- prise. " Surely we may cry if we like," they sobbed. " We are very fond of crying." " Poor children ! " the mother said to herself. " They are tired, and perhaps they are hungry ; after tea they will be better." And she went back to the cottage, and made the fire blaze, until its reflection danced about on the tin lids upon the wall; and she put the kettle on to boil, and set the tea-things on the table, and opened the window to let in the sweet fresh air, and made all things look bright. Then she went to the little cupboard, hung up high against the wall, and took out some bread and put it on the table, and said in a loving voice, "Dear little children, come and have your tea ; it is all quite ready for you. And see, there is the baby waking up from her sleep ; we will put her in the high chair, and she will crow at us while we eat." But the children made no answer to the dear mother ; they only stood still by the window and said nothing. " Come, children," the mother said again. " Come, Blue-Eyes, and come, my Turkey ; here is nice sweet bread for tea."


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