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New mother.

From Anyhow stories by Lucy Lane Clifford.

Start of Story

"Oh, we will," they cried. "We will be very naughty till we hear you coming." " It's waste of time, I fear," the girl said politely ; "but of course I should not like to interfere with you. You see the little man and woman, being used to the best society, are very particular. Good- day," she said, just as she always said, and then quickly turned away, but she looked back and called out, " Eleven o'clock, I shall be quite punctual; I am very particular about my engage- ments." Then again the children went home, and were naughty, oh, so very very naughty that the dear mother's heart ached, and her eyes filled with tears, and at last she went upstairs and slowly put on her best gown and her new sun-bonnet, and she dressed the baby all in its Sunday clothes, and then she came down and stood before Blue -Eyes and the Turkey, and just as she did so the Turkey threw the looking-glass out of window, and it fell with a loud crash upon the ground. " Good-bye, my children," the mother said sadly, kissing them. " Good-bye, my Blue-Eyes; good-bye, my Turkey; the new mother will be home presently. Oh, my poor children!" and then weeping bitterly the mother took the baby in her arms and turned to leave the house. " But, mother," the children cried, " we are and then suddenly the broken clock struck half-past ten, and they knew that in half an hour the village girl would come by playing on the peardrum. "But, mother, we will be good at half-past eleven, come back at half-past eleven," they cried, " and we'll both be good, we will indeed ; we must be naughty till eleven o'clock." But the mother only picked up the little bundle in which she had tied up her cotton apron and a pair of old shoes, and went slowly out at the door. It seemed as if the children were spell- bound, and they could not follow her. They opened the window wide, and called after her



" Mother ! mother ! oh, dear mother, come back again ! We will be good, we will be good now, we will be good for evermore if you will come back." But the mother only looked round and shook her head, and they could see the tears falling down her cheeks. " Come back, dear mother !" cried Blue-Eyes ; but still the mother went on across the fields. " Come back, come back ! " cried the Turkey ; but still the mother went on. Just by the corner of the field she stopped and turned, and waved her handker- chief, all wet with tears, to the children at the win- dow ; she made the baby kiss its hand ; and in a moment mother and baby had vanished from their sight. Then the children felt their hearts ache with sorrow, and they cried bitterly just as the mother had done, and yet they could not believe that she had gone. Surely she would come back, they thought ; she would not leave them altogether ; but, oh, if she did if she did if she did. And then the broken clock struck eleven, and suddenly there was a sound a quick, clanging, jangling sound, with a strange discordant one at intervals ; and they looked at each other, while their hearts stood still, for they knew it was the peardrum. They rushed to the open window, and there they saw the village girl coming towards them from the fields, dancing along and playing as she did so. Behind her, walking slowly, and yet ever keeping the same distance from her, was the man with the dogs whom they had seen asleep by the Blue Lion, on the day they first saw the girl with the peardrum. He was playing on a flute that had a strange shrill sound ; they could hear it plainly above the jangling of the peardrum. After the man followed the two dogs, slowly waltzing round and round on their hind legs. "We have done all you told us," the children called, when they had recovered from their astonish- ment. " Come and see ; and now show us the little man and woman."



The girl did not cease her playing or her dancing, but she called out in a voice that was half speaking half singing, and seemed to keep time to the strange music of the peardrum " You did it all badly. You threw the water on the wrong side -of the fire, the tin things were not quite in the middle of the room, the clock was not broken enough, you did not stand the baby on its head." Then the children, still standing spellbound by the window, cried out, entreating and wringing their hands, " Oh, but we have done everything you told us, and mother has gone away. Show us the little man and woman now, and let us hear the secret." As they said this the girl was just in front of the cottage, but she did not stop playing. The sound of the strings seemed to go through their hearts. She did not stop dancing ; she was already passing the cottage by. She did not stop singing, and all she said sounded like part of a terrible song. And still the man followed her, always at the same distance, playing shrilly on his flute ; and still the two dogs waltzed round and round after him their tails motion- less, their legs straight, their collars clear and white and stiff. On they went, all of them together. " Oh, stop !" the children cried, " and show us the little man and woman now." But the girl sang out loud and clear, while the string that was out of tune twanged above her voice. " The little man and woman are far away. See, their box is empty." And then for the first time the children saw that the lid of the box was raised and hanging back, and that no little man and woman were in it. " I am going to my own land," the girl sang, " to the land where I was born." And she went on to- wards the long straight road that led to the city many many miles away.



"But our mother is gone," the children cried; " our dear mother, will she ever come back ? " " No," sang the girl ; " she'll never come back, she'll never come back. I saw her by the bridge : she took a boat upon the river ; she is sailing to the sea ; she will meet your father once again, and they will go sailing on, sailing on to the countries far away." And when they heard this, the children cried out, but could say no more, for their hearts seemed to be breaking. Then the girl, her voice getting fainter and fainter in the distance, called out once more to them. But for the dread that sharpened their ears they would hardly have heard her, so far was she away, and so discordant was the music. " Your new mother is coming. She is already on her way ; but she only walks slowly, for her tail is rather long, and her spectacles are left behind ; but she is coming, she is coming coming coming." The last word died away; it was the last one they ever heard the village girl utter. On she went, dancing on; and on followed the man, they could see that he was still playing, but they could no longer hear the sound of his flute ; and on went the dogs round and round and round. On they all went, farther and farther away, till they were separate things no more, till they were just a confused mass of faded colour, till they were a dark misty object that nothing could define, till they had vanished altogether, altogether and for ever. Then the children turned, and looked at each other and at the little cottage home, that only a week before had been so bright and happy, so cosy and so spotless. The fire was out, and the water was still among the cinders ; the baking-dish and cake-tin, the fish-slice and the saucepan lid, which the dear mother used to spend so much time in rubbing, were all pulled down from the nails on which they had hung so long, and were lying on the floor

       



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