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New mother.

From Anyhow stories by Lucy Lane Clifford.

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And there was the clock all broken and spoilt, the little picture upon its face could be seen no more ; and though it sometimes struck a stray hour, it was with the tone of a clock whose hours are numbered. And there was the baby's high chair, but no little baby to sit in it ; there was the cupboard on the wall, and never a sweet loaf on its shelf ; and there were the broken mugs, and the bits of bread tossed about, and the greasy boards which the mother had knelt down to scrub until they were white as snow. In the midst of all stood the children, looking at the wreck they had made, their hearts aching, their eyes blinded with tears, and their poor little hands clasped to- gether in their misery. " Oh, what shall we do?" cried Blue-Eyes. " I wish we had never seen the village girl and the nasty, nasty peardrum." " Surely mother will come back," sobbed the Turkey. " I am sure we shall die if she doesn't come back." " I don't know what we shall do if the new mother comes," cried Blue-Eyes. " I shall never, never like any other mother. I don't know what we shall do if that dreadful mother comes." " We won't let her in," said the Turkey. " But perhaps she'll walk in," sobbed Blue-Eyes. Then Turkey stopped crying for a minute, to think what should be done. " We will bolt the door," she said, " and shut the window ; and we won't take any notice when she knocks." So they bolted the door, and shut the window, and fastened it. And then, in spite of all they had said, they felt naughty again, and longed after the little man and woman they had never seen, far more than after the mother who had loved them all their lives. But then they did not really believe that their own mother would not come back, or that any new mother would take her place. When it was dinner-time, they were very hungry, but they could only find some stale bread, and they had to be content with it.

" Oh, I wish we had heard the little woman's secret," cried the Turkey ; " I wouldn't have cared then." All through the afternoon they sat watching and listening for fear of the new mother ; but they saw and heard nothing of her, and gradually they became less and less afraid lest she should come. Then they thought that perhaps when it was dark their own dear mother would come home ; and perhaps if they asked her to forgive them she would. And then Blue- Eyes thought that if their mother did come she would be very cold, so they crept out at the back door and gathered in some wood, and at last, for the grate was wet, and it was a great deal of trouble to manage it, they made a fire. When they saw the bright fire burning, and the little flames leaping and playing among the wood and coal, they began to be happy again, and to feel certain that their own mother would return; and the sight of the pleasant fire re- minded them of all the times she had waited for them to come from the post-office, and of how she had welcomed them, and comforted them, and given them nice warm tea and sweet bread, and talked to them. Oh, how sorry they were they had been naughty, and all for that nasty village girl! They did not care a bit about the little man and woman now, or want to hear the secret. They fetched a pail of water and washed the floor; they found some rag, and rubbed the tins till they looked bright again, and, putting a footstool on a chair, they got up on it very carefully and hung up the things in their places ; and then they picked up the broken mugs and made the room as neat as they could, till it looked more and more as if the dear mother's hands had been busy about it. They felt more and more certain she would return, she and the dear little baby together, and they thought they would set the tea-things for her, just as she had so often set them for her naughty children.

They took down the tea-tray, and got out the cups, and put the kettle on the fire to boil, and made everything look as home-like as they could. There was no sweet loaf to put on the table, but perhaps the mother would bring something from the village, they thought. At last all was ready, and Blue-Eyes and the Turkey washed their faces and their hands, and then sat and waited, for of course they did not believe what the village girl had said about their mother sailing away. Suddenly, while they were sitting by the fire, they heard a sound as of something heavy being dragged along the ground outside, and then there was a loud and terrible knocking at the door. The children felt their hearts stand still. They knew it could not be their own mother, for she would have turned the handle and tried to come in without any knocking at all " Oh, Turkey ! " whispered Blue-Eyes, " if it should be the new mother, what shall we do ? " " We won't let her in," whispered the Turkey, for she was afraid to speak aloud, and again there came a long and loud and terrible knocking at the door. "What shall we do? oh, what shall we do?" cried the children, in despair. " Oh, go away ! " they called out. " Go away ; we won't let you in ; we will never be naughty any more ; go away, go away ! " But again there came a loud and terrible knocking. "She'll break the door if she knocks so hard," cried Blue-Eyes. " Go and put your back to it," whispered the Turkey, " and I'll peep out of the window and try to see if it is really the new mother." So in fear and trembling Blue-Eyes put her back against the door, and the Turkey went to the window, and, pressing her face against one side of the frame, peeped out.

She could just see a black satin poke bonnet with a frill round the edge, and a long bony arm carrying a black leather bag. From beneath the bonnet there flashed a strange bright light, and Turkey's heart sank and her cheeks turned pale, for she knew it was the flashing of two glass eyes. She crept up to Blue-Eyes. " It is it is it is !" she whispered, her voice shaking with fear, "it is the new mother ! She has come, and brought her luggage in a black leather bag that is hanging on her arm !" " Oh, what shall we do ? " wept Blue-Eyes ; and again there was the terrible knocking. " Come and put your back against the door too, Turkey," cried Blue-Eyes ; " I am afraid it will break." So together they stood with their two little backs against the door. There was a long pause. They thought perhaps the new mother had made up her mind that there was no one at home to let her in, and would go away, but presently the two children heard through the thin wooden door the new mother move a little, and then say to herself " I must break open the door with my tail." For one terrible moment all was still, but in it the children could almost hear her lift up her tail, and then, with a fearful blow, the little painted door was cracked and splintered. With a shriek the children darted from the spot and fled through the cottage, and out at the back door into the forest beyond. All night long they stayed in the darkness and the cold, and all the next day and the next, and all through the cold, dreary days and the long dark nights that followed. They are there still, my children. All through the long weeks and months have they been there, with only green rushes for their pillows and only the brown dead leaves to cover them, feeding on the wild strawberries in the summer, or on the nuts when they hang green ; on the blackberries when they are no longer sour in the autumn, and in the winter on the little red berries that ripen in the snow.

They wander about among the tall dark firs or beneath the great trees beyond. Sometimes they stay to rest beside the little pool near the copse where the ferns grow thickest, and they long and long, with a longing that is greater than words can say, to see their own dear mother again, just once again, to tell her that they'll be good for evermore just once again. And still the new mother stays in the little cottage, but the windows are closed and the doors are shut, and no one knows what the inside looks like. Now and then, when the darkness has fallen and the night is still, hand in hand Blue-Eyes and the Turkey creep up near to the home in which they once were so happy, and with beating hearts they watch and listen ; sometimes a blinding flash comes through the window, and they know it is the light from the new mother's glass eyes, or they hear a strange muffled noise, and they know it is the sound of her wooden tail as she drags it along the floor.


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