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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 15. Mother Rodesia
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 15. Mother Rodesia Post by :gademir Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1128

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 15. Mother Rodesia

CHAPTER XV. MOTHER RODESIA

After some very slight persuasion Diana induced Orion to put his back up against an oak tree and to allow her to shoot at him. He quickly discovered that he had little or no cause for fear. Diana's arrows, wielded with all the cunning she possessed, from the crooked bow, never went anywhere near him. They fell on the grass and startled the birds, and one little baby rabbit ran quite away, and some squirrels looked down at the children through the thick trees; but Orion had very little chance of getting hurt.

"It's awfu' difficult," said Diana, whose face grew redder and redder with her efforts. "If it don't shoot pwoper, Aunt Jane won't get shotted to-night. What is to be done? Suppose you was to twy for a bit, Orion?"

Orion was only too anxious to accede to this proposition. He took the bow and arrow and made valiant efforts, but in the course of his endeavors to shoot properly, the badly made bow suddenly snapped in two, and Diana, in her discomfiture, and the dashing to the ground of her hopes, burst into tears.

"You is bad boy," she cried. "See what you's done. Back we goes to slav'ry--to Aunt Jane and Miss Wamsay. You is a bad, howid boy."

"I aren't," said Orion, who had a very easily aroused temper. "It's you that's a horrid little girl."

"Come, children; what's all this noise about?" said a voice in their ears.

They turned abruptly, forgetting on the instant their own cause of quarrel, and saw a tall, swarthy-looking woman coming towards them. By this time it was beginning to get dark in the wood, but they could see the figure of the woman quite distinctly. She came close to them, and then, putting her arms akimbo, surveyed them both with a certain queer expression on her face.

"Well, my little dears," she said, "and what may you two be doing in this part of the wood?"

"We is pweparing to have our enemies shotted," answered Diana, in a calm, but sturdy, voice. "What's your name, gweat big woman?"

"Mother Rodesia Lee," replied the woman, "and I'm fond of little children. I like to meet them in the wood. I often come into the wood, and when I see little strange children I love 'em at once. I'm a sort of mother to all little strangers who get into the woods without leave." Here she flashed a pair of black eyes full into Diana's face. But Diana met their gaze without a vestige of shrinking, with eyes as black.

"We has not come without leave," she said; "you is naughty to talk that way. We has got a whole holiday to-day from our Uncle William. He didn't say nothing 'bout not going into the woods, and we has been here for lots of hours. We is going home now 'cos we is hung'y, and 'cos my bow has got bwoke. We is awfu' unhappy--we is mis'ble, but we is going home. Good-night, woman; don't keep us talkin' any longer."

"I aint going to keep you," said the woman; "only, p'r'aps, if you two are so hungry, p'r'aps I could give you a bit of supper."

"Oh, yes, Diana! Do let her," said Orion.

"What sort of supper?" asked Diana, who never allowed herself to be taken unawares. "Would it be stwawberries and k'eam, or would it be cake and milk?"

"Strawberries and cream, and milk and cake, plenty and plenty," said the woman. "And what do you say to delicious soup and honey, p'r'aps? Oh, come along, my little loves; I'll give you something fine to eat."

"Do let's go," said Orion; "my tumtum's so empty it feels like a big hole."

"I know," said the woman, in a very sympathetic voice. "I have had it myself like that at times. It's sort of painful when it's like that; aint it?"

"Yes," answered Orion. He went up to his sister, and took her hand. "Come along, Di," he said. "Do let this nice woman give us our supper."

"You may be sure I won't give it," said the woman, "unless both you little children ask me in a very perlite voice. You must say, 'Please, Mother Rodesia.'"

"I can't say that keer sort of name," said Diana.

"Well, then, call me mother without anything else. They often does that at home--often and often. All the little kids is desp'ate fond of me. I dote so on little children. My heart runs over with love to 'em."

"You would not let a little girl be beated?" said Diana.

"Be beaten?" replied the woman. "No, that I wouldn't; it would be downright cruel."

"I was beated to-day," said Diana; "it was an enemy did it, and I'm going to have her shotted."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that!" said the woman. "You might be hanged up for that."

"What's being hanged up?" asked Diana.

"It's something very bad--I need not tell you now; but there are laws in this country, and if you shoot your enemies you are hanged up for it. You are not allowed to do those sort of things in this country."

"Yes, I are," answered Diana, "'cos I are the gweat Diana. You underland, don't you?"

"I don't know that I do; but, anyhow, I have no time to stand talking now. Come along, and you can tell me afterwards. I have got such a nice supper--plenty of strawberries and cream, plenty of milk and cake."

"Oh, my tumtum," said Orion, pressing his hand to that part of his little body with great solemnity.

"How soon will the supper be over? and how soon can we get back home?" asked Diana.

"That depends on where your home is, my pretty little dear," said Mother Rodesia.

"It's at Wectory, stoopid woman."

"I don't know that place, miss."

"Don't you know my Uncle William Dolman?"

"What! the rector?" said the woman. "And so you come from the _Rectory_?" She looked frightened for a moment, and her manner became hesitating. "Are you one of the rector's children, my little love?" she asked.

"No; he's only an uncle; he belongs to an aunt. I hate aunts. He's not a bad sort his own self; but I hate aunts!"

"Then you wouldn't mind if you was to leave her?"

"No. But I can't leave Uncle William, and I can't leave Iris, and I can't leave Apollo. We would like some supper 'cos we is hung'y, and it's past our tea hour; but then we must go stwaight home."

"All right, my little love; everything can be managed to your satisfaction. My son has got a pony and cart, and he'll drive you over to the Rectory in a twinkling, after your appetites are satisfied. I can't abear to see little children real hungry. You come along with me this minute or the supper will be eat up."

Diana hesitated no longer. She carried her broken bow on one arm, and she slung her arrow, by a string, round her neck; then, taking one of Mother Rodesia's large brown hands, and Orion taking the other, the two children trotted deeper into the dark wood. They all three walked for over a mile, and the wood seemed to get darker and denser, and the children's little feet more and more tired. Orion also began to complain that the hole inside him was getting bigger and bigger; but Mother Rodesia, now that she had got them to go with her, said very few words, and did not take the least notice of their complaints. At last, when they suddenly felt that they could not go another step, so great was their fatigue, they came out on an open clearing in the wood, in the center of which a great big tent was pitched. Several smaller tents were also to be seen in the neighborhood of the big one, and a lot of children, very brown and ugly, and only half-dressed, were lying about on the grass, squabbling and rolling over one another. Some dogs also were with the children, and an old woman, a good deal browner than Mother Rodesia, was sitting at the door of the big tent.

As soon as ever the children saw the little strangers, they scrambled to their feet with a cry, and instantly surrounded Mother Rodesia and Orion and Diana.

"Back, all of you, you little rascallions," said Mother Rodesia; "back, or I'll cuff you. Where's Mother Bridget? I want to speak to her?"

When Mother Rodesia said this the old woman at the door of the principal tent rose slowly and came to meet them.

"Well, Rodesia," she said, "and so you has found these little strangers in the wood? What purty little dears!"

"Yes, I have found them," said Mother Rodesia, "and I have brought them home to supper. After supper we are to send them home. They hail from the Rectory. Is Jack anywhere about?"

"I saw him not half an hour back," said the old woman; "he had just brought in a fat hare, and I popped it into the pot for supper. You can smell it from here, little master," she said, stooping suddenly down and letting her brown, wrinkled, aged face come within an inch or two of Orion's. He started back, frightened. He had never seen anyone so old nor so ugly before. Even the thought of the strawberries and cream, and the milk and cake, could not compensate for the look on Mother Bridget's face.

Diana, however, was not easily alarmed.

"The stuff in the pot smells vedy good," she said, sniffing. "I could shoot lots of hares, 'cos I is the gweatest huntwess in all the world. I is Diana. Did you ever hear of Diana, ugly old woman?"

"You had best not call Mother Bridget names," said Mother Rodesia, giving Diana a violent shake as she spoke.

But the little girl leaped lightly away from her.

"I always call peoples just what I think them," she said; "I wouldn't be the gweat Diana if I didn't. I has not got one scwap of fear in me, so you needn't think to come wound me that way. I do think she is awfu' ugly. She's uglier than Aunt Jane, what I _used to think was the ugliest person in the world. You had best not twy to fwighten me, for it can't be done."

"What a spirited little missy it is!" said Mother Bridget, gazing with admiration at Diana. "Why, now, she is a fine little child. I'm sure, dearie, I don't mind whether you call me ugly or not; it don't matter the least bit in the world to me. And how old may you be, my little love?"

"I is five," answered Diana. "I's a well-grown girl, isn't I?"

"That you are, missy, and hungry, too, I guess. You shall have some beautiful hare soup."

"I don't want hare soup," answered Diana; "I want what that woman pwomised--stwawberries and k'eam, and milk and cake--and then, perhaps, a _little soup. I don't want soup to begin."

"Well," said the old woman, "we hasn't got no strawberries, nor no milk, nor no cake--we are very poor folks here, missy. A little lady must be content with what she can get, unless, my dear, you would like to pay 'andsome for it."

"I has nothing to pay with," answered Diana. "I would, if I had the money, but I hasn't got none. I's sossy," she continued, looking full at Mother Rodesia as she spoke, "that you big, big woman told such awfu' lies. But, now that we has come, we'll take a little hare soup. Orion, you stand near me, and don't any of you dirty peoples come up too close, 'cos I can't abear dirty peoples. I is the gweatest shot in all the world, and Orion, he's a giant."

Two or three men had approached at that moment, and they all began to laugh heartily when poor little pale Orion was called a giant.

"You can see him in the sky sometimes on starful nights," continued Diana, "and he has got a belt and a sword."

"Well, to be sure, poor little thing," said Mother Rodesia, "she must be a bit off her head, but she's a fine little spirited thing for all that. I think she would just about do. You come along here for a minute, Jack, and let me talk to you."

The man called Jack moved a few steps away, and Mother Rodesia followed him. They began to talk together in low and earnest voices. At first the man shook his head as he listened to Mother Rodesia, but by degrees he began to agree with some suggestion she was making, and finally he nodded emphatically, and at last was heard to say:

"It shall be done."

Meanwhile Diana, with one arm clasped protectingly round Orion's waist, was partaking of the soup which old Mother Bridget had ladled into a little bowl. Orion was provided with a similar bowl of the very excellent liquid. The soup contained meat and vegetables, pieces of bread and quantities of good gravy, and, as Diana and Orion were very hungry indeed, they ate up their portions, while the gypsy children clustered round them, coming closer and closer each minute. Diana's eyes, however, were as black as theirs, and her manner twice as spirited. She would not allow them to approach too close.

"You had best not take lib'ties," she said. "I is a gweat lady; I is Diana, the biggest shot in all the world."

"Oh, lawk! hark to her," cried one of the boys. "I wonder if you could shoot me, little miss?"

"Shoot you, boy?" cried Diana. "That I could. You would be shotted down dead if I was to take up my bow and use my arrow."

At last the children had finished the contents of their bowls, and rose solemnly to their feet.

"Now," said Diana, going up to Mother Bridget, "I are vedy obliged to you; you has been kind; you has gived us good supper. We'll 'scuse 'bout the stwawberries and k'eam and the milk and cake, 'cos you didn't know that the other big woman told lots of lies. And now, p'ease, we are going home. We isn't glad to go home, but we is going. P'ease tell the man to put pony to cart, and dwive us home as fast as he can."

"Yes, indeed, my little dear," said Mother Bridget; "there aint one moment to be lost. You just come inside the tent, though, first for a minute."

"I don't want to go inside that dirty tent," said Diana; "I don't like dirt. You had best not twy to take lib'ties. I is Diana, and this is Orion, and we is both very big peoples indeed."

At that moment Mother Rodesia came forward.

"They need not go into the tent," she said to the old woman; "I can manage better than that. Just you help lift 'em into the cart; it's a dark night, and there'll be no stars, and we can get off as far as----" Here she dropped her voice, and Diana could not hear the next words.

"I'm going with them," she continued, "and Jack will drive. They are exactly the kind of children Ben wants. Now then, little missy, jump in. Ah, here you are! You'll be glad of the drive, won't you?"

"When will we get back to Wectory?" asked Diana.

"In about an hour, missy."

"Come 'long, Orion," said Diana, "you sit next me. Hold my hand, poor little boy, case you is fwightened. Diana never was fwightened; that isn't her."

Orion scrambled also into the cart, and the two children huddled up close together. Mother Rodesia got in with them, and sat down at the opposite side, with her knees huddled up close to her chin. The man called Jack mounted the driver's seat, whacked the pony with two or three hard touches of his whip and away they bounded.

The night was very dark, and the cart rattled roughly, and jolted and banged the children about, but Orion felt comforted and contented after his good supper, and Diana's fat little arm felt warm round his neck, and soon his head rested on her shoulder and he was sound asleep. Not so little Diana. She sat wide awake and gazed hard at the woman, whose dark eyes were seen to flash now and then as the party jolted over the roads.

"Tell him to go k'icker," said Diana. "I must get home afore Uncle William goes to bed. Aunt Jane might beat me again, and I don't want to be beated. Tell him to go k'icker, Mother 'Odesia."

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