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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 16. Uncle Ben
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 16. Uncle Ben Post by :gademir Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2507

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 16. Uncle Ben

CHAPTER XVI. UNCLE BEN

Mother Rodesia was most kind and obliging. The pony was whipped up, and now it seemed to Diana's excited fancy that they quite flew over the road. She felt for her broken bow, which she had laid by her side, then she cuddled up closer to Orion, and whispered to herself:

"Mother 'Odesia's a good woman when all's said, done. She has gived us supper and soon we'll be home; and Uncle William won't be in bed, and he won't let c'uel Aunt Jane beat me. It's all wight; I may just as well go to s'eep, 'cos I is drefful s'eepy, and it's late. I wonder if the night will be starful, and if I'll see Orion up in the sky. Anyhow, there's no stars at pwesent, and I had best go to s'eep."

So the little girl cuddled herself up close to her brother, and soon the big dark eyes were shut, and she was happy in the land of dreams.

When this happened, Mother Rodesia softly and stealthily changed her position. She stretched out her hand and touched Jack on his arm. This seemed to have been an arranged signal, for he drew up the pony at once.

They were still under the shelter of the great woods which extended for miles over that part of the country.

"We had best begin to change their clothes now," said Mother Rodesia. "They are both as sound as nails, and I don't want the clothes to be seen by Ben, for he's safe to pawn 'em, and if he pawns 'em the police may get 'em, and then the children may be traced, and we may get into hot water."

"But, mother," said Jack, "do you dare to disturb them now when they are asleep? That young 'un with the black eyes is such a fury; seemed to me as if she was never goin' off."

"She's all right now," said Mother Rodesia. "She's just dead tired. Of course, if I had had my way, I'd have put a little of that syrup into their soup--Mother Winslow's Syrup--but Mother Bridget wouldn't have it. She took quite a fancy to the little gal, and all on account of her firing up and calling her names."

Jack laughed.

"I never seed sech a little 'un," he said, "sech a sparky little piece. Ben's in rare luck. I'd like to keep her for a sort of little sister of my own--she'd amuse me fine."

"Well, well, you aint a-goin' to have her," said Mother Rodesia. "I'm goin' to ask thirty shillin's for her and thirty shillin's for the boy. That'll be three pund--not a bad night's work; eh, Jack?"

"No," replied Jack; but then he continued after a pause, "You'll tell him, won't you, mother, to be good to the children. I wouldn't like to think that little 'un was treated cruel, and her sperit broke--she has got a fine sperit, bless her; I wouldn't like it to be broke. I don't care for the little boy. There's nothing in 'im."

"Well, stop talking now," said Mother Rodesia. "They must be missed at the Rectory by this time, and they'll be sendin' people out to look for 'em. It's a rare stroke of luck that nobody knows that we are camping in the Fairy Dell, for if they did they would be sure to come straight to us, knowin' that poor gypsies is always _supposed to kidnap children. Now, Jack, you just hold the pony as still as you can, and I'll slip the clothes off the pair of 'em."

Little Diana, in her deep sleep, was not at all disturbed when stout hands lifted her away from Orion, and when she lay stretched out flat on a large lap. One by one her clothes were untied and slipped off her pretty little body, and some very ugly, sack-like garments substituted in their place. Diana had only a dim feeling in her dreams that mother was back again, and was undressing her, and that she was very glad to get into bed. And when the same process of undressing took place on little Orion, he was still sounder asleep and still more indifferent to the fact that he was turned sometimes over on his face, and sometimes on his back, and that his pretty, dainty clothes, which his own mother had bought for him, were removed, never to be worn by him again.

"Now, then," said Mother Rodesia, when she had laid the two children back again upon the straw, "when they awake, and if Ben is not there, we must dye their faces with walnut juice; but we can't begin that now, for they are sure to howl a good bit, and if folks are near, they will hear them and come to the rescue. Jack, have you got that spade 'andy?"

The man, without a word, lifted a portion of the straw in the cart, and took out a spade.

"That's right," said the woman. "You make a deep hole under that tree, and put all the clothes in. Bury 'em well. I'll rescue 'em and pawn 'em myself when we go to the West of England in the winter, but for the present they must stay under ground. See, I'll wrap 'em up in this good piece of stout brown paper, and then perhaps they won't get much spoiled."

Jack took the little bundle (there were the soft, pretty socks, the neat little shoes, even the ribbon with which Diana's hair was tied), and twisted them all up into a bundle. Then his mother wrapped the bundle in the piece of brown paper, and gave it to him to bury.

This being done the pony was once more whipped up, and the cart proceeded at a rapid rate. They were now on the highroad, and going in the direction of a large town. The town was called Maplehurst. It was fifteen miles away from the Rectory of Super-Ashton.

Little Diana slept on and on, and the sun was beginning to send faint rays of light into the eastern sky, when at last she opened her eyes.

"Where is I?" she said with a gasp.

"With me, my little dear; you are as safe as child can be," said Mother Rodesia. "Don't you stir, my love; you are just as good as you was in your little bed. See, let me lay this rug over you."

She threw a piece of heavy tarpaulin, lined with cloth, over the child as she spoke.

Diana yawned in a comfortable manner.

"Isn't we at Wectory yet?" she asked.

"No, dear; the pony went lame, and we had to stop for a good bit on the road; but if you like to go to sleep again, you'll be there when next you wake."

"I isn't s'eepy any longer," said Diana, sitting bolt upright in the cart. "Oh, what a funny dwess I has on. Where is my nice b'ack dwess, and my pinafore, and my shoes and socks?"

"Well, dear," said Mother Rodesia, "you were so dead asleep, and the pony got that lame we couldn't stir hand nor foot, so I thought it best to put a little nightdress on you."

"But what a funny one," said Diana, gazing with curious admiration at the stout, sack-like garment.

"It's the best poor Mother Rodesia has, my dear. I'm awful poor, you know."

"Is you?" asked Diana.

"Yes, dear."

"And does you mind?" asked Diana.

"Yes, dear; 'cos when people are poor they can't get bread to eat, and then they can't get nice clothes like you, little missy. You are a very rich little gal; aint you, little dear?"

"My faver's awfu' rich," said Diana. "We used to live in a most beaut'ful house, and we had a beaut'ful garding to play in. We had animals there--lots and lots. Woman, is you fond of animals--mices and that sort?"

"Love--I just adores 'em."

"Then you _is a nice sort," answered Diana. She left her place by Orion and crept up close to the woman.

"May I sit on your lap?" she said.

Mother Rodesia made a place for her at once.

"Put your arm wound me, p'ease; I is still a teeny bit s'eepy."

"You lay your head against my breast, little love, and you'll go off into a beautiful sleep, and I'll keep you nice and warm, for hot as the days are, it's chilly in the mornin's."

"When my faver comes home I'll ask him to give you lots of money, Mother 'Odesia," said Diana.

She closed her eyes as she spoke, and in another moment was once again slumbering peacefully.

When little Diana next opened her eyes all was completely changed. She was no longer in the funny cart with the straw. Her nightdress was still on her, it is true, and there were neither shoes nor stockings on her bare feet; but she and Orion found themselves in a dirty room with a nasty smell. Both children looked at one another, and both felt cold and frightened. The broad daylight was lighting up the room, and Diana could perceive that there was scarcely any furniture in it. Her bow was also gone, and her arrow no longer hung round her neck. She clutched a firm hold of Orion's hand.

"Don't you be afeared, Orion," she said. "Don't you forget you is a big giant. Don't you forget you has got your belt and your sword."

"But I haven't, that's just it," replied Orion. "Diana, I aren't a giant, and I'm awfu' frightened."

"Where can us be?" said Diana. "What a keer room! But there's one good comfort; there isn't no aunts anywheres 'bout."

"I can't remember nothing," said Orion. "Why aren't we in bed? It's too early to get up. How have we got into this horrid little room?"

"I don't know more nor you," said Diana, "only I do know that we has got to be bwave. Don't you forget, Orion, that mother gived you your name, and that you is a giant, whether you likes it or not. Don't you forget that, and I won't forget that I is Diana, and that mother gived me my name too, and that I is the bwavest huntwess in all the world."

"But you haven't got a bow and arrow," said Orion.

Diana was silent for a moment.

"Anyhow," she said, with a little shake, "I isn't going to be fwightened. Let's sit close together, and let's think."

"Why can't we open that door and go out?" said Orion. "Why should we stay in this horrid room?"

"'Cos our foots is bare," said Diana.

"But don't let's mind that," said Orion; "let's go to the door and open it, and let's run back to Rectory. I'd rather have Aunt Jane and Miss Ramsay than this horrid room--and oh, Diana! my tumtum has got a big hole in it again."

"And mine has too," answered Diana. "I could eat a whole loaf, that I could."

"Hush!" whispered Orion; "somebody's coming. Oh, come close to me, Diana!"

"Now, you isn't to be fwightened, little boy," said Diana. "I is near you, and I isn't fwightened of nobody."

At that moment the door was flung open, and Mother Rodesia, accompanied by a tall, dark man, with a scowling face, came in.

"Mornin', little dears," said Mother Rodesia. "Now I have got something to say to you."

"P'ease, where's Wectory?" asked Diana.

"You are not going there just for the present, my dear. This man, Ben is his name--you told me last night that you were fond of uncles--you can call 'im Uncle Ben; he's very kind and very, very fond of children."

"Oh, yes! I'm very fond of children," said the man. He spoke in a gruff voice which seemed to come right from the bottom of his chest.

"And as you don't like aunts," continued Mother Rodesia, "I have brought an uncle. You can call 'im Uncle Ben; and if you do just what he says, why, you'll be as happy as the day is long."

"Look here," said the man; "you stop your talk, Rodesia. Before I makes myself an uncle to these kids I must see what sort they are. You stand up along here, little gal, and let me examine you."

Diana scrambled instantly to her feet and went straight up to the man. She gave him a keen glance from her piercing black eyes.

"What wight has you to speak to me in that sort of style?" she said. "You isn't my uncle, and I isn't going to have nothing to do with you."

"There," said Mother Rodesia; "did I say one word too much for her?"

The man burst into a loud laugh.

"No, that you didn't," he said; "and aint you frightened of me, missy?"

"Fwightened?" replied Diana; "that aren't me." She turned her back and strode back to Orion.

"'Member you is a giant," she said, in a whisper; "and giants never is fwightened."

The man laughed again.

"Well, they are a queer little pair," he said. "I tell you what it is, Rodesia Lee; I'll give you a pund apiece for 'em. Come, now; not a penny more."

Diana stared very hard indeed when these words were uttered. She had not the faintest idea what a "pund apiece" meant. Mother Rodesia seemed to consider.

"And you may think yourself in rare luck," continued the man; "for, remember, if it is known--" Here he walked to the farthest end of the room, and Mother Rodesia followed him.

"You had best close up the bargain and be quick about it," he said; "for not one penny more will you drag out of me. I'll give you a gold sov. for each of 'em, and that's as much as I can manage. They will take a sight of training, and then there's the risk."

"Very well," said Mother Rodesia, "I suppose I had best do it; only they are worth more. There's a fortune in that little gal, and whenever you are tired of her, why, there's a rich father to fall back on. I spect he would give a sight of money to have her back again. Very well, we'll agree; only, if ever you do get a fortune out of that child, Ben Holt, you might remember poor Rodesia Lee."

The man laughed and patted Mother Rodesia on her shoulder. Then the pair left the room, locking the door behind them.

"What does it all mean?" said Orion.

"I don't know," said Diana; "but I aren't fwightened; that aren't me." Her little voice shook as she spoke, and she had great difficulty in keeping the tears back from her big, black eyes.

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