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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 5. Aunt Is Her Name
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 5. Aunt Is Her Name Post by :FyreBrigidIce Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2967

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 5. Aunt Is Her Name

CHAPTER V. AUNT IS HER NAME

"Aunt is her name," said Diana, "and I don't think much of her."

Mrs. Dolman strode rapidly into the nursery.

"Yes, children," she said, "I am your aunt--your Aunt Jane Dolman, your father's only sister. Circumstances prevented my coming to see your father and mother for several years; but now that God has seen fit to give you this terrible affliction, and has taken your dear mother to Himself, I have arrived, determined to act a mother's part to you. I do not take the least notice of what that rude little girl says. When I have had her for a short time under my own control, she will know better. Now, one of you children, please have the politeness to offer me a chair, and then you can come up one by one and kiss me."

Iris was so much petrified that she could not stir. Diana and Orion came close together, and Diana flung her stout little arm round Orion's fat neck. Apollo, however, sprang forward and placed a chair for his aunt.

"Will you sit here, please, Aunt Jane Dolman?" he said.

"You need not say Aunt Jane Dolman," replied the lady; "that is a very stiff way of speaking. Say Aunt Jane. You can kiss me, little boy."

Apollo raised his lips and bestowed a very chaste salute upon Aunt Jane's fat cheek.

"What is your name?" said Aunt Jane, taking one of his small, hard hands in hers.

"Apollo," he replied, flinging his head back.

"Apollo! Heaven preserve us! Why, that is the name of one of the heathen deities--positively impious. What could my poor sister-in-law and your father have been thinking of? At one time I considered your father a man of sense."

Apollo flushed a beautiful rosy red.

"Please, Aunt Jane," he said, "I like my name very much indeed, and I would rather you did not say a word against it, because mother gave it to me."

"It is a name with a beautiful meaning," said Iris, coming forward at last. "How are you Aunt Jane? My name is Iris, and this is Diana, and this is Orion--both Diana and Orion are very good children indeed, and"--here her lips quivered, her earnest, brown eyes were fixed with great solicitude on her aunt's face--"I ought to know," she said, "for I am a mother to the others, and, I think, please, Aunt Jane, Orion and Diana should be going to bed now."

"I have not the slightest objection, my dear. I simply wished to see you children. I will say good-night now; we can have a further talk to-morrow. But first, before I go, let me repeat over your names, or rather you--Apollo, I think you call yourself--had better say them for me."

"That is Iris," said Apollo, pointing to his elder sister, "and I am Apollo, and that is Diana, and that is Orion."

"All four names taken from the heathen mythology," replied Aunt Jane, "and I, the wife of a good honest clergyman of the Church of England, have to listen to this nonsense. I declare it may be inconvenient--it may frighten the parishioners. I must think it well over. I have, of course, heard before of girls being called Diana, and also of girls being called Iris--but Apollo and Orion! My poor children, I am sorry for you; you are burdened for life. Good-night, good-night! You will see me again to-morrow."

The great dinner-gong sounded through the house, and Aunt Jane sailed away from the day-nursery.

"Fortune, who is she?" asked Iris, raising a pair of almost frightened eyes to the old nurse's face.

"She is your father's sister, my darling," said Fortune. "She has come on a visit, and uninvited, Peter tells me. I doubt if my master is pleased to see her. She will most likely go away in a day or two, so don't you fret, Miss Iris, love. Now, come along, Master Orion, and let me undress you. It is very late, and you ought to be in your little bed."

"I'm Orion," said the little boy, "and I'm stone blind." He began to strut up and down the nursery with his eyes tightly shut.

"Apollo, please, may I get on your shoulder for a bit, and will you lead me to that place where the first sunbeam rises in the east over the sea?"

"Come," said Fortune, in what Diana would call a "temperish" tone, "we can have no more of that ridiculous story-telling to-night. Miss Iris, you'll ask them to be good, won't you?"

"Yes. Children, do be good," said Iris, in her earnest voice.

Diana trotted up to her sister and took her hand.

"I has something most 'portant to tell you," she said, in a low whisper. "It's an awfu' sorrow, but you ought to know."

"What is it, Di?"

"Rub-a-Dub has got deaded."

"Rub-a-Dub?"

"Yes; it is quite true. I found him stark dead and stiff. I has put him in the dead-house."

Iris said nothing.

"And he is to have a public funeral, isn't he?" said Diana, "and a beautiful insipcron. Do say he is, and let us have the funeral to-morrow."

"I am awfully sorry," said Iris, then; "I did love Rub-a-Dub. Yes, Di; I'll think it over. We can meet after breakfast in the dead-house and settle what to do."

"There are to be a lot of funerals to-morrow--I'm so glad," said Diana, with a chuckle.

She followed Orion into the night-nursery. He was still walking with his eyes tightly shut and went bang up against his bath, a good portion of which he spilt on the floor. This put both Fortune and the under-nurse, Susan, into a temper, and they shook him and made him cry, whereupon Diana cried in concert, and poor Iris felt a great weight resting on her heart.

"It is awfully difficult to be a mother to them all," she thought. "The usual kind of things don't seem to please them. Apollo, what is the matter? What are you thinking of?"

"I'm only wishing that I might be the real Apollo," said the boy, "and that I might get quite far away from here. Things are different here now that mother has gone, Iris. I don't like Aunt Jane Dolman a bit."

"Oh, well, she is our aunt, so I suppose it is wrong not to like her," answered Iris.

"I can't help it," replied Apollo. "I have a feeling that she means to make mischief. Why did she come here without being asked? Iris, shall we go down to dessert to-night, or not?"

"I would much rather not," answered Iris.

"But father likes us to go. It is the only time in the day when he really sees us. I think, perhaps, we ought to get dressed and be ready to go down."

"I will if you think so, Apollo; but I am very tired and sleepy."

"Well, I really do. We must not shirk things if we are to be a bit what mother wants us to be; and now that Aunt Jane has come, poor father may want us worse than ever."

"I never thought of that," replied Iris. "I'll run and get dressed at once, Apollo."

She flew away into a tiny little room of her own, which opened into the night-nursery.

"Susan," she called out, "will you please help me to put on my after-dinner frock?"

"You have only a white dress to wear this evening, miss; your new black one has not come home yet."

"A white one will be all right," replied Iris.

"Oh, dear me, miss! and your poor mother only a week dead."

"I wish, Susan, you would not talk of mother as dead," answered Iris. "I don't think of her like that a bit. She is in Heaven; she has gone up the golden stairs, and she is quite well and ever so happy, and she won't mind my wearing a white dress, more particular if I want to comfort father. Please help me on with it and then brush out my hair."

Iris had lovely hair--it was of a deep, rich chestnut, and it curled and curled, and waved and waved in rich profusion down her back. When Susan had brushed it, and taken the tangles out, it shone like burnished gold. Her pretty white frock was speedily put on, and she ran out of her little room to join Apollo, who, in his black velvet suit, looked very picturesque and handsome.

Not long afterwards the little pair, taking each other's hands, ran down the broad, white marble stairs and entered the big dining room. They looked almost lost in the distance when they first appeared, for the table at which Mr. Delaney and Mrs. Dolman sat was far away in a bay window at the other end of the stately apartment.

"Hullo, children! so there you are!" called their father's voice to them. He had never been better pleased to see them in all his life, and the note of welcome in his tones found an answering echo in Iris' loving little heart.

They both tripped eagerly up the room and placed themselves one on each side of him, while Iris slipped her hand into his.

"Well, my chicks, I am right glad to see you," he said.

"Perhaps, David, you will remember how disgracefully late it is," said Mrs. Dolman. "Children, I must frankly say that I am _not pleased to see you. What are you doing up at this hour?"

"We have come to keep father company," said Apollo, fixing his flashing black eyes, with a distinctly adverse expression in them, on his aunt's face.

"In my day," continued Aunt Jane complacently, helping herself to strawberries, "the motto was: 'Little boys should be seen and not heard.' To-night, of course, I make allowances; but things will be different presently. David, you surely are not giving those children wine?"

"Oh, they generally have a little sip each from my port," said Mr. Delaney; "it does not do them any harm."

"You may inculcate a taste," said Mrs. Dolman, in a very solemn voice. "In consequence of that little sip, which appears so innocent, those children may grow up drunkards. Early impressions! Well, all I can say is this--when they come to live at the Rectory they will have to be teetotalers. In my house we are all teetotalers. My husband and I both think that we cannot have proper influence on the parishioners unless we do ourselves what we urge them to do."

Iris and Apollo both listened to these strange words with fast-beating hearts. What did they mean? Mrs. Dolman spoke of when they were to live at the Rectory. What rectory? She spoke of a time when they were to live with her. Oh, no; she must be mistaken. Nothing so perfectly awful could be going to happen.

Nevertheless, Iris could scarcely touch her wine, and she pushed aside the tempting macaroon which Mr. Delaney had slipped on to her plate. She found it impossible to eat.

Apollo, after a moment's hesitation, attacked his wine and swallowed his biscuit manfully; but even he had not his usual appetite.

After a short pause, Iris gave a gentle sigh and put both her arms round her father's neck.

"I am tired, father; I should like to go to bed."

"And I want to go too," said Apollo.

"Those are the first sensible remarks I have heard from either of the children," said Mrs. Dolman. "I should think they are dead tired for want of sleep, poor little mites. Good-night, both of you. When you come to live with me--ah! I see you are astonished; but we will talk of that pleasant little scheme to-morrow. Good-night to you both."

"Good-night, Aunt Jane," said Iris.

"Good-night, Aunt Jane," said Apollo.

"Good-night to you both, my pets," said Mr. Delaney.

Iris gave her father a silent hug, Apollo kissed him on the forehead--a moment later the little pair left the room. As soon as ever they had done so, Mrs. Dolman turned to her brother.

"Now then, David," she said, "you have got to listen to me; we may just as well settle this matter out of hand. I must return home on Thursday--and this is Tuesday evening. It will be impossible for you to stay on here with those four children and no one responsible to look after them. You appear half dead with grief and depression, and you want a thorough change. The place is going to rack and ruin. Your rent-roll, how much is it?"

"About fifteen thousand pounds a year--quite enough to keep me out of anxiety," said Mr. Delaney, with a grim smile.

"It ought to be twenty thousand a year--in our father's time it was quite that. No doubt you let your farms too cheap; and so much grass round the house is disgraceful. Now, if I had the management--"

"But you see you have not, Jane," said Mr. Delaney. "The property happens to belong to me."

"That is true, and I have a great deal too much on my mind to worry myself about Delaney Manor; but, of course, it is the old place, and you are my only brother, and I am anxious to help you in your great affliction. When you married you broke off almost all connection with me, but now--now I am willing to overlook the past. Do you, or do you not, intend those children to run wild any longer? Even though they are called after heathen idols they are flesh and blood, and it is to be hoped that some religious influence may be brought to bear on them. At the present moment, I conclude that they have none whatever."

"I never saw better children," said Mr. Delaney; "their mother brought them up as no one else could. In my opinion, they are nearly perfect."

"You talk nonsense of that kind because you are blinded by your fatherly affection. Now, let me assure you, in full confidence, that I never came across more neglected and more utterly absurd little creatures. Good-looking they are--you are a fine-looking man yourself, and your wife was certainly pretty--the children take after you both. I have nothing to say against their appearance; but they talk utter gibberish; and as to that eldest little girl, if she is not given something sensible to occupy her I cannot answer for the consequence. My dear David, I don't want to interfere with your estate."

"You could not, Jane; I would not permit it."

"But with regard to the children, I really have experience. I have five children of my own, and I think, if you were to see them, you would be well assured that Iris and Diana, Apollo and Orion would do well to take example by them. We might change the names of the boys and give them titles not quite so terrible."

"I wish them to be called by the names their mother chose," said Mr. Delaney, with great firmness.

"Well, I suppose the poor children will live it down, but they will have a terrible time at school. However, they are too young for anything of that kind at present. Give me the children, David, and I will act as a mother to them; then pack up your belongings, put your estate into the hands of a good agent, and go abroad for some years."

"It would be an untold relief," said Mr. Delaney.

At that moment the door was opened, and the butler appeared with the evening post on a salver. Mr. Delaney laid the letters languidly by his plate.

"Shall we go into the drawing room, Jane?" he said.

Mrs. Dolman rose briskly.

"I shall retire early to bed," she said. "Read your letters, please, David; you need not stand on ceremony with me."

Mr. Delaney looked over his post; then his eyes lighted up as he saw the handwriting on one of the envelopes. He opened the letter in question, which immediately interested him vastly. It happened to be from an old friend, and certainly seemed to come at an opportune moment. This friend was about to start on an expedition to the Himalayas, and he begged his old fellow-traveler to go with him. His long letter, the enthusiastic way he wrote, the suggestions he threw out of possible and exciting adventures came just at the nick of time to the much-depressed and weary man.

"Why, I declare, Jane," he said, "this does seem to come opportunely." He walked over to where his sister was standing, and read a portion of the letter aloud. "If I might venture to trust my darlings to you," he said, "there is nothing in all the world I should like better than to accompany Seymour to the Himalayas. He starts in a fortnight's time, so there really is not a day to lose."

"Then, David," said Mrs. Dolman, "you will not allow this valuable opportunity to slip--you will trust your children to me. I assure you I will do my duty by them." She spoke with real sincerity, and tears absolutely dimmed her bright eyes. "David," she continued, "that letter seems a Providence; you will act upon it."

"It certainly does," said the man; "but, Jane, you will be good to the children--tender, I mean. Their mother has always been very gentle to them."

"You need not question me as to how I will treat them. I will bring them up as I would my own. I will do my utmost to rear them in the fear of God. David, this clinches the matter. Write to Mr. Seymour by this night's post."

Mr. Delaney promised to do so, and soon afterwards Mrs. Dolman, feeling that she had done a very good and excellent work, retired, in a thoroughly happy frame of mind, to her bedroom.

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