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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 6. The Poor Dead 'Uns
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 6. The Poor Dead 'Uns Post by :gademir Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1856

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 6. The Poor Dead 'Uns


Mr. Delaney's bedroom faced east, and the following morning, at a very early hour, he began to have most unpleasant dreams. He thought a hobgoblin was seated on his chest, and several brownies were pulling him where he did not wish to go, and finally that a gnome of enormous dimensions was dragging him into a dark cavern, where he could never again behold the daylight. At last, in great perturbation, he opened his dazed eyes. The sight he saw seemed at first to be a continuation of his dream, but after a moment or two he discovered that the person who had become possessed of his chest was a small boy of the name of Orion, that a little black-eyed girl called Diana had comfortably ensconced herself on his knees, and that Iris and Apollo were seated one at each side of his pillow. The four children had all climbed up on to the big bedstead, and were gazing attentively at him.

"He is opening his eyes," said Orion, "he'll be all right after a minute or two. Don't hurry up, father; we can wait."

"We can wait quite well, father," said Diana; "and it's very comf'able on your knees; they is so flat."

"We are awfully sorry to disturb you, father," said Iris.

"But we can't help it, because it's most solemnly important," said Apollo.

"So it seems," remarked Mr. Delaney, when he could at last find a voice. "You have all subjected me to a terrible dream. I am really glad that I have awakened and find that the hobgoblins, and gnomes, and brownies are no less little people than my own four children. But why am I to be disturbed at such a very early hour?"

"If you like, father," said Diana, "we'll pull up all the blinds; then the hot, blazin' sun will come in, and you'll see that it's not early at all; it's late."

Mr. Delaney happened to glance at a clock which stood on the mantelpiece exactly facing the big bed.

"I read on the face of that clock," he said, "that the hour is half-past five. Now, what have you four little children to do, sitting on my bed at half-past five in the morning?"

When Mr. Delaney said this he shook himself slightly and upset Diana's balance, and made Orion choke with silent laughter. Iris and Apollo gazed at him gravely.

"We all made up our minds to do it," said Iris. "We have come to ask you to make a promise, father."

"A promise, my dear children! But you might have waited until the usual hour for getting up. What are you going to wring from me at this inclement moment?"

"I don't exactly know what inclement moment means," said Iris, "but I do know, and so does Apollo--"

"And so do I know all about it," shouted Diana. "You see, father," continued the little girl, who spoke rather more than any of the other children, "we has to think of the poor innocents, and the birds and the mice, and the green frogs, and our puppy, and our pug dog, and our--and our--" Here she fairly stammered in her excitement.

"Has a sudden illness attacked that large family?" said Mr. Delaney. "Please, children, explain yourselves, for if you are not sleepy, I am."

"Yes, father," said Iris, "we can explain ourselves quite easily. The thing is this--we don't want to go away."

"To go away? My dear children, what do you mean?" But as Mr. Delaney spoke he had a very uncomfortable memory of a letter which he had posted with his own hands on the previous evening.

"Yes," said Apollo; "we don't want to go away with her."

"And we don't wish for no aunts about the place," said Diana, clenching her little fist, and letting her big, black eyes flash.

"Now I begin to see daylight," said Mr. Delaney. "So you don't like poor Aunt Jane?"

"Guess we don't," said Orion. "She comed in last night and she made an awful fuss, and she didn't like me 'cos I'm Orion, and 'cos I'm a giant, and 'cos sometimes I has got no eyes. Guess she's afraid of me. I thought her a silly sort of a body."

"She's an aunt, and that's enough," said Diana. "I don't like no aunts; they are silly people. I want her to go."

"Apollo and I brought the two younger children," continued Iris, "because we thought it best for us all to come. It is not Aunt Jane being here that is so dreadful to me, and so very, very terrible to Apollo," she continued. "It's what she said, father, that we--we were to go away, away from the house and the garden--the garden where mother used to be, and the house where the angel came to fetch mother away--and we are to live with her. She spoke, father, as if it was settled; but it is not true, is it? Tell us, father, that it is not true."

"My poor little children!" said the father. His own ruddy and sunburnt face turned absolutely pale; there was a look in his eyes which Diana could not in the least understand, nor could Orion, and which even Apollo only slightly fathomed; but one glance told Iris the truth.

"When I am away you are to be a mother to the others," seemed at that moment to echo her mother's own voice in her ear. She gulped down a great sob in her throat, and stretching herself by her father's side she put one soft arm round his neck.

"Never mind if it is _really settled," she said. "I will try hard to bear it."

"You are about the bravest little darling in the world," said Mr. Delaney.

"What are you talking about, Iris?" cried Apollo, clutching his sister by her long hair as she spoke. "You say that you will try and bear it, and that father is not to mind? But father must mind. If I go to Aunt Jane Dolman's, why--why, it will kill me." And the most beautiful of all the heathen gods cast such a glance of scorn at his parent at that moment that Mr. Delaney absolutely quailed.

"For goodness' sake, Apollo, don't eat me up," he said. "The fact is this, children; I may as well have the whole thing out. Aunt Jane came last night and took me by surprise. I have been very lonely lately, and you know, you poor little mites, you cannot be left to the care of Fortune. She is a very good soul, but you want more than her to look after you, and then Miss Stevenson--I never did think her up to much."

"Father," said Apollo, "you have no right to abuse our spiritual pastors and masters."

Notwithstanding his heathenish name, it will be seen by this remark that some of his time was occupied learning the church catechism.

"I stand corrected, my son," said Mr. Delaney, "or, rather, at the present moment, I lie corrected. Well, children, the truth must out--Aunt Jane took me by surprise. She promises she will look after you and be a mother to you."

"We don't want no other mother, now that our own mother is gone, except Iris," said Apollo. "We won't have Aunt Jane for a mother."

"She is a howid old thing, and I hate aunts," said Diana.

"Well, children, I am very sorry for you, but it is too late to do anything now. The whole thing is arranged. I hope you will try to be good, and also to be happy with Aunt Jane. You won't find her half bad when you get to know her better, and of course I won't be very long away, and when I come back again--"

"Please don't say any more, father," interrupted Iris. She slipped off the bed and stood very pale and still, looking at her father with eyes which, notwithstanding all her efforts, were full of reproach.

"Come, children," she said to the others, "let poor father have his sleep out. It is quite early, father, and--and we understand now."

"Do say you are not angry with me, you dear little kids. I would not hurt you for the whole world."

"Of course we are not angry, father," said Iris. She bent slowly forward and kissed her father on his forehead. "Go to sleep, father; we are sorry we woke you so early."

"Yes, father, go to s'eep," echoed Diana. "I underland all 'bout it. You won't have no hobgoblins now to dweam about, for I has got off your knees. They was lovely and flat, and I didn't mind sitting on them one bit."

"All the same, Diana, I am obliged to you for getting off," said Mr. Delaney, "for I was beginning to get quite a terrible cramp, to say nothing of my sensations at having this giant Orion planting himself on my chest. I will have a long talk with you all, darlings, in the course of the day, and I do hope you won't be very unhappy with your Aunt Jane Dolman."

"We'll be mis'ble, but it can't be helped," said Diana. "I never did like aunts, and I'm never going to, what's more. Come 'long now, sildrens. It's a gweat nuisance getting up so early, particular when father can't help hisself. Can you, father? Go to s'eep now, father. Come 'long this minute, back to bed, sildrens."

Diana looked really worthy of her distinguished name as she strode down the passage and returned to the night-nursery. She and Orion slipped into their respective little cots and lay down without waking either Fortune or Susan, who slept in beds at the opposite side of the room. Iris and Apollo also returned to their beds, and presently Apollo dropped asleep, for, though he had an alarming temper, his fits of passion never lasted long. But Iris did not close her bright brown eyes again that morning. She lay awake, full of troubled thoughts--thoughts far too old for her tender years.

It was one of Fortune's fads never on any occasion to awaken a sleeping child, and as the other children slept rather longer than usual after their early waking, breakfast was in consequence full half an hour late in the day-nursery that morning. At last, however, it was finished. No special lessons had been attended to since mother had gone away to the angels, and the children, snatching up their hats, rushed off as fast as possible to the garden. When they got there they all four breathed freely. This at least was their own domain--their fairyland, their country of adventure. From here they could travel to goodness only knew where--sometimes to the stars with bright Apollo and brave Orion--sometimes to happy hunting fields with Diana, the goddess of the chase, and sometimes they might even visit the rainbow, with sweet Iris as their companion.

There never were happier children than these four in that lovely, lovely beyond words, garden. When the children went into it, it seemed as if an additional ray of sunshine had come out to fill all the happy world with light and love and beauty. The bees hummed more industriously than ever, the flowers opened their sweet eyes and gazed at the children, the animals came round them in a group.

On this special morning, however, Diana's dear little face looked very grave and full of business.

"It's most 'citing," she said. "'Fore we does anything else we must 'tend to the funerals--there is such a lot of dead 'uns to bury this morning. Come 'long to the dead-house at once, Iris."

"I must smell the Scotch roses first," answered Iris.

"You can do that afterwards, can't you? There's poor Rub-a-Dub. We has to 'cide whether he is to have a public or a pwivate funeral, or whether he is just to be sewn up in dock leaves, and put into the gwound p'omisc's."

Diana had a great facility for taking up long words, which she always used in the most matter-of-fact style, not in the least caring how she pronounced them.

The other children could not help laughing at her now, and the four hurried off as fast as they possibly could to the dead-house.

This unpleasantly named abode was in reality a pretty little shed in one corner of the old garden. It contained a door with lock and key, a nice little window, and everything fitted up for the keeping of tools and carpenters' implements. Long ago, however, the children decided that here the dead animals of all sorts and species were to be kept until the solemn moment of interment.

Iris looked just as grave as the others when she unlocked the door of the dead-house now, and they all entered. The dead 'uns were decently laid out on a shelf, just in front of the public view. There was a dead bee, and two butterflies; there were two dead worms and a dead toad; also three or four beetles in different stages of decomposition, and a terribly crushed spider--and solemnly lying in the midst of his dead brethren lay Rub-a-Dub, the precious and dearly loved piebald mouse.

"They look beautiful, poor darlin's," said Diana; "they will most fill up the cemetery. Now please, Iris, which is to have a public funeral?"

"Of course Rub-a-Dub must," answered Iris. "As to the others--"

"Don't you think that poor toad, Iris?" said Diana, wrinkling up her brows, and gazing anxiously at her sister. "The toad seems to me to be rather big to have only a pwivate funeral. We could scarcely get dock leaves enough."

"We must try," answered Iris; "the toad must be buried privately with the others. We always make it a rule--don't you remember, Di--only to give public funerals to our own special pets."

"All wight," answered Diana. She was very easily brought round to accept Iris' view. In her heart of hearts she considered Iris' verdict like the laws of the Medes and Persians--something which could not possibly be disputed.

"Run, Orion!" she said; "be quick, and fetch as many dock leaves as possible. I will thread a needle so as to sew up the poor dead 'uns in their coffins. We must get through the pwivate funerals as quick as possible this morning, and then we'll be weady for poor Rub-a-Dub."

"Rub-a-Dub is to be buried exactly at eleven o'clock," said Iris.

"We'll all wear mourning, course?" asked Diana.

"Yes; black bows."

"And are the dogs and the other animals to wear mourning?"

"Black bows," repeated Iris.

"That is most lovely and 'citing," said Diana.

Orion left the dead-house, and presently returned with a great pile of dock leaves. Then the children sat down on the floor and began to sew coffins for the different dead 'uns. They were accustomed to the work and did it expeditiously and well. When all the poor dead 'uns were supplied with coffins they were carried in a tray across the garden to the far-famed cemetery. Here they were laid in that part of the ground apportioned to private funerals. Apollo made small holes with his spade, and each dead 'un in his small coffin was returned to mother earth. The ground was immediately covered over, and Apollo trampled on it with his feet. He did this on the present occasion with right good will. "I'll be rather glad when the funerals are over," he said, looking at Iris as he spoke, "for I want to get on with my ship. I have got hold of some canvas the gardener brought me from town, and I really believe I may be able to make a funnel and a place for boiling water. You would like to see my ship when it is afloat; would you not, Iris?"

"Yes; very much indeed," answered Iris.

"I call ships stupid," said Diana. "I don't see no use in 'em. Now, do let us hurry back. Poor Rub-a-Dub will be so lonely."

"It's you who is silly now," said Orion. "You know Rub-a-Dub can't feel; don't you, Di?"

"I know nothing 'bout it," said Diana. "I want to hurry back to get his beautiful public funeral weady. Now, look here, 'Rion; will you go into the house to steal the cotton wool, or shall I?"

"What is that I hear?" said a voice which seemed to come from right over the children's heads.

They all looked up in alarm, to see Aunt Jane Dolman and their father standing close by. Mr. Delaney wore an amused, and Aunt Jane a scared expression.

"What were you saying, little girl?" she continued, taking Diana by her arm and giving her a slight shake; "that you wished to _steal something?"

"Yes; some cotton wool," said Diana; "it's most 'portant; it's for a public funeral."

Mrs. Dolman turned her round black eyes on her brother. Horror was expressed in each movement of her face.

"My dear Jane," he said, _sotto voce_, "there are several things which these children do which will astonish you very much. Don't you think you had better give up the scheme?"

"Not I, David," she replied. "The more I see of the poor neglected mites the more I long to rescue them from evident destruction."

He shook his head and looked with some pity at Iris.

"Shall Orion go to steal the cotton wool?" repeated Diana, who looked as if it was impossible for anyone in this world to terrify her in the very least.

"If it must be stolen, and if you ask me," said Mr. Delaney, "perhaps Orion may as well be the thief as anyone else. In the old times of the heathen deities I believe they did now and then stoop to that small crime."

"David, it is appalling to hear you speak," said Mrs. Dolman. "Orion, I hate to pronounce your name, but listen to me, little boy. I forbid you to go if you are bent on theft."

"But I must go," said Orion. "Poor Rub-a-Dub must be buried, and I must have a box for his coffin and cotton wool to lay him in."

"See here, Orion," said the father; "where do you get the cotton wool?"

"We gen'ly get it from Fortune's box in the night-nursery," replied Orion.

"And you steal it?"

"Oh, yes; she would make _such a fuss if we asked her for some. We always steal it for public funerals."

"Well, on this occasion, and to spare your aunt's feelings, tell Fortune that I desire her to give you some.

"Now, Jane," continued Mr. Delaney, "as you are here, and as I am here, we may both of us as well witness this ceremony. The children are fond of doing all honor to their pets, even after the supreme moment of dissolution. Shall we witness this public funeral?"

Mrs. Dolman looked wonderfully inclined to say "No," but as her object now was to humor her brother as far as possible, she agreed very unwillingly to wait.

Accordingly he and she began to pace up and down the lovely garden, and soon, in the interest which the sight of the unforgotten playground of her youth excited within her, her brow cleared, and she became pleasant and even talkative. The two were in the midst of a very interesting conversation, and were pacing up and down not far from the summer-house, when Orion's clear voice was heard. "The public funeral is going to begin," he shouted, "so you had best come along if you want to see it. If you don't, Diana and me, and Apollo and Iris--why, we don't care."

"Oh, we'll come, you rude little body," said his father, laughing and chuckling as he spoke. "You mark my words, Jane," he continued, "you will have a handful with those children."

"Oh, I'll manage them," said Mrs. Dolman. "I have not lived my thirty-five years for nothing; they certainly need managing, poor little spoilt creatures."

They both hurried to the cemetery, where Apollo was standing, having dug a grave nearly a foot deep, and large enough to hold a square cardboard box. He stood leaning on his spade now, his hat pushed off, his handsome little face slightly flushed with the exercise, his eyes full of a sort of gloomy defiance. But now the funeral procession was coming on apace. Orion's mouth was much puffed out because he was blowing vigorously on his Jew's harp, Diana followed him beating a little drum, and Iris, with long black ribbons fastened to her flowing chestnut locks, was walking behind, carrying the tiny coffin. Iris, as she walked, rang an old dinner bell in a very impressive manner, and also sang a little dirge to the accompaniment of the bell and the two other children's music. These were the words Iris sang:

"Ding-a-dong, Rub-a-Dub's dead;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub.
Sleep well in your little bed;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub.

"We'll put a stone at your head and your feet;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub.
And you shall sleep very sound and sweet;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub.
And you'll never know fear any more;
Little dear;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub."

Iris was a poet on occasions, and she had made up these impressive lines in great haste while the other children were arranging minor details of the funeral.

As the mourning party approached the open grave, Apollo came forward and dropped on his knees. The coffin was supplied with strings of white satin ribbon, and was lowered with great solemnity into the grave. Then the four mourners stood over it and each of them sang the last words of Iris' poem:

"And you'll never know fear any more,
Little dear;
Good-by, Rub-a-Dub."

The moment this was over flowers were strewn upon the box, and Apollo with great vigor began to shovel in the earth.

"Make a nice high mound," said Diana; "let it look as like a weal gwave as possible." Then she turned eagerly to her sister. "When are we to see about making the tombstone for the head and the feet?" she asked.

"We'll talk it over this evening," answered Iris.

It may here be noted that none of the four mourners took the slightest notice of Mr. Delaney or of Mrs. Dolman. To them it was as if these two grown-up spectators did not exist--they were all lost in their own intensely important world.

"Well," said Mrs. Dolman, as she turned away with her brother, "of all the heathenish and wicked nonsense that I was ever permitted to witness, this beats everything. It is a right good thing--yes, I will say it frankly, David--that you are going abroad, and that your benighted children are handed over to me. When you come back in a year or two--I assure you, my dear brother, I do not wish to hurry you--but when you come back in a few years you will see, please Providence, very different children waiting to welcome you."

"Well, Jane," said David Delaney, "I have arranged to give the children to you, and I hope to Heaven I am doing right; but do not spoil them whatever you do, for to me and to their sainted mother they were ever the sweetest little quartette that breathed the breath of life." Mr. Delaney's eyes filled with sudden tears as he said these words. "Good-by, Rub-a-Dub," he whispered as he left the garden. "Yes, there are many good-bys in the air just now."

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