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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 8. The Straw Too Much
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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 8. The Straw Too Much Post by :gademir Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1238

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A Little Mother To The Others - Chapter 8. The Straw Too Much

CHAPTER VIII. THE STRAW TOO MUCH

The crunching of wheels was heard distinctly on the gravel, and the next moment the wagonette swept into view. The horses drew up with a nourish at the front door of the pretty Rectory, and the five little Dolmans rushed forward.

"Stand back, children, and allow your cousins to get comfortably out of the carriage," called out Mrs. Dolman. "No excitement, I beg, from any of you--I have had quite enough of that already. Stand quietly just where you are. Lucy, where is Miss Ramsay?"

"Up in her room, I think, mamma. Shall I call her?"

"Not at present, although she ought to have been here. Now, Iris, get out quietly--quietly, my dear. Apollo, give me your hand, you come next; now, Diana--easy, little girl, easy--you will fall, if you jump like that."

"I think nothing of a little easy hop like that, aunt," replied Diana. She sprang from the carriage, disdaining the use of the steps. When she found herself on the gravel sweep she stood very firmly on her two fat legs and looked her five cousins all over.

"You aren't none of you much to boast," she said; "I'd wather have the animals." Then she turned her back and gazed around her at the view.

Meanwhile, Orion was being helped out of the carriage. He was also very sturdy and independent, and felt half inclined to follow Diana's spirited example; but Mrs. Dolman would not permit this. She took the youngest of the little heathen gods firmly into her arms and deposited him on the gravel.

"There you are, little boy," she said, giving him a slight shake as she did so, "and I do trust you will behave yourself."

Orion ran up to Diana and took hold of her hand. Diana took no notice of him, but continued to admire the view.

Mrs. Dolman's face was quite red. She was very tired after her long journey, and she had found the little Delaneys not the easiest traveling companions in the world. It is true that Iris had been as good as possible, but between whiles she had cried a good deal, and her sad face, and somewhat reproachful expression, seemed to hurt Mrs. Dolman even more than the really obstreperous, and at times violent, behavior of her brothers and sister; for the fact is, the other three little Delaneys had not yet got the slightest idea into their heads that they were bound to obey Mrs. Dolman. Far from this; a sudden and extreme naughtiness had taken possession of their unruly little hearts. Even Iris' gentle words had no effect on them. They hated Aunt Jane; considering her, in their heart of hearts, extremely cruel and unworthy of affection. Had she not parted them at one blow from their father, their home, their lovely garden, even from poor Fortune, who was better than nobody, and, above all, from their darling, precious pets? They had none of them been broken-hearted children when their mother died, but they all, even Iris, felt broken-hearted now. But this fact did not prevent their being extremely naughty and rebellious, and when Diana felt Orion's hand clutching hers, she whispered to him in an indignant voice:

"Come 'long, 'Rion, let's have a wun--my legs is so stiff; and, Orion, I has got the box, and we can open it when we is away by our own two selves."

"What are you talking about, little children?" questioned Mary Dolman. "You mean to run away all by yourselves. But you must do nothing of the sort. This is not the hour for running about in the open air. There is supper ready for us all in the dining room, but I think mamma would like you first to go upstairs and have your faces and hands washed. If you will follow me, I'll show you where to go."

"Thank you, Mary," said Mrs. Dolman, who had overheard her daughter. "Ann, my dear, what are you staring at me for? Go and help your cousins. Now, you four children, follow Lucy and Ann to your rooms, where my servant, Simpson, will attend upon you. Go, children, at once. If there is any naughtiness, remember I shall have to punish you severely."

"What do she mean by that?" said Diana, fixing her eyes on Mary's face. "I never did like aunts. Is she your aunt?"

"No; she is my mother," said Mary, "and you must not speak in that tone of mamma."

"I'll speak in any tone I p'ease," replied Diana. "Ise not going to be fwightened. But what do she mean by punish? Who will she punish?"

"She will punish you," replied Mary. "Were you never punished?"

"Never. I don't know what it means. Is it nasty?"

"Oh, isn't it!" said Philip, who came up at that moment. "What a lark it will be to see you punished, Diana. I wonder when your first time will come? I expect rather soon. You had best obey mamma, I can tell you, and papa too; if you don't, you'll just catch it hot."

"Boo!" replied Diana, "you is a silly boy." Then she turned to Mary. "I is awfu' tired and s'eepy," she said. "I'd like to go stwaight to bed."

"You must have supper first. Did you not hear mamma say so? Now, come along with me."

Mary held out her hand, which Diana, after a momentary hesitation, condescended to take.

Meanwhile, Ann had gone up to Iris.

"Would you not like me to show you your room, cousin?" she said; "and please, I want to say how very glad I am that you have come."

A faint tinge of delicate color came into Iris' sweet little face at these words--they were the first attempt at a real welcome she had received. She held out her hand to Ann without a word, and the Delaneys and Dolmans entered the cheerful Rectory in a body. The four little strangers, accompanied by Mary and Ann, went upstairs, where Simpson was waiting for them. Simpson was feeling very cross at the arrival of four additional children, but when she saw Diana's tired face, and the tears on Iris' pale cheeks, and the defiant, and yet baby look in Orion's bright eyes, something came over her which she could not quite account for, and she suddenly became kind and agreeable.

"Come, my dears," she said; "why, you must all be dead tired, you poor little mites. Come now--come in here. And what are your names?"

"I am Iris," replied the eldest little girl in a sweet voice.

"Iris!" repeated Simpson; "and what's your name, young master?"

"Apollo," answered the little boy, flinging back his dark head and fixing his handsome eyes upon the woman.

"My word! that's a queer sort of name--outlandish, I call it!" ejaculated Simpson. "And now, missy, I expect you are called Baby?"

"No, I aren't," replied Diana. "I is the gweat Diana; I has got a bow and arrow, and I'll shoot you if you is not kind."

"Oh, lor'! Now, missy, you would not be so cruel as that?"

"Yes, I would," replied Diana. "See this box in my hand? It's an awfu' pwecious box--it has got spiders in it and two beetles. May I put the poor darlin's loose in my room?"

Now, if Simpson had a horror, it was of spiders and beetles.

"You keep that box shut, miss," she said, "for if you dare to open it in your bedroom I'll just go straight down and tell my mistress."

"And then you'll get punished, Diana," said Mary, in her most annoying voice.

"Is you a cousin?" asked Diana, by way of reply.

"Certainly I am." Mary opened her round eyes in some astonishment.

"Is you my cousin?"

"Yes; I am your first cousin."

"First cousin," repeated Diana. She flung off her hat and threw it on the floor.

"Orion," she said, turning to her little brother, "you take good care of our pwecious box. And what is you?" she continued, raising her eyes to Simpson's face.

"Well, my dear, at the present moment I am the nurse, and ready to wash you and look after you, and make you comfortable."

"Then I wishes to say something," remarked Diana. "I wishes to say it bold, and I wishes to say it soon. I hate cousins, more 'specially first, and I hate nurses. There, now, you can go downstairs, first cousin, and tell aunt, and she can punish me. I don't care. You can tell your mamma just what you p'ease."

Diana strutted across the room, deposited her box on the washhand-stand, and then, turning round once again, began to view the company. What might have happened at that moment there is no saying, if Iris had not come to the rescue.

"Please don't mind her," she said; "she is only a very little child and she has gone through great trouble, for our mother--our own mother--she has left us, you know. Diana does not really mean to be rude. Please let me talk to her. Di, darling, come to me, come to Iris."

It was impossible to resist Iris when she spoke in that tone, and when she looked at Diana with her speaking dark eyes, and that gentle, beautiful expression on her little face, it seemed to Diana then as if the hard journey, and the pain of all the partings had never taken place at all. She rushed up to her sister, clasped her fat arms round her neck, and began to sob.

"Poor little thing, she is dreadfully tired!" said Iris. "If I might have a little bread and milk to give her, and then if she might be put to bed, I know she would fall asleep immediately and be quite herself in the morning."

"Indeed, miss, I think you are right," said Simpson, who could not help gazing at Iris with admiration. "I see you are a very kind little sister, and of course no one ought to mind the words of a mere baby. I'll take it upon me, miss, to do what you suggest, even though my missus may be angry. Oh, my word! there's the supper gong. You must go down at once, Miss Iris, you really must. I cannot answer for two of you being absent, but I will speak to Mrs. Dolman afterwards, and tell her that I just put Miss Diana straight to bed, for she was much too sleepy to go downstairs again."

"But I won't let you leave me, Iris," almost screamed Diana, tightening her arms round her sister's neck.

"Please let me stay here," said Iris. "I do not really want any supper, and I know how to manage her. She has gone through a great deal."

"Well, miss, do you dare?"

"Oh, I dare anything! I am quite positive certain Aunt Jane won't mind when I tell her my own self what I have done."

"I will tell mamma; she shan't mind," said little Ann suddenly.

Iris looked up at her and smiled--Ann smiled back at her. The hearts of the two little cousins were knit together in real love from that moment.

The gong sounded again downstairs, and this time in a distinctly angry manner. The three Dolman girls and the two Delaney boys had to hurry off as fast as they could, and then Iris undressed Diana and put her into her snug little white bed.

"I is drefful unhappy, Iris," said Diana, as she laid her head on her pillow.

"But you won't be in the morning, Diana. You'll feel brave and strong and bright in the morning, just like the dear name mother gave you."

"Oh, p'ease, p'ease, will you see that the spiders and beetles has somethin' to eat? They is so far from home, poor darlin's, and they has come a drefful long journey, and they may be deaded in the morning if nothing's not done for 'em. P'ease see to 'em; won't you, Iris?"

"Yes," replied Iris.

"Very well. Now, I'll say my pwayers and go stwaight off to s'eep. P'ease, God, b'ess Di, make her good girl. Amen. Good-night, Iris."

The next moment the little girl had gone away into the world of happy slumber and innocent dreams. She knew nothing whatever about what poor Iris, to her dismay, soon discovered, namely, that Simpson had marched off with the box which contained the spiders and beetles. That box, with its contents, was never found again. It was the straw too much, as Simpson expressed it afterwards.

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