L.T. Meade.

A Little Mother to the Others online

. (page 1 of 17)
Online LibraryL.T. MeadeA Little Mother to the Others → online text (page 1 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Lenna Knox, Juliet Sutherland, Sankar
Viswanathan, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
at http://www.pgdp.net

A Little Mother to
the Others






































The four children had rather peculiar names. The eldest girl was
called Iris, which, as everybody ought to know, means rainbow - indeed,
there was an Iris spoken of in the old Greek legends, who was supposed
to be Hera's chief messenger, and whenever a rainbow appeared in the
sky it was said that Iris was bringing down a message from Hera. The
Iris of this story was a very pretty, thoughtful little girl, aged ten
years. Her mother often talked to her about her name, and told her the
story which was associated with it. The eldest boy was called Apollo,
which also is a Greek name, and was supposed at one time to belong to
the most beautiful boy in the world. The next girl was called Diana,
and the youngest boy's name was Orion.

When this story opens, Iris was ten years old, Apollo nine, Diana six,
and little Orion five. They were like ordinary children in appearance,
being neither particularly handsome nor particularly the reverse; but
in their minds and ways, in their habits and tastes, they seemed to
have inherited a savor of those far-off beings after whom their mother
had called them. They were, in short, very unworldly children - that
does not mean that they were specially religious - but they did not
care for fine clothes, nor the ordinary amusements which ordinary
children delight in. They loved flowers with a love which was almost a
passion, and they also knew a great deal about the stars, and often
coaxed their mother to allow them to sit up late at night to watch the
different constellations; but above all these things they adored, with
a great adoration, the entire animal kingdom.

It so happened that the little Delaneys spent the greater part of
their time in a beautiful garden. I don't think, in all the course of
my wanderings, I ever saw a garden quite to compare to that in which
their early days were spent. Even in the winter they lived the greater
part of their time here, being hardy children and never catching cold.
The house was a fine and beautiful building, having belonged to their
family for several generations, but the children thought nothing at
all of that in comparison with the garden. Here, when possible, they
even had their lessons; here they played all their wonderful and
remarkable games; here they went through their brief sorrows, and
tasted their sweetest joys. But I must hasten to describe the garden
itself. In the first place, it was old-fashioned, having very high
brick walls covered all over with fruit trees. These fruit trees had
grown slowly, and were now in the perfection of their prime. Never
were such peaches to be seen, nor such apricots, nor such cherries, as
ripened slowly on the red brick walls of the old garden. Inside the
walls almost all well-known English flowers flourished in lavish
profusion. There was also fruit to be found here in quantities. Never
were such strawberries to be seen as could be gathered from those
great strawberry beds. Then the gooseberries with which the old bushes
were laden; the currants, red, black, and white; the raspberries, had
surely their match nowhere else on this earth.

The walled-in garden contained quite five acres of ground, and was
divided itself into three portions. In the middle was the flower
garden proper. Here there was a long, straight walk which led to an
arbor at the bottom. The children were particularly fond of this
arbor, for their father had made it for them with his own hands, and
their mother had watched its growth. Mrs. Delaney was very delicate at
the time, and as she looked on and saw the pretty arbor growing into
shape, she used to lean on Iris' arm and talk to her now and then in
her soft, low voice about the flowers and the animals, and the happy
life which the little people were leading. At these moments a look
would often come into her mother's gentle eyes which caused Iris'
heart to beat fast, and made her tighten her clasp on the slender arm.
Then, when the arbor was quite finished, Mr. Delaney put little seats
into it, a rustic chair for each child, which he or she could take in
or out at pleasure. The chairs were carved in commemoration of each
child's name. Iris had the deep purple flowers which go by that name
twined round and round the back of hers. Apollo's chair was made
memorable with his well-known lyre and bow, and these words were
carved round it: "The golden lyre shall be my friend, the bent bow my
delight, and in oracles will I foretell the dark future."

Diana's chair had a bow and quiver engraved on the back, while little
Orion's represented a giant with a girdle and a sword. The children
were very proud of their chairs, and often talked of them to one
another, and Iris, who was the story-teller of the party, was never
tired of telling the stories of the great originals after whom she and
her brothers and sister were named.

Down the straight path which led to the pretty arbor were Scotch
roses, red and white. The smell of these roses in the summer was quite
enough to ravish you. Iris in particular used to sniff at them and
sniff at them until she felt nearly intoxicated with delight.

The central garden, which was mostly devoted to flowers, led through
little, old-fashioned, somewhat narrow postern doors into the fruit
gardens on either side. In these were the gooseberries. Here were to
be found the great beds of strawberries; here, by-and-by, ripened the
plums and the many sorts of apples and pears; here, too, were the
great glass houses where the grapes assumed their deep claret color
and their wonderful bloom; and here also were some peculiar and
marvelous foreign flowers, such as orchids, and many others.

Whenever the children were not in the house they were to be found in
the garden, for, in addition to the abundance of fruit and vegetables,
it also possessed some stately trees, which gave plenty of shade even
when the sun was at its hottest. Here Iris would lie full length on
her face and hands, and dream dreams to any extent. Now and then also
she would wake up with a start and tell marvelous stories to her
brothers and sister. She told stories very well, and the others always
listened solemnly and begged her to tell more, and questioned and
argued, and tried to make the adventures she described come really
into their own lives.

Iris was undoubtedly the most imaginative of all the little party.
She was also the most gentle and the most thoughtful. She took most
after her beautiful mother, and thought more than any of the others of
the peculiar names after which they were all called.

On a certain day in the first week of a particularly hot and lovely
June, Iris, who had been in the house for some time, came slowly out,
swinging her large muslin hat on her arm. Her face looked paler than
usual, and somewhat thoughtful.

"Here you are at last, Iris," called out Diana, in her brisk voice,
"and not a moment too soon. I have just found a poor innocent dead on
the walk; you must come and look at it at once."

On hearing these words, the gloom left Iris' face as if by magic.

"Where is it?" she asked. "I hope you did not tread on it, Diana."

"No; but Puff-Ball did," answered Diana. "Don't blame him, please,
Iris; he is only a puppy and always up to mischief. He took the poor
innocent in his mouth and shook it; but I think it was quite deaded
before that."

"Then, if it is dead, it must be buried," said Iris solemnly. "Bring
it into the arbor, and let us think what kind of funeral we will give

"Why not into the dead-house at once?" queried Diana.

"No; the arbor will do for the present."

Iris quickened her footsteps and walked down the straight path through
the midst of the Scotch roses. Having reached the pretty little
summer-house, she seated herself on her rustic chair and waited until
Diana arrived with the poor innocent. This was a somewhat unsightly
object, being nothing more nor less than a dead earthworm which had
been found on the walk, and which Diana respected, as she did all live
creatures, great or small.

"Put it down there," said Iris; "we can have a funeral when the sun is
not quite so hot."

"I suppose it will have a private funeral," said Apollo, who came into
the summer-house at that moment. "It is nothing but a poor innocent,
and not worth a great deal of trouble; and I do hope, Iris," he added
eagerly, "that you will not expect me to be present, for I have got
some most important chemical experiments which I am anxious to go on
with. I quite hope to succeed with my thermometer to-day, and, after
all, as it is only a worm - - "

Iris looked up at him with very solemn eyes.

"_Only_ a worm," she repeated. "Is _that_ its fault, poor thing?"
Apollo seemed to feel the indignant glance of Iris' brown eyes. He sat
down submissively on his own chair. Orion and Diana dropped on their
knees by Iris' side. "I think," said Iris slowly, "that we will give
this poor innocent a simple funeral. The coffin must be made of dock
leaves, and - - "

Here she was suddenly interrupted - a shadow fell across the entrance
door of the pretty summer-house. An elderly woman, with a thin face
and lank, figure, looked in.

"Miss Iris," she said, "Mrs. Delaney is awake and would be glad to see

"Mother!" cried Iris eagerly. She turned at once to her sister and
brothers. "The innocent must wait," she said. "Put it in the
dead-house with the other creatures. I will attend to the funeral in
the evening or to-morrow. Don't keep me now, children."

"But I thought you had just come from mother," said Apollo.

"No. When I went to her she was asleep. Don't keep me, please." The
woman who had brought the message had already disappeared down the
long straight walk. Iris took to her heels and ran after her.
"Fortune," she said, looking into her face, "is mother any better?"

"As to that, Miss Iris, it is more than I can tell you. Please don't
hold on to my hand, miss. In hot weather I hate children to cling to

Iris said nothing more, but she withdrew a little from Fortune's side.

Fortune hurried her steps, and Iris kept time with her. When they
reached the house, the woman stopped and looked intently at the child.

"You can go straight upstairs at once, miss, and into the room," she
said. "You need not knock; my mistress is waiting for you."

"Don't you think, Fortune, that mother is just a little _wee_ bit
better?" asked Iris again. There was an imploring note in her question
this time.

"She will tell you herself, my dear. Now, be quick; don't keep her
waiting. It is bad for people, when they are ill, to be kept waiting."

"I won't keep her; I'll go to her this very instant," said Iris.

The old house was as beautiful as the garden to which it belonged. It
had been built, a great part of it, centuries ago, and had, like many
other houses of its date, been added to from time to time. Queerly
shaped rooms jutted out in many quarters; odd stairs climbed up in
several directions; towers and turrets were added to the roof;
passages, some narrow, some broad, connected the new buildings with
the old. The whole made an incongruous and yet beautiful effect, the
new rooms possessing the advantages and comforts which modern builders
put into their houses, and the older part of the house the quaint
devices and thick, wainscoted walls and deep, mullioned windows of the
times which are gone by.

Iris ran quickly through the wide entrance hall and up the broad,
white, stone stairs. These stairs were a special feature of Delaney
Manor. They had been brought all the way from Italy by a Delaney
nearly a hundred years ago, and were made of pure marble, and were
very lovely to look at. When Iris reached the first landing, she
turned aside from the spacious modern apartments and, opening a green
baize door, ran down a narrow passage. At the end of the passage she
turned to the left and went down another passage, and then wended her
way up some narrow stairs, which curled round and round as if they
were going up a tower. This, as a matter of fact, was the case.
Presently Iris pushed aside a curtain, and found herself in an octagon
room nearly at the top of a somewhat high, but squarely built, tower.
This room, which was large and airy, was wainscoted with oak; there
was a thick Turkey carpet on the floor, and the many windows were
flung wide open, so that the summer breeze, coming in fresh and sweet
from this great height, made the whole lovely room as fresh and cheery
and full of sweet perfume as if its solitary inmate were really in the
open air.

Iris, however, had often been in the room before, and had no time or
thought now to give to its appearance. Her eyes darted to the sofa on
which her young mother lay. Mrs. Delaney was half-sitting up, and
looked almost too young to be the mother of a child as big as Iris.
She had one of the most beautiful faces God ever gave to anybody. It
was not so much that her features were perfect, but they were full of
light, full of soul, and such a very loving expression beamed in her
eyes that no man, woman, or child ever looked at her without feeling
the best in their natures coming immediately to the surface.

As to little Iris, her feelings for her mother were quite beyond any
words to express. She ran up to her now and knelt by her side.

"Kiss me, Iris," said Mrs. Delaney.

Iris put up her soft, rosebud lips; they met the equally soft lips of
the mother.

"You are much better, mummy; are you not?" said the child, in an
eager, half-passionate whisper.

"I have had a long sleep, darling, and I am rested," said Mrs.
Delaney. "I told Fortune to call you. Father is away for the day. I
thought we could have half an hour uninterrupted."

"How beautiful, mother! It is the most delightful thing in all the
world to be alone with you, mummy."

"Well, bring your little chair and sit near me, Iris. Fortune will
bring in tea in a moment, and you can pour it out. You shall have tea
with me, if you wish it, darling."

Iris gave a sigh of rapture; she was too happy almost for words. This
was almost invariably the case when she found herself in her mother's
presence. When with her mother she was quiet and seldom spoke a great
deal. In the garden with the other children Iris was the one who
chattered most, but with her mother her words were always few. She
felt herself then to be more or less in a listening attitude. She
listened for the words which dropped from those gentle lips; she was
always on the lookout for the love-light which filled the soft brown

At that moment the old servant, Fortune, brought in the tea on a
pretty tray and laid it on a small table near Mrs. Delaney. Then Iris
got up, and with an important air poured it out and brought a cup,
nicely prepared, to her mother.

Mrs. Delaney sipped her tea and looked from time to time at her little
daughter. When she did so, Iris devoured her with her anxious eyes.

"No," she said to herself, "mother does not look ill - not even _very_
tired. She is not like anybody else, and that is why - why she wears
that wonderful, almost holy expression. Sometimes I wish she did not,
but I would not change her, not for all the world."

Iris' heart grew quiet. Her cup of bliss was quite full. She scarcely
touched her tea; she was too happy even to eat.

"Have you had enough tea, mother?" she asked presently.

"Yes, darling. Please push the tea-table a little aside, and then come
up very near to me. I want to hold your dear little hand in mine; I
can't talk much."

"But you are better - you are surely better, mother?"

"In one sense, yes, Iris."

Iris moved the tea-table very deftly aside, and then, drawing up her
small chair, slipped her hand inside her mother's.

"I have made up my mind to tell you, Iris," said the mother. She
looked at the little girl for a full minute, and then began to talk in
a low, clear voice. "I am the mother of four children. I don't think
there are any other children like you four in the wide world. I have
thought a great deal about you, and while I have been ill have prayed
to God to keep you and to help me, and now, Iris, now that I have got
to go away - "

"To go away, mother?" interrupted Iris, turning very pale.

"Yes, dearest. Don't be troubled, darling; I can make it all seem
quite happy to you. But now, when I see it must be done, that I must
undertake this very long journey, I want to put things perfectly
straight between you and me, my little daughter."

"Things have been always straight between us, mother," said Iris. "I
don't quite understand."

"Do you remember the time when I went to Australia?"

"Are you going to Australia again?" asked Iris. "You were a whole year
away then. It was a very long time, and sometimes, mother, sometimes
Fortune was a little cross, and Miss Stevenson never seemed to suit
Apollo. I thought I would tell you about that."

"But Fortune means well, dearest. She has your true interest at heart,
and I think matters will be differently arranged, as far as Miss
Stevenson is concerned, in the future. It is not about her or Fortune
I want to speak now."

"And you are going back to Australia again?"

"I am going quite as far as Australia; but we need not talk of the
distance just now. I have not time for many words, nor very much
strength to speak. You know, Iris, the meaning of your names, don't

"Of course," answered Iris; "and, mother, I have often talked to the
others about our names. I have told Apollo how beautiful he must try
to be, not only in his face, but in his mind, mother, and how brave
and how clever. I have told him that he must try to have a beautiful
soul; and Orion must be very brave and strong, and Diana must be
bright and sparkling and noble. Yes, mother; we all know about our

"I am glad of that," said Mrs. Delaney. "I gave you the names for a
purpose. I wanted you to have names with meaning to them. I wanted you
to try to live up to them. Now, Iris, that I am really going away, I
am afraid you children will find a great many things altered. You have
hitherto lived a very sheltered life; you have just had the dear old
garden and the run of the house, and you have seen your father or me
every day. But afterwards, when I have gone, you will doubtless have
to go into the world; and, my darling, my darling, the cold world does
not always understand the meaning of names like yours, the meaning of
strength and beauty and nobleness, and of bright, sparkling, and high
ideas. In short, my little girl, if you four children are to be worthy
of your names and to fulfill the dreams, the longings, the _hopes_ I
have centered round you, there is nothing whatever for you to do but
to begin to fight your battles."

Iris was silent. She had very earnest eyes, something like her
mother's in expression. They were fixed now on Mrs. Delaney's face.

"I will not explain exactly what I mean," said the mother, giving the
little hand a loving squeeze, "only to assure you, Iris, that, as the
trial comes, strength will be given to you to meet it. Please
understand, my darling, that from first to last, to the end of life,
it is all a fight. 'The road winds uphill all the way.' If you will
remember that you will not think things half as hard, and you will be
brave and strong, and, like the rainbow, you will cheer people even in
the darkest hours. But, Iris, I want you to promise me one thing - I
want you, my little girl, to be a mother to the others."

"A mother to the others?" said Iris, half aloud. She paused and did
not speak at all for a moment, her imagination was very busy. She
thought of all the creatures to whom she was already a mother, not
only her own dear pets - the mice in their cages, the silk-worms, the
three dogs, the stray cat, the pet Persian cat, the green frogs, the
poor innocents, as the children called worms - but in addition to
these, all creatures that suffered in the animal kingdom, all flowers
that were about to fade, all sad things that seemed to need care and
comfort. But up to the present she had never thought of the other
children except as her equals. Apollo was only a year younger than
herself, and in some ways braver and stouter and more fearless; and
Orion and Diana were something like their names - very bright and even
fierce at times. She, after all, was the gentlest of the party, and
she was very young - not more than ten years of age. How could she
possibly be a mother to the others?

She looked at Mrs. Delaney, and her mother gazed solemnly at her,
waiting for her to speak.

"After all," thought Iris, "to satisfy the longing in mother's eyes is
the first thing of all. I will promise, cost what it may."

"Yes," she said; then softly, "I will, mother; I will be a mother to
the others."

"Kiss me, Iris."

The little girl threw her arms round her mother's neck; their lips met
in a long embrace.

"Darling, you understand? I am satisfied with your promise, and I am

"Must I go away, mother? May not I stay very quietly with you? Can you
not sleep if I am in the room?"

"I would rather you left me now. I can sleep better when no one is by.
Ring the bell for Fortune as you go. She will come and make me
comfortable. Yes; I am very tired."

"One moment first, mummy - you have not told me yet when you are going
on the journey."

"The day is not quite fixed, Iris, although it is - yes, it is nearly

"And you have not said _where_ you are going, mother. I should like to
tell the others."

But Mrs. Delaney had closed her eyes, and did not make any reply.



That night the children's young mother went on her journey. The
summons for her to go came unexpectedly, as it often does in the end.
She had not even time to say good-by to the children, nor to her
husband, only just a brief moment to look, with startled eyes, at the
wonderful face of the angel who had come to fetch her, and then with a
smile of bliss to let him clasp her in his arms and feel his strong
wings round her, and then she was away, beyond the lovely house and
the beautiful garden, and the children sleeping quietly in their beds,
and the husband who was slumbering by her side - beyond the tall trees
and the peaks of the highest mountains, beyond the stars themselves,
until finally she entered the portals of a home that is everlasting,
and found herself in a land where the flowers do not fade.

In the morning the children were told that their mother was dead. They
all cried, and everyone thought it dreadfully sad, except Iris, who
knew better. It was Fortune who brought in the news to the
children - they had just gone into the day-nursery at the time.

Fortune was a stern woman, somewhat over fifty years of age. She was
American by birth, and had lived with Mrs. Delaney since Iris was
born. Mrs. Delaney was also American, which may have accounted for
some of her bright fancies, and quiet, yet sweet and quick ways.
Fortune was very fond of the children after her fashion, which was,
however, as a rule, somewhat severe and exacting. But to-day, in her
bitter grief, she sank down on the nearest chair, and allowed them all
to crowd round her, and cried bitterly, and took little Orion in her

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryL.T. MeadeA Little Mother to the Others → online text (page 1 of 17)