Very little was said, but when the meal was nearly over Ivra asked him how long he was going to stay with them. Immediately he stopped eating and dropped his spoon. His eyes filled with tears. He had utterly forgotten about his plight until then,—how he was homeless, workless and bound to starve and freeze sooner or later. Ivra’s mother saw the misery in his face and quietly spoke, “We hope for a long time. As long as you want to, anyway. Three in a wood will be merrier than two in a wood. . . . If you like me I will be your mother.”
Ivra clapped her hands. “Stay always,” she cried. “I will be your playmate. There will be many playmates besides, too, and I will help you find them.”
Eric glowed. The hatred that had been flaring in his head suddenly faded, and the heavy thing that had been his heart for as long as he could remember, became light as thistledown. He looked at the mother and the kindness in her eyes made him tremble. “I will stay and be your child,” he said.
When supper was done the three put away the supper things, carried the table back to its place in the corner, and set the candles in their brackets about the walls. Then almost at once the mother said it was bath-time and bed-time.
Bath-time! Baths had been rare in Eric’s life, and when they did happen were unhappy adventures,—cold water in a hand basin in the kitchen sink, a scratchy sponge, and a towel too small. So if Mrs. Freg had said “bath-time and bed-time” to him now, he might have run away. But if Ivra’s mother said it, it must be. She was his mother too, now, and he loved her and thought her beautifully strange.
A surprise was waiting for him. The bath was a deep basin set in the wall. There was a fountain in it that one had only to turn on to have the basin fill with clear water. Eric slipped out of his ragged shirt and trousers and climbed up into it. The fountain came splashing down on his dusty, shaggy head, falling in rivulets down his back and breast. He was like a bird taking a bath; there was such happy splashing and dipping.
But no bird had ever the gentle soft drying, or was wrapped in such a warm night gown as the mother found for Eric. It was one of Ivra’s night gowns, but quite large enough. Then she tucked him into a narrow couch far from the fire. It was the first time Eric could ever remember having slept alone.
Ivra was already in a bed against the opposite wall. Before the mother got into hers, which was open and ready for her, she blew out all the candles and opened the door and windows.
“Good night, my lambs,” she said, and a very few minutes afterwards Eric could see by the firelight that his mother and playmate were asleep.
How cold the wind felt as it blew over his face! But how warm and snug his body was, there in the soft, clean night gown between the light, warm blankets! How fine to be there so warm in bed while his cheeks grew red in the cold air and burned deliciously. How could he ever sleep? He was too happy!