“And will my Peter-bird be good and make Nancy no trouble?” said his mother, lifting him to her lap for one last hug.
“I’ll be an angel boy pretty near all the time,” he asserted between mouthfuls of apple, “or most pretty near,” he added prudently, as if unwilling to promise anything superhuman in the way of behavior. As a matter of fact it required only a tolerable show of virtue for Peter to win encomiums at any time. He would brush his curly mop of hair away from his forehead, lift his eyes, part his lips, showing a row of tiny white teeth; then a dimple would appear in each cheek and a seraphic expression (wholly at variance with the facts) would overspread the baby face, whereupon the beholder—Mother Carey, his sisters, the cook or the chambermaid, everybody indeed but Cousin Ann, who could never be wheedled—would cry “Angel boy!” and kiss him. He was even kissed now, though he had done nothing at all but exist and be an enchanting personage, which is one of the injustices of a world where a large number of virtuous and well-behaved people go unkissed to their graves!
“I know Joanna and Ellen will take good care of the housekeeping,” continued Mrs. Carey, “and you will be in school from nine to two, so that the time won’t go heavily. For the rest I make Nancy responsible. If she is young, you must remember that you are all younger still, and I trust you to her.”
“The last time you did it, it didn’t work very well!” And Gilbert gave Nancy a sly wink to recall a little matter of family history when there had been a delinquency on somebody’s part.
Nancy’s face crimsoned and her lips parted for a quick retort, and none too pleasant a one, apparently.
Her mother intervened quietly. “We’ll never speak of ‘last times,’ Gilly, or where would any of us be? We’ll always think of ‘next’ times. I shall trust Nancy next time, and next time and next time, and keep on trusting till I can trust her forever!”
Nancy’s face lighted up with a passion of love and loyalty. She responded to the touch of her mother’s faith as a harp to the favoring wind, but she said nothing; she only glowed and breathed hard and put her trembling hand about her mother’s neck and under her chin.
“Now it’s time! One more kiss all around. Remember you are Mother Carey’s own chickens! There may be gales while I am away, but you must ride over the crests of the billows as merry as so many flying fish! Good-by! Good-by! Oh, my littlest Peter-bird, how can mother leave you?”
“I opened the lunch box to see what Ellen gave you, but I only broke off two teenty, weenty corners of sandwiches and one little new-moon bite out of a cookie,” said Peter, creating a diversion according to his wont.
Ellen and Joanna came to the front door and the children flocked down the frozen pathway to the gate after their mother, getting a touch of her wherever and whenever they could and jumping up and down between whiles to keep warm. Gilbert closed the door of the carriage, and it turned to go down the street. One window was open, and there was a last glimpse of the beloved face framed in the dark blue velvet bonnet, one last wave of a hand in a brown muff.