It was hot, her hat fell back, her knees were thick with the good brown earth—that once lovely creation of Florice was stained and black.
She then began softly, partly to herself, partly to her father, and partly to that other Friend who had helped her to these splendours, a song of joy and happiness. To the ordinary observer, it might have seemed merely a discordant noise proceeding from a little girl engaged in the making of mud pies. It was, in reality, as the chestnut tree, the birds, the fountain, the flowers, the various small children, even the very earth she played with, understood, a fine offering—thanksgiving and triumphal pæan to the God of Heaven, of the earth, and of the waters that were under the earth.
Munty himself caught the refrain. He was recalled to a day when mud pies had been to him also things of surpassing joy. There was a day when, a naked and very ugly little boy, he had danced beside a mountain burn.
He looked upon his daughter and his daughter looked upon him; they were friends for ever and ever. She rose; her fingers were so sticky with mud that they stood apart; down her right cheek ran a fine black smear; her knees were caked.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed. She flung herself upon him and kissed him; down his cheek also now a fine smear marked its way.
He looked at his watch—one o’clock. “Good heavens!” he said again. “I say, old girl, we’ll have to be going. Mother’s got a party.” He tried ineffectually to cleanse his daughter’s face.
“We’ll come back,” she cried, looking down triumphantly upon her handiwork.
“We’ll have to smuggle you up into the nursery somehow.” But he added, “Yes, we’ll come again.”
They hurried home. Very furtively Munty Boss fitted his key into the Yale lock of his fine door. They slipped into the hall. There before them were Mrs. Ross and two of her most splendid friends. Very fine was Munty’s wife in a tight-clinging frock of light blue, and wearing upon her head a hat like a waste-paper basket with a blue handle at the back of it; very fine were her two lady friends, clothed also in the tightest of garments, shining and lovely and precious.
“Good God, Munty—and the child!”
It was a terrible moment. Quite unconscious was Munty of the mud that stained his cheek, perfectly tranquil his daughter as she gazed with glowing happiness about her. A terrible moment for Mrs. Ross, an unforgettable one for her friends; nor were they likely to keep the humour of it entirely to themselves.
“Down in a minute. Going up to clean.” Smiling, he passed his wife. On the bottom step Nancy chanted:
“We’ve had the most lovely mornin’, daddy and I. We’ve been diggin’. We’re goin’ to dig again. Aren’t I dirty, mummy?”
Round the corner of the stairs in the shadow Nancy kissed her father again.