“Did he say you were not to tell me?”
Again the little boy nodded.
“Did he tell you who it was?”
Now that the wrong story was so well started, David was inspired to make it a good one. To do that he would use part of the truth, but unfortunately he could not recall much of what Dr. Redfield had said about the picture. There was but one word that had stood out prominently in the talk, and that was the word “Mother.” It was a relief to David to remember that, and he blurted out his information with cruel finality.
“This,” he said, holding the pieces of the miniature together, “is mother.”
“But how can you have two mothers?” Miss Eastman inquired, with a smile that was not a good smile. “Tell me, David, tell me whose mother am I?”
“You?” he asked with puzzled anxiety. Then he stopped short. It is not easy to steal pictures and tell wrong stories about them. He did not know what to do. Everything was against him, and he began to cry again.
It was now that Miss Eastman passionately seized the little boy in her arms.
“Don’t you believe that!” she exclaimed, her words throbbing with the hurt he had given her. “I am your mother, David—I!”
After declaring that she alone was David’s mother, Miss Eastman was called away to the telephone. It was Dr. Redfield inquiring anxiously about the little boy. Pulse normal, temperature normal, no symptoms of any sort, she told the physician, but she could scarcely control her voice to answer his questions. There was a tightness in her throat, and she spoke with crisp brevity, instead of detailing anything of what had passed between her and David.
When she had hung up the receiver and gone back to the child, she took him in her lap and tried to entertain him with a book of “Mother Goose” jingles, turning the pages slowly and concealing her emotion under the silliness of the nursery rhymes. In the midst of her comical recital about Jack and Jill who went up the hill, she suddenly exclaimed:
“What great fun it was to be with Doctor!”
No matter how much she might try to divert her little boy, he was only indifferently amused; but presently he remembered something which, for the time being, caused him to forget the broken and pilfered miniature.
“Mother,” he exulted, “Mother, I got ’em! They have pockets—deep pockets. You don’t hardly know me, do you?”
David began strutting up and down the room; he stood still, with legs wide apart, and then dug his fists deep into his pockets.