Mother did not seem to see him; she was seated at a low table strewn with toilet articles that sparkled under the rays of the gas-jet. She was dressing her hair, and her arm swung in long, even strokes; from time to time she paused to wind something from the teeth of the white comb about her fingers, which she afterwards tucked deftly into a small wicker box beneath the tilted mirror. In the meantime David was looking at her with a very long face, and by and by he slid quietly off the bed and went to her, pressing himself against her knees.
“What else,” she inquired, “did Dr. Redfield give you?”
David did not answer. He pushed his face deep into Mother’s lap.
“Didn’t Doctor give you something else?”
The word came with smothered indistinctness, but its meaning was unmistakable.
David raised his head and caught hold of Mother’s hand. He had grown very red in the face.
“Then what about the picture?” she asked, giving no heed to his embarrassment. “Where did you get that?”
Both of David’s fists were now clinging fast to the woman’s hand.
“Mother,” he said, “I just tooked it.”
“Oh, dear me!”
“Mother, I knocked it down. It broke. I tooked it.”
A sudden silence had got hold of the room. The little boy’s head sank once more into Mother’s lap and he shook with silent sobs. A moist warmth went through her skirt and was felt upon her knee.
“This is hard on the Doctor,” she said, and her voice was firm, but her hand gently stroked her little boy’s hair. “He let you look at the picture, and now it is spoiled. He had only the one, and can never get another like it. You broke it, and you took it from him. We cannot mend it; it is done for. My, my! what are we to do?”
David’s arms went tight about Mother’s knees. In mute anguish he clung to her, pleading for help without saying a word.
“If only we had another picture!” Mother suggested.
Would—would that do?
All of a sudden David had stopped crying. With the wet, shiny, tear-trails across his cheeks he looked up.
“Mother!” His eyes were wide open. “In your drawer,” he said, but his voice was so small he could hardly make himself heard, “in your drawer there is one—a fine picture!”
“Is there?” Eagerness was in Mother’s tone; hopefulness was in Mother’s look, but the look vanished and left nothing but disappointment in her eyes. She had remembered a little golden locket in a drawer of the chiffonier, a locket that held the handsome face of a young man. She had never shown the picture to her little boy, and was not aware that he knew anything about it.
“That will never do,” she told David. “It does not belong to you, and it cannot be given away. It must be kept always. People care a great deal for—some pictures. They have a meaning which is often one of the very best things life can ever have. If you should be taken from me, and if I should still have your picture, that would be almost the best thing I could have. You see how it is. If some one should take the picture, I could never get another that would mean so much to me.”