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My Mother
by [?]

The lady who occupied the undesirable position of stepmother to these unfortunate children was of the very cold and chilling type of Englishwoman, more frequently met with two generations ago than in this age. She simply let her husband’s first family alone. She took no interest in them, neglected them absolutely, but in her neglect was far kinder and more humane than their own father. Yet she saw that all the money, all the pretty clothes, all the dainties, went to her own children.

Perhaps the reader will think these unpleasant characteristics of a harsh father and a self-centred stepmother might better be omitted from this narrative, particularly as death claimed these two many years ago; but in the light of after events, it is necessary to reveal what the home environment of these children had been, how little of companionship or kindness or spoken love had entered their baby lives. The absence of mother kisses, of father comradeship, of endeavor to understand them individually, to probe their separate and various dispositions–things so essential to the development of all that is best in a child–went far towards governing their later actions in life. It drove the unselfish, sweet-hearted Elizabeth to a loveless marriage; it flung poor, little love-hungry Lydia into alien but, fortunately, loyal and noble arms. Outsiders said, “What strange marriages!” But Lydia, at least, married where the first real kindness she had ever known called to her, and not one day of regret for that marriage ever entered into her life.

It came about so strangely, so inevitably, from such a tiny source, that it is almost incredible.

One day the stepmother, contrary to her usual custom, went into the kitchen and baked a number of little cakelets, probably what we would call cookies. For what sinister reason no one could divine, but she counted these cakes as she took them from the baking-pans and placed them in the pantry. There were forty-nine, all told. That evening she counted them again; there were forty-eight. Then she complained to her husband that one of the children had evidently stolen a cake. (In her mind the two negro servants employed in the house did not merit the suspicion.) Mr. Bestman inquired which child was fond of the cakes. Mrs. Bestman replied that she did not know, unless it was Lydia, who always liked them.

Lydia was called. Her father, frowning, asked if she had taken the cake. The child said no.

“You are not telling the truth,” Mr. Bestman shouted, as the poor little downtrodden girl stood half terrified, consequently half guilty-mannered, before him.

“But I am truthful,” she said. “I know nothing of the cake.”

“You are not truthful. You stole it–you know you did. You shall be punished for this falsehood,” he stormed, and reached for the cat-o’-nine-tails.

The child was beaten brutally and sent to her room until she could tell the truth. When she was released she still held that she had not taken the cooky. Another beating followed, then a third, when finally the stepmother interfered and said magnanimously:

“Don’t whip her any more; she has been punished enough.” And once during one of the beatings she protested, saying, “Don’t strike the child on the head in that way.”

But the iron had entered into Lydia’s sister’s soul. The injustice of it all drove gentle Elizabeth’s gentleness to the winds.

“Liddy darling,” she said, taking the thirteen-year-old girl-child into her strong young arms, “I know truth when I hear it. You never stole that cake.”

“I didn’t,” sobbed the child, “I didn’t.”

“And you have been beaten three times for it!” And the sweet young mouth hardened into lines that were far too severe for a girl of seventeen. Then: “Liddy, do you know that Mr. Evans has asked me to marry him?”

“Mr. Evans!” exclaimed the child. “Why, you can’t marry him, ‘Liza! He’s ever so old, and he lives away up in Canada, among the Indians.”

“That’s one of the reasons that I should like to marry him,” said Elizabeth, her young eyes starry with zeal. “I want to work among the Indians, to help in Christianizing them, to–oh! just to help.”