She turned her head away and another thought hit me. “Is it because I’ve been naughty and you don’t love me anymore? I know I went back to sleep again this morning and nearly made everyone late, and I spilt milk all down my pinafore yesterday and had to have another one, and I…”
“No. Stop, Daisy. It is because Mrs Gosling is your real mother. Don’t you remember that I told you the story about the little girl who had two mummies, and that I was the one who would have to give her back? I told you that you were that little girl, Daisy, you must remember.”
“But it was a story.” My voice came out shrill and jerky. “Please, please, don’t send me away. I love you.”
“Oh, Daisy, I love you too.” Her voice was funny as well. “But I have tried to prepare us both for this day. I knew it would be difficult, but…” her voice broke and I could see she was crying too. “Daisy, for all sorts of reasons, which she will tell you herself one day, Mrs Gosling, your real mother, couldn’t keep you. So she asked me, who she knew would love you and look after you, to have you until you could go and live with her. And we have been happy, haven’t we?”
I nodded dumbly. “But I want to go on being happy with you. I don’t want to go and live with her. She is not my mother, you are. I know you are.”
MumMarch bent down and pulled me onto her lap. This was unusual enough in itself for me to suddenly know with certainty that I was leaving her, and I could not control the howl of pain that emerged. She cuddled me closely while sobs racked my body and when they finally abated as sheer exhaustion took over, she mopped my face with her big hankie. I became aware of the boys anxious faces peering round the door, but MumMarch must have shaken her head at them as they disappeared and the door clicked shut.
I looked up at her worried face and realised that she was crying too. “I thought you loved me. I am your best girl. You can’t send me away,” I gulped, the tears welling up again.
She set me down on the floor again, and my legs were so wobbly that I sank to my knees in front of her. I put my head in her lap, still warm from holding my small body, and felt her stroking my hair.
“Daisy, I do love you. I will always love you. But so does Mrs Gosling. And it has been very difficult for her not being able to live with you. She has worked hard to make a home for you both, and she is looking forward to you both being happy together. You are a kind girl and you must not disappoint or upset her. You must play a pretend game of being very pleased to be going to live with her, and then the pretend will start to be real.”
I thought about that. I knew about pretend games, we played them all the time. Sometimes I was a pretend princess, which I liked a lot. Though once Alfie was a pretend pirate and had captured me and tied me to a real tree, and then gone off and forgotten me. MumMarch said if Georgie hadn’t remembered me I would have caught my death of cold and she was quite cross with my brothers. But I knew I would be rescued and thought it was all very exciting. The memory of it caused a tremulous smile to cross my face, and MumMarch gave a sigh of relief.
“Now, Daisy, we are going to leave the boys to wash up the tea things, and we are going to pack up your things and put them in my carpet bag, which you can take with you.”
MumMarch knew that I loved her big carpet bag which was red and covered with pink roses. When I was very tiny, and we were playing hide and seek one Christmas, I hid in it and no-one found me for ages and ages. After that, I would often creep inside it and it became my magic place. Once inside its dark and comfortable embrace, when it was winter I would dream of running in the fields in the sun, and when it was summer, I dreamt of snow and skidding round with the boys on the icy lake. I was much too big to get inside it now, of course, but I knew it still held my dreams.
“Can I really take it with me? And keep it until I can come back and see you?”
“You can keep it forever, Daisy, I am giving it to you.”
That wasn’t quite the reassuring answer I was hoping for, but I was still excited by the gift, and I hopped up the staircase in front of Mum March and waited while she fetched it from her bedroom.
“Can I take Percy?” Percy was my cuddly pink rabbit who always came to bed with me. He had lived with me for as long as I could remember, and life without him was unthinkable.
“Of course you can.”
“And every time I come home, I will put him and all my things in it.” We both heard the wobble in my voice as we started to fold up my clothes and lay them in the bag. It didn’t take very long as my wardrobe was adequate but definitely not extravagant. When my clothes were in, I reached into the small book case sitting under the window that Father had made for me before he left us.
“Oh, we should have put your books in first. How silly of me.” MumMarch had a wobble in her voice too.
We carefully took out my folded clothes and lay them next to Percy and then piled the books into the bottom of the bag. Finally, everything was back again and MumMarch placed the bag, unfastened as Percy would not go in until the morning, by the empty book case. I think it was the sight of that looking so bare and forlorn, that brought the reality of the situation back to me.
“Please, please, don’t make me go?” It was a question, an entreaty, but I already understood that it would make no difference.
At that moment Georgie’s head came round the door. “Are you finished? You must come downstairs, Daisy, Alfie and me have got something for you.”
Downstairs, Alfie was standing in front of the fire. He had emptied out the old coal scuttle and stood with it on his head, black smears running down his face. He carried MumMarch’s mop in front to him. MumMarch started to say something, but before she could, Georgie plonked MumMarch’s peg-bag on his head, and picking up a saucepan lid and the rolling pin, went and stood beside Alfie and announced in a loud voice: “The March brothers will now give a farewell concert in honour of Miss Daisy March.”
They had pushed the armchair into the middle of the room, and MumMarch sat in it and pulled me onto her lap. Georgie banged the lid loudly, and Alfie began to march round in circles, singing KKKKaty, which was one of the popular songs of the time, only he had changed it to DDDDaisy, and every time he got to that, both the boys saluted me, which made me giggle. By the time they got to the end, my tummy was hurting with laughing so much.
Both the boys had lovely voices, and next they sang It’s a long way to Tiperary, and they knew all the words. When they got to the end, they put back down the mop and the rolling pin and came and grasped my hands and swung me off MumMarch’s lap. Then round and round the room we went, all singing Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag. When we got to the smiling bit, they tickled me until I had to beg them to stop. And finally they did, and my concert was over. We fell, exhausted, onto the chairs, all laughing and still singing bits of the songs.
“That was lovely,” laughed MumMarch. “Thank you, boys.”
“Yes,” I said between latent attacks of hilarity, “Thank you.” And I felt my laughter subside, as I looked at them both and I said solemnly, “I shall never, ever forget my concert.”
And I never have.