The Story of a Baby
TO THE BEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD
E. T., Sydney.
|I.||THE BURDEN OF IT||1|
|II.||THE RED ROAD COUNTRY||11|
|III.||DOT AND LARRIE FALL OUT||21|
|IV.||THE ‘LITTLE MOTHER’||33|
|V.||MORE RIFTS IN THE LUTE||45|
|VI.||LARRIE THE LOAFER||58|
|VII.||A POCKET MADAME MELBA||73|
|VIII.||PICTURES IN THE FIRE||83|
|IX.||A CONFLICT OF WILLS||97|
|X.||A DARN ON A DRESS||111|
|XI.||A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP||124|
|XII.||A LITTLE DIPLOMAT||131|
|XIII.||DOT GOES BABY LIFTING||140|
|XIV.||THE WHEEL IN THE BRAIN||147|
|XV.||SULLIVAN WOOSTER, GENTLEMAN||154|
THE STORY OF A BABY
THE BURDEN OF IT
Larrie had been carrying it for a long wayand said it was quite time Dot took her turn.
Dot was arguing the point.
She reminded him of all athletic sports hehad taken part in, and of all the prizes he hadwon; she asked him what was the use ofbeing six-foot-two and an impossible numberof inches round the chest if he could not carrya baby.
Larrie gave her an unexpected glance andmoved the baby to his other arm; he washeated and unhappy, there seemed absolutely[p 2] no end to the red, red road they were traversing,and Dot, as well as refusing to help tocarry the burden, laughed aggravatingly athim when he said it was heavy.
‘He is exactly twenty-one pounds,’ shesaid, ‘I weighed him on the kitchen scalesyesterday, I should think a man of your sizeought to be able to carry twenty-one poundswithout grumbling so.’
‘But he’s on springs, Dot,’ he said, ‘justlook at him, he’s never still for a minute, youcarry him to the beginning of Lee’s orchard,and then I’ll take him again.’
Dot shook her head.
‘I’m very sorry, Larrie,’ she said, ‘but Ireally can’t. You know I didn’t want tobring the child, and when you insisted, I saidto myself, you should carry him every inchof the way, just for your obstinacy.’
‘But you’re his mother,’ objected Larrie.
He was getting seriously angry, his armsached unutterably, his clothes were stickingto his back, and twice the baby had poked alittle fat thumb in his eye and made it water.
‘But you’re its father,’ Dot said sweetly.
‘It’s easier for a woman to carry a childthan a man’—poor Larrie was mopping hishot brow with his disengaged hand—‘everyonesays so; don’t be a little sneak, Dot,my arm’s getting awfully cramped; here, forpity’s sake take him.’
Dot shook her head again.
‘Would you have me break my vow, StLawrence?’ she said.
She looked provokingly cool and unruffledas she walked along by his side; her gownwas white, with transparent puffy sleeves, herhat was white and very large, she had littlewhite canvas shoes, long white Suéde gloves,and she carried a white parasol.
‘I’m hanged,’ said Larrie, and he stoppedshort in the middle of the road, ‘look here,my good woman, are you going to take yourbaby, or are you not?’
Dot revolved her sunshade round her littlesweet face.
‘No, my good man,’ she said, ‘I don’tpropose to carry your baby one step.’
‘Then I shall drop it,’ said Larrie. Heheld it up in a threatening position by theback of its crumpled coat, but Dot had gonesailing on.
‘Find a soft place,’ she called, looking backover her shoulder once and seeing him stillstanding in the road.
‘Little minx,’ he said under his breath.
Then his mouth squared itself; ordinarilyit was a pleasant mouth, much given tolaughter and merry words; but when it tookthat obstinate look, one could see capabilitiesfor all manner of things.
He looked carefully around. By the roadsidethere was a patch of soft, green grass, anda wattle bush, yellow-crowned, beautiful. Helaid the child down in the shade of it, helooked to see there were no ants or otherinsects near; he put on the bootee that washanging by a string from the little rosy footand he stuck the india-rubber comforter in itsmouth. Then he walked quietly away andcaught up to Dot.
‘Well?’ she said, but she looked a little[p 5] startled at his empty arms; she drooped thesunshade over the shoulder nearest to him,and gave a hasty, surreptitious glance backward.Larrie strode along.
‘You look fearfully ugly when you screwup your mouth like that,’ she said, lookingup at his set side face.
‘You’re an unnatural mother, Dot, that’swhat you are,’ he returned hotly. ‘By Jove,if I was a woman, I’d be ashamed to act asyou do. You get worse every day you live.I’ve kept excusing you to myself, and sayingyou would get wiser as you grew older, andinstead, you seem more childish every day.’
She looked childish. She was very, verysmall in stature, very slightly and delicatelybuilt. Her hair was in soft gold-brown curls,as short as a boy’s; her eyes were soft, andwide, and tender, and beautiful as a child’s.When she was happy they were the colourof that blue, deep violet we call the Czar, andwhen she grew thoughtful, or sorrowful, theywere like the heart of a great, dark purplepansy. She was not particularly beautiful,[p 6] only very fresh, and sweet, and lovable.Larrie once said she always looked like ababy that has been freshly bathed anddressed, and puffed with sweet violet powder,and sent out into the world to refresh tiredeyes.
That was one of his courtship sayings, morethan a year ago when she was barely seventeen.She was eighteen now, and he wastelling her she was an unnatural mother.
‘Why, the child wouldn’t have had its bibon, only I saw to it,’ he said, in a voice thatincreased in excitement as he dwelt on theenormity.
‘Dear me,’ said Dot, ‘that was very carelessof Peggie, I must really speak to her about it.’
‘I shall shake you some day, Dot,’ Larriesaid, ‘shake you till your teeth rattle. SometimesI can hardly keep my hands off you.’
His brow was gloomy, his boyish facetroubled, vexed.
And Dot laughed. Leaned against thefence skirting the road that seemed to run toeternity, and laughed outrageously.
Larrie stopped too. His face was verywhite and square-looking, his dark eyes heldfire. He put his hands on the white, exaggeratedshoulders of her muslin dress andturned her round.
‘Go back to the bottom of the hill thisinstant, and pick up the child and carry it uphere,’ he said.
‘Go and insert your foolish old head in areceptacle for pommes-de-terre,’ was Dot’sflippant retort.
Larrie’s hands pressed harder, his chin grewsquarer.
‘I’m in earnest, Dot, deadly earnest. I orderyou to fetch the child, and I intend you toobey me,’ he gave her a little shake to enforcethe command. ‘I am your master, and Iintend you to know it from this day.’
Dot experienced a vague feeling of surpriseat the fire in the eyes that were nearly alwaysclear, and smiling, and loving, then she twistedherself away.
‘Pooh,’ she said, ‘you’re only a stupid overgrown,passionate boy, Larrie. You my[p 8] master! You’re nothing in the world butmy husband.’
‘Are you going?’ he said in a tone he hadnever used before to her. ‘Say Yes or No,Dot, instantly.’
‘No,’ said Dot, stormily.
Then they both gave a sob of terror, theirfaces blanched, and they began to run madlydown the hill.
Oh the long, long way they had come, theendless stretch of red, red road that woundback to the gold-tipped wattles, the velvetgrass, and their baby!
Larrie was a fleet, wonderful runner. Inthe little cottage where they lived, manifoldsilver cups and mugs bore witness to it, andhe was running for life now, but Dot nearlyoutstripped him.
She flew over the ground, hardly touchingit, her arms were outstretched, her lipsmoving. They fell down together on theirknees by their baby, just as three furious,hard-driven bullocks thundered by, filling theair with dust and bellowing.
The baby was blinking happily up at agreat fat golden beetle that was making alazy way up the wattle. It had lost its ‘comforter’and was sucking its thumb thoughtfully.It had kicked off its white knittedboots, and was curling its pink toes up in thesunshine with great enjoyment.
‘Baby!’ Larrie said. The big fellow wastrembling in every limb.
‘Baby!’ said Dot. She gathered it up inher little shaking arms, she put her poorwhite face down upon it, and broke into suchpitiful tears and sobs that it wept too. Larrietook them both into his arms, and sat downon a fallen tree. He soothed them, he calledthem a thousand tender, beautiful names; hetook off Dot’s hat and stroked her little curls, hekissed his baby again and again; he kissed hiswife. When they were all quite calm and thebullocks ten miles away, they started again.
‘I’ll carry him,’ said Larrie.
‘Ah no, let me,’ Dot said.
‘Darling, you’re too tired—see, you canhold his hand across my shoulder.’
‘No, no, give him to me—my arms achewithout him.’
‘But the hill—my big baby!’
‘Oh, I must have him—Larrie, let me—see,he is so light—why, he is nothing to carry.’
THE RED ROAD COUNTRY
In cool weather the Red Road was verypleasant walking. It wound up hill and downdale for many a