Rudder Grange/Chapter 20
THE OTHER BABY AT RUDDER GRANGE
I drove slowly home, and little Pat lay very quiet, looking up steadily at me with his twinkling blue eyes. For a time everything went very well, but happening to look up, I saw in the distance a carriage approaching. It was an open barouche, and I knew it belonged to a family of our acquaintance in the village, and that it usually contained ladies.
Quick as thought, I rolled up Pat in his shawl and stuffed him under the seat. Then, re-arranging the lap-robe over my knees, I drove on, trembling a little, it is true.
As I supposed, the carriage contained ladies, and I knew them all. The coachman instinctively drew up as we approached. We always stopped and spoke on such occasions.
They asked me after my wife, apparently surprised to see me alone, and made a number of pleasant observations; to all of which I replied with as unconcerned and easy an air as I could assume. The ladies were in excellent spirits, but in spite of this there seemed to be an air of repression about them, which I thought of when I drove on, but could not account for; for little Pat never moved or whimpered during the whole of the interview.
But when I took him again in my lap, and happened to turn as I arranged the robe, I saw his bottle sticking up boldly by my side from between the cushions. Then I did not wonder at the repression.
When I reached home I drove directly to the barn. Fortunately Jonas was there. When I called him and handed little Pat to him I never saw a man more utterly amazed. He stood and held the child without a word. But when I explained the whole affair to him he comprehended it perfectly, and was delighted. I think he was just as anxious for my plan to work as I was myself, although he did not say so.
I was about to take the child into the house when Jonas remarked that it was barefooted.
"That won't do," I said. "It certainly had socks on when I got it. I saw them."
"Here they are," said Jonas, fishing them out from the shawl; "he's kicked them off."
"Well, we must put them on," I said, "it won't do to take him in that way. You hold him."
So Jonas sat down on the feeding-box, and carefully taking little Pat he held him horizontally, firmly pressed between his hands and knees, with his feet stuck out toward me, while I knelt down before him and tried to put on the little socks. But the socks were knit or worked very loosely, and there seemed to be a good many small holes in them, so that Pat's funny little toes, which he kept curling up and uncurling, were continually making their appearance in unexpected places through the sock. But after a great deal of trouble I got them both on, with the heels in about the right places.
"Now they ought to be tied on," I said. "Where are his garters?"
"I don't believe babies have garters," said Jonas doubtfully; "but I could rig him up a pair."
"No," said I; "we won't take the time for that. I'll hold his legs apart as I carry him in. It's rubbing his feet together that gets them off."
As I passed the kitchen window I saw Pomona at work. She looked at me, dropped something, and I heard a crash. I don't know how much that crash cost me. Jonas rushed in to tell Pomona about it, and in a moment I heard a scream of laughter. At this Euphemia appeared at an upper window, with her hand raised and saying severely: "Hush-h!" But the moment she saw me she disappeared from the window and came downstairs on the run. She met me just as I entered the dining-room.
"What in the world!" she breathlessly exclaimed.
"This," said I, taking Pat into a better position in my arms, "is my baby."
"Your—baby!" said Euphemia. "Where did you get it? What are you going to do with it?"
"I got it in New Dublin," I replied, "and I want it to amuse and occupy me while I am at home. I haven't anything else to do, except things that take me away from you."
"Oh!" said Euphemia.
At this moment little Pat gave his first whimper. Perhaps he felt the searching glance that fell upon him from the lady in the middle of the room.
I immediately began to walk up and down the floor with him and to sing to him. I did not know any infant music, but I felt sure that a soothing tune was the great requisite, and that the words were of small importance. So I started on an old Methodist tune, which I remembered very well, and which was used with the hymn containing the lines,
"Weak and wounded, sick and sore,"
and I sang as soothingly as I could—
"Lit-tle Pat-sy, Wat-sy, Sat-sy,
Does he feel a lit-ty bad?
Me will send and get his bot-tle,
He shan't have to cry-wy-wy."
"What an idiot!" said Euphemia, laughing in spite of her vexation.
"No, we ain't no id-i-otses,
What we want's a bot-ty milk."
So I sang as I walked to the kitchen door and sent Jonas to the barn for the bottle.
Pomona was in spasms of laughter in the kitchen, and Euphemia was trying her best not to laugh at all.
"Who's going to take care of it, I'd like to know?" she said, as soon as she could get herself into a state of severe inquiry.
"Some-times me, and some-times Jonas,"
I sang, still walking up and down the room with a long, slow step, swinging the baby from side to side, very much as if it were grass-seed in a sieve and I was sowing it over the carpet.
When the bottle came I took it and began to feed little Pat. Perhaps the presence of a critical audience embarrassed us, for Jonas and Pomona were at the door with streaming eyes, while Euphemia stood with her handkerchief to the lower part of her face, or it may have been that I did not understand the management of bottles, but at any rate, I could not make the thing work, and the disappointed little Pat began to cry, just as the whole of our audience burst into a wild roar of laughter.
"Here! Give me that child!" cried Euphemia, forcibly taking Pat and the bottle from me. "You'll make it swallow the whole affair, and I'm sure its mouth's big enough."
"You really don't think," she said, when we were alone, and little Pat, with his upturned blue eyes serenely surveying the features of the good lady who knew how to feed him, was placidly pulling away at his india-rubber tube, "that I will consent to your keeping such a creature as this in the house? Why, he's a regular little Paddy! If you kept him he'd grow up into a hod-carrier."
"Good!" said I. "I never thought of that. What a novel thing it would be to witness the gradual growth of a hod-carrier! I'll make him a little hod now, to begin with. He couldn't have a more suitable toy."
"I was talking in earnest," she said. "Take your baby, and please carry him home as quick as you can, for I am certainly not going to take care of him."
"Of course not," said I. "Now that I see how it's done I'm going to do it myself. Jonas will mix his feed and I will give it to him. He looks sleepy now. Shall I take him upstairs and lay him on our bed?"
"No, indeed," cried Euphemia. "You can put him on a quilt on the floor until after luncheon, and then you must take home him."
I laid the young Milesian on the folded quilt which Euphemia prepared for him, where he turned up his little pug nose to the ceiling and went contentedly to sleep.
That afternoon I nailed four legs on a small packing-box and made a bedstead for him. This, with a pillow in the bottom of it, was very comfortable, and instead of taking him home, I borrowed in the evening baby night-clothes from Pomona, and set about preparing Pat for the night.
This Euphemia would not allow, but silently taking him from me, she put him to bed.
"To-morrow," she said, "you must positively take him away. I won't stand it. And in our room too."
"I didn't talk in that way about the baby you adopted," I said.
To this she made no answer, but went away to attend, as usual, to Pomona's baby, while its mother washed the dishes.
That night little Pat woke up several times, and made things unpleasant by his wails. On the first two occasions I got up and walked him about, singing impromptu lines to the tune of "Weak and Wounded," but the third time Euphemia herself arose, and declaring that that doleful tune was a great deal worse than the baby's crying, silenced him herself, and arranging his couch more comfortably, he troubled us no more.
In the morning, when I beheld the little pad of orange fur in the box, my heart almost misgave me, but as the day wore on my courage rose again, and I gave myself up almost entirely to my new charge, composing a vast deal of blank verse while walking him up and down the house.
Euphemia scolded and scolded, and said she would put on her hat and go for the mother. But I told her the mother was dead, and that seemed to be an obstacle. She took a good deal of care of the child, for she said she would not see an innocent creature neglected, even if it was an incipient hod-carrier, but she did not relax in the least in her attention to Pomona's baby.
The next day was about the same, in regard to the infantile incident, but on the day after I began to tire of my new charge, and Pat, on his side, seemed to be tired of me, for he turned from me when I went to take him up, while he would hold out his hands to Euphemia, and grin delightedly when she took him.
That morning I drove to the village and spent an hour or two there. On my return I found Euphemia sitting in our room with little Pat on her lap. I was astonished at the change in the young rascal. He was dressed from head to foot in a suit of clothes belonging to Pomona's baby, the glowing fuzz on his head was brushed and made as smooth as possible, while his little muslin sleeves were tied up with blue ribbon.
I stood speechless at the sight.
"Don't he look nice?" said Euphemia, standing him on her knees. "It shows what good clothes will do. I'm glad I helped Pomona make up so many. He's getting ever so fond of me, ze itty Patsy, Watsy! See how strong he is! He can almost stand on his legs! Look how he laughs! He's just as cunning as he can be. And oh! I was going to speak about that box. I wouldn't have him sleep in that old packing-box. There are little wicker cradles at the store—I saw them last week—they don't cost much, and you could bring one up in the carriage. There's the other baby crying, and I don't know where Pomona is. Just you mind him a minute, please!" and out she ran.
I looked out of the window. The horse still stood harnessed to the carriage as I had left him. I saw Pat's old shawl lying in a corner. I seized it, and rolling him in it, new clothes and all, I hurried downstairs, climbed into the carriage, hastily disposed Pat in my lap, and turned the horse. The demeanour of the youngster was very different from what it was when I first took him in my lap to drive away with him. There was no confiding twinkle in his eye, no contented munching of his little fists. He gazed up at me with wild alarm, and as I drove out of the gate he burst forth into such a yell that Lord Edward came bounding around the house to see what was the matter. Euphemia suddenly appeared at an upper window and called out to me, but I did not hear what she said. I whipped up the horse and we sped along to New Dublin. Pat soon stopped crying, but he looked at me with a tear-stained and reproachful visage.
The good women of the settlement were surprised to see little Pat return so soon.
"An' wasn't he good?" said Mrs. Hogan, as she took him from my hands.
"Oh, yes!" I said. "He was as good as he could be. But I have no further need of him."
I might have been called upon to explain this statement, had not the whole party of women who stood around burst into wild expressions of delight at Pat's beautiful clothes.
"Oh! jist look at 'em!" cried Mrs. Duffy. "An' see thim little pittycoots, thrimmed wid lace! Oh, an' it was good in ye, sir, to give him all thim, an' pay the foive dollars too."
"An' I'm glad he's back," said the fostering aunt, "for I was a-coomin' over to till ye that I've been hearin' from owle Pat, his dad, an' he's a-coomin' back from the moines, and I don't know what he'd a' said if he'd found his leetle Pat was rinted. But if ye iver want to borry him for a whoile after owle Pat's gone back ye kin have him rint-free; an' it's much obloiged I am to ye, sir, fur dressin' him so foine."
I made no encouraging remarks as to future transactions in this line, and drove slowly home.
Euphemia met me at the door. She had Pomona's baby in her arms. We walked together into the parlour.
"And so you have given up the little fellow that you were going to do so much for?" she said.
"Yes, I have given him up," I answered.
"It must have been a dreadful trial to you," she continued.
"Oh, dreadful!" I replied.
"I suppose you thought he would take up so much of your time and thoughts that we couldn't be to each other what we used to be, didn't you?" she said.
"Not exactly," I replied. "I only thought things promised to be twice as bad as they were before."
She made no answer to this, but going to the back door of the parlour she opened it and called Pomona. When that young woman appeared, Euphemia stepped toward her and said: "Here, Pomona, take your baby."
They were simple words, but they were spoken in such a way that they meant a good deal. Pomona knew what they meant. Her eyes sparkled, and as she went out I saw her hug her child to her breast and cover it with kisses, and then, through the window, I could see her running to the barn and Jonas.
"Now, then," said Euphemia, closing the door and coming toward me, with one of her old smiles, and not a trace of preoccupation about her, "I suppose you expect me to devote myself to you."
I did expect it, and I was not mistaken.
Since these events, a third baby has come to Rudder Grange. It is not Pomona's, nor was it brought from New Dublin. It is named after a little one who died very young, before this story was begun, and the strangest thing about it is that never for a moment does it seem to come between Euphemia and myself.