Dickory Dock
by L. T. Meade
Home - Random Browse

Transcribed from the [1890] W. & R. Chambers edition, by David Price, email

{Book cover: cover.jpg}





Edinburgh: Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.


Of course there was a baby in the case—a baby and mongrel dog, and a little boy and girl. They baby was small, and not particularly fair, but it had round limbs and a dimple or two, and a soft, half-pathetic, half- doggy look in its blue eyes, and the usual knack, which most helpless little babies have, of twining itself round the hearts of those who took care of it.

The caretakers of this baby were the two children and the dog. Of course a woman, who went by the name of nurse, did duty somewhere in the background; she washed the baby and dressed it in the morning, and she undressed it at night, and she prepared food for it; but the caretakers who called up smiles to the little white face, who caused the baby to show that enticing little dimple which it had in one of its cheeks, who made that strange, sweet, half-pathetic, half-humorous look come into its eyes, were the children and the dog. The baby had a sad history; it had entered the world with sorrow. Its mother had died at its birth, and the little wee orphan creature had been brought away almost directly to an uncle's house.

'We must do it, wife,' said Mr Franklin; 'there's poor John died two months back, and now there's his widow following him, poor creature, and no one to look after that wee mite of a babe. We must have it here, it's our plain duty, and I don't suppose one extra mouth to feed can make much difference.'

'That's all you men know,' replied Mrs Franklin, who was a very tall, thin, fretful-looking woman. 'No difference indeed! A baby make no difference! And who's to tend on the lodgers, and bring in the grist to the mill, if all my time, day and night, is taken up minding the baby!'

'Well, well,' said Mr Franklin. He was as peaceable as his wife was the reverse. He did not want the baby, but neither did he wish to send poor John's child to the workhouse.

'You must make the best of it, wife,' he said. 'Martha'll help you, and I daresay Peter and Flossy will take a turn in looking after the young 'un.'

Mrs Franklin said no more; she went up-stairs, and got a certain disused attic into some sort of order. The attic was far away from the rest of the house; it was the top story of a wing, which had been added on to the tall, ramshackle old house. In some of the rooms underneath, the Franklin family themselves slept; in others they lived, and in others they cooked. The rest of the house, therefore, was free for the accommodation of lodgers.

Mrs Franklin earned the family bread by taking in lodgers. She was far more active than her husband, who had a very small clerkship in the city; without her aid the children, Peter and Flossy, could scarcely have lived, but by dint of toiling from morning to night, of saving every penny, of turning and re-turning worn-out clothes, and scrubbing and cooking and brushing and cleaning, Mrs Franklin contrived to make two ends meet. Her lodgers said that the rooms they occupied were clean and neat, that their food was well cooked, and above all things that the house was quiet. Therefore they stayed on; year after year the same people lived in the parlours, and occupied the genteel drawing-room floor; and hard as her lot was, Mrs Franklin considered herself a lucky woman, and her neighbours often envied her.

The house where the Franklins lived was in one of those remote old-world half-forgotten squares which are to be found at the back of Bloomsbury. In their day these squares had seen fashion and life, but the gay world had long, long ago passed them by and forgotten them, and in consequence, although the houses were large and commodious, the rents were low.

Things had gone fairly well with the Franklins since they took the old house—that is, things had gone fairly well until the arrival of the baby—but, as Mrs Franklin said to her husband, no baby could come into any house without making a sight of difference. She had only two servants to help her in all her heavy work, and how could either she or they devote much time to nursing and tending a little new-born child?

The baby, however, arrived. It was sent up at once to the nursery which was hastily prepared for it. Flossy, aged six, and Peter, who was between eight and nine, followed it up-stairs, and watched it with profound and breathless interest, while Martha, the most trustworthy of the servants, undressed it, and fed it, and put it to sleep.

'It's a perfect duck,' said Flossy. 'Look at its wee little face, and isn't its skin soft! Might we kiss it, Martha? Would it break it, or anything, if we was to kiss it very soft and tender like?'

'It ain't a doll, child,' said Martha. 'It won't break with you loving of it. Kiss it, Flossy—babes is meant for kissing of.'

The children bent down, and printed a tender salute on the wee baby's face, and that night they scarcely slept themselves for fear of disturbing it.

'I hope we'll be allowed to take care of the wee baby,' whispered Flossy to her brother. 'I think we could do it werry nice; don't you, Peter?'

'Yes,' replied Peter. 'It would be something to amuse us; it's rather dull, you know, always having to keep quiet on account of the lodgers.'

Peter and Flossy soon found they were to have their wish. Martha could only spare a very short time to attending to the baby's wants, and the poor little mite would have had a very unhappy and neglected life but for the children.

As it happened, however, the wee white baby had not a dull life of it at all; when its teeth were not troubling it, and when it was not very hungry, it had quite a merry time. It was devoted to the children, and even when it was sending forth its wail for more food and some real mother's love, it would stop crying and give a clear hearty little laugh if Flossy shook her head of tangled red-brown hair in front of it, or if Snip-snap, the mongrel terrier, stood on his hind-legs and begged to it.

Peter and Flossy had been rather troublesome children before the arrival of the baby. Mrs Franklin's lodgers were fond of calling them 'little termagants,' and liked exceedingly to hint to the mother that if the termagants did not make themselves scarce they would be obliged to seek other quarters. Poor Mrs Franklin was always extremely frightened when these things were said, for she knew the rent, and to a certain extent the daily bread of the children, depended on the lodgers. When she learned that the baby must inevitably come to them, she laid one very solemn command upon her household.

'On no account whatever let out to Mrs Sinclair, and Mrs Potts, and Mr Martin that there is a baby in the house. If you do, go they will, and nothing that I can possibly say will keep them. I'm terribly frightened to think how the baby's existence can be kept from them, but if they know it, most certainly go they will.'

'Mother,' said Flossy, who was rather afraid of her mother, and did not often put a direct question to her, 'if the baby stays up in the old, old attic-nursery, and if Pete and me and Snip can play with it and it never cries, then Mrs Potts and Mr Martin needn't know nothing about it, need they, mother?'

'If it never cries, Flossy, they need not know about it,' answered Mrs Franklin; 'but whoever yet heard of a baby not crying? Of course it will cry all day and all night. I know it will be the ruin of us, and I think it was very unkind of your father to allow it to be brought here.'

'But suppose, mother, Pete and I play with the baby, and we make it so happy that it doesn't cry?' answered little Flossy.

Mrs Franklin gave a short sniff, and said in decidedly an unbelieving voice, 'You may try your best, my dear, of course.'

Then Flossy looked at Peter, and Peter looked back at her, and they called Snip-snap and went out of the room.

This was the way in which the baby became the children's special care; she was immediately thrown upon their tender mercies, they considered themselves answerable for her good behaviour, and Flossy almost wore herself out in devising amusements for her. She would toss all her hair over her face and dance wildly up and down, and contort that same little, funny, freckled face into all sorts of grimaces; and when the baby laughed and crowed, and made chirrupy sounds, she was abundantly satisfied. Peter, too, was most ingenious in keeping off the fatal sounds of baby's wailing: he would blow into a paper bag, and then when the baby had screwed up her face, and was preparing to let out a whole volley of direful notes, he would clap his hands violently on the bag and cause it to explode, thereby absolutely frightening the poor little creature into smiles.

Peter would sing all kinds of nursery rhymes for the baby, and walk up and down with it, and even run with it until his arms ached very badly indeed. But after all, the one who suffered most in the cause of the baby was Snip-snap. The patience with which he bore being dressed up in all kinds of costumes, being made to represent grannie with her spectacles, and lame John with his crutch, and a soldier in full-dress uniform, and a sailor with a broken arm, and everything in the world, in short, except a spirited little dog with four legs, was truly wonderful. He never did attempt to bite, and he was only once guilty of barking; but during the grandmother exhibition he could not help throwing up his head and giving a prolonged and unearthly howl. But the naughty baby only laughed quite merrily over the howl, and the two children begged of Snip- snap to do it again. He never did howl any more—that was his last despairing protest—in future he submitted to the baby's caprices, but with the air of a broken-hearted dog.

Peter and Flossy had commenced their care of the baby without any special love for her, but of course they could not long hold her in their arms, and play with her, and think for her, and earnestly desire to win her smiles and banish her tears, without the usual thing happening. The baby stole their little hearts into her own safe keeping. Notwithstanding his sufferings she also stole Snip-snap's heart. After that the baby was of course mistress of the situation.

The children took care of her by day, and the lodgers knew nothing about her existence; but at night Martha, the old nurse, went into her nursery and slept with her, and attended to her wants. Peter and Flossy having learned the mystery of amusing the small mite, were tolerably happy about her during the daytime, but at night they were obliged to be parted from her, and in consequence at night they were full of fears. Martha meant to be kind, but she was tired, and she often slept soundly, and did not hear the baby when she awoke and demanded attention.

Flossy became quite a light sleeper herself, and would sometimes steal into the nursery and try to quiet the baby; so that, on the whole, for some time, even at night, the lodgers heard no sound of the new little inmate. But all happy and worthy things come to an end, and so, alas! did the baby's good behaviour. There came a night, about three months after her arrival, and when she was about six months old, when baby was very restless, cross, and fidgety, with the cutting of her first tooth. The children had quite worn themselves out in her cause in the daytime, and Snip-snap had allowed himself to be arrayed in all his costumes for her benefit; but Martha had come to bed as tired and weary as the baby herself, and in consequence she fell fast asleep, and never heard the little creature's cries.

Peter and Flossy heard them at the other side of the wall, and knowing that they were much louder and more piercing than usual, they both got up and, hand-in-hand, went to the nursery door. Snip-snap also followed them, but unwillingly, and with his tail between his legs. The door on this unfortunate night was locked, and the children could not get in. Martha slept on, and the baby screamed on, and presently poor Peter and Flossy heard Mr Martin get up and ring his bell violently. Mrs Potts was also heard to open her room door and come out on the landing, and sniff in a very disagreeable way, and go back again. Flossy's heart quite beat with terror, and Peter said:

'It's all up, Flossy; they'll all know about our baby in the morning.'

'What'll they do?' asked Flossy in an awe-struck voice.

'I don't know,' answered Peter. 'I daren't think. Something bad I 'spect.'

Then the two children crept back to their beds, and Flossy cried herself to sleep.

{The Sleeping Baby: p20.jpg}


'You must answer me this question very decidedly, ma'am: am I to go, or the baby? Is my night's sleep to be again disturbed by the peevish wails of a troublesome infant? I must know at once, madam, what you intend to do? Miss Jenkins, over the way, has offered me her front parlour with the bedroom behind, and her terms are lower than yours. You have but to say the word, ma'am, and my bed will be well aired, and the room at Miss Jenkins's all comfortable for me to-night. I don't want you to turn that infant away, oh dear me! no, but I must decide my own plans; stay in the house with a baby, and have my sleep broken, I will not!'

The speaker was Mr Martin. He had come into Mrs Franklin's little back parlour and expressed his mind very freely. The poor woman was standing up and regarding her best lodger with a puzzled and almost despairing air. She did not know that Flossy had crept into the room and was hiding herself behind her chair, and that Flossy's little face had grown even more white and despairing than her own.

'Give me until to-night, sir,' she said. 'Mrs Potts has also been in and complaining about the poor child. She's an orphan child, and my husband's niece, but we are in no way bound to support her. I would not treat her badly, sir, but there are limits; and, of course, as you say, your night's sleep must not be broken. Rather than that should happen, Mr Martin, I would send the child to the workhouse, for, of course, she has no legal claim on us. If you will be so kind, sir, as to give me until to-morrow morning, I will then let you know what I have decided to do with the baby, and I faithfully promise that you are not to be disturbed to-night, sir.'

'That is all right,' said Mr Martin, with a mollified air. 'Of course it is not to be expected that an old bachelor such as I am should be worried by an infant's screams. The screams of a baby have to me an appalling sound. Do what you think well with the child, ma'am, and let me know in the morning; only I may as well state that I think the workhouse an extreme measure.'

Then Mr Martin left the house. Mrs Franklin followed him out of the room, and Flossy crept slowly back to the nursery.

Mrs Franklin did not notice her little daughter, and Flossy did not venture to address her mother. She came into the room where Peter and Snip-snap were doing their utmost for the baby. Peter had her in his arms, and was walking up and down with her, and Snip-snap was bounding after a ball and tossing it into the air for her benefit.

'She's to go, Peter,' said Flossy. 'I guessed it—I guessed it quite well last night. She's to go away to the workhouse—that's what mother said; I heard her telling Mr Martin so.'

'She's not!' said Peter. He turned very pale, and, still holding the child in his arms, sat down on the nearest chair.

It is to be doubted whether this poor neglected baby had ever been christened. The children had given her a name of their own; they had called her Dickory Dock. The reason they had given her this distinctive title was because the first amusement which had brought a smile to her little face had been the old play of Dickory Dock and the mouse that ran up the clock.

'She said it,' repeated Flossy, coming up close to her brother, and fixing her anxious eyes on the baby. 'She said that our Dickory was to go to the workhouse.'

'Well then, she shan't!' said Peter. 'I know nothing about workhouses, but I expect they are very nasty places, and Dickory shan't go there!'

Then he sat silent, his arm round the little child, who looked up at him and then back at Flossy, and then smiled in that wonderfully pathetic way she had.

'Look here, Flossy,' said Peter, 'if you are quite certain sure that mother said the workhouse, that she didn't say nothing about Dickory Dock being put to sleep in another room, or maybe down in the kitchen—if you are quite positive about the workhouse, Flossy, why, I know what I'll do.'

'She did say the workhouse,' answered Flossy; 'I heard her with my own ears, and Mr Martin said it was a stream measure. I don't know what he meant by that, but I do know that mother said the workhouse, and that she has got till to-morrow morning to take baby away.'

'No, she hasn't,' said Peter; 'we'll take her away first, you and me, Flossy—you and me and Snip-snap—we'll take our little baby away, and we'll hide her. Dickory shall never go to no workhouse!'

Here Dickory looked up again at Peter, who looked down at her and kissed her, and two tears splashed from his eyes on her little face.

'Oh, what a dear baby she is!' said Flossy. 'Yes, Peter, we'll run away, and we'll take Dickory. Where shall we take her to, Peter?'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Peter. 'We'll get her out of this, that's the first thing. How much money have you got, Flossy?'

'A crooked halfpenny,' said Flossy, in a decided voice.

Peter sighed. He was older than Flossy, and he knew that a crooked halfpenny did not represent a large capital.

'I have got sixpence,' he said; 'that'll buy milk for her. We'll manage quite well, Floss. When mother goes out with her market-basket, we'll slip downstairs with Dickory, and well take her away, and we'll hide her somewhere. She shan't go to no workhouse, the darling pet!'

'No, that she shan't, the dear!' said Flossy. 'It's a lovely plan, Peter, and I'll just go and watch on the top of the stairs for mother to go out with the old market-basket.'

'We'd better take a bag with us,' said Peter. 'The bag will come in very handy; it will hold baby's milk when we buy it, and some bread for you and me; for we may have to walk a long way before we find a nice hiding- place for Dickory.'

Children seldom take long in carrying out their resolutions, and Mrs Franklin, puzzled and anxious, and with no real intention of sending the poor baby to the workhouse, had not long turned the corner of the street before the hall door of the rambling old house was eagerly and nervously opened, and a funny little quartette issued forth. Dickory did not often get the air, and she enjoyed herself very much, sitting well up in Peter's arms, and wrapped up, head and all, in an old tartan shawl. Flossy, holding the bag, walked by her brother's side, and Snip-snap behaved in his usual erratic fashion, now running before, now lingering behind, now stopping to exchange a greeting with a fellow-dog, or to sniff with watering jaws and wistful eyes at a butcher's shop, but always returning faithfully to his charge, and always raising an inquiring face to see if Dickory was quite comfortable. She was thoroughly so, and when she crowed, and laughed, and chuckled, Flossy wondered they had never thought of taking her out before. The sun was shining and the day was bright and warm, with the promise of spring in it, and the two children were highly delighted with their scheme, and not a bit afraid of the result. The only thing which had at all alarmed them was the fear that Mrs Franklin or Martha might find out their little plan before they had time to carry it into effect.

Having succeeded in getting quite away with the baby, they considered their difficulties at an end. Peter was old enough to know that a crooked halfpenny did not mean much, considered as a provision for three human beings and a dog; but he was still sufficiently young to have perfect confidence in the capabilities of sixpence for meeting the demands of the hour. As they walked along, Flossy, Dickory, and Snip- snap were all very happy, and Peter too was happy, although his arms ached sadly. But, alas! the paths of the poor little adventurers were not to be without thorns.

The time was April, and an April shower first damped the ardour of the travellers—the poor baby's shawl was wet through, and she began to cry pitifully with hunger and want of sleep.

'She must want her milk,' said Peter; 'there, Dickory, there's a darling, now go to sleep like the dear baby you are.'

'You know, Peter, she won't go to sleep without her milk,' said Flossy. 'I'll run across to that milk-shop and buy some. How much milk shall I get, Peter?'

'A ha'p'orth,' said Peter; 'you get a ha'p'orth, Flossy, and we'll sit down on the step of this empty house and feed the baby, and eat up our crusts ourselves.'

A bottle to hold the milk was to be found in Flossy's bag, and accordingly in a short time Dickory had a meal; not quite what she was accustomed to, but sufficient to soothe her off into a slumber in which she forgot the discomfort of her damp clothes and all her other baby tribulations.

'Flossy,' said Peter, 'we have gone a long way from home now, and baby is asleep and resting nicely on my knee; my arm won't ache a bit when she wakes, and I'll be able to carry her a splendid long way. We'll have to think of making up our plans, Floss—we'll have to find some place where we can all sleep comfortably to-night.'

'Well, we've got sixpence,' said Flossy, 'that's lots and lots of money; but the night is a long way off, Peter, and I'm so hungry. I've eaten up all the crusts that you and Snip-snap left for me, but I'm still as hungry as possible. Mightn't I spend a halfpenny or so of our sixpence in getting a good dinner for you and me and Snip-snap?'

Peter put his hand to his brow, and began to reflect.

'I don't think so, Floss,' he said, 'for I'm afraid you don't understand marketing—it's best for me to go, for I'm quite old, and I know the way mother talks to the baker's man and the milkman when they come to the door. I must be sharp with them, Floss; that's what I must be, and I don't think you could be; so you had better hold the baby while I fetch our dinner. Oh dear, what a good thing it is I have got sixpence!'

The baby, being very sound asleep, was transferred to Flossy's arms without waking, Snip-snap was left in charge of the two, and Peter, who knew very little more of London and London life than his little sister, started off manfully to the eating-house round the corner. He had gone away with a bright face, but he returned in a very short time with one singularly depressed.

'Here's a bit of stale bread for each of us,' he said, 'and I had to give two halfpennies for that. I did see such a nice piece of beef and of pudding, and I ordered some for you and me and Snip-snap, but the woman said all that much would cost three sixpences, so then I had to say I wouldn't have it; and I took the stale bread, and she was very cross. O Floss, I hope I'm right about sixpence; I hope it will buy a bed for baby, and milk and food for us all, for I'm thinking we had much better none of us go back to-night.'

'Of course, we won't go back,' said Flossie. 'The stale bread's 'licious, and I'm so hungry. O Peter, do look! Dickory is stretching herself, and rubbing her little fat hands into her eyes; and I know she's going to wake, and I'm afraid she'll cry.'

'Give her to me,' said Peter, with the air of a practised nurse. 'I'll hold her, and you can feed me while I'm doing so, Flossy.'

But notwithstanding all Peter's efforts, notwithstanding his singing, and even shouting, for the baby's benefit, notwithstanding the admiring cheers of a little street mob that collected round him, the baby cried, not a loud cry, but a weak, broken-hearted wail. The fact was, the indifferent milk Flossy had fed her with had made her ill, and her little frame was already sadly chilled by the damp shawl which she wore about her. Poor Dickory scarcely ever got any air or exercise, and in consequence was very susceptible to cold.

'She is sneezing,' said Flossy. 'Oh the poor, poor darling! Peter, I think we'd better see about our night's lodging soon; it doesn't agree with Dickory to keep her out so long.'

'We'll go at once,' said Peter, rising to his feet. 'There's another black cloud coming up, and there'll be a shower again before long. We'll get a nice room for us four, and then we'll be as happy as possible.'

Accordingly the little party again moved forward, and whenever Peter or Flossy saw a card up in a window they stopped and rang the house-bell, and inquired for lodgings for themselves and their baby. Of course, they were repulsed in all kinds of ways—some people merely laughing, and shutting the door in their faces; some scolding them, and calling them tiresome, impertinent little brats; and some even threatening to tell the police about them; but no one ever hinted at the possibility of taking them in. Presently they left the more respectable streets, and wandered into very poor quarters. Here, doubtless, they could have found accommodation were they able to pay for it, but everybody laughed at Peter's pennies, and no one dreamt of offering them a shelter. Then the rain which had threatened came down, and baby was again wet through, and now she looked ill, as well as fretful, and refused some fresh milk which Flossy bought for her. She was not the least like the bright little Dickory who used to laugh and show her dimples in the old attic-nursery at home.

'Look here,' said Peter, 'what are we to do? 'T will be night soon, and we haven't found no hiding-place for Dickory, and no one will take us in.'

'Baby is not at all well, either,' said Flossy; 'her head is quite hot, like fire, when I touch it.'

'What are we to do?' asked Peter. 'We can't get home, but it seems to me, Floss, that this is worse for poor Dickory than the workhouse.'

'I'll tell you what,' said Flossy suddenly, raising her bright half-humorous face to Peter's, 'let's take baby to the lady what cried.'

'The lady who cried?' repeated Peter. 'I don't know nothing about her, Floss.'

'O Peter, you do know; it was that day our Uncle David took us a long walk, and we went to the cemetery with him, you know, the place with the flowers and the trees, and where they put the pretty little children when they die—there was a little baby being put there, and there was a lady crying very, very bitter. I never saw no one cry so dreadful bitter as that lady, and they said she was putting her baby in the ground. I'm sure she must want another baby, and I think perhaps it would be right for us to give her Dickory.'

Peter's face became very sad. 'I don't know,' he said; 'I don't want to give Dickory away. I'm quite dreadfully fond of her; it seems to me she makes a lot of difference in the house, and you know, Floss, it used to be very dull before she came.'

'Yes,' said Flossy, 'I love her more than anything; she's a dear baby, and I never find the days long when I'm playing with her and talking to her: but you see, Peter, she's not to be kept at home; she's to go to the workhouse to-morrow morning, unless we can find a nice hiding-place for her. We can't find a hiding-place, Peter, for though you are a rich boy and have got a lot of pennies, yet you haven't enough for us to get a room for ourselves and Dickory, and the night air don't agree with her—oh, there, she's sneezing again—bless her, the pet! Peter, I hope you always say "bless her!" when Dickory sneezes. Martha says it isn't lucky if you don't. O Peter, I do think if we must part with the baby it would be better to give her to the lady who cried than to send her to the workhouse.'

'But we don't know where the lady lives,' said Peter. 'We might do it if we knew where the lady lived; but we can't, however much we wish to, if we don't.'

'But I do know,' answered Flossy, 'I know quite well, 'cause last week I saw the lady. I was out with mother, and mother went to the greengrocer's, and while she was there the lady comed in. She was all in black, and I am sure she had been crying a lot, for she looked so sad; and I knew it was her. Afterwards mother and I walked behind her as she went home, and she turned into a great big house in the square near us. You know the square, Peter, the square that begins with a big B; Bev—- something, I can't say it all.'

'Bevington Square,' said Peter, in a gloomy voice.

'Yes, yes, that was it, and 10 was the number of the house. I don't forget the number 'cause I asked mother, and she said it was 10. O Peter, that's where our lady lives, and I do think it would be better to give her Dickory. There, Peter, bless her! she's sneezing again. I'm sure we had better take her to the lady.'

'All right,' answered Peter, 'I'll be a termagant again when she's gone; see if I won't. I'll get up an awful racking cough at night, and I'll worry that nasty Mr Martin much more than Dickory has worried him, see if I don't; and I'll sing on the stairs, and I'll whistle awful loud, and I'll buy a Jew's-harp with one of my pennies. I'll turn into a horrid boy! but I suppose you are right about Dickory, Flossy. Here, let's go back as fast as we can to that house you were so 'cute as to take the number of. I'm mis'rible, and I mean to be mis'rible, so don't you expect nothing cheerful from me, Flossy.'

'Very well, Peter,' said Flossy meekly.

And then the little party, slowly and painfully, for Flossy was very, very tired, and poor Peter's arms ached fearfully, retraced their steps. The baby had ceased crying and was asleep, and after about two hours' patient walking and asking their way, the children found themselves in Bevington Square.

'I'd better go up first to the door,' said Flossy, 'and ask her if she'd like a baby. You might stand round there, Peter, and you might keep Snip- snap with you.'

'You needn't press her about it,' said Peter; 'if she don't seem quite delighted we won't give up Dickory on no account; and kiss her before you go, Flossy, for of course the lady will take her; and in a few minutes she won't be our Dickory no more.'

Peter unfastened a corner of the old tartan shawl, and Flossy imprinted a grave kiss on the baby's forehead. Then, with great solemnity, and with the air of one engaged on an important mission, she went up the steps of the great house and rang the bell. Flossy was an attractive little child, her hair was really beautiful, and she had a very wistful and taking manner.

'Please,' she said now to the tall, powdered footman, 'I know the lady what cried is here; please can I see her? I've brought her a little baby, and I want to see her about it.'

Flossy did not look quite like a common child, and her face wore a very sweet expression when she spoke of the baby; nevertheless the footman only stared at her, and would have certainly shut the door in her face, had not the lady of the house at that moment come into the hall. Flossy saw her, and quick as thought she darted past the servant and up to the lady.

'Please, lady,' she said, 'I've often thought of you, and I'm so very sorry for you. Please, I've brought you another little baby instead of the one you put into the ground in the pretty place where the flowers and trees are. She's a dear little baby, and when you have her you won't cry no more.'

Flossy's voice was very earnest, and her eyes looking up full into the lady's face were full of the most intense sympathy. Those pretty eyes of hers were too much for the poor bereaved mother: she put her handkerchief to her own eyes, and there and then burst into fits of fresh weeping.

'Come away, little girl, at once,' said the indignant footman; but the lady put out one of her hands and took Flossy's.

'Leave the child with me,' she said to the man. 'I'll be better in a moment, little girl,' she continued, 'and then you shall tell me what you mean; but you have upset me talking about babies: it is not long since I buried my child, my only child.'

'I saw you,' said Flossy, nodding her bright head. 'I was in the cemetery and I saw you. Oh, didn't you cry bitter! but you needn't cry no more now, for God has sent you another little baby.'

'No, my little girl,' said the lady, 'He has not. I have asked Him, but it is not His will.'

'I guessed you'd want another baby,' said Flossy. 'I knew quite well you would, and she's waiting for you round the corner with Peter and Snip- snap. You put on your bonnet and come and look at her; she's a real beauty; she's got a dimple, and her name is Dickory.'

'I'll come,' said the lady in an excited voice. 'It's the very strangest thing I ever heard. A child coming to me like that. We'll slip out, little girl. James need not open the door for us.'

Flossy wondered who James was.

'Give me your hand, little girl,' continued the lady. 'And take me to the baby; I'll look at her anyhow.'

Peter was standing in a very sulky attitude at the corner where the railings were. In his heart of hearts he was extremely anxious that Flossy's mission should fail. It seemed to him that every bit of the niceness, all the interest would go out of his life if he hadn't Dickory. In some ways he considered that Dickory was more to him than she was to Flossy. He wondered how Flossy could even talk of parting with her. He hoped sincerely she would fail in winning the lady's pity.

But no, there they were both coming to meet him, the tall lady in deep black, and little eager wistful Flossy.

'This is the lady what cried,' she said to Peter. 'She have come out to see our baby. Show her our baby, Peter.'

In solemn gloomy silence Peter unfolded a morsel of the tartan shawl which covered the baby's face.

'Let me have her in my arms, please,' said the lady.

She took the baby tenderly, peeped once again at its small wee face, felt a sudden glow coming back into empty arms and more empty heart, and then turned again to the children.

{She took the baby tenderly: p47.jpg}

'I must be mad to do such a thing,' she said. 'Two little waifs in the street come and offer me a baby, and I don't refuse it! There, baby,' for Dickory began to cry again, 'there, baby—hush, sweet—hush, dear little baby, hush.'

This lady's voice had quite a new tone for Dickory, a sweeter tone even than Peter's or Flossy's. She stopped crying at once.

'Our baby takes to you, ma'am,' said Flossy, in a voice of thrilling interest.

Peter, very pale, and still silent, drew a step nearer.

'Well, children,' said the lady, 'I have made up my mind. I'll take this baby home for the night. My husband will think me mad—anyone in their senses would think me mad, but I'm nearly wild with mother-hunger, and that little mite there,' pointing to Flossy, 'guessed it, and she brought me the baby, and I say God bless her for it, whether she's a ragamuffin or not. Yes, I have made up my mind. I shall take the baby home for to- night at least. In the morning I shall make inquiries, but for to-night the baby is mine.'

'Half milk, half water in her bottle,' said Peter in a very grave reproachful voice. 'Half milk, half water, and a little sugar, and a pinch of salt, and Dickory likes her feet kept werry warm. Come home, Flossy.'

'And we are not ragamuffins, please lady,' said Flossy. 'Our name is Franklin, and we live in 24 Montfiore Square. We lets lodgings, please lady, and it was Mr Martin what turned so crusty about baby.'

'Tell your mother I will come and see her to-morrow,' said the lady. 'You have a mother, I suppose?'

'Yes, oh yes. She wanted to send the baby to the workhouse.'

'I don't think that will be necessary. My name is Ross. Tell your mother to expect me to-morrow.'


It is one thing to feel very angry about a baby, and another to wish that helpless little atom of humanity positive ill. Mr Martin was an old bachelor, and even mothers could scarcely blame him for objecting to having his first sweet sleep disturbed by the wailings of a child who was cutting its teeth. Mr Martin meant what he said when he proposed to change lodgings.

'Some one else can have my present room,' he remarked. 'It would be preposterous to send that infant to the workhouse. A less sensitive person than I am can occupy my present parlour and bedroom; comfortable rooms, too.' He sighed as he went out.

He was a man who disliked change, and he felt that he had been treated badly. Mrs Franklin had no right to bring a wailing niece of a few weeks old into the house where he lived, and it was unfair and inconsiderate. Well, there was no help for it; the baby had come and could not be displaced, and now there was nothing for it but for him to engage the rooms opposite, which were certainly not nearly so nice, nor so much to his taste. He had promised Mrs Franklin that he would give her a short time to consider, but in his heart of hearts he was quite certain that he must take the detested step.

Mr Martin was a retired merchant. He had plenty of money, and his working days were over. He generally went to his club in the morning, and he always returned about one o'clock in the day to a comfortable mid- day repast. Always sharp as the clock struck one, Martha placed upon Mr Martin's board a smoking steak done to perfection. He had the same lunch every day—he drank a glass of ale with his steak. He required this simple meal to be served with regularity. He insisted that his steak should always be tender and properly cooked—that was all—he would not have stayed a week in any lodgings where the landlady could not provide him with his steak and glass of beer as he liked them, sharp at one o'clock.

To-day he returned as usual, sighing a little as he entered the square.

What a troublesome baby that was! What a nuisance it would be to move! He doubted very much if the people opposite knew how to cook steak. He let himself into the house with his latchkey, hung up his coat and hat in the hall—he was a most methodical old gentleman—and turned into his parlour. He expected the usual scene to meet his eyes, the fire burning brightly, a snowy cloth on the table, and Martha in the act of placing an appetising covered dish on the board. This homely and domestic scene, however, was not destined to meet him to-day. The fire in the grate was out, there were no preparations for lunch on the table, and taking up the greater part of the light from one of the windows might have been seen the portly form of Mrs Potts.

Mrs Potts was the drawing-room lodger, and Mr Martin both dreaded and detested her. He shrank back a step or two. What was she doing in his room? The absence of lunch was bad enough, but this unexpected and undesired company was insult on injury.

Mr Martin bowed, cleared his throat, and prepared to make an elaborate speech. Mrs Potts interrupted him fiercely.

'My good sir, this is no time for ceremony—the wailing infant up-stairs and the two children of the house have been stolen since the morning. Mrs Franklin is almost out of her mind with grief, and suspicion points to you.'

'Good gracious, madam, what do you mean?' said poor Mr Martin in a limp voice. He sank down on the nearest chair, spreading out his hands on his knees. 'What do you mean?' he continued. 'The children stolen! Who stole them?'

'Perhaps you can answer that question. Who was it made such an indecent fuss this morning because a poor fatherless and motherless babe cried? Who threatened to leave if that same poor babe wasn't sent to the workhouse? Answer me that, Mr Martin, and then tell me if you know nothing of the fate of the hapless innocents.'

Mr Martin looked cautiously round at the door, which was slightly ajar. He got up softly and shut it. Then he advanced gently across the room and came up close to Mrs Potts.

'Answer me this,' he said. 'Did you like it, yourself?'

'Did I like what? Good gracious, the man frightens me.'

'Did you like the wailing sounds of the fatherless and motherless baby? You were nearer to it than I was. If you heard it last night, and felt all the pity you now express, you had a good opportunity of putting it to the test by going up-stairs and lulling the unfortunate babe to rest. A woman's mission, too, I have always understood.'

Mrs Potts turned scarlet.

'I! I do what you describe!' she said. 'You forget yourself, Mr Martin.'

'I fail to see that I do, Mrs Potts. It strikes me that it is rather the other way. Perhaps you will do me the kindness to let me have my room in peace.'

Mrs Potts made a sweeping curtsey and vanished, and Mr Martin stood for some time in his deserted parlour feeling far more uncomfortable than he liked to confess. He was methodical and fussy, but he was by no means an ill-natured man. He thought Mrs Potts most impertinent, but her news distressed him. After reflecting for a few moments, he went across to the fireplace, and pulled his bell sharply. After a short pause the kitchen slavey answered his summons: her eyes were red with weeping, and her nose very smutty. Mr Martin hated dirty servants. He turned his back to her as he spoke.

'Jane, is your mistress in?'

'Yes, sir. Please sir, we're all distraught with grief. You have heard of the—the—'

'I have heard of the calamity, through Mrs Potts. Can I speak to your mistress?'

'I'll inquire, please sir. Missus is having her fourth hysteric fit just now.'

'Then I beg'—Mr Martin's face grew quite white—'I beg you won't disturb her until she is equal to seeing me.' ('How awful if the fifth comes on in this room,' he mentally thought. 'I've a good mind to tell her not to disturb herself.')

But Jane had vanished.

In about a quarter of an hour Mrs Franklin appeared. She was pale, but her grief was temperate.

'Yes,' she said, 'I am in very great distress. The children, Peter and Flossy, have evidently run away with that poor baby. Flossy was in the room when you spoke to me this morning, Mr Martin, and she must have taken fright at your words. The children took the opportunity to leave the house when I was out marketing. Your steak is being cooked, Mr Martin. I must apologise for the delay.'

'Madam, I beg you won't mention it. I am deeply grieved that this should have happened, and that I am the cause. I am more grieved than I can possibly express. I would rather lie awake all night listening to those yells of that miserable infant than that this—this—should have happened. The alarm, the upsetting of the household routine, the inroad into my sanctum of that awful female—h'm—of your drawing-room lodger—and last but not least, the danger to three innocent human creatures. I am overpowered with remorse at the sorry part I have played myself.'

'Don't mention it, Mr Martin. I always said there'd be trouble when the baby was brought. It can't be helped now. Of course we must keep it, but I'm sorry to lose a valuable and considerate lodger like yourself, sir.'

'H'm! Are any steps being taken to recover the children?'

'My husband has gone to the nearest police-station, sir. Poor mites, and Flossy's not so strong in her chest. They're safe to be back by to-night, Mr Martin. And perhaps you'd like some one to help you with your packing, sir?'

'H'm! I'll consider it,' said Mr Martin. 'I'm—I'm not such a young man as I was, Mrs Franklin.'

'Oh, I'm sure, sir. Well, we're none of us that, are we? I should take you, sir, begging your pardon, to be but a very little way on the wrong side of forty.'

Mr Martin chuckled, and then grew grave.

'On the wrong side of sixty,' he said. 'Now, now, no humbugging, I beg.'

'Well, sir, about the packing. My head is all in a muddle, it is true, but any help that I can give'—

'What do you say to a baize door?' replied Mr Martin, rather irrelevantly.

'I—I beg your pardon, sir?'

'And a very thick curtain inside my room door? It is true I have heard it remarked that the wails of an infant when teething will penetrate through any obstacles. Still, a baize door inside your nursery door, and thick curtains inside mine would soften the disturbance—yes, would soften it. I was going to say that I would provide them.'

'Then you will stay after all, sir?'

'Well, well, do you agree with me? do you think my plan will make matters easier?'

'Oh, won't they just!' said Mrs Franklin, tears now brimming over in her eyes. 'You're a good man, Mr Martin, and God will bless you, sir.'

* * * * *

'Mother,' said Flossy, when at last she got home, 'it's all right about Dickory. We took her to the lady what cried.'

Mrs Franklin had Flossy in her arms when she made this remark. Now she pressed her close with one arm, and with the other drew Peter to her side.

'Tell me the whole story, my darlings,' she said.

Which they did, Mr Martin himself coming into the kitchen and listening to them.

'Why, I know Mrs Ross,' he said suddenly. 'It's a splendid chance for the infant, a splendid chance. Miles better than a baize door and thick curtains. Only you won't forget that I made you the offer, Mrs Franklin?'

'No, sir. I'm never likely to forget that.'

'It's a splendid chance,' repeated Mr Martin. 'The Rosses are wealthy, and she's just that eccentric, generous, impulsive creature who would be sure to take to a child brought to her so. I consider you a very clever little girl, Flossy Franklin.'

But Peter put his head down upon the table, and began to cry, for his heart was very sore for Dickory.

* * * * *

However, in the end even Peter was comforted. When next the children saw Dickory she was beautifully dressed, she had a grand nurse all to herself, and two splendid nurseries entirely at her own disposal. The grand nurse said that she was a most refined baby, that she must have very good blood in her veins, for she had such a 'haristocratic way.'

The grand nurse felt rather inclined to look down upon Peter and Flossy Franklin, but not so Dickory herself. Out went her baby arms, dimples came into her baby face, and with a crow of rapture she nestled up into Peter's embrace.

'Eh, but she's a 'cute young 'un,' he said with his slow smile.

And somehow after that he was comforted. He felt that it would have been wrong of him to stand in the way of such a brilliant lot for his darling.

Flossy and he went back to the attic, which was no longer at all a cheerful apartment. They did not, however, spend so much of their time there as formerly, for Mr Martin had taken a fancy to the children, and they often now spent their evenings with him.

On these occasions he was often seen to regard them both with a puzzled look on his somewhat testy but still kind-hearted face.

'The cleverest little girl in the world,' he would say, signifying Flossy by a motion of his hand. 'For it is my private belief that even curtains and a baize door would not have softened the piercing sound. Yes, Flossy got me out of my dilemma in a wonderful way.'


Edinburgh: Printed by W. & R. Chambers, Limited.

Home - Random Browse