Read CHAPTER XIX - THE BABY AT RUDDER GRANGE. of Rudder Grange , free online book, by Frank R. Stockton, on ReadCentral.com.

For some reason, not altogether understood by me, there seemed to be a continued series of new developments at our home.  I had supposed, when the events spoken of in the last chapter had settled down to their proper places in our little history, that our life would flow on in an even, commonplace way, with few or no incidents worthy of being recorded.  But this did not prove to be the case.  After a time, the uniformity and quiet of our existence was considerably disturbed.

This disturbance was caused by a baby, not a rude, imperious baby, but a child who was generally of a quiet and orderly turn of mind.  But it disarranged all our plans; all our habits; all the ordinary disposition of things.

It was in the summer-time, during my vacation, that it began to exert its full influence upon us.  A more unfortunate season could not have been selected.  At first, I may say that it did not exert its full influence upon me.  I was away, during the day, and, in the evening, its influence was not exerted, to any great extent, upon anybody.  As I have said, its habits were exceedingly orderly.  But, during my vacation, the things came to pass which have made this chapter necessary.

I did not intend taking a trip.  As in a former vacation, I proposed staying at home and enjoying those delights of the country which my business in town did not allow me to enjoy in the working weeks and months of the year.  I had no intention of camping out, or of doing anything of that kind, but many were the trips, rides, and excursions I had planned.

I found, however, that if I enjoyed myself in this wise, I must do it, for the most part, alone.  It was not that Euphemia could not go with me ­there was really nothing to prevent ­it was simply that she had lost, for the time, her interest in everything except that baby.

She wanted me to be happy, to amuse myself, to take exercise, to do whatever I thought was pleasant, but she, herself, was so much engrossed with the child, that she was often ignorant of what I intended to do, or had done.  She thought she was listening to what I said to her, but, in reality, she was occupied, mind and body, with the baby, or listening for some sound which should indicate that she ought to go and be occupied with it.

I would often say to her:  “Why can’t you let Pomona attend to it?  You surely need not give up your whole time and your whole mind to the child.”

But she would always answer that Pomona had a great many things to do, and that she couldn’t, at all times, attend to the baby.  Suppose, for instance, that she should be at the barn.

I once suggested that a nurse should be procured, but at this she laughed.

“There is very little to do,” she said, “and I really like to do it.”

“Yes,” said I, “but you spend so much of your time in thinking how glad you will be to do that little, when it is to be done, that you can’t give me any attention, at all.”

“Now you have no cause to say that,” she exclaimed.  “You know very well ­, there!” and away she ran.  It had just begun to cry!

Naturally, I was getting tired of this.  I could never begin a sentence and feel sure that I would be allowed to finish it.  Nothing was important enough to delay attention to an infantile whimper.

Jonas, too, was in a state of unrest.  He was obliged to wear his good clothes, a great part of the time, for he was continually going on errands to the village, and these errands were so important that they took precedence of everything else.  It gave me a melancholy sort of pleasure, sometimes, to do Jonas’s work when he was thus sent away.

I asked him, one day, how he liked it all?

“Well,” said he, reflectively, “I can’t say as I understand it, exactly.  It does seem queer to me that such a little thing should take up pretty nigh all the time of three people.  I suppose, after a while,” this he said with a grave smile, “that you may be wanting to turn in and help.”  I did not make any answer to this, for Jonas was, at that moment, summoned to the house, but it gave me an idea.  In fact, it gave me two ideas.

The first was that Jonas’s remark was not entirely respectful.  He was my hired man, but he was a very respectable man, and an American man, and therefore might sometimes be expected to say things which a foreigner, not known to be respectable, would not think of saying, if he wished to keep his place.  The fact that Jonas had always been very careful to treat me with much civility, caused this remark to make more impression on me.  I felt that he had, in a measure, reason for it.

The other idea was one which grew and developed in my mind until I afterward formed a plan upon it.  I determined, however, before I carried out my plan, to again try to reason with Euphemia.

“If it was our own baby,” I said, “or even the child of one of us, by a former marriage, it would be a different thing; but to give yourself up so entirely to Pomona’s baby, seems, to me, unreasonable.  Indeed, I never heard of any case exactly like it.  It is reversing all the usages of society for the mistress to take care of the servant’s baby.”

“The usages of society are not worth much, sometimes,” said Euphemia, “and you must remember that Pomona is a very different kind of a person from an ordinary servant.  She is much more like a member of the family ­I can’t exactly explain what kind of a member, but I understand it myself.  She has very much improved since she has been married, and you know, yourself, how quiet and ­and, nice she is, and as for the baby, it’s just as good and pretty as any baby, and it may grow up to be better than any of us.  Some of our presidents have sprung from lowly parents.”

“But this one is a girl,” I said.

“Well then,” replied Euphemia, “she may be a president’s wife.”

“Another thing,” I remarked, “I don’t believe Jonas and Pomona like your keeping their baby so much to yourself.”

“Nonsense!” said Euphemia, “a girl in Pomona’s position couldn’t help being glad to have a lady take an interest in her baby, and help bring it up.  And as for Jonas, he would be a cruel man if he wasn’t pleased and grateful to have his wife relieved of so much trouble.  Pomona! is that you?  You can bring it here, now, if you want to get at your clear-starching.”

I don’t believe that Pomona hankered after clear-starching, but she brought the baby and I went away.  I could not see any hope ahead.  Of course, in time, it would grow up, but then it couldn’t grow up during my vacation.

Then it was that I determined to carry out my plan.

I went to the stable and harnessed the horse to the little carriage.  Jonas was not there, and I had fallen out of the habit of calling him.  I drove slowly through the yard and out of the gate.  No one called to me or asked where I was going.  How different this was from the old times!  Then, some one would not have failed to know where I was going, and, in all probability, she would have gone with me.  But now I drove away, quietly and undisturbed.

About three miles from our house was a settlement known as New Dublin.  It was a cluster of poor and doleful houses, inhabited entirely by Irish people, whose dirt and poverty seemed to make them very contented and happy.  The men were generally away, at their work, during the day, but there was never any difficulty in finding some one at home, no matter at what house one called.  I was acquainted with one of the matrons of this locality, a Mrs. Duffy, who had occasionally undertaken some odd jobs at our house, and to her I made a visit.

She was glad to see me, and wiped off a chair for me.

“Mrs. Duffy,” said I, “I want to rent a baby.”

At first, the good woman could not understand me, but when I made plain to her that I wished for a short time, to obtain the exclusive use and control of a baby, for which I was willing to pay a liberal rental, she burst into long and violent laughter.  It seemed to her like a person coming into the country to purchase weeds.  Weeds and children were so abundant in New Dublin.  But she gradually began to see that I was in earnest, and as she knew I was a trusty person, and somewhat noted for the care I took of my live stock, she was perfectly willing to accommodate me, but feared she had nothing on hand of the age I desired.

“Me childther are all agoin’ about,” she said.  “Ye kin see a poile uv ‘em out yon, in the road, an’ there’s more uv ’em on the fince.  But ye nade have no fear about gittin’ wan.  There’s sthacks of ’em in the place.  I’ll jist run over to Mrs. Hogan’s, wid ye.  She’s got sixteen or siventeen, mostly small, for Hogan brought four or five wid him when he married her, an’ she’ll be glad to rint wan uv ’em.”  So, throwing her apron over her head, she accompanied me to Mrs. Hogan’s.

That lady was washing, but she cheerfully stopped her work while Mrs. Duffy took her to one side and explained my errand.  Mrs. Hogan did not appear to be able to understand why I wanted a baby-especially for so limited a period, ­but probably concluded that if I would take good care of it and would pay well for it, the matter was my own affair, for she soon came and said, that if I wanted a baby, I’d come to the right place.  Then she began to consider what one she would let me have.  I insisted on a young one ­there was already a little baby at our house, and the folks there would know how to manage it.

“Oh, ye want it fer coompany for the ither one, is that it?” said Mrs. Hogan, a new light breaking in upon her.  “An’ that’s a good plan, sure.  It must be dridful lownly in a house wid ownly wan baby.  Now there’s one ­Polly ­would she do?”

“Why, she can run,” I said.  “I don’t want one that can run.”

“Oh, dear!” said Mrs. Hogan, with a sigh, “they all begin to run, very airly.  Now Polly isn’t owld, at all, at all.”

“I can see that,” said I, “but I want one that you can put in a cradle ­one that will have to stay there, when you put it in.”

It was plain that Mrs. Hogan’s present stock did not contain exactly what I wanted, and directly Mrs. Duffy exclaimed!  “There’s Mary McCann ­an’ roight across the way!”

Mrs. Hogan said “Yis, sure,” and we all went over to a little house, opposite.

“Now, thin,” said Mrs. Duffy, entering the house, and proudly drawing a small coverlid from a little box-bed in a corner, “what do you think of that?”

“Why, there are two of them,” I exclaimed.

“To be sure,” said Mrs. Duffy.  “They’re tweens.  There’s always two uv em, when they’re tweens.  An’ they’re young enough.”

“Yes,” said I, doubtfully, “but I couldn’t take both.  Do you think their mother would rent one of them?”

The women shook their heads.  “Ye see, sir,” said Mrs. Hogan, “Mary McCann isn’t here, bein’ gone out to a wash, but she ownly has four or foive childther, an’ she aint much used to ’em yit, an’ I kin spake fer her that she’d niver siparate a pair o’ tweens.  When she gits a dozen hersilf, and marries a widow jintleman wid a lot uv his own, she’ll be glad enough to be lettin’ ye have yer pick, to take wan uv ’em fer coompany to yer own baby, at foive dollars a week.  Moind that.”

I visited several houses after this, still in company with Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Duffy, and finally secured a youngish infant, who, having been left motherless, had become what Mrs. Duffy called a “bottle-baby,” and was in charge of a neighboring aunt.  It seemed strange that this child, so eminently adapted to purposes of rental, was not offered to me, at first, but I suppose the Irish ladies, who had the matter in charge, wanted to benefit themselves, or some of their near friends, before giving the general public of New Dublin a chance.

The child suited me very well, and I agreed to take it for as many days as I might happen to want it, but to pay by the week, in advance.  It was a boy, with a suggestion of orange-red bloom all over its head, and what looked, to me, like freckles on its cheeks; while its little nose turned up, even more than those of babies generally turn ­above a very long upper lip.  His eyes were blue and twinkling, and he had the very mouth “fer a leetle poipe,” as Mrs. Hogan admiringly remarked.

He was hastily prepared for his trip, and when I had arranged the necessary business matters with his aunt, and had assured her that she could come to see him whenever she liked, I got into the carriage, and having spread the lap-robe over my knees, the baby, carefully wrapped in a little shawl, was laid in my lap.  Then his bottle, freshly filled, for he might need a drink on the way, was tucked between the cushions on the seat beside me, and taking the lines in my left hand, while I steadied my charge with the other, I prepared to drive away.

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“It’s Pat,” said his aunt, “afther his dad, who’s away in the moines.”

“But ye kin call him onything ye bike,” Mrs. Duffy remarked, “fer he don’t ansther to his name yit.”

“Pat will do very well,” I said, as I bade the good women farewell, and carefully guided the horse through the swarms of youngsters who had gathered around the carriage.