Read CHAPTER VI - AN OLD SHOP AND AN OGRE of The Adventures of Herr Baby , free online book, by Mrs. Molesworth, on

“Innocent face with the sad sweet eyes,
Smiling on us through the centuries.”

Baby and Fritz went out a walk that afternoon in the town with auntie and Lisa. Celia and Denny had gone for a drive with mother and grandfather, which the big people thought would make a good division. Grandfather was very fond of children, but in a carriage, he used to say, two small people were enough of a good thing. So Celia and Denny worried Lisa to get out their best hats and jackets-which were not unpacked, as grandfather had not yet decided whether they should stay at the hotel or get a house for themselves-and set off in great spirits on the back seat of the carriage.

Fritz and Baby were in very good spirits too. Fritz wanted to walk along the sort of front street of the town which faced the sea, for he was never tired of looking at boats and ships. Baby liked them too, but what he most wanted to see was the shops. Baby was very fond of shops. He was fond of buying things, but before he bought anything he used to like to be quite sure which was the best shop to get it at-I mean to say at which shop he could get it best-and he often asked the price two or three times before he fixed. And he had never before seen so many shops or such pretty and curious ones as there were at Santino, so he was quite delighted, though if you hadn’t known him well you would hardly have guessed it, for he trotted along as grave as a little judge, only staring about him with all his eyes.

And indeed there were plenty of things to stare at. Fritz’s tongue went very fast. He wanted auntie to stop every minute to look at something wonderful. The carts drawn by oxen pleased him and Baby very much.

“That’s the working cows they told us about,” said Fritz. “They’re very nice, but I think I like horses best, don’t you, Baby?”

“No, him likes cows best,” said Baby, “when him’s a man him will have a calliage wif hundreds of cows to pull it along, and wif lots and lots of gold bells all tinkling. Won’t that be lubly?”

“Not half so nice as a lot of ponies, all with bells,” said Fritz, “they’d make ever so much more jingling, ’cos they go so fast. Isn’t it funny to see all the women with handkerchers on their heads and no bonnets, Baby?”

“When him’s a man,” said Baby again-he was growing more talkative now-“when him’s a man, him’s going to have auntie and Lisa,” auntie and Lisa came first, of course, because they happened to be in his sight, “and mother, and Celia, and Denny all for his wifes, and them shall all wear most bootly hankerwifs on them’s heads, red and blue and pink and every colour, and gold-lots of gold.”

“Thank you,” said auntie, “but by that time my hair, for one, will be quite gray; I shall be quite an old woman. I don’t think such splendid trappings would suit me.”

“Him said handkerwifs, not traps-him doesn’t know what traps is,” said Baby. “And him will be werry kind to you when you’re old. Him will always let you come in and warm yourself, and give you halfpennies.”

“Thank you, dear, I’m sure you will,” said auntie. But she and Fritz looked at each other. That was one of Herr Baby’s ideas, and they couldn’t get him to understand, so mother settled it was better to leave it and he’d understand of himself when he grew bigger. He thought that everybody, however rich and well off they might be, had to grow quite, quite poor, and to beg for pennies in the streets before they died. Wasn’t it a funny fancy? It was not till a good while afterwards that mother found out that what had made him think so was the word “old.” He couldn’t understand that growing old could mean only growing old in years-he thought it meant as well, poor and worn-out, like his own little old shoes. Just now it would have been no good trying to explain, even if mother had quite understood what was in his mind, which she didn’t till he told her himself long after. For it only made him cry when people tried to explain and he couldn’t explain what he meant. There was nothing vexed him so much! And I think there was something rather nice mixed up with this funny idea about getting old. It made Baby wish to be so kind to all poor old people. He would look at any poor old beggar in such a strange sad way, and he always begged to be allowed to give them a penny. And, though no one knew of it, in his own mind he was thinking that his dear little mother or his kind auntie would be like that some day, and he would like rich little boys to be kind to them then, just as he was now to other poor old people. Of course, he said to himself, “If him sees dear little mother and auntie when they get old, him will take care of them and let them rest at his house every time they come past, but p’raps him might be far away then.”

And sometimes, when grandfather spoke about getting old and how white his hair was growing, Baby would look at him very gravely, for in his own mind he was wondering if the time was very soon coming for poor grandfather to be an old beggar-man. Baby thought it had to be, you see, he thought it was just what must come to everybody.

Just as auntie and he had finished talking about getting old they turned a corner and went down a street which led them away from the view of the sea. This street had shops at both sides, and some of them were very pretty, but they were not the kind of shops that the little boys cared much for-they were mostly dressmakers’ and milliners’ and shawl shops. Lots of grand dresses and hats and bonnets were to be seen, which would have pleased Celia and Denny perhaps, but which Fritz said were very stupid. Auntie did not seem to care for them either-she was in a hurry to go to an office where she was going to ask about a house that might do for them. So she walked on quickly, as quickly at least as Baby’s short legs could go, for she held him by the hand, and Fritz and Lisa came behind. They left this street in a minute and crossed through two or three others before auntie could find the one she wanted. Suddenly Baby gave her a tug.

“Oh auntie,” he said, “p’ease ’top one minute. Him sees shiny glass jugs like dear little mother’s. Oh, do ’top.”

Auntie stopped. They were passing what is called an old curiosity shop; it was a funny looking place, seeming very crowded even though it was a large shop, for it was so very full of all sorts of queer things. Some among them were more queer than pretty, but some were very pretty too, and in one corner of the window there were several jugs, and cups, and bottles, and such things, of very fine glass, with the same sort of soft-coloured shine on it that Baby remembered in the two jugs that he had pulled down in the tiny trunk. Baby’s eyes had spied them out at once.

“Look, look, auntie,” he said, again gently tugging her.

“Yes, Baby dear, very pretty,” said auntie, but without paying much attention to the glass, for she was not thinking of Baby’s adventure in the pantry at the moment, and did not know what jugs of his mother’s he meant.

“There is two just like mother’s,” said Baby, but he spoke lower now, almost as if he were speaking to himself. An idea had come into his mind which he had hardly yet understood himself, and he did not want to speak of it to any one else. He just stood at the window staring in, his two eyes fixed on the glass jugs, and the great question he was saying to himself was, “How many pennies would they cost?”

“Them’s a little smaller, him sinks,” he murmured, “but p’raps mother wouldn’t mind.”

It was a mistake of his that they were smaller; they were really a little larger than the broken ones. Besides Baby had never seen the broken ones till they were broken. One of them had been much less smashed than the other, and mother had examined it to see if it could possibly be mended so as to look pretty as an ornament, even though it would never do to hold water, and, when she found nothing could be done, she had told Thomas to keep the top part of it as a sort of pattern, in case she ever had a chance of getting the same. I think I forgot to explain this to you before, and you may have wondered how Baby knew so well what the jugs had been like.

“Them is a little smaller,” he said again to himself. He did not understand that things often look smaller when they are among a great many others of the same kind, and though there was not a very great deal of the shiny glass in the shop window, there was enough to make it rather a wonder that such a little boy as Baby had caught sight of the two jugs at all, for they were behind the rest. He had time to look at them well, for, though auntie had been rather in a hurry, she, too, stood still in front of the shop, for something had caught her eyes too.

“How very pretty, how sweet!” she said to herself, “I wish I could copy it. It seems to me beautifully done,” and when Fritz, who had not found the shop so interesting as the others had done, in his turn gave her a tug and said, “Auntie, aren’t you coming?” she pointed out to him what it was she was so pleased with.

“Isn’t it sweet, Fritz?” said auntie.

“Yes,” said Fritz, “but it’s rather dirty, auntie, isn’t it?”

Fritz was very, what is called, practical. The “it” that auntie was speaking about was an old picture, hanging up on the wall at the side of the door. It was the portrait of a little girl, a very little girl, of not more than three or four years old. She had a dear little face, sweet and bright, and yet somehow a very little sad, or else it was the long-ago make of the dress, and the faded look of the picture itself, beside the baby-like face that made it seem sad. You couldn’t help thinking the moment you saw it, “Dear me, that little girl must be a very old woman by now or most likely she must be dead!” I think it was that that made one feel sad on first looking at the picture, for, after all, the face was bright and happy-looking: the rosy, roguish, little mouth was smiling, the soft blue eyes had a sort of twinkling fun in them, though they were so soft, and the fair hair, so fair that it almost seemed white, drawn up rather tight in an old-fashioned way, fell back again on one side as if little Blue-eyes had just been having a good run. And one fat, dimpled shoulder was poked out of the prim white frock in a way that, I daresay, had rather shocked the little girl’s mother when the painter first showed her his work, for our little, old, great-great-grandfathers’ and great-great-grandmothers’, children, must have had to sit very, very still in their very best and stiffest frocks and suits when their pictures were painted, poor little things! They were not so lucky as you are nowadays, who have only to go to the photograph man’s for half an hour, and keep your merry faces still for a quarter of a minute, if your mothers want to have a picture of you!

But Blue-eyes must have had some fun when her picture was painted, I think, or else that little shoulder wouldn’t have got leave to poke itself out of its sleeve, and there wouldn’t have been that mischievous look about the comers of her mouth.

Isn’t it a little dirty, auntie?” said Fritz.

“Wouldn’t your face look a little dirty if it had been hanging up in a frame for over a hundred years?” said auntie, laughing, at which Fritz looked rather puzzled.

Then auntie’s eyes went back to the picture again.

“It is sweet,” she said, “very, very sweet, and so perfectly natural.”

All this time, as I told you, Herr Baby’s whole mind had been given to the shiny glasses. Suddenly the sound of his aunt’s voice caught his ear, and he looked up.

“What is it that is so ’weet, auntie?” he said.

“The picture over there, dear. Hanging up by the door. The little girl.”

Baby looked up, and in a moment his eyes brightened.

“Oh, what a dear little baby!” he said. “Oh, her is ’weet! Auntie, him would so like to kiss her.”

“You darling!” said auntie, her glance turning from the sweet picture face above to the sweet living face beside her. “I wonder if you will ever learn to paint like that, Baby. I should very much like to copy it if I could have the loan of it. It would be sure to be very dear to buy,” she added to herself. “But we must hurry, my little boys,” she went on. “I was tempted to waste time admiring the picture, but we must be quick.”

Fritz and Lisa turned away with auntie, but Baby waited one moment behind. He pressed his face close against the shop window and whispered softly,

“Pitty little girl, him would like to kiss you. Him will come a ’nother day. P’ease, pitty little girl, don’t let nobody take away the shiny glasses, for him wants to buy them for mother.”

Then, quite satisfied, he trotted down the street after the others, who were waiting for him a few doors off.

“Were you saying good-bye to the picture, Baby?” said auntie, smiling.

“Yes,” said Baby gravely.

Auntie soon found the office where she was to hear about the house they were thinking of taking. The little boys stood beside her and listened gravely while she asked questions about it, though they couldn’t understand what was said.

“Him wishes the people in this countly wouldn’t talk lubbish talk,” said Herr Baby to Fritz with a sigh. “Him would so like to know what them says.”

I want to know if we’re going to have a house with a garden,” said Fritz. “That’s all I care about,” and as soon as they were out in the street again, he asked auntie if “the man” had said there was a garden to the house.

“There are several houses that I have to tell your grandfather about,” said auntie. “Some have gardens and some haven’t, but the one we like the best has a garden, though not a very big one.”

“Not as big as the one at home?” said Fritz.

“Oh dear no, of course not,” said auntie. “It is quite different here from at home. People only come to stay a short time, they wouldn’t care to be troubled with big gardens.”

“I don’t mind,” said Fritz amiably, “if only it’s big enough for us to have a corner to dig in, and somewhere to play in when Lisa’s in a fussy humour.”

“Mine child,” said Lisa mildly. Poor Lisa, she was not a very fussy person! Indeed she was rather too easy for such lively young people as Fritz and Denny.

“And do you want a garden, too, very much, Baby?” said auntie.

Baby had hardly heard what they were saying. His mind was still running on the shiny jugs and the blue-eyed little girl.

“Him wants gate lots of pennies,” he said, which didn’t seem much of an answer to auntie’s question.

“Lots of pennies, my little man,” said auntie. “What do you want lots of pennies for?”

But Baby would not tell.

Just then they saw coming towards them in the street two very funny looking men. They had no hats or caps on their heads, so the children could see that they had no hair either, at least none on the top, where it was shaved quite off, and only a sort of fringe all round left. Then they had queer loose brown coats, with big capes, something like grandfather’s Inverness cloak, Fritz thought, and silver chains hanging down at their sides, and, queerest of all, no stockings or proper boots or shoes, only things like the soles of shoes strapped on to their bare feet. These were called sandals, auntie said, and she told the boys that these funny looking men were monks, “Franciscans,” she said they were called. They all lived together, and they never kept any money, and people said-but auntie thought that was not quite true-that they never washed themselves.

“Nasty dirty men,” said Fritz, making a face. “I shouldn’t like to be a Franciscan.”

“Not in winter, Fritz?” said Baby. “Him wouldn’t mind in winter when the water are so cold. Lisa,” he went on, turning round to his nurse, “’member-when the werry cold mornings comes, him’s going to be a Frantisker-will you ’member, Lisa?”

“But what about the pennies?” said auntie, laughing. “If you are a Frantisker, Baby, you won’t have any pennies, and you said just now you wanted a great lot of pennies.”

Baby looked very grave.

“Then him won’t be a Frantisker,” he said decidedly.

After that he spoke very little all the way home. He had a great deal on his mind, you see. And his last thought that night as he was falling asleep was, “Him are so glad him asked the little pitty girl to take care of the shiny jugs.”

Funny little Herr Baby! How much was fancy, how much was earnest in his busy baby mind, who can tell?

A few days after this, they all moved from the Hotel to the pretty house with a garden which auntie had gone to ask about. It was a pretty house. I wish I could show it to you, children! It had not only a garden but a terrace, and this terrace overlooked the sea, the blue sunny sea of the south. And from one side, or from a little farther down in the garden, one could see the white-capped mountains, rising, rising up into the sky, with sometimes a soft mist about their heads which made them seem even higher than they were, “high enough to peep into heaven,” said Baby; and sometimes, on very clear days, standing out sharply against the blue behind, so that one could hardly believe it would take more than a few minutes to run to the top and down again.

There were many interesting things in this garden-things that the children had not had in the old garden at home, nice though it was. It was not so beautifully neat as the flower part of the garden at home, but I do not think the children liked it any the less for that. The trees and bushes grew so thickly that down at the lower end it was really like a wilderness, a most lovely place for hide-and-seek. Then there was a fountain, a real fountain, where the water actually danced and fell all day long; and all round the windows of the house and the trellised balcony there were the most lovely red shaded leaves, such as one never sees in such quantities in the north. And in among the stones of the terrace there lived lizards-the most delightful lizards. One in particular grew so friendly that he used to come out at meal-times to drink a little milk which the children spilt for him on purpose; for the day nursery, or school-room, as Celia liked it to be called, opened on to the terrace too, though at the other end from the two drawing-rooms and grandfather’s “study,” and the windows were long and low, opening like doors, so that Lisa had hard work to keep the children quiet at table the first few days, for every minute they were jumping up to see some new wonder that they caught sight of. Altogether it was a very pretty home to spend the winter in, and every one seemed very happy. Bully and the “calanies” were as merry as larks, if it is true that larks are merrier than other birds, and Peepy-Snoozle and Tim, mistaking the bright warm sunshine for another summer, I suppose, got in the habit of being quite lively about the middle of the day as well as in the middle of the night, instead of spending all the daylight hours curled up like two very sleepy fairy babies with brown fur coats on, in their nice white cotton-wool nests.

There was so much to do and to think of the first few days that I think Baby forgot a little about what he had seen in the old curiosity shop. Auntie, too, was too busy to give any thought to the picture which had so taken her fancy, though neither she nor Baby really forgot the dear little face with its loving, half-merry, half-sad blue eyes. But auntie had to help mother to get everything settled; and of course there was a good deal to explain to the strange servants, for neither Peters nor Linley the maid knew “lubbish talk,” as Baby would call it, at all, and it was very funny indeed to hear Peters trying to make the cook understand how grandfather liked his cutlets, or Linley “pounding” at the housemaid, as Fritz called it, to get it into her head that she didn’t call it cleaning a room to sweep all the dirt into a corner where it couldn’t be seen! Peters was more patient than Linley. When Linley couldn’t make herself understood she used to shout louder and louder, as if that would make the others know what she meant, and then she used to say to Celia that it really was “a very hodd thing that the people of this country seemed not to have all their senses.” And however Celia explained to her, she couldn’t be got to see that she must seem just as stupid to them as they seemed to her! Peters was less put about. He had been in India with grandfather, so he said he was used to “furriners.” He seemed to think everybody that wasn’t English could be put together as “furriners”; but he had brought a dictionary and a book of little sentences in four languages, and he would sit on the kitchen table patiently trying one language after another on the poor cook, just as when one can’t open a lock, one tries all the keys one can find, to see if by chance one will fit. The cook was a very mild, gentle man; he had a nice wife and two little children in the town, and he was inclined to be very fond of Herr Baby, and to pet him if ever he got a chance. But that wasn’t for a good while, for Baby was at first terribly frightened of him. He had a black moustache and whiskers and very black eyes, and they looked blacker under his square white cook’s cap, and the first time Baby saw him through the kitchen window, the cook happened to be standing with a large carving-knife in one hand, and a chicken which he was holding up by the legs, in the other. Off flew Herr Baby. A little way down the garden he ran against Denny, who was also busy examining their new quarters.

“Oh, Denny, Denny!” he cried, “this is a dedful place-there’s a’ ogre, a real tellable ogre in the house. Him’s seen him in one of the windows under the dimey-room. Oh, Denny, Denny, p’raps him’ll eaten us up.”

Denny for the first moment was, to tell the truth, a little bit frightened herself. Common sense told her there were no such things as ogres, not now-a-days any way, at least not in England, their own country. But a dreadful idea struck her that this was not England; this might be one of the countries where ogres, like wolves and bears, were still occasionally to be found. There was no telling, certainly; but not for a good deal would Miss Denise Aylmer, a young lady of nine years old past, have owned to being frightened as long as she could possibly help it.

She caught Baby by the hand.

“What sall we do?” he said; “sall we go and tell mother?”

Denny considered.

“We’d better go and see again,” she said very bravely. “You must have made a mistake, I think, Baby dear. I don’t think there can be any ogres here.”

Baby was much struck by Denny’s courage. His hand slipped back a very little out of hers.

“Will you go and see, Denny?” he said. “Him will stay here till you comes back.”

“Oh, no, you’d better come with me,” said Denny, who felt that even Baby was better than nobody. “I shouldn’t know where you saw the ogre,” and she kept tight hold of his hand. “Which window was it?”

“It were at a tiny window really under the ground. Him was peeping to see if there was f’owers ’side of the wall,” said Baby. “Him’ll show you, Denny; him are so glad you isn’t f’ightened.”

They set off down the path, making their way rather cautiously as they got near the house. Suddenly Denny felt Baby squeeze her hand more tightly, and with a sort of scream he turned round and hid his face against her.

“There! There!” he cried. “Him sees the ogre coming.”

Denny looked up. She saw a rather little man with a white apron and a white cap, carrying a couple of cackling hens or chickens in his arms, coming across the garden from the house. He was on his way to a little sort of poultry-yard, where he had fastened up half-a-dozen live chickens he had bought at the market that morning, meaning to kill two of them for dinner, but finding them not so fat as he had expected, he was putting them back among their friends for a day or two. Very like a real ogre, if Denny and Baby had understood all about it, which they didn’t. Denny herself, for a minute or two, felt puzzled as to who this odd-looking man could be. But he was no ogre, that was certain, any way.

“Don’t be frightened, Baby, it’s not a’ ogre,” she said. “Look up, he’s far too little.”

Baby ventured to peep round. The little black-eyed, white-capped man came towards them smiling.

“Bon jour, Mademoiselle, bon jour, Monsieur Bebe,” he said, looking quite pleased. And then he stroked down the ruffled feathers of the poor chickens, and held them out to the two children, chattering away at a great rate in Baby’s “lubbish talk,” hardly a word of which they understood.

“Can he be wanting to sell the chickens?” said Denny.

The cook, who had before this lived with families from England, understood the children’s language better than they did his, which, however, is not saying a great deal.

“Yes, Mees, pairfectly,” he said. “Me sell zem at ze marche the morning. Fine poulets, goot poulets, not yet strong-wait one, two, ’ree days-be strong for one grand dinner for Madame.”

“Who are you? What’s your name, please?” said Denny, still a little alarmed.

“Jean-Georges, Mademoiselle,” said the little man, with a bow. “Jean-Georges compose charming plates for Mademoiselle and Monsieur Bebe. Jean-Georges loves little messieurs and little ’demoiselles. Madame permit Monsieur and Mademoiselle visit Jean-Georges in his cuisine one day.”

Denny caught the word “cuisine,” which, of course, children, you will know means “kitchen.”

“He’s the cook, Baby,” she said, with great relief; “don’t you remember grandfather said he must have a man cook? Good morning, Mr. Cook, we’ll ask mother to let us go and see you one day in your kitchen, and you must make us very nice things to eat, please Mr. Cook.”

“Pairfectly, Mademoiselle,” said Jean-Georges, with as magnificent a bow as he could manage, considering the two chickens in his arms, and then he walked away.

“What a very nice man!” said Denny, feeling very proud of herself, and quite forgetting that she, too, had not been without some fears. “You see, Baby dear, how foolish it is to be frightened. I told you there couldn’t be any ogres here.”

Herr Baby did not answer for a moment. He had certainly very much admired Denny’s courage, but still he wasn’t quite sure that she had not been a very little afraid, just for a minute, when he had called out “There he is!”

“What would you have done if there had been a’ ogre, Denny?” he said.

“Oh, bother,” said Denny, “what’s the good of talking about things that couldn’t be? Talk of something sensible, Baby.”

Baby grew silent again. They walked on slowly down the garden path.

“Denny,” said Baby, in a minute or two, “didn’t the little man say somefin about mother having a party?”

Denny pricked up her ears at this. Parties of all kinds pleased her very much.

“Did he?” she said, “I didn’t notice. He said something about Madame’s dinner, but I didn’t think he meant a dinner-party. Perhaps he did though. We’ll ask. I’d like mother to have some parties; it seems quite a long time since I had one of my best frocks on to come down to the drawing-room before dinner, the way we did at home. And I know mother and auntie have friends here. I heard that stupid little footman asking Linley what day ‘Miladi’ would ‘receive,’ that means have visitors, Baby.”

Denny’s tongue had run on so fast, that it had left Baby’s wits some way behind. They had stopped short at the first idea of a party.

“Mother likes to make werry pitty dinners when she has parties,” he said. “Mother told him that were why she were so solly when him breaked her’s pitty glasses.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Baby,” said Denny. “Let’s have a race. I’ll give you a start.”