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On the day Cyril Henshaw's twins were six months old, a momentous occurrence marked the date with a flaming red letter of remembrance; and it all began with a baby's smile.
Cyril, in quest of his wife at about ten o'clock that morning, and not finding her, pursued his search even to the nursery--a room he very seldom entered. Cyril did not like to go into the nursery. He felt ill at ease, and as if he were away from home--and Cyril was known to abhor being away from home since he was married. Now that Marie had taken over the reins of government again, he had been obliged to see very little of those strange women and babies. Not but that he liked the babies, of course. They were his sons, and he was proud of them. They should have every advantage that college, special training, and travel could give them. He quite anticipated what they would be to him--when they really knew anything. But, of course, now, when they could do nothing but cry and wave their absurd little fists, and wobble their heads in so fearsome a manner, as if they simply did not know the meaning of the word backbone-- and, for that matter, of course they didn't-- why, he could not be expected to be anything but relieved when he had his den to himself again, with a reasonable chance of finding his manuscript as he had left it, and not cut up into a ridiculous string of paper dolls holding hands, as he had once found it, after a visit from a woman with a small girl.
Since Marie had been at the helm, however, he had not been troubled in such a way. He had, indeed, known almost his old customary peace and freedom from interruption, with only an occasional flitting across his path of the strange women and babies--though he had realized, of course, that they were in the house, especially in the nursery. For that reason, therefore, he always avoided the nursery when possible. But to-day he wanted his wife, and his wife was not to be found anywhere else in the house. So, reluctantly, he turned his steps toward the nursery, and, with a frown, knocked and pushed open the door.
"Is Mrs. Henshaw here?" he demanded, not over gently.
Absolute silence greeted his question. The man saw then that there was no one in the room save a baby sitting on a mat in the middle of the floor, barricaded on all sides with pillows.
With a deeper frown the man turned to go, when a gleeful "Ah--goo!" halted his steps midway. He wheeled sharply.
"Er--eh?" he queried, uncertainly eyeing his small son on the floor.
"Ah--goo!" observed the infant (who had been very lonesome), with greater emphasis; and this time he sent into his father's eyes the most bewitching of smiles.
"Well, by George!" murmured the man, weakly, a dawning amazement driving the frown from his face.
"Spgggh--oo--wah!" gurgled the boy, holding out two tiny fists.
A slow smile came to the man's face.
"Well, I'll--be--darned," he muttered half- shamefacedly, wholly delightedly. "If the rascal doesn't act as if he--knew me!"
"Ah--goo--spggghh!" grinned the infant, toothlessly, but entrancingly.
With almost a stealthy touch Cyril closed the door back of him, and advanced a little dubiously toward his son. His countenance carried a mixture of guilt, curiosity, and dogged determination so ludicrous that it was a pity none but baby eyes could see it. As if to meet more nearly on a level this baffling new acquaintance, Cyril got to his knees--somewhat stiffly, it must be confessed --and faced his son.
"Goo--eee--ooo--yah!" crowed the baby now, thrashing legs and arms about in a transport of joy at the acquisition of this new playmate.
"Well, well, young man, you--you don't say so!" stammered the growingly-proud father, thrusting a plainly timid and unaccustomed finger toward his offspring. "So you do know me, eh? Well, who am I?"
"Da--da!" gurgled the boy, triumphantly clutching the outstretched finger, and holding on with a tenacity that brought a gleeful chuckle to the lips of the man.
"Jove! but aren't you the strong little beggar, though! Needn't tell me you don't know a good thing when you see it! So I'm `da-da,' am I?" he went on, unhesitatingly accepting as the pure gold of knowledge the shameless imitation vocabulary his son was foisting upon him. "Well, I expect I am, and--"
"Oh, Cyril!" The door had opened, and Marie was in the room. If she gave a start of surprise at her husband's unaccustomed attitude, she quickly controlled herself. "Julia said you wanted me. I must have been going down the back stairs when you came up the front, and--"
"Please, Mrs. Henshaw, is it Dot you have in here, or Dimple?" asked a new voice, as the second nurse entered by another door.
Before Mrs. Henshaw could answer, Cyril, who had got to his feet, turned sharply.
"Is it--who?" he demanded.
"Oh! Oh, Mr. Henshaw," stammered the girl. "I beg your pardon. I didn't know you were here. It was only that I wanted to know which baby it was. We thought we had Dot with us, until--"
"Dot! Dimple!" exploded the man. "Do you mean to say you have given my sons the ridiculous names of `Dot' and `Dimple'?"
"Why, no--yes--well, that is--we had to call them something," faltered the nurse, as with a despairing glance at her mistress, she plunged through the doorway.
Cyril turned to his wife.
"Marie, what is the meaning of this?" he demanded.
"Why, Cyril, dear, don't--don't get so wrought up," she begged. It's only as Mary said, we had to call them something, and--"
"Wrought up, indeed!" interrupted Cyril, savagely. "Who wouldn't be? `Dot' and `Dimple'! Great Scott! One would think those boys were a couple of kittens or puppies; that they didn't know anything--didn't have any brains! But they have--if the other is anything like this one, at least," he declared, pointing to his son on the floor, who, at this opportune moment joined in the conversation to the extent of an appropriate "Ah--goo--da--da!"
"There, hear that, will you?" triumphed the father. "What did I tell you? That's the way he's been going on ever since I came into the room; The little rascal knows me--so soon!"
Marie clapped her fingers to her lips and turned her back suddenly, with a spasmodic little cough; but her husband, if he noticed the interruption, paid no heed.
"Dot and Dimple, indeed!" he went on wrathfully. "That settles it. We'll name those boys to-day, Marie, to-day! Not once again will I let the sun go down on a Dot and a Dimple under my roof."
Marie turned with a quick little cry of happiness.
"Oh, Cyril, I'm so glad! I've so wanted to have them named, you know! And shall we call them Franz and Felix, as we'd talked?"
"Franz, Felix, John, James, Paul, Charles-- anything, so it's sane and sensible! I'd even adopt Calderwell's absurd Bildad and--er-- Tomdad, or whatever it was, rather than have those poor little chaps insulted a day longer with a `Dot' and a `Dimple.' Great Scott!" And, entirely forgetting what he had come to the nursery for, Cyril strode from the room.
"Ah--goo--spggggh!" commented baby from the middle of the floor.
It was on a very windy March day that Bertram Henshaw's son, Bertram, Jr., arrived at the Strata. Billy went so far into the Valley of the Shadow of Death for her baby that it was some days before she realized in all its importance the presence of the new member of her family. Even when the days had become weeks, and Bertram, Jr., was a month and a half old, the extreme lassitude and weariness of his young mother was a source of ever-growing anxiety to her family and friends. Billy was so unlike herself, they all said.
"If something could only rouse her," suggested the Henshaw's old family physician one day. "A certain sort of mental shock--if not too severe--would do the deed, I think, and with no injury--only benefit. Her physical condition is in just the state that needs a stimulus to stir it into new life and vigor."
As it happened, this was said on a certain Monday. Two days later Bertram's sister Kate, on her way with her husband to Mr. Hartwell's old home in Vermont, stopped over in Boston for a two days' visit. She made her headquarters at Cyril's home, but very naturally she went, without much delay, to pay her respects to Bertram, Jr.
"Mr. Hartwell's brother isn't well," she explained to Billy, after the greetings were over. "You know he's the only one left there, since Mother and Father Hartwell came West. We shall go right on up to Vermont in a couple of days, but we just had to stay over long enough to see the baby; and we hadn't ever seen the twins, either, you know. By the way, how perfectly ridiculous Cyril is over those boys!"
"Is he?" smiled Billy, faintly.
"Yes. One would think there were never any babies born before, to hear him talk. He thinks they're the most wonderful things in the world-- and they are cunning little fellows, I'll admit. But Cyril thinks they know so much," went on Kate, laughingly. "He's always bragging of something one or the other of them has done. Think of it--Cyril! Marie says it all started from the time last January when he discovered the nurses had been calling them Dot and Dimple."
"Yes, I know," smiled Billy again, faintly, lifting a thin, white, very un-Billy-like hand to her head.
Kate frowned, and regarded her sister-in-law thoughtfully.
"Mercy! how you look, Billy!" she exclaimed, with cheerful tactlessness. "They said you did, but, I declare, you look worse than I thought."
Billy's pale face reddened perceptibly.
"Nonsense! It's just that I'm so--so tired," she insisted. "I shall be all right soon. How did you leave the children?"
"Well, and happy--'specially little Kate, because mother was going away. Kate is mistress, you know, when I'm gone, and she takes herself very seriously."
"Mistress! A little thing like her! Why, she can't be more than ten or eleven," murmured Billy.
"She isn't. She was ten last month. But you'd think she was forty, the airs she gives herself, sometimes. Oh, of course there's Nora, and the cook, and Miss Winton, the governess, there to really manage things, and Mother Hartwell is just around the corner; but little Kate thinks she's managing, so she's happy."
Billy suppressed a smile. Billy was thinking that little Kate came naturally by at least one of her traits.
"Really, that child is impossible, sometimes," resumed Mrs. Hartwell, with a sigh. "You know the absurd things she was always saying two or three years ago, when we came on to Cyril's wedding."
"Yes, I remember."
"Well, I thought she would get over it. But she doesn't. She's worse, if anything; and sometimes her insight, or intuition, or whatever you may call it, is positively uncanny. I never know what she's going to remark next, when I take her anywhere; but it's safe to say, whatever it is, it'll be unexpected and usually embarrassing to somebody. And--is that the baby?" broke off Mrs. Hartwell, as a cooing laugh and a woman's voice came from the next room.
"Yes. The nurse has just brought him in, I think," said Billy.
"Then I'll go right now and see him," rejoined Kate, rising to her feet and hurrying into the next room.
Left alone, Billy lay back wearily in her reclining-chair. She wondered why Kate always tired her so. She wished she had had on her blue kimono, then perhaps Kate would not have thought she looked so badly. Blue was always more becoming to her than--
Billy turned her head suddenly. From the next room had come Kate's clear-cut, decisive voice.
"Oh, no, I don't think he looks a bit like his father. That little snubby nose was never the Henshaw nose."
Billy drew in her breath sharply, and pulled herself half erect in her chair. From the next room came Kate's voice again, after a low murmur from the nurse.
"Oh, but he isn't, I tell you. He isn't one bit of a Henshaw baby! The Henshaw babies are always pretty ones. They have more hair, and they look--well, different."
Billy gave a low cry, and struggled to her feet.
"Oh, no," spoke up Kate, in answer to another indistinct something from the nurse. "I don't think he's near as pretty as the twins. Of course the twins are a good deal older, but they have such a bright look,--and they did have, from the very first. I saw it in their tiniest baby pictures. But this baby--"
"This baby is mine, please," cut in a tremulous, but resolute voice; and Mrs. Hartwell turned to confront Bertram, Jr.'s mother, manifestly weak and trembling, but no less manifestly blazing-eyed and determined.
"Why, Billy!" expostulated Mrs. Hartwell, as Billy stumbled forward and snatched the child into her arms.
"Perhaps he doesn't look like the Henshaw babies. Perhaps he isn't as pretty as the twins. Perhaps he hasn't much hair, and does have a snub nose. He's my baby just the same, and I shall not stay calmly by and see him abused! Besides, I think he's prettier than the twins ever thought of being; and he's got all the hair I want him to have, and his nose is just exactly what a baby's nose ought to be!" And, with a superb gesture, Billy turned and bore the baby away.
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