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Title: The Confessions of a Daddy
Author: Butler, Ellis Parker
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CONFESSIONS OF A DADDY

By Ellis Parker Butler

With illustrations by Fanny Y. Cory

New York The Century Co.

1907


TO

ELSIE McCOLM BUTLER A VERY GOOD CHILD THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED BY HER
FATHER



THE CONFESSIONS OF A DADDY



I. OUR NEIGHBORS’ BABIES

I guess we folks that live up at our end of town think we are about as
good as anybody in Colorado, and mebby a little better. We get along
together as pleasant as you please, and we are a sort of colony, as you
might say, all by ourselves.

Me and Marthy make especial good neighbors. We don’t have no fights with
the other folks in our end of town, and in them days the neighbors hadn’t
any reason to fight with us, for we didn’t keep a dog and we hadn’t
no children! I take notice that it is other folks dogs and children
that make most of the bad feelin’s between neighbors. Of course we had
mosquitos, but Providence gives everybody something to practise up
their patience, and when me and Marthy sat out on our porch and heard
other people’s children frettin’ because the mosquitos was bad, we just
sat there behind our screened porch and thanked our stars that we did
n’t have no children to leave our screen doors open.

It was n’t but right that me and Marthy should act accordingly. I don’t
mean that we were uppish about it, but we did feel that we could live a
little better than our neighbors that had all the expense of children,
and if our house was fixed up a little better, and we was able to go off
three or four weeks in the summer to the mountains, when all the rest
stayed right at home, we had a right to feel pleased about it. Lots of
times we had things our neighbors could n’t afford, and then the little
woman would say to me: “Hiram, you don’t know how thankful I am that we
ain’t got any children,” and I agreed with her every time, and did it
hearty, too.

‘T was n’t that we hated children. Far from it. We just thought that
when we saw all the extra worry and trouble and expense that other
people’s children brought about, we were right satisfied to live the way
we had lived the five years since we was married--our neighbors still
called us the “Bride and Groom.” Nor I can’t say that we were happier
than the other folks in our end of town, but we was more care-free. We
lived more joyous, as you might say.

One night when I come home from the store Marthy met me at the corner,
and when I had tucked her arm under mine, I asked her what was the news.
Bobby Jones had cut his finger bad; Stell Marks had took the measles;
little Tot Hemingway had run off, and her ma had gone near crazy until
the kid was found again; the Wallaces was n’t goin’ to take no vacation
this year at all because Fred was to go off to school in the fall, and
they could n’t afford both. It was the usual lot of news of children
bein’ trouble and expense.

I was feelin’ fine, the next day bein’ a holiday, and Marthy, with the
slick way women has, sprung a favor on me just when she set the broiled
steak on the table. Extry thick, and burnt brown--that’s my favorite
steak--and whenever I see it that way my mouth waters, and I look out
for a favor to be asked.

“Hiram,” she says, quite as if she was openin’ up a usual bit of talk,
“did you take notice of Mrs. Hemingway’s silk dress last Sunday?”

“Why no, Marthy,” I says, “I didn’t. Was it new?”

“New!” she laughed. “The idee! That’s just what it wasn’t. I believe she
has had that same silk ever since we have lived in this end of town, and
no one knows how much longer. It’s a shame. She puts every cent she can
dig up on those children of hers, and has hardly a decent thing of her
own. I feel right sorry for her.”

“I feel sorry for Hemingway,” says I. “The old boy is workin’ himself to
death. He never gits home until supper is all over, and he told me just
now that he felt it his bounden duty to work to-morrow. I tell you,
Marthy, children is an expensive luxury!”

“That’s just what they are,” she agreed. “If it wasn’t for their
children, the Hemingways could live every bit as good as we do, and he
wouldn’t have to work of nights, poor fellow. But, Hiram,” she says, as
if the idee had just hit her, “do you recall to mind when this end of
town has seen a new silk dress?”

“Why, no--no,” I said; “when was it?”

“Years ago!” says the little woman. “I was figgerin’ it up to-day, and
it was full two years ago. Ain’t it awful?”

“Downright scandalous!” I says. “And just on account of those children,
too!”

Marthy looked down at her plate, innocent as you please.

“I’m glad we ain’t got any children, Hiram,” she says, full of mischief.

That tickled me. I was tickled to see how she was tickled to think she
had trapped me.

“I guess it’s our bounden duty to hold up the honor of our end of town
by showin’ it a new silk dress,” I says, and the next thing I knew I was
fightin’ to keep her from chokin’ me to death.

All that evening Marthy was unusual quiet and right happy, too. As she
sat on the porch her eyes would wander off over-the-hills-and-far-away,
and I knew she was lost in joyous tanglements of bias and gores and
plaits, where a man can’t foller if he wants to. But when we went inside
and had the blinds pulled down she put her arms around my neck again and
gave me another choke.

“Dear, dear old Hiram!” she says, and her eyes was tear-wet. “Just
think! A new silk dress!” And just then there came into the room the
noise of the Marks child--the one with the measles--whimpering.

“Ain’t you glad,” says the little woman, “that we haven’t any children
to spoil all our fun, and bother us?” and when I looked down into that
happy little face of hers, I was glad, and no mistake.

The next day was a beauty. It came in like a glory, and we was up
almost as soon as the sun was; for we had figgered on one of our regular
old-time jolly days by ourselves on the hills--one of the kind that made
our end of town call us the “Bride and Groom.” It was our plan to take
a good lunch, and just wander. Marthy was to take a book, and I was to
take my fishin’ tackle, and beyond that was whatever happy thing that
turned up.

“If we had children,” she said, “we couldn’t go off on these long tramps
by ourselves.”

We got away while the neighbors in our end of town were still at
breakfast, and as we passed the Wallace’s place we ran up to holler
good-by through the window at them, and there was the youngest Wallace
foolin’ on the floor with her stockings not on yet, and breakfast half
over. Marthy stopped long enough to have a good, long look at the child.

[Illustration: On the floor with her stockings not on yet. 036]

“If all the children was like Daisy Wallace,” she says, “they wouldn’t
be so bad. She is the dearest thing I ever did see. She’s got the cutest
way of kissin’ a person on the eyelids.”

“She looks to be just as lazy in the dressin’ act as the rest,” I
remarked, and I was surprised, the way Marthy turned on me.

“Why, Hiram Smith!” she cried; “didn’t _you_ ever dawdle over your
dressin’? When I was a girl I got lots of fun out of being late to
breakfast. What difference does it make, anyway, when she is perfectly
lovely all the rest of the time? I simply love that child. I wonder,”
 she said, sort of wistful, “if they would let us take her with us
to-day. She would enjoy it so.”

“Foolishness,” I said. “We don’t want to pull a kid along with us all
day; and anyhow, they are going to take her to the photographer’s to-day
to have her picture took.”

We went out around town, and up the hill road. The morning air was
great, and nobody on the road at all, so far as we could see, and we
stepped out brisk and lively.

“Seems good to git away from the baby district, don’t it?” I says, as
we was walkin’ up the road. “We ‘re like Mister and Missus Robinson
Crusoe,” and at the very next turn we most fell over Bobby Jones and his
everlastin’ chum, Rex, which is the most no-account dog on earth.

“Where y’ goin’?” he asks.

“Nowheres particular,” says Marthy. “Just walkin’ out to git the air.”

“So’m I,” says he, and then he says, sort of bluffin’, “I ain’t lost.”

“Yes you are, Bobby,” I says, severe as I could, “and if you know what’s
good for a kid about your size you’d better turn right ‘round and scoot
for home.”

He looked at me as if he would like to know who I was, to be bossin’
him.

“Ho!” he says, “You ain’t my pa. I don’t have to do what you say! I
won’t go home for you!”

Marthy was bendin’ over him in a second.

“Bobby,” she says, coaxing-like, “do you know what your folks is going
to have for dinner?”

“No’m,” he says, as polite as you please.

“I do,” says the little woman. “Ice cream. And if you git lost you won’t
git home in time to git any.”

Bobby looked up the road where he hadn’t explored yet, and then looked
back the way he’d come, and then he smiled at Marthy and took off his
cap to her.

“Thank you, Missus Smith,” he says.

Marthy laughed as happy as a girl, and kissed him right on his dusty
face. She put her arms around him, even, and acted like she had never
seen a freckled boy before.

“Nice boy,” I remarked, when Bobby had gone down the road toward town.

“Nice!” says the little woman. “Nice! Is that all you can scrape up to
say? Why, there ain’t a dearer child in our end of town than what Bobby
is. He’s my sweetheart when you ain’t at home. Hiram,” she says, looking
back at him as he paddled along kicking up the dust with his bare toes,
“I wonder if we dare take him with us?”

“What about his ice-cream?” I says. “What about having a kid dragging
after us all day?” So we went on, but I seen she felt a little mite
lonely-like, as you might say. Which was queer.

By ten o’clock we had got far enough from town, and we pushed through
a field that was all covered with flowers, and over to where the brook
was, with the tangle of trees and brush hiding it, and when I pushed
apart the brush to go through, I stopped and motioned for Marthy to come
quiet and look.

There, sittin’ on a tree trunk, as quiet as you please, was Teddy
Lawrence, with his eyes glued on to his bobber, and thinkin’ of nothing
in the world but fish. I’m a right hearty fisher myself, and it done my
heart good to see the strictly-business way that kid had. Marthy moved a
little, and I put my hand on her to make her keep still.

The boy lifted up his pole and looked at the bait like a regular old
hand. He dug a fresh, fat worm out of his can, and fixed it, and then I
fairly held my breath. Would he do it? No! But, hold on--yes! He leaned
over and spit on the bait to bring luck, just as natural as life! Say,
wasn’t that real boy for you? I let the brush come together real quiet,
and me and Marthy slipped away.

Well, sir, my five-dollar pole and my two-dollar reel, made me feel
sick.

What did I know about fishing, anyhow? I felt right there what was the
truth, that all my fishing amounted to was, that I was tryin’ to bring
back the joys I used to have when I was a kid, settin’ on a log, happy
and lonesome, watchin’ my bottle-cork joggle on the ripples. What was
the use? A feller can’t go back to them days. There ain’t nothing to do
about it. Unless, of course, he can sort of go forward to them in--well,
a feller could sort of live them days over agin in a boy of his own.

“Wallace don’t deserve that boy,” I says, sort of mad about I don’t know
what. “What sort of a dad is that old book-worm of a Wallace for a boy
that likes to fish like Ted does? I’ll bet Wallace never had a fish pole
in his hands since the day he was born. Now, if I had a boy like that I
could show him a thing or two about fishing. If I had a boy like that--”

“Look there!” says Marthy, sudden. “Did you ever see anything sweeter
than what that is?”

[Illustration: She was like a butterfly in amongs the butterflies. 46]

Over on the other end of the field Ted’s sister was strayin’ around
in the flowers, her face all rosy with the fresh air. She was like a
butterfly in amongst the butterflies, a mighty pretty girl, and just
the age when a mother loves a girl best and when a mother takes the most
care of ‘em. I like pretty things as well as the next man does, and I’ll
say right here that there was something about that girl that made me
feel like I’d like to own her--just like I feel about a real pretty
rose, sort of covet to keep it just as it is forever, and take care that
it don’t git spoiled any way.

“I guess Mrs. Wallace don’t rightly appreciate May,” says Marthy,
thoughtful-like. “I thinks she makes her study too much. When I was
May’s age I had plenty of chances to git the fresh air, and you’d never
see me takin’ up music-lessons in the summer. I spent my time feedin’
the chickens and runnin’ about the farm, and enjoyin’ life. It ain’t
right, the way girls is forced in their studies nowadays. If I had a
girl like that--”

“If you had, what’d you do?” I asks, kindly enough, but the little woman
only laughed. Mebby her laugh was a bit reckless, as you might say.

“What’s the use thinkin’ what I’d do?” she says, turnin’ round to go.
There didn’t seem to be nothing special for me to say right then, so I
just put my arm around her, and we went on.

We was plumb tired out when we got home, and mebby that is why we was
more than usual quiet at dinner. I sure wasn’t cross, but somehow our
day hadn’t panned out as satisfactory as we’d thought it would, and
mebby the cryin’ of the Wilkins’ new baby got on my nerves, we being
tired. I was glad when dinner was over and we could take our chairs and
go out on the porch.

It was a fine night--still, and ca’m as you please. The only noise, not
countin’ the cryin’ of the Wilkins’ kid, was the sounds of the laughin’
and chatter of the children in our end of town. But I was lonesome.
I can’t speak for the little woman, how she felt, but _I_ felt
lonesome--and her right there beside me, too.

Across the street we could see the two Hemingway children, who had
coaxed an extra half hour to wait for their father to come home before
they went to bed. They had their heads bent over a tumbler that they had
caught two fireflies in, and on the porch Mrs. Hemingway was rockin’ the
sleepy baby.

[Illustration: The two children run to the gate. 54]

Then we heard Hemingway’s whistle--he can’t whistle, but he likes
to--and the two children dropped the tumbler, and run to the gate, and
then there was a rush, and a mingling up of Hemingway kids and father,
and the sleepy baby slid down from its ma’s lap and stood, unsteady but
tryin’ to git in the kissing, with its arms held out. Happy?

I turned to the little woman, and I looked straight at her. Somehow I
knew that now, if ever, was a time for me to do some cheering-up.

“Well, little woman,” I says, cheerful-like, “_we_ don’t need a lot of
kids to bolster up our love, do we?”

She gave my hand a soft squeeze in reply.

“And about that gown--that silk gown,” I says, gaily. “Have you decided
what color it is to be yet?

“Won’t you be fine! When I think how fine you’ll look, I’m glad we
haven’t no children to--”

Just then them Hemingways went inside, and our whole end of town was
quiet, and lonesome.

Marthy didn’t answer, and when I lifted up her face to kiss her, what
d’you think? She was cryin’!



II. WHEN SHE CAME

Afore the kid come, me and Marthy used to sit up nights tellin’ each
other how much we’d like it if she turned out to be a boy. I said
everything that I knowed that was nice about boys, and drawed on my
imagination for what I didn’t know, and Marthy spoke the same; so I
convinced Marthy, thorough, that I would be terrible disappointed if it
wasn’t a boy, and she didn’t leave me no doubts about her hankerin’ for
a baby of the male sect.

Course we was both tryin’ to square ourselves in case it _should_ be a
boy. Come to find out, we was both of us tickled to death that it was a
girl.

We’d talked over boys’ names by the bushel without ever coming to a
dead-set choice, but we most always squeezed in somewhere, sort of
apologetic, a remark that if it _should_ happen to be a girl we’d have
to call it Edith L., after its grandmother. Somehow, as I look back on
it, it seems as if I’d never thought of that kid, at any time, except as
Edith L. Curious how folks will try to fool theirselves that way.

When it come to the auspicious occasion we had Doc Wolfert in, because
he was the only doc in our end of town. He certainly was a quaint old
bone-setter. Some said he took morphine on the sly, and some said it was
just his natural manner, but he was the shiftiest-eyed medic you ever
saw. No man livin’ ever got him to say plain yes or no. He’d walk all
‘round them little words, like he was afraid of steppin’ on them,
and his gab was full of perhapses and possiblys, and similar slick
side-trackers of knowledge.

I had figgered that when the aforesaid auspicious occasion turned up
I’d clean out to the woods until things got so I’d be useful as well as
ornamental; but when it come to a show-down, I couldn’t. Farthest away I
could git was the front porch. I done my good twenty miles on the porch
that day, I’ll bet, and whenever I’ve had a trial and tribulation time
since then, I can hear the sixth board from the south end of that porch
squeak.

I was walkin’ on the level, but my spirits was climbin’ hills and
coastin’ into valleys. First minute I would be stickin’ out my chest
and thinkin’ how all-fired grand it would be to be a daddy, and the next
minute I’d cave in like a frost-bitten squash and wonder how in
creation I’d ever drag along as a widow-man. One minute I’d see myself
sky-hootin’ round with a fine kid on my arm, and the next I’d see myself
alone, with Marthy gone. I’ve got the reputation around here of being a
humorist man, but I didn’t say no funny sayings to myself that day, that
I can remember. I had fever, and cold sweats, and double contraction
of the heart, and whenever I thought of Marthy, I couldn’t think of a
decent thing that I’d ever done to her. I felt I was an ornery, lowdown
critter--which I ain’t--and I saw Marthy as a spotless angel--which
she ain’t neither. She’s woman and earthly all through, and mighty good
earth at that. Marthy never knew what a good chance she lost of being
considered a perfectionated saint, but she missed the chance.

Just about when I’d given up all hopes of ever seein’ Marthy alive
again, Mrs. Murphy, (who we’d got in to sort of give the kid its first
toilet, it not being expected to be far enough advanced to do much
primping on its own account right at first) come to the door like a
blessed ray of sunshine, and percolated out a smile at me.

Loony as I was, I had sense enough left to know that she wasn’t smilin’
at me for flirtation, nor because she had a smile that she didn’t know
what to do with and so was passing it out to me, like a hand-out, just
to git rid of it. I connected that smile with other things. I knowed she
was smiling me back from a desolate widow-hood, or widow-man-hood, or
whatever the right word is. I know the right word, but it’s got mislaid.
Thank the stars I ain’t ever had no use for it, and I hope never to
have. But I guess every man feels like I did when I was walkin’ that
porch. When they shut the door on him, and turn him out, and tell him
they will call him when they want him, he’s a widow-man right from that
moment and feels so. And when they call him in and say all’s doin’ as
well as could be expected under the circumstances, right then he feels
like his wife had rose from the dead, and he becomes a married man
again. I felt so, anyhow, and I don’t know as I’m a specially fancy
feeler. I don’t look it.

Right then I was boosted, like I tell you, from a deep black hole to a
high and airy location, and by a plain-faced, baggy Irish lady that did
washing by the day at fifty cents a day, and you furnished the soap.
She’s been my friend ever since, and always will be.

As I passed in, feelin’ more like war-whoopin’ than like walkin’ soft,
she whispered three words at me that finished me up.

“It’s a girl,” says she. “Walk light, and stay where you are, and when
you can come in and see the girl, I’ll bring her out and show her to
you.”

I was clean idiotic with satisfaction. I sat down on the edge of a chair
and twirled my hat until I couldn’t sit still, and then got up and edged
round the room lookin’ at the pictures on the wall, for all the world
like I was a visitor. I’d got half-way through lookin’ at the things
on the what-not, and was castin’ my eye round for the photygraft album,
when Mrs. Murphy stuck her blessed face into the parlor.

“‘Sh-h!” says she, “make no noise, and control your feelin’s, and you
can come in for a quarter of a second and see your daughter.”

I was so proud I had cold chills, and I walked like a clothes-horse on
castors.

I looked for Marthy first, and I see she was a-sleepin’ beautiful, and
then Mrs. Murphy pulled down the covers and showed me Edith L.

[Illustration: Edith L. 66]

I took her all in at a glance, and I formed my own opinion right there.
I was like a rubber balloon when you stick a pin in it, but I didn’t
collapse with a bang, I just caved in gradual. I went out of the room,
and out of the house, and sat down on the porch-step and blubbered. They
never missed me.

When I think back on that day it makes me laugh, but I was sure a rank
amateur in the baby business, and I didn’t know no better then. Right
now I’d put up every cent I’ve got that you couldn’t find a finer girl
in the state than what Edith L. is, and I’ve learned since that she was
what you might call an A-1 baby right from the start, but it didn’t look
that way to me. She was the first of that age I’d ever been introduced
to, and she looked different than what I’d fig-gered on. I’d seen plenty
of brand new colts, and they run largely to legs, but you’d know them
for horse-critters right off; and I ‘ve seen brand-new puppies, and
their eyes ain’t open, but you’d know them immediate for dogs; but that
kid didn’t look any more like what I’d calculated Edith L. would look
like, than a cucumber looks like a water-melon. My heart was plumb
broke. I was scairt when I thought what would happen to Marthy when she
saw that wrinkled, red little thing.

I knew we’d have to keep it, but I didn’t see how we could bear the
shame. I made up my mind in a minute that we’d sell off the place and
move up into the mountains--just me and Marthy and the girl. I didn’t
think of her as Edith L. any more. It wouldn’t do to insult mother by
givin’ her name to that baby.

I figgered it all out how I’d act better to Marthy than ever, to make up
for the trial that girl would be, and how I’d do all in man’s power to
keep the girl from knowin’ how handicapped she was by her looks.

Just then Brink Tuomy passed by, and he says:

“How’s things comin’ along?”

The boys had all been mighty interested in this baby business, and I
knew he’d trot off and tell them, so I says, sad enough:

“It’s a girl.”

Brink seen I wasn’t very jubilant, so he says:

“You don’t seem very stuck up about it. But girls ain’t so bad--when you
git used to them. Lady all right?”

“Yes,” I says, “she’s O. K.”

Brink hung round a minute or two, waitin’ for further orders, and none
comin’, he says, hesitatin’:

“So long!”

I let him go and was glad he went.

I looked out across the river, and calculated how I could fix it so Mrs.
Murphy wouldn’t say nothin’ outside about that poor kid of mine, and how
to keep the kid hid until me and Marthy could take her and skin out for
the mountains.

Mrs. Murphy was a terrible chatty lady--sort of perpetual phonygraft,
and wholesale and retail news agency. I guessed the best I could do was
to lock her in the cellar and then herd all comers away from the house.

Doc Wolfert didn’t bother me any. I knowed _he_ wouldn’t give me away.

If anybody could so much as git him to admit that there was a baby born
at my house they would be lucky. Just as a sample of what Doc was like,
take the case of Sandy Sam, who fell down the mine shaft and was brought
up in the bucket, as dead as Adam. Doc was on the ground as soon as
they brought Sandy up, and one of the boys that come late asked Doc what
caused the crowd to congregate.

“Well,” says Doc, lookin’ off at an angle into the air, “it looks like
Sandy Sam, or some other feller, fell down the mine shaft.”

“Poor old Sam,” says the feller, “killed him, didn’t it?”

Doc looked at the sky and considered.

“It’s a remarkable deep shaft,” he says at last; “remarkable deep.”
 “Thunder!” says the feller. “I know it’s a deep shaft. What I asked you
is if Sam’s dead. Is he?”

Doc went off into a dream, and when he come to, he looks at the feller.

“Oh!” he says, absent like. “Is Sam dead? Perhaps! Perhaps he is.
I shouldn’t like to say. But,” he ended up, sort of pullin’ hisself
together at the finish, “I wouldn’t like to express an opinion, but I
guess the boys think he is. They are goin’ to bury him.”

So I wasn’t afraid of Doc Wolfert blabbin’. I knowed the worst, and,
like everybody else, I wanted somebody to tell me it wasn’t so bad as I
thought.

I nailed Doc as he come out. I backed him up against a porch pillar and
conversed with him right there. I wanted to know just how bad it was. I
wanted to know what hope there was, if any.

“Doc,” I said--and I was blessed glad I had a beard so he couldn’t see
the quivers in my chin--“she’s terrible undersized, ain’t she?”

“Hum!” says Doc. “You might call her small or you mightn’t. I’ve seen
‘em bigger, and I ‘ve seen ‘em smaller. I’ve seen ‘em all sizes.”

I couldn’t see much help in that. “Doc,” I said, tremblin’, “she won’t
always be so--so dwarfed like, will she? She’ll grow--some?”

“Probably,” says Doc. “I’d hate to say she wouldn’t.”

I groaned. I had to.

“Ain’t her head a little off shape, Doc?” I stammered out. I guess the
shape of the head had worried me most of all. It wasn’t just what I’d
known good heads to be.

“You think so?” asked Doc, absent like.

“Don’t you?” I went back at him.

“Tell me straight. I can stand the worst.”

“Hum!” he says. “Heads differ. I’ve got to go--”

“No you don’t!” I says, backing him up against the post; “not till
you tell me. Her legs, now. Think they will ever straighten out? Think
she’ll ever git over that red, scalded look? Think she’ll ever be able
to talk, Doc?”

Doc looked anxious toward the road.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “Don’t fret. Keep cool and ca’m.”

“Yes,” I says, scornful like. “Me keep cool! Don’t you know I’m that
poor little, bent-up kid’s daddy? Don’t you know I looked forward
to callin’ her Edith L.? Don’t you know--? Doc,” I says, strong and
forcible, “money ain’t no object in a case like this. Tell me this:
Shall I git a specialist? Would it do any good to send to Denver and
git a specialist, or Chicago, or New York?” Doc looked interested at the
horizon.

“Why, no,” he says, “no! I don’t see that it would.”

I’ll bet that that was the first time Doc ever said “No” straight out.
It settled me. I let go of his arm and sat right down. If Doc Wolfert
spoke up and said “No” I knew there wasn’t nothing to be done.

I sat there probably about a thousand years, if you count by feelin’s.
I had a wish to go in and see the kid, and then, again, I hated to.
I hated for Mrs. Murphy to look at me; I felt I’d blubber, and I was
ashamed; but I knew I’d ought to be there to take Marthy’s hand when she
woke up, and to lie to her about it not bein’ so bad as she would think.

That made me pull myself together. I made up my mind that I’d be a man,
anyway. I had Marthy to think of, and a man ain’t made to be blubberin’
around when his women need help. I swallowed down the chunk of my neck
that had got stuck in my throat, and swiped my eyes, and stood on my
legs. When I turned, Mrs. Murphy was in the door.

“Well,” she says, “you don’t take much interest, I must say. Here you
sit enjoyin’ the landscape, and your daughter askin’ where her father
has gone to, and is she an orphan or what. Come in,” she says, “or
she’ll be comin’ out.”

I walked in.

I stopped a bit by the bedroom door to git up my courage, and then I
walked into the room.

Marthy had her eyes open, and they looked up at me with a smile in them,
and then looked down again at the bunch on her arm under the quilt.

“Come and see her,” she says, feeble but proud. “Come and see your
daughter, Edith L.”

She slid down the covers so I could see her, and I looked at that kid
with a sick grin.

“Ain’t she lovely?” she says.

“Sure!” I says, lying bravely.

“Don’t talk,” says Mrs. Murphy, speakin’ to Marthy, “or the session is
ended.”

“Just one word,” I says. “Marthy, are you satisfied with her--with the
kid?”

“She’s perfect!” she says, “perfect and lovely.”

“All right,” I says, “then I don’t mind.”

Marthy smiled, sort of weak.

“You will joke,” she says.

“Joke!” says Mrs. Murphy, indignant; “insult, I call it. Did you ever
see a finer baby?”

I looked to see if she winked. She didn’t.

“How so?” I asked, my voice all of a tremble.

“How so?” she asks; “No ‘how so’ at all. She weighs ten pounds, and
she’s sound in wind and limb,” she says, “and look at the grand shape
of her head! She’ll be a college professoress at least, or maybe in
Congress before her pa. It’s a grand baby she is!”

“Ten pounds!” I says; “ain’t that some dwarfish?”

“Hear the man!” she says. “I don’t believe he knows a fine baby when he
sees one.”

“Do you mean that, Mrs. Murphy?” I asked, every bit of blood in me goin’
on the jump.

“Mean it?” she says; “I’ve had six of my own, and not one of them could
hold a candle to this one.”

“Marthy!” I says. “Is it so?”

“Mrs. Murphy has fine children,” she says; “but my little girl, I think,
is finer.”

[Illustration: Mrs. Murphy’s Children 86]

“How’s her head?” I asked. “Perfect,” she says.

“And her color?”

“So healthy,” she says.

“And her legs?”

“So straight and strong,” she says. I took hold of her hand and squeezed
it good, and then I went to the window and looked out, and I saw all the
boys lined up along the fence waitin’ for me to come out and let them
know that what I’d told Brink Tuomy was so.

Proud? I was so proud I felt like givin’ Mrs. Murphy a million dollars.

“Dang it!” I yelped. “Let her dad have another good look at Edith L.”



III. THE DAY OF THE SPANK


NOW, you just take a good look this here right fist of mine.

Looks like a ham, don’t it? And see all them callouses on the palm.
Ain’t that a tool fit to break rock with? And what’d you say if I told
you I used that once to hit that little, tender kid of mine? Actually
hit her! What you say to that? I won’t forgit that night soon, I tell
you!

Just figger to yourself that it’s sundown, and the blinds pulled down in
the room where Deedee’s cot was standin’ like a little iron-barred
cage. We got into the way of callin’ the kid Deedee, that bein’ what she
called herself. There was all the signs that Deedee was goin’ to sleep,
and the plainest sign was Deedee herself, standin’ up in her crib, wide
awake, holdin’ on to the foot of the crib, trampin’ the sheets into a
tangle of white underbrush, as you might say, and no more asleep
than you are. The way Deedee went to sleep was like the death of an
alligator--it was a long and strenuous affair.

Marthy stood lookin’ at Deedee with reproaches in her eyes. We had a
sort of tradition in the family that Deedee had to go to sleep quick
and quiet, without any nonsense. Every night, when Marthy put the little
white rascal in the crib, she had hopes that the tradition would come
true, and every night it didn’t. The go-to-sleep hour was the time
Deedee seemed to pick out to have an hour of especial lively fun, and
for weeks she had been breakin’ the laws, and walkin’ all over the rules
with her pink feet. She did not see, comin’ up over the horizon, and
gittin’ nearer every day, the stern and horrid Spank!

We had got together in a sort of family conclave and decided that Deedee
was about old enough to be punished by layin’ on of hands. We decided
it one time when Deedee was out of the room, and we had been right stern
about it. We could be stern about Deedee when she wasn’t in sight. When
she come smilin’ and singin’ along we generally had to quit bein’ stern,
and kiss her.

Deedee was twenty-two months old, and she was ninety-eight per cent,
pure sweetness. Some of the women in our end of town said her short,
curly hair was tow-colored, but it wasn’t so--they was just envious of
us. And one and all said her eyes was like round little bits of blue
sky. It was clear enough that she had inherited her sweetness from
Marthy; and some said it was equal clear that the two per cent, of
unadulterated stubbornness come from me. I said so myself, but I didn’t
believe it.

Deedee was gittin’ to be a regular person. She could tell what she
wanted, and once in a while we could understand what it was. It was full
time, everybody said, that her education had ought to begin. If she was
goin’ to grow up into a fine, sincere woman like Marthy, she must have
the right kind of start. Just the night before the day of the Spank,
Marthy had begun to teach her her religious education. Standin’ up
at Marthy’s knee--for Deedee would not kneel to God or man--she had
repeated:--

     “Nowee-laimee-downee-seep,
     Padee-O-so-tee.”

Anybody had ought to know that was:--

     “Now I lay me down to sleep,
     I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

It was a fine success for a first start, only she didn’t do what she
said she was goin’ to do and “lay me down to sleep.” Instead of that she
stood up in her crib for about an hour, callin’ for “Mamie,” the meanin’
of which was that she wanted to be rocked and have Marthy sing “Mary had
a little lamb,” to her.

The day of the Spank had a bad openin’. When Deedee woke up, along
about five o’clock a.m., it was rainin’ pitchforks, and that meant a
day indoors, and to start off, she stood up in her crib and called for
“laim.”

Marthy woke up sort of realizin’ that Deedee was repeatin’ that word
slow, but regular, and she sat up and thought. “Laim” was a new word,
and the meanin’ of it was unknown, but, whatever it was, Deedee wanted
it. She wanted it bad. Nothin’ but “laim” would satisfy her.

Marthy studied that word good and hard. It did not seem to suggest
anything to eat or drink, and, as near as Marthy could make out, it
didn’t rightly apply to any toy, game, song, person, or anything else.
Marthy woke me up, and I sat up with a sigh. Deedee looked at me as if
she thought she would git what she wanted now, sure.

“Laim, Deedee?” I asked, and she smiled as sweet as you please.

“Papa, laim!” she says again. “Laim!” I says, thoughtful, lookin’ around
the room and up at the ceilin’. I screwed up my forehead and studied,
and twisted my neck to look into the next room. “Laim! What’s a ‘laim,’
anyhow?”

“I give it up,” I says, after I’d thought of everything in the world,
pretty near. “Mebby her grandpa would know. Mebby it’s something he
taught her.”

We lifted Deedee out of her crib, and set her down on the floor, and
she pattered down the hall. We could hear her tellin’ him to give her
“laim,” and the puzzled way he answered her back.

“Laim, birdy? What is it? Say it again, Deedee. Laim? Grand-daddy don’t
know what you want, Deedee.”

Neither did Uncle Ed, who was stayin’ with us about then. Nobody knew
what “laim” was but Deedee, and she wanted it the worst way. She come
back, and stood by Marthy’s bed, and just begged for it.

It was a hard day for Marthy. It was Monday, and wash-day, so Deedee
couldn’t bother Katie in the kitchen, and it was rainin’ too. Deedee
just wandered through the house, like she had lost her last friend, and
then she would come back to Marthy and ask for “laim.” She wouldn’t have
nothing to do with her toys, and she wouldn’t sew with a pin, and
she wouldn’t sit at the table and write, and she wouldn’t look at the
photygraft book. And the worst of it was that she wouldn’t keep still a
minute.

[Illustration: She wouldn’t keep still a minute 100]

By noon-time Marthy had a headache. By sundown she had “nerves,” and
about then she began to look at Deedee with a sort of reproachful look.
Deedee had said that unknown word about ten thousand times. Marthy put
Deedee to bed in her crib, and I read once how Wellington, at Waterloo,
in the big fight they had there, prayed for night or Blücher, and that
was about how Marthy longed for the sandman or me to come. I was the
one that come, at last. I come in the house wet to the skin, and plumb
disgusted; my pants stickin’ to my legs and all over mud, and I chucked
my soakin’ hat and my umbrelly into a corner, the way a tired-out man
will, and just dropped into a chair, tuckered out. I let out one good,
long sigh of thanks that I was at the end of a hard day.

“Hiram!” comes Marthy’s voice; “Come in here, and see if you can do
anything with Edith. I have worked with her all day, and I’m played out;
I’m utter tired.”

“Oh, plague!” I says. I sat a minute, drummin’ on the arm of my chair,
and then I got upon my feet, and walked into the bedroom.

“What’s the matter?” I says, as near cross as I calculate I ever git,
and Marthy’s eyes filled up.

“I _can’t_ do anything with her,” she says. “She _won’t_ go to sleep.
She has been dreadful all day. I don’t feel like I could stand it
another minute.” Marthy threw herself on the bed and covered up her face
with her hands. She was cryin’.

I guess I frowned.

Deedee looked up at me as sweet as a little angel.

“Papa, laim,” she says.

“No!” says I, “No laim, Deedee. You lie down and go to sleep like a good
girl. Papa’ll fix your pillow nice.”

I pounded up her pillow, and turned it over, and pulled the sheets out
straight. Then I took the baby and laid her down gentle. She smiled and
cuddled into the pillow.

“Oh, what a nice bed!” I says. “Ain’t it a nice bed, Deedee?”

“Nice bed,” she allowed.

“Will I cover your feet?” I says.

“Feet cov,” she _says_, eager.

So I spread the sheet up over her feet.

“Shut little eyes,” I says in warning, but as gentle as you please, and
she shut up her eyes so tight her eyelids wrinkled.

“Now, good night, Deedee,” I says.

“‘Night, pa--pa!” she coos.

I stole out of the room as quiet as I knowed how, and dropped cautious
into my chair. I leaned back and smiled sort of grim. “That shows,” I
thinks, “that women ain’t got the right kind of tact to handle a kid, or
else they ‘ve got catchin’ nerves. It shows how easy a man can--”

“Papa, laim!”

Deedee’s clear little voice just cut what I was thinkin’ into two
pieces. I was into that bedroom in about two steps. Deedee was standin’
up in her crib.

“Papa, laim?” she says, sort of anxious.

“No!” I says, stern in earnest. “No laim!”

“Papa, laim!” she demands.

“No!” I says, in a way that froze her smile right where it was. She
looked up at me doubtful-like, her little pink and white chin puckered
up all ready to cry.

“Papa, laim, laim!” she pleaded.

I reached over and forced her right back on to her pillow.

“Deedee!” I says, in a voice that was new and that she wasn’t acquainted
with; “go to sleep! Be quiet! Stop this instant, or I _will_ SPANK you!”

I guess, mebby, the angels kept on singin’ as joyful as ever up in
Heaven. I guess, mebby, somewhere out west further, the sun was shinin’
down gay on noddin’, careless flowers. Mebby, even in the next block,
some good baby was bein’ snuggled up in its ma’s arms; but to Deedee,
lyin’ in the corner of her crib, the world had got a million years
older in about a minute. Her world that had been all smiles and pleasant
things had turned into a world of hard words and cruel faces. Her mama
dear had on a mask of unfeelin’ coldness. Her papa dear stood up there
towerin’ above her, a sort of giant of wrath, flourishin’ an awful,
mysterious weapon, the word “spank.”

It looked like everybody had gone back on her. Her friends--which was
me and Marthy, her playmates--which was me and Marthy, her lovers--which
was me and Marthy, the providers of her joy--which was me and Marthy,
had turned into avengers. She was all alone in a world of clubs. Just
one wee kid and everybody against her.

She lay there a minute palpitatin’, with her chin tremblin’ piteous.
What was to be did when her parents vanished, and these strange, harsh
people took their places?

She crep’ to the foot of the crib, where I was still standin’, and she
got up and took hold of my arm and hugged it.

“Pa-pa!” she says, loving.

I pushed her back on the pillow again, gentle but firm.

“Edith,” I says in the hard voice she wasn’t acquainted with; “Lie down
and go to sleep. I don’t want to have no more of this. Go to sleep!” I
heard the dinner bell tinkle from the dinin’-room, and I helped Marthy
to git up, and we went out, and left Deedee alone in the dark.

I ate the first part of my dinner without sayin’ anything. It wasn’t
exactly easy to be lively under them circumstances. Even Uncle Ned
didn’t say nothin’, and grand-daddy didn’t feel called on to start a
conversation. It got so we was so quiet it hurt. Uncle Ed made bold to
speak.

“When I was a kid,” he says, lightly, “I used to git spanked with a
six-inch plank.”

“Edward!” says Marthy. “How can you say such a thing?”

“It done me good,” he says. “You can’t begin too young. We ‘ve all got
the devil in us, and the only way to git it out is to pound it out.”

Marthy laid down her fork, and her lips trembled.

“Cut that out, Ed,” I says. “Marthy has the nerves to-night; the subject
ain’t popular.”

“I think she’s goin’ to be good now,” says grand-daddy, who always stuck
up for the kid bein’ the best that ever lived. “She seems quiet enough.
She must have gone off to sleep.”

“I sure do hope so,” says Marthy. “I never had such a day with her.”
 “Mama, laim!” came the little voice from the bedroom, of a sudden.

“I met Tuomy to-day,” I says, “and he--”

“Mama, laim! Mama, laim!” called Deedee.

“He asked to be remembered to you,” I says. “He was with May Wilson--”

From the bedroom come a low, maddenin’ wail:--

“Mama, laim! Papa, laim!”

It kept gittin’ louder. It got to be a regular cry, punctuated off here
and there with calls for “laim.”

Marthy looked at me, hopeless. I seen the look and looked down at my
plate.

“I’ll spank her when I’m done my dinner,” I says. “There’s no other
way.”

We didn’t say much durin’ the rest of that meal. It was a very solemn
feast. We was all thinkin’ of Deedee. There wasn’t no doubt that the
time had come we had been afraid of. The punishment and the crime was
properly fitted to each other.

Now, or never, was the time to spank; but we was a ridiculous
tender-hearted family, and, as the dinner went on, the spankin’
of Deedee loomed up bigger than Pike’s Peak. It piled up huge and
record-breakin’ above the tea-pots and the puddin’s, and looked about as
important as the end of the world, or a big war.

When we got up it was like the condemned goin’ to the execution, and we
marched into the front room like a jury, bringin’ in the death verdict,
files into the court room.

Deedee still cried for “laim.”

We four sat down, and looked at the carpet, as gloomy as a funeral.
I opened my mouth, swallowed hard two times, and shut it again. Uncle
Edward tapped on the carpet with his toe, grand-daddy looked at one of
the spots on the same carpet like it was a personal insult to him, and
Marthy smoothed out one of the roses on it with her heel. We wasn’t half
so interested in that carpet when we bought it as we looked to be that
very minute.

“Well?” says Marthy, at last. I kept my eye away from hers. I looked out
of the window. Next I got up and stood by the window and stuck my hands
deep down into my pants pockets.

“If you ‘re goin’ to--” says Marthy. “If you ain’t--”

Deedee was gittin’ too bad to stand. It looked as if the neighbors would
be comin’ in to complain, next thing.

I turned around and walked slow toward the bedroom. The three other
grown-ups sat like stone statures. As I pushed aside the curtains,
Marthy jumped across the room and grabbed me by the arm.

“Hiram!” she cried eager, “You won’t be too severe? You won’t git mad
and hurt her?”

“Marthy,” I says, “if you want to spank her, do so. If you want me to
spank her, don’t you mix in.” I shook her hand off of me, and she went
back to her chair cryin’.

Well, I went into that bedroom. Deedee left off cryin’ when she seen me,
and in the dim light I could see her standin’ in the crib. I stuck out
my hand to take her, and she hung on to it.

“Papa, laim!” she begged.

“Edith,” I says, hoarse in my throat, “you ‘ve been naughty. Papa told
you to go to sleep, and mama told you to go to sleep. When we tell you
to go to sleep, you’ve got to go to sleep. Now, this is the last time
I’m goin’ to tell you. Will you lie down and go to sleep?”

“Papa, laim!” she says, impatient.

I set my mouth and lifted her up and laid her on the bed on her face and
held her there. She struggled and yelled.

“Be quiet!” I says, “be quiet, or I will spank you!”

She gave one long, lingerin’ cry for “laim.”

I took a long breath, and lifted up my hand, and--and--I ain’t a-goin’
to tell about that. Let’s go into the other room.

There set the three other grownups, holdin’ their hands over their ears,
with pained lookin’ faces. Even at that they heard the sound of a dozen
short, sharp claps, and the sound of the quick cries, and then there was
a silent spell, only broke by the great big sobs of the little kid in
the next room,--sobs that sort of exploded their way out, shakin’ the
little body till the crib rattled.

[Illustration: The sobbin’ got weaker and weaker 120]

The sobbin’ got weaker and weaker, and come further apart, and I stole
out of the bedroom, wipin’ my face with my handkerchief.

“I think she’ll be a good girly now,” says grand-daddy, gentle-like.

That baby, shocked and surprised, laid on the pillow thinkin’, as much
as a baby could think. Something cruel and unexpected had happened to
her.

Me and Marthy had turned cruel. She didn’t have no one to love up to.
She had been hurt. Her papa dear had hurt her, because she had cried for
“laim.”

“I hope she will,” says Marthy in reply to grand-daddy, and that minute
from the bedroom, come Deedee’s voice.

“Papa!” it pleaded.

I jumped up from my chair. Evidently that child needed--

“Papa, kiss!” says Deedee, soft and pleadin’.

Well, I rather guess we all kissed her! We hugged her until she was
gaspin’ for breath, and she smiled at us, and forgive us all, even while
the sobs come once in a while to interfere with her smilin’.

“Ain’t she a dear, _dear_ baby?” cried Marthy. “Poor little thing!”

When we had loved her enough to spoil any good the spankin’ had done,
Marthy drove us out.

“Come, deary,” she says to Deedee, “say your little prayers, mama
forgot.”

Deedee pressed up against her ma’s knee, joyous.

“Now I--” Marthy prompts her.

“Nowee--” says Deedee.

“Lay me--” says Marthy.

“_Laim_,” says Deedee, tickled as you please, and then wonderin’ why the
whole lot of us shouts out “Laim!” of a sudden, and why we laugh, and
crowd ‘round her, and kiss her, and kiss her!

“Poor baby!” says Marthy. “To be spanked for wantin’ to say her
prayers!”

“By George!” says Uncle Edward. “Talk about your martyrs! She beats the
whole bunch!”

And to think there was once a time when me and Marthy thought a kid was
more bother than it was worth! There ain’t no child, nowhere, that ain’t
worth more than everything else in the world all put together. No, sir!
A baby has got more human nature in it than a man has, even. You take
your big, rough hand to it, and you chastise it, so that it screams out,
and the next minute it takes time in between sobs to hug its soft little
arms around your neck, and kiss you. Ain’t that the reallest kind of
human nature? Why, that’s the kind that makes the world worth livin’ in
at all.

I don’t seem to recollect ever hearin’ that Heaven was set aside as a
sort of place where married folks could hang about by twos. Them that
has had experience knows that that would be a mighty poor kind of
heaven--one without children in it. It’s the child kind of human nature
that sweetens up the world. The “give and take” kind--take your spankin’
when it comes, and give back love in return for it.





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