By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 43 - David
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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The new baby was due on his Mother’s birthday and we hoped that he would fulfill his trust and be a satisfying birthday gift, but he was a few hours late. Babies have a way of suiting their own conveniences without regard for parents. Above all they seem to prefer for their arrival, the still hours of night when witches and miasms work their spells. Ben and Lilly had just settled themselves for a long summer nap when they were obliged to reconsider, and by daybreak, a second son, David Rees Murray, lay in the bed beside his mother.
David was a small plump baby. Dr. Clements hadn’t dieted Lilly so there were not disquieting wrinkles to make his look like an old man. Soon after he was born, however, I discovered that one eye was smaller than the other pupi -l elongated. I didn’t mention it at first then, steeped in misery, I decided to find out how Mother felt about it.
“Have you noticed that the baby’s eyes are different?”
“Yes, they do seem rather unalike,”
“I was afraid maybe I’d stuck him with a pin or something in my clothes,”
I said. It was a relief to have Mother’s opinion. We talked about it at some length.
“I don’t think I’d mention it to Lilly until she says something about it.
So we waited.
I was reading ‘John Halifax, Gentleman,” by Miss Mulock at the time and found Mother’s suggestion difficult, for the first chapter in the book is concerned with the suspected blindness of a baby. The fiction baby was finally taken into a darkened room and a lighted candle passed in front of his eyes. When he failed to blink the conclusion was reached that the child was blind.
Lilly was so happy over her second son that it was difficult for Mother to steer the conversation to the baby’s eyes but she wanted him to be examined by a specialist. One day she plumped the question straight at her,
“Lilly, have you noticed that one of David’s eyes is smaller than the other?”
Faced with a direct query, Lilly could not dodge and she admitted that she had noticed the imperfection. Mother advised consulting the specialist as a precautionary measure and Lilly approved it. We had a fine oculist in town so one warm day we bundled the baby in his buggy and took him to the doctor’s office. My spirits were completely unstable. One moment I was sure that Dr. Camp would tell us that we were sensational in suspecting the poor baby, that it was we who couldn’t see straight, and that he would order us out of the office with our contaminating suspicions. The next instant I wondered what Lilly would do if he announced that her chubby baby would never be able to see her. No one could say that my dramatization of the scene was feeble.
Lilly was the steadiest of the lot of us when the doctor bowed us into his inner office and we unswathed the patient. We watched him with suspended heart action inspect the precious baby through his scary-looking goggles and then awaited his verdict. It didn’t take long. He merely said that David was too young as yet for a reliable test. He averred that he might be blind but that no conclusions could be reached until he was older and out we went. It was at that precise moment that ‘John Halifax, Gentleman’ entered the picture. Maybe Dr. Camp couldn’t draw any conclusions but I knew that I could an as we walked home, I made definite plans for the test.
Lilly’s spirits were unravished by the strain. Indeed she seemed to have undergone none of the tension that the rest of us had suffered. She assured us that she had known from the first that the baby’s sight was normal. Apparently the possibility of blindness had never entered her mind, so we bided our time.
Mother at my earnest request had read the description of the candle test, and agreed with me that it would be conclusive if the baby made no fuss. In less than a week our opportunity arrived. Lilly’s dancing hunger needed appeasement and she and Ben agreed that as soon as physically able, they would begin their gaieties again. Society’s farewell hop to summer gave them and us our chance. On the special night Howie was tucked into his bed, and the new baby fed and covered for the night. Lilly gave a few last minute touches to her toilette, wrapped a cape about her party regalia and they were off, leaving us to guard the sacred treasure.
Poor baby! He hadn’t a chance for mercy. We had the candle ready before Ben and Lilly were around the corner and in the blacked-out stillness of the bedroom we flashed it across the baby’s face. I shall never forget how he struggled to escape the glare. We didn’t register any sympathy at the moment. We lust let him have it full in the eyes. Then we cried for joy, tucked him back under the covers and adjourned to talk over our findings in the living room. We were so relieved that we laughed at nothing all evening.
Next morning we told Lilly about our clinic. She looked at us in amazement.
“Why I knew all the time that he could see,”
David had the tiniest hands I have ever seen on a baby, and an exceptionally flexible thumb. It pushed back so fat that it seemed to have been ripped from his hand and was like a thin wee wafer. One of his shower gifts was a celluloid ball and when he took hold of it, it apparently stuck to his hand. He would wave the ball about without seeming to hold it at all. It was like a display of magic. We studied his hand as did doctors and friends. The consensus appeared to be that it was done by means of a vacuum. Whatever the explanation, it was a charming accomplishment that no one tired of watching and we showed him off to hucksters, to travelling salesmen and everyone who came our way.
David was a lovable baby with more tricks that a captious elephant. When he wanted something he’d yell till he got action. Howie was still under two, and taking care of two babies taxed Lilly. It would have been simple if David had chosen to sleep when Howie did but he had other plans. He would go to bed as quietly as could be then, when the family was wrapped in sleep, he’d yell like a coyote. The first suspicion was that a pin must have been attacking him. But no, - his mother tried all sorts of experiments. Finally it became clear to everyone that he merely wanted to play. Night after night he would sound his alarm and as soon as he was set in his high chair and toys placed on his tray, he’d quiet down while Ben or Lilly lounged nearby trying to catch a wink of sleep.
Ben would say,
“Why won’t you let your poor daddy sleep?”
And the baby would crow delightedly. After the parents had been worn to a nub, Mother suggested that they tire him out more in the daytime, and shorten his naps. That turned the trick. He still kept his determination, however, and when he reached the creeping stage sprang new surprises. When he wanted attention he’d siren a first call vigorously, then sit quietly to witness the effect. If he thought he was overlooked, he’d give a second call. Neglect on the second alarm called for action and he promptly initiated it. He had a full forehead, chubby and bulging, and he would lean over and bump it several times on the hardwood floor. The first time Mother saw him do it she dashed over and picked him up hurriedly. It astonished him so that he stopped the noise. Every time he tried it when Mother was around she repeated her performance. That not only interfered with his act but annoyed him also. Finally he learned to do a little FBI work first, to locate her. He would creep under the dining room table and peep out at her. If she was far enough away to be ineffective, he’d bump again; otherwise he would postpone his tantrum. Like the Mother Goose rhyme he’d, ‘try again another day,’
As he developed into a little individual, it soon became evident that David not only could see well but that he was exceptionally farsighted. His mother had a small runabout, and when the rig was a mere speck on the horizon, he would call out,
with commendable satisfaction. Sure enough, in time she would appear.
Lilly was very proud of her pair of boys and took them with her whenever she could. Summers were so hot in Springfield that staying in the house just wasn’t done. Picnics were a frequent event and the children loved such outings. The sun scorched their bodies to a nice toast color and one day Lilly decided to have a picture of the two.
Clamps fastened back of the subject’s ears to keep him from moving were barely out of use but a sitting for a picture was still as trying as a dental appointment. The sun, too, had to cooperate for success.
Lilly had a young maid, Addie Grimes, at the time. She was a great favorite with the babies and Lilly decided to take her along on the gallery trip. It took the entire female force to get the boys dressed in fancy clothes. Sex hadn’t a chance to influence the dress of small boys in those days. Cauliflower ears and aggressive jaws were topped with as many frills as the daintiest of females. Even, David, the son of a curly-haired father, underwent the ignominy and personal hazard of having his hair touched up with a hot curling iron. Little ringlets curled about his neck and ears while bands of lace clasped his chubby arms.
The gallery was quite a distance from the house and, thinking to save time, Lilly determined to drive. Addie was a farm product and not insulted at being invited to hitch the horse so Lilly took over the care of the babies so that Addie could be released for stable service.
“Una, suppose you take the children out to the barn and you and Addie drive to the front while I change my dress,”
She suggested. Following instructions, I took the baby in my arms while Howie tagged along at my side. Together we climbed through the fence to our lot and walked to the barn.
Lilly kept her horse in one of our stalls. We had a driveway and carriage gate on the front street but more often used the gate on Market Street at the back. Driving ‘round to the front meant covering almost three blocks. Addie and I together cramped the buggy and loaded the children aboard. Addie held David on her lap and Howie sat between us. I picked up the lines and we started off.
Lilly was very fond of Dolly, her horse.
“Dolly and I are both high-spirited,”
She used to say. True, Dolly was a fast little driving horse, the kind that had to have corks on the lines for the driver’s benefit. Yet I didn’t share Lilly’s admiration for her. In my opinion she was bad tempered and hard to manage. Besides that, Dolly knew that I was afraid of her. She was a smart beast, though, and as I headed her toward State Street, she leapt forward with spirit. State street was below the level of Market Street, a streetcar line traversed it and Market came to a dead end where the two met. As we approached State Street Dolly was going at a merry clip when suddenly the streetcar appeared in front of her. Startled, she plunged straight ahead, ignoring my efforts to turn her. Over the curb and up on the lawn of our neighbor, Mr. Cobban, the spirited little nag dragged the buggy. A bush straight in front of her path so she turned left to avoid it and out the right flew Addie with the baby in her lap. As she hit the sod, young David plopped over on the grass looking surprised. Having rid herself of one child, Dolly now turned in the opposite direction and Howie flew out the other way. Then, encountering a tree, the light buggy tipped over on its side and I crawled to survey the ruins. I was sure that I had killed everybody and frightened to the point of desperation. Horrible visions of Lilly viewing her dead children flashed in my mind’s eye. Mr. Cobban rushed out of his house to check Dolly and quiet her. Young Howie yelling lustily picked himself up. He wasn’t even scratched although he was badly scared. Mr. Cobban was very kind. He made not a single comment about his lawn, which looked like a windstorm had wrecked it.
Addie had all the bruises and, being young and slightly neurotic, made the most of her pains. For a week or more whenever unpleasant work loomed ahead, she was seized with ‘runaway’ spasms and felt terribly sorry for herself. David hadn’t bothered to cry. He was too astonished and sat on the grass patting it with his bare hand. I picked him up and, leaving Dolly in Mr. Cobban’s care, we four took up our trek where it had been spasmodically sidetracked and set out for home. Lilly had waited what seemed to her an unconscionably long time for us to appear. When we failed to show up she too set out on foot. We met halfway and I gave her a running account of the crash and returned the slightly nicked dollies to their owner. None too husky at any time, Lilly’s knees crumpled under the strain, and at ten in the morning, we decided to call it a day.
Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father
Chapter 3 - Dartmouth
Chapter 4 - Killolog
Chapter 5 - America
Chapter 6 - Arrival
Chapter 7 - Gracious Living
Chapter 8 - I Am Born
Chapter 9 - My Name
Chapter 10 - Neighbors
Chapter 11 - The Cyclone
Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary
Chapter 13 - Music
Chapter 14 - Religion
Chapter 15 - The Circuit
Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1
Chapter 17 - Pageantry
Chapter 18 - Mommy
Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks
Chapter 20 - Decoration
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Chapter 22 - Episode
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Chapter 24 - Vanities
Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow
Chapter 26 - New Horizons
Chapter 27 - Disciplines
Chapter 28 - An Experimenter
Chapter 29 - Health
Chapter 30 - Murder
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Chapter 32 - Charm
Chapter 33 - Problems
Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Chapter 36 - At Home
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Chapter 38 - A Baby
Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Chapter 41 - Buffetings
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Chapter 43 - David
Chapter 44 - Exit