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- Helen's Babies - 1/25 -
With some account of their ways, innocent, crafty, angelic, impish, witching and impulsive; also a partial record of their actions during ten days of their existence
By JOHN HABBERTON
The first cause, so far as it can be determined, of the existence of this book may be found in the following letter, written by my only married sister, and received by me, Harry Burton, salesman of white goods, bachelor, aged twenty-eight, and received just as I was trying to decide where I should Spend a fortnight's vacation:--
"HILLCREST, June 15, 1875.
"DEAR HARRY:--Remembering that you are always complaining that you never have a chance to read, and knowing that you won't get it this summer, if you spend your vacation among people of your own set, I write to ask you to come up here. I admit that I am not wholly disinterested in inviting you. The truth is, Tom and I are invited to spend a fortnight with my old schoolmate, Alice Wayne, who, you know, is the dearest girl in the world, though you DIDN'T obey me and marry her before Frank Wayne appeared. Well, we're dying to go, for Alice and Frank live in splendid style; but as they haven't included our children in their invitation, and have no children of their own, we must leave Budge and Toddie at home. I've no doubt they'll be perfectly safe, for my girl is a jewel, and devoted to the children, but I would feel a great deal easier if there was a man in the house. Besides, there's the silver, and burglars are less likely to break into a house where there's a savage-looking man. (Never mind about thanking me for the compliment.) If YOU'LL only come up, my mind will be completely at rest. The children won't give you the slightest trouble; they're the best children in the world--everybody says so.
"Tom has plenty of cigars, I know, for the money I should have had for a new suit went to pay his cigar-man. He has some new claret, too, that HE goes into ecstasies over, though _I_ can't tell it from the vilest black ink, except by the color. Our horses are in splendid condition, and so is the garden--you see I don't forget your old passion for flowers. And, last and best, there never were so many handsome girls at Hillcrest as there are among the summer boarders already here; the girls you already are acquainted with here will see that you meet all the newer acquisitions.
"Reply by telegraph right away. "Of course you'll say 'Yes.' "In great haste, your loving
P. S. You shall have our own chamber; it catches every breeze, and commands the finest views. The children's room communicates with it; so, if anything SHOULD happen to the darlings at night, you'd be sure to hear them."
"Just the thing!" I ejaculated. Five minutes later I had telegraphed Helen my acceptance of her invitation, and had mentally selected books enough to busy me during a dozen vacations. Without sharing Helen's belief that her boys were the best ones in the world, I knew them well enough to feel assured that they would not give me any annoyance. There were two of them, since Baby Phil died last fall; Budge, the elder, was five years of age, and had generally, during my flying visits to Helen, worn a shy, serious, meditative, noble face, with great, pure, penetrating eyes, that made me almost fear their stare. Tom declared he was a born philanthropist or prophet, and Helen made so free with Miss Muloch's lines as to sing:--
"Ah, the day that THOU goest a-wooing, Budgie, my boy!"
Toddie had seen but three summers, and was a happy little know- nothing, with a head full of tangled yellow hair, and a very pretty fancy for finding out sunbeams and dancing in them. I had long envied Tom his horses, his garden, his house and his location, and the idea of controlling them for a fortnight was particularly delightful. Tom's taste in cigars and claret I had always respected, while the lady inhabitants of Hillcrest were, according to my memory, much like those of every other suburban village, the fairest of their sex.
Three days later I made the hour and a half trip between New York and Hillcrest, and hired a hackman to drive me over to Tom's. Half a mile from my brother-in-law's residence, our horses shied violently, and the driver, after talking freely to them, turned to me and remarked:--
"That was one of the 'Imps.'"
"What was?" I asked.
"That little cuss that scared the hosses. There he is, now, holdin' up that piece of brushwood. 'Twould be just like his cheek, now, to ask me to let him ride. Here he comes, runnin'. Wonder where t'other is?--they most generally travel together. We call 'em the Imps, about these parts, because they're so uncommon likely at mischief. Always skeerin' hosses, or chasin' cows, or frightenin' chickens. Nice enough father an' mother, too--queer, how young ones do turn out."
As he spoke, the offending youth came panting beside our carriage, and in a very dirty sailor-suit, and under a broad-brimmed straw hat, with one stocking about his ankle, and two shoes, averaging about two buttons each, I recognized my nephew, Budge! About the same time there emerged from the bushes by the roadside a smaller boy in a green gingham dress, a ruffle which might once have been white, dirty stockings, blue slippers worn through at the toes, and an old-fashioned straw-turban. Thrusting into the dust of the road a branch from a bush, and shouting, "Here's my grass-cutter!" he ran toward us enveloped in a "pillar of cloud," which might have served the purpose of Israel in Egypt. When he paused and the dust had somewhat subsided, I beheld the unmistakable lineaments of the child Toddie!
"They're--my nephews," I gasped.
"What!" exclaimed the driver. "By gracious! I forgot you were going to Colonel Lawrence's! I didn't tell anything but the truth about 'em, though; they're smart enough, an' good enough, as boys go; but they'll never die of the complaint that children has in Sunday-school books."
"Budge," said I, with all the sternness I could command, "do you know me?"
The searching eyes of the embryo prophet and philanthropist scanned me for a moment, then their owner replied:--
"Yes; you're Uncle Harry. Did you bring us anything?"
"Bring us anything?" echoed Toddie.
"I wish I could have brought you some big whippings," said I, with great severity of manner, "for behaving so badly. Get into this carriage."
"Come on, Tod," shouted Budge, although Toddie's farther ear was not a yard from Budge's mouth. "Uncle Harry's going to take us riding!"
"Going to take us riding!" echoed Toddie, with the air of one in a reverie; both the echo and the reverie I soon learned were characteristics of Toddie.
As they clambered into the carriage I noticed that each one carried a very dirty towel, knotted in the center into what is known as a slip-noose knot, drawn very tight. After some moments of disgusted contemplation of these rags, without being in the least able to comprehend their purpose, I asked Budge what those towels were for.
"They're not towels--they're dollies," promptly answered my nephew.
"Goodness!" I exclaimed. "I should think your mother could buy you respectable dolls, and not let you appear in public with those loathsome rags."
"We don't like buyed dollies," explained Budge. "These dollies is lovely; mine's name is Mary, an' Toddie's is Marfa."
"Marfa?" I queried.
"Yes; don't you know about
"Marfa and Mary's jus' gone along To ring dem charmin' bells,
that them Jubilee sings about?"
"Oh, Martha, you mean?"
"Yes, Marfa--that's what I say. Toddie's dolly's got brown eyes, an' my dolly's got blue eyes."
"I want to shee yours watch," remarked Toddie, snatching at my chain, and rolling into my lap.
"Oh--oo--ee, so do I," shouted Budge, hastening to occupy one knee, and IN TRANSITU wiping his shoes on my trousers and the skirts of my coat. Each imp put an arm about me to steady himself, as I produced my three-hundred-dollar time-keeper and showed them the dial.
"I want to see the wheels go round," said Budge.
"Want to shee wheels go wound," echoed Toddie.
"No; I can't open my watch where there's so much dust," I said.
"What for?" inquired Budge.
"Want to shee the wheels go wound," repeated Toddie.
"The dust gets inside the watch and spoils it," I explained.
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