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How Jack Minded the Baby by Dorothy Pinho

 

The Etruria was on its way to New York. The voyage had been, so far, without accidents, or even incidents; the weather had been lovely; the sea, a magnificent stretch of blue, with a few miniature wavelets dancing in the sunlight.

Amongst the passengers of the first-class saloon everybody noticed a slight girlish figure, always very simply attired; in spite of all her efforts to remain unnoticed, she seemed to attract attention by her great beauty. People whispered to each other, “Who is she?” All they knew was that her name was Mrs. Arthur West, and that she was going out to New York with her two babies to join her husband.

Every morning she was on deck, or sometimes, if the sun was too fierce, in the saloon, and she made a charming picture reclining in her deck-chair, with baby Lily lying on her lap, and little Jack playing at her feet. Baby was only three or four months old; hardly anything more than a dainty heap of snowy silk and lace to anybody but her mother, who, of course, thought that nothing on earth could be as clever as the way she crowed and kicked out her absurd pink morsels of toes.

Master Jack was quite an important personage; he was nearly four years old and very proud of the fact that this was his second voyage, while Lily had never been on a ship before, and, as he contemptuously remarked, “didn't even know who dada was.” He was a quaint, old-fashioned little soul, and though he rather looked down upon his little sister from the height of his dignity and his first knickerbockers, he would often look after her for his mother and pat her off to sleep quite cleverly.

We must not forget to mention “Rover,” a lovely retriever; he was quite of the family, fairly worshipped by his little master, and the pet of the whole ship. He looked upon baby Lily as his own special property, and no stranger dare approach if he were guarding her.

On the afternoon my story opens baby Lily had been very cross and fretful; the intense heat evidently did not agree with her. Poor little Mrs. West was quite worn out with walking up and down with her trying to lull her off to sleep. Jack was lying flat on the floor, engrossed in the beauties of a large picture-book; two or three times he raised his curly head and shook it gravely. Then he said, “Isn't she a naughty baby, mummie?”

“Yes, dear,” answered his mother, “and I'm afraid that if she doesn't soon get good, we shall have to put her right through the porthole. We don't want to take a naughty baby-girl to daddy, do we?”

“No, mummie,” answered Jack very earnestly, and he returned once more to his pictures.

“There, she has gone off,” whispered Mrs. West, after a few moments. “Now, Jackie, I am going to put her down, and you must look after her while I go and see if the stewardess has boiled the milk for the night. Play very quietly, like a good little boy, because I don't think she is very sound asleep.” And, with a parting kiss on his little uplifted face, she slipped away.

The stewardess was nowhere to be found; so Mrs. West boiled the milk herself, as she had often done before, and after about ten minutes, returned to her cabin.

Little Jack was in a corner, busy with a drawing-slate; he turned round as his mother came in. The berth where she had put the baby down was empty.

“Was baby naughty? Has the stewardess taken her?” she asked.

“No, mummie; baby woke up d'rectly you went, an' she was so dreff'ly naughty—she just wouldn't go to sleep again; so I thought I'd better punish her, an' I put her, just this minute, through the porthole, like you said; but I dessay she'll be good now, and p'raps you'd better——but what's the matter, mummie? Are you going to be seasick?” for his mother had turned deathly white, and was holding on to the wall for support.

“My baby, my little one!” she gasped; then, pulling herself together with a sudden effort, she rushed towards the stairs; little Jack, bewildered, but suddenly overcome by a strange feeling of awe, following in the rear. As she reached the deck, she became aware that the liner had stopped; there was a great commotion among the passengers; she heard some one say, “Good dog! brave fellow!” and Rover, pushing his way between the excited people, brought to her feet a dripping, wailing bundle, which she strained to her heart, and fainted away.

Need I narrate what had happened? When little Jack had “put naughty baby through the porthole,” Rover was on deck with his two front paws up on the side of the vessel, watching intently some sea-gulls dipping in the waves. He suddenly saw the little white bundle touch the water; some marvellous instinct told him it was his little charge, and he gave a sudden leap over the side. A sailor of the crew saw him disappear, and gave the alarm: “Stop the ship! man overboard!”

A boat was lowered, and in a few seconds Rover was on deck again, holding baby Lily fast between his jaws.

Mrs. West never left her children alone after that; and when, a few days later, on the quay at New York, she was clasped in her husband's arms, she told him, between her sobs, how near he had been to never seeing his little daughter.

 
 
 

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