The growth of the puff-balls following on the expansion of the Caddles’ baby really ought to have opened the Vicar’s eyes. The latter fact had already come right into his arms at the christening— almost over-poweringly… .
The youngster bawled with deafening violence when the cold water that sealed its divine inheritance and its right to the name of “Albert Edward Caddles” fell upon its brow. It was already beyond maternal porterage, and Caddles, staggering indeed, but grinning triumphantly at quantitatively inferior parents, bore it back to the free-sitting occupied by his party.
“I never saw such a child!” said the Vicar. This was the first public intimation that the Caddles’ baby, which had begun its earthly career a little under seven pounds, did after all intend to be a credit to its parents. Very soon it was clear it meant to be not only a credit but a glory. And within a month their glory shone so brightly as to be, in connection with people in the Caddles’ position, improper.
The butcher weighed the infant eleven times. He was a man of few words, and he soon got through with them. The first time he said, “E’s a good un;” the next time he said, “My word!” the third time he said, “Well, mum,” and after that he simply blew enormously each time, scratched his head, and looked at his scales with an unprecedented mistrust. Every one came to see the Big Baby— so it was called by universal consent— and most of them said, “E’s a Bouncer,” and almost all remarked to him, “Did they?” Miss Fletcher came and said she “never did,” which was perfectly true.
Lady Wondershoot, the village tyrant, arrived the day after the third weighing, and inspected the phenomenon narrowly through glasses that filled it with howling terror. “It’s an unusually Big child,” she told its mother, in a loud instructive voice. “You ought to take unusual care of it, Caddles. Of course it won’t go on like this, being bottle fed, but we must do what we can for it. I’ll send you down some more flannel.”
The doctor came and measured the child with a tape, and put the figures in a notebook, and old Mr. Drift-hassock, who fanned by Up Marden, brought a manure traveller two miles out of their way to look at it. The traveller asked the child’s age three times over, and said finally that he was blowed. He left it to be inferred how and why he was blowed; apparently it was the child’s size blowed him. He also said it ought to be put into a baby show. And all day long, out of school hours, little children kept coming and saying, “Please, Mrs. Caddles, mum, may we have a look at your baby, please, mum?” until Mrs. Caddles had to put a stop to it. And amidst all these scenes of amazement came Mrs. Skinner, and stood and smiled, standing somewhat in the background, with each sharp elbow in a lank gnarled hand, and smiling, smiling under and about her nose, with a smile of infinite profundity.
“It makes even that old wretch of a grandmother look quite pleasant,” said Lady Wondershoot. “Though I’m sorry she’s come back to the village.”
Of course, as with almost all cottagers’ babies, the eleemosynary element had already come in, but the child soon made it clear by colossal bawling, that so far as the filling of its bottle went, it hadn’t come in yet nearly enough.
The baby was entitled to a nine days’ wonder, and every one wondered happily over its amazing growth for twice that time and more. And then you know, instead of its dropping into the background and giving place to other marvels, it went on growing more than ever!
Lady Wondershoot heard Mrs. Greenfield, her housekeeper, with infinite amazement.
“Caddles downstairs again. No food for the child! My dear Greenfield, it’s impossible. The creature eats like a hippopotamus! I’m sure it can’t be true.”
“I’m sure I hope you’re not being imposed upon, my lady,” said Mrs. Greenfield.
“It’s so difficult to tell with these people,” said Lady Wondershoot. “Now I do wish, my good Greenfield, that you’d just go down there yourself this afternoon andsee— see it have its bottle. Big as it is, I cannot imagine that it needs more than six pints a day.”
“It hasn’t no business to, my lady,” said Mrs. Greenfield.
The hand of Lady Wondershoot quivered, with that C.O.S. sort of emotion, that suspicious rage that stirs in all true aristocrats, at the thought that possibly the meaner classes are after all— as mean as their betters, and— where the sting lies— scoring points in the game.
But Mrs. Greenfield could observe no evidence of peculation, and the order for an increasing daily supply to the Caddles’ nursery was issued. Scarcely had the first instalment gone, when Caddles was back again at the great house in a state abjectly apologetic.
“We took the greates’ care of ’em, Mrs. Greenfield, I do assure you, mum, but he’s regular bust ’em! They flew with such vilence, mum, that one button broke a pane of the window, mum, and one hit me a regular stinger jest ’ere, mum.”
Lady Wondershoot, when she heard that this amazing child had positively burst out of its beautiful charity clothes, decided that she must speak to Caddles herself. He appeared in her presence with his hair hastily wetted and smoothed by hand, breathless, and clinging to his hat brim as though it was a life-belt, and he stumbled at the carpet edge out of sheer distress of mind.
Lady Wondershoot liked bullying Caddles. Caddles was her ideal lower-class person, dishonest, faithful, abject, industrious, and inconceivably incapable or responsibility. She told him it was a serious matter, the way his child was going on. “It’s ’is appetite, my ladyship,” said Caddles, with a rising note.
“Check ’im, my ladyship, you can’t,” said Caddles. “There ’e lies, my ladyship, and kicks out ’e does, and ‘owls, that distressin’. We ’aven’t the ’eart, my ladyship. If we ’ad— the neighbours would interfere… .”
Lady Wondershoot consulted the parish doctor.
“What I want to know,” said Lady Wondershoot, “is it right this child should have such an extraordinary quantity of milk?”
“The proper allowance for a child of that age,” said the parish doctor, “is a pint and a half to two pints in the twenty-four hours. I don’t see that you are called upon to provide more. If you do, it is your own generosity. Of course we might try the legitimate quantity for a few days. But the child, I must admit, seems for some reason to be physiologically different. Possibly what is called a Sport. A case of General Hypertrophy.”
“It isn’t fair to the other parish children,” said Lady Wondershoot. “I am certain we shall have complaints if this goes on.”
“I don’t see that any one can be expected to give more than the recognised allowance. We might insist on its doing with that, or if it wouldn’t, send it as a case into the Infirmary.”
“I suppose,” said Lady Wondershoot, reflecting, “that apart from the size and the appetite, you don’t find anything else abnormal— nothing monstrous?”
“No. No, I don’t. But no doubt if this growth goes on, we shall find grave moral and intellectual deficiencies. One might almost prophesy that from Max Nordau’s law. A most gifted and celebrated philosopher, Lady Wondershoot. He discovered that the abnormal is— abnormal, a most valuable discovery, and well worth bearing in mind. I find it of the utmost help in practice. When I come upon anything abnormal, I say at once, This is abnormal.” His eyes became profound, his voice dropped, his manner verged upon the intimately confidential. He raised one hand stiffly. “And I treat it in that spirit,” he said.