“I see an old lady,” says he, “hovering about outside the station, and a-hailing cabs, and she had a hamper with her as was as like that one there as two peas.”
I thought young Milberry would have fallen upon the boy’s neck and kissed him. With the boy to help us, we started among the cabmen. Old ladies with dog-baskets ain’t so difficult to trace. She had gone to a small second-rate hotel in the Aston Road. I heard all particulars from the chambermaid, and the old girl seems to have had as bad a time in her way as my gent had in his. They couldn’t get the hamper into the cab, it had to go on the top. The old lady was very worried, as it was raining at the time, and she made the cabman cover it with his apron. Getting it off the cab they dropped the whole thing in the road; that woke the child up, and it began to cry.
“Good Lord, Ma’am! what is it?” asks the chambermaid, “a baby?”
“Yes, my dear, it’s my baby,” answers the old lady, who seems to have been a cheerful sort of old soul—leastways, she was cheerful up to then. “Poor dear, I hope they haven’t hurt him.”
The old lady had ordered a room with a fire in it. The Boots took the hamper up, and laid it on the hearthrug. The old lady said she and the chambermaid would see to it, and turned him out. By this time, according to the girl’s account, it was roaring like a steam-siren.
“Pretty dear!” says the old lady, fumbling with the cord, “don’t cry; mother’s opening it as fast as she can.” Then she turns to the chambermaid—“If you open my bag,” says she, “you will find a bottle of milk and some dog-biscuits.”
“Dog-biscuits!” says the chambermaid.
“Yes,” says the old lady, laughing, “my baby loves dog-biscuits.”
The girl opened the bag, and there, sure enough, was a bottle of milk and half a dozen Spratt’s biscuits. She had her back to the old lady, when she heard a sort of a groan and a thud as made her turn round. The old lady was lying stretched dead on the hearthrug—so the chambermaid thought. The kid was sitting up in the hamper yelling the roof off. In her excitement, not knowing what she was doing, she handed it a biscuit, which it snatched at greedily and began sucking.
Then she set to work to slap the old lady back to life again. In about a minute the poor old soul opened her eyes and looked round. The baby was quiet now, gnawing the dog-biscuit. The old lady looked at the child, then turned and hid her face against the chambermaid’s bosom.
“What is it?” she says, speaking in an awed voice. “The thing in the hamper?”
“It’s a baby, Ma’am,” says the maid.
“You’re sure it ain’t a dog?” says the old lady. “Look again.”
The girl began to feel nervous, and to wish that she wasn’t alone with the old lady.
“I ain’t likely to mistake a dog for a baby, Ma’am,” says the girl. “It’s a child—a human infant.”