The old lady began to cry softly. “It’s a judgment on me,” she says. “I used to talk to that dog as if it had been a Christian, and now this thing has happened as a punishment.”
“What’s happened?” says the chambermaid, who was naturally enough growing more and more curious.
“I don’t know,” says the old lady, sitting up on the floor. “If this isn’t a dream, and if I ain’t mad, I started from my home at Farthinghoe, two hours ago, with a one-year-old bulldog packed in that hamper. You saw me open it; you see what’s inside it now.”
“But bulldogs,” says the chambermaid, “ain’t changed into babies by magic.”
“I don’t know how it’s done,” says the old lady, “and I don’t see that it matters. I know I started with a bulldog, and somehow or other it’s got turned into that.”
“Somebody’s put it there,” says the chambermaid; “somebody as wanted to get rid of a child. They’ve took your dog out and put that in its place.”
“They must have been precious smart,” says the old lady; “the hamper hasn’t been out of my sight for more than five minutes, when I went into the refreshment-room at Banbury for a cup of tea.”
“That’s when they did it,” says the chambermaid, “and a clever trick it was.”
The old lady suddenly grasped her position, and jumped up from the floor. “And a nice thing for me,” she says. “An unmarried woman in a scandal-mongering village! This is awful!”
“It’s a fine-looking child,” says the chambermaid.
“Would you like it?” says the old lady.
The chambermaid said she wouldn’t. The old lady sat down and tried to think, and the more she thought the worse she felt. The chambermaid was positive that if we hadn’t come when we did the poor creature would have gone mad. When the Boots appeared at the door to say there was a gent and a bulldog downstairs enquiring after a baby, she flung her arms round the man’s neck and hugged him.
We just caught the train to Warwick, and by luck got back to the hotel ten minutes before the mother turned up. Young Milberry carried the child in his arms all the way. He said I could have the hamper for myself, and gave me half-a-sovereign extra on the understanding that I kept my mouth shut, which I did.
I don’t think he ever told the child’s mother what had happened—leastways, if he wasn’t a fool right through, he didn’t.
“There are two sorts of men as gets hen-pecked,” remarked Henry—I forgot how the subject had originated, but we had been discussing the merits of Henry VIII., considered as a father and a husband,—“the sort as likes it and the sort as don’t, and I wouldn’t be too cocksure that the sort as does isn’t on the whole in the majority.