Your best plan is to address the article as “little angel.” The noun “angel” being of common gender suits the case admirably, and the epithet is sure of being favorably received. “Pet” or “beauty” are useful for variety’s sake, but “angel” is the term that brings you the greatest credit for sense and good-feeling. And whatever you do, don’t forget to say that the child has got its father’s nose. This “fetches” the parents (if I may be allowed a vulgarism) more than anything. They will pretend to laugh at the idea at first and will say, “Oh, nonsense!” You must then get excited and insist that it is a fact. You need have no conscientious scruples on the subject, because the thing’s nose really does resemble its father’s—at all events quite as much as it does anything else in nature—being, as it is, a mere smudge.
Do not despise these hints, my friends. There may come a time when, with mamma on one side and grandmamma on the other, a group of admiring young ladies (not admiring you, though) behind, and a bald-headed dab of humanity in front, you will be extremely thankful for some idea of what to say. A man—an unmarried man, that is—is never seen to such disadvantage as when undergoing the ordeal of “seeing baby.” A cold shudder runs down his back at the bare proposal, and the sickly smile with which he says how delighted he shall be ought surely to move even a mother’s heart, unless, as I am inclined to believe, the whole proceeding is a mere device adopted by wives to discou-rage the visits of bachelor friends.
It is a cruel trick, though, whatever its excuse may be. The bell is rung and somebody sent to tell nurse to bring baby down. This is the signal for all the females present to commence talking “baby,” during which time you are left to your own sad thoughts and the speculations upon the practicability of suddenly recol-lecting an important engagement, and the likelihood of your being believed if you do. Just when you have concocted an absurdly implausible tale about a man outside, the door opens, and a tall, severe-looking woman enters, carrying what at first sight appears to be a particularly skinny bolster, with the feathers all at one end. Instinct, however, tells you that this is the baby, and you rise with a miserable attempt at appearing eager. When the first gush of feminine enthusiasm with which the object in question is received has died out, and the number of ladies talking at once has been reduced to the ordinary four or five, the circle of fluttering petticoats divides, and room is made for you to step forward. This you do with much the same air that you would walk into the dock at Bow Street, and then, feeling unutterably miserable, you stand solemnly staring at the child. There is dead silence, and you know that every one is waiting for you to speak. You try to think of something to say, but find, to your horror, that your reasoning faculties have left you. It is a moment of despair, and your evil genius, seizing the opportunity, suggests to you some of the most idiotic remarks that it is possible for a human being to perpetrate. Glancing round with an imbecile smile, you sniggeringly observe that “it hasn’t got much hair has it?” Nobody answers you for a minute, but at last the stately nurse says with much gravity: “It is not customary for children five weeks old to have long hair.” Another silence follows this, and you feel you are being given a second chance, which you avail yourself of by inquiring if it can walk yet, or what they feed it on.
By this time you have got to be regarded as not quite right in your head, and pity is the only thing felt for you. The nurse, however, is determined that, insane or not, there shall be no shirking and that you shall go through your task to the end. In the tones of a high priestess directing some religious mystery she says, holding the bundle toward you: “Take her in your arms, sir.” You are too crushed to offer any resistance and so meekly accept the burden. “Put your arm more down her middle, sir,” says the high-priestess, and then all step back and watch you intently as though you were going to do a trick with it.
What to do you know no more than you did what to say. It is certain something must be done, and the only thing that occurs to you is to heave the unhappy infant up and down to the accompaniment of “oops-a-daisy,” or some remark of equal intelligence. “I wouldn’t jig her, sir, if I were you,” says the nurse; “a very little upsets her.” You promptly decide not to jig her and sincerely hope that you have not gone too far already.
At this point the child itself, who has hitherto been regarding you with an expression of mingled horror and disgust, puts an end to the nonsense by beginning to yell at the top of its voice, at which the priestess rushes forward and snatches it from you with “There! there! there! What did ums do to ums?” “How very extraordinary!” you say pleasantly. “Whatever made it go off like that?” “Oh, why, you must have done something to her!” says the mother indignantly; “the child wouldn’t scream like that for nothing.” It is evident they think you have been running pins into it.
The brat is calmed at last, and would no doubt remain quiet enough, only some mischievous busybody points you out again with “Who’s this, baby?” and the intelligent child, recognizing you, howls louder than ever.
Whereupon some fat old lady remarks that “it’s strange how children take a dislike to any one.” “Oh, they know,” replies another mysteriously. “It’s a wonderful thing,” adds a third; and then everybody looks sideways at you, convinced you are a scoundrel of the blackest dye; and they glory in the beautiful idea that your true character, unguessed by your fellow-men, has been discovered by the untaught instinct of a little child.
Odd little people! They are the unconscious comedians of the world’s great stage. They supply the humor in life’s all-too-heavy drama. Each one, a small but determined opposition to the order of things in general, is forever doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the wrong place and in the wrong way. Give an average baby a fair chance, and if it doesn’t do something it oughtn’t to, a doctor should be called in at once.