Every grown-up male is, at heart, a baby turned unwilling man. Never before had Peter realized this truth so strongly as when his little son defended with such stoutness the infant throne he was forced to abdicate.
PETE looked down upon his son and smiled with the whimsical indulgence which a male of thirty feels for one of four, at the sight of the same old pattern repeating itself.Why, he could remember, as though it were yesterday, standing beside Peter the First shaving his own hairless, infant visage with a butter knife; and here was Petey doing the same thing, except that, in place of the butter knife, he had an old safety razor minus a blade. Funny, having a little shaver of your own. He turned back to the mirror and his own eyes twinkled at him humorously from above one jaw clean shaven and the other white with creamy lather.
The two of them finished at about the same time. Petey wiped off the lather with a towel, while his father washed, lotioned, dusted on talcum. Usually Petey had to have all that, too. Must be something wrong, Pete thought.
He turned from the mirror to see. Petey was absently painting the bathroom door with what lather remained on the shaving brush. His small, rosy face scowled, as though the inner Petey labored with some new and not entirely pleasant emotion.
Pete said: “Hustle up, big boy. We got to get ourselves dressed in a hurry or we’ll be late for breakfast.”
Petey looked up. The scowl deepened; his small, square chin was thrust forward, his lips were a tight, red line.
Pete, observing all this, pretended comic dismay. “Wow!” he said, “I just hope you don’t go out this cold day and get that lovely face o ' yours frozen.”
Usually a remark like that would have brought an answer in kind, but now Petey scorned to reply to such light-mindedness. His expression remained unchanged, except that his upper lip began to tremble. “Am not a big boy,” he said sullenly. “ ’n I don’t never wiant to be a big boy, neither. Uh-h-h!”
“Go on,” said Pete “What you trying to give me?” “Nope,” Petey continued, a note of conscious pathos in his voice, “Petey’s not a big boy’t all. Petey’s—ist a itty—bitty—babee!” He lingered over this with sentimental relish, and rolled innocent eyes up at his parent. Then the emotion, whatever it was, got the better of him. “Am not a big boy,” he gulped. “No-—!” And with a howl he buried his head in his father’s bath robe.
“I’ll be durned,” said Pete. “What—?” He ran his hand through Petey’s thick, light hair, so like his own, and cast a puzzled eye on Petey’s small, shaking person. “Look here, old man—” he began.
Fresh howls rose from the bath robe. “Not no ole man,” Petey protested in sobbing gulps. “Don’t never want to be no ole man, neither. Tell you’m ist a ba-bee!” “Nonsense!” said big Pete.
He lifted the small, chubby figure up in his arms and held it close ^ in an effort at comƒ fort; but Petey * pounded him with hard little fists and let out howls of astounding volume. Pete sat down with him on the shoe bench and offered a bath towel as a mopper up of tears. Petey spumed it, but gradually his woe subsided.
“Jus’ a babee!” he sniffed. “Always have been Pete’s ’n Bum’s itty, bitty babee—’n you don’t need no other, you big stiff!”
This was too much for his father; Pete threw back his head and roared with mirth. So! The cat—or rather the Green Eyed Monster—was out of the bag!
Petey, having never seen his father quite so unrestrained, paused between howls to regard him; and then realizing that this levity was a direct insult, raised his voice in new lamentations.
Aileen, her dressing gown clutched about her, little feet in red Morocco slippers showing beneath it, came slowly into the foyer from the back bedrooms. Hulda, the percolater in one hand, edged in from the kitchen.
“For Heaven’s sake, Pete,” Aileen said, “what are you two men folks up to? We’ll have the people in the next apartment in, and the janitor up, and right now when we’re expecting to bring a new baby into the place •” “Bum!” Petey interrupted from his father’s arms, “Bum! I’m your itty bitty babee!” The words were the words of assertion and hope, but the tone was that of one who suffers a deep agony of the soul because he suspects that both assertion and hope are ill-founded.
Pete put Petey down on the floor, wiped his own eyes on the bath towel, and faced his wife.
Petey stood sullen and miserable and watched both his father and mother with deep suspicion.
“Hulda,” Aileen said, “go back to the kitchen.”
If this was some sort of a family crisis it was theirs, and not a spectacle for alien eyes.
“What have you been doing to the child?” Aileen asked.
“Nothing, nothing whatever!” Pete reassured her. “But—oh, my dear girl!—he’s a deep ’un.”
“No! No!” Petey denied, flinging himself at his mother. “I—I am not a deep um. Petey’s ist Bum’s ’n Pete’s itty bitty babee!”
“Nonsense!” Aileen said, her hand stroking Petey’s head. “A big boy like you—”
Petey jerked himself away and looked at her with hurt, angry eyes. Here, his glance seemed to say, here if anywhere in a heartless world, he had expected sympathy, understanding, comfort.
“Not a big b-boy,” he said sullenly, “ist—”
“Petey,” Pete said, “if you tell the world you’re ’ist a itty bitty babee’ again, I’ll spank you.”
“Go ’way!” said Petey. “Go ’way, you big stiff! I don’t like you!” Then sniffing, but with a certain dignity, he stalked off toward the nursery.
Aileen sat down in the foyer on the little bench by the telephone table.
“Pete,” she said, “what—?”
“Why, Honey, didn’t you get it?” Pete asked. “Propaganda.”
“Somebody’s been saying things. I mean about Sister Alice. Petey knows something’s going to happen. He’s heard there’s going to be a ‘babee’ as he calls it—”
“Naturally,” Aileen said with dignity, “I told him myself.”
"Good Lord!" groaned Pete. "What did you say?"
“Oh—I don’t remember. I tried to be very simple and—like the books on child-rearing tell you.”
“Yes. Hulda told him his ‘noss would be oudt of joindt when the kleine Schwester kompt.’ ”
“Well, there’s the devil to pay. Petey’s decided he’s going to be the ‘babee.’ Don’t you see? He’s made up his mind to get ahead of a possible rival. He’s —well, consolidating his position.”
“The poor, funny, ridiculous male thing!” Aileen said, smiling that indulgent, maternal smile women reserve for the vagaries of their men-folks. “Petey,” she called, turning back toward her own room, “Petey! Come in here with Bum—”
AT FOUR-THIRTY that afternoon, Pete’s telephone, ringing insistently, brought him on the run from an adjoining office where a late conference was in progress. A telephone call might mean anything these days.
As he took down the receiver, Aileen’s voice was saying, “Hello! Hello! Can’t you get me Mr. Anderson?. It’s urgent.”
“Right here!” he answered. “What is it, dear? Not—” “No, no!” Aileen said impatiently. “But I’m so relieved to get you, Pete. First a wrong number and then—. It’s Petey.” Her voice, high and stranded, scarcely sounded like Aileen’s voice at all.
“Petey?” he said.
For a moment there was no sound from the other end of the wire, and then Aileen said: “Petey’s—gone. You —you mustn’t get excited, Pete; and, of course, I know he can’t really be, but he is. He’s—-gone!” She ended with a little gasp, as audible over the wire as her words.
“Nonsense!” Pete heard himself saying, almost angrily. “He can’t be gone. He couldn’t get out of the door or fall out of the windows. He’s somewhere about. Probably the little devil’s just hiding. He can’t be— gone.” (
“But, Pete!” Aileen said, “he is—he just—is.” Her voice broke again, and Pete heard something that sounded very near to a sob.
He stared dumbly into the receiver and felt too stunned and inadequate to offer anything new.
“I got up from my nap,” Aileen went on, “and I went into the nursery where I’d left Petey for his nap and and he wasn’t there. His clothes were there, but no Petey. I called Hulda, but he wasn’t in the kitchen and hadn’t been. And then we looked. We looked everywhere. There isn’t anything left to do, Pete, but to go out in the street—”
“No, dear!” Pete interrupted, “don’t do that!”
Good Lord! He must get to her. There’d been Petey’s jealousy about the new baby that morning, and they’d refused to take him seriously. Maybe—. “Aileen!” he said, “don’t do anything till I get home. Just buck up and try not to think. I’ll be there as fast as a taxi can bring me.”
He burst into his own living room exactly eleven and three-quarters minutes after the ’phone bell had started its ringing in his office.
Aileen was walking the floor of the living room, and Hulda was plodding after her, gutturally protesting that “Beetey he can’t get oudt. Mein Gott, gnädige Frau, es ist nicht—”
“Can’t you go back to the kitchen?” Aileen was saying. “You’re driving me mad. Pete—■”
She was in his arms, and she lay there trembling for a moment, and then pulled herself up and faced him. “I’ve told you everything, Pete,” she said breathlessly. “He’s just—gone. It isn’t possible, but he is. I’ve looked in the closets, I’ve looked under things, I’ve looked outside in the halls. I’ve looked up on the roof. I’ve even looked out of the windows and at the—ground below.”
Pete pulled her down on his knee in the big leather chair and they faced each other.
He did his best to sound reassuring. “A child Petey’s age couldn’t get far-—not in his nighties,” he told her.
Aileen nodded and said, “In his—nighties!” and laughed hysterically.
“Honey,” he said, “we’re bound to find him, and you mustn’t let yourself get overwrought. I’ll start right out and find him now. Why, the whole block knows Petey! He’s the ‘nice-e keed’ to all the Wops around. Nick the ice-man, and Luigi who keeps the vegetable stand—either one of ’em, or any one of half a dozen others would take him in if they saw him out alone.”
“—in his nighties!” said Aileen, a rising note of hysteria in her voice.
“—in his nighties,” said Pete, trying to make his voice as calm as he could. “If he did get out on the street, he’s just gone in somewhere, and he’s having a grand time and making a party out of it.”
“I—I haven’t tried the other apartments on this floor,” Aileen said, her voice calmer, more hopeful. “He’s mad about that silly Mrs. Fredericks who has all the canary birds, and then there’s that Mrs. Short who’s forever asking him to come in and see her picture books. Of course I’ve never let him go after the first time, because she gave him a dreadful store cake with pink icing. Petey— bless his heart—brought it home—She couldn’t go on. She closed her eyes and her lips[formed the syllables of Petey’s name.
Pete kept thinking: If she’d only let herself go.
“I’ll try them both,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone, and rising, put her down gently in the leather chair. “You sit right there, Honey,” he begged, “and try not to worry. Don’t you want Hulda to bring you some tea or something?”
She shook her head, and sat holding to the arms of the chair, her eyes following him.
Pete managed a smile which was meant to be reassuring, and in reality was ghastly, and turned and went into the foyer.
As he let himself out into the common hall he had an absurd vision of headlines in next morning’s tabloid picture paper—“Boy of four mysteriously missing”—and a photograph of Petey, and another of himself a,nd Aileen. Good Lord! Was he going crazy? Why he’d smash their damned cameras! He wouldn’t let ’em—. His fists closed aggressively. Gad! It’d be a relief to bash somebody or something . . .
When he came back into the living room after guarded but fruitless inquiries, Aileen sat just as he’d left her.
“I’m sorry, dear,” he said, trying to sound as casual as possible, “but,
Petey isn’t at Mrs. Short’s and there’s no answer from Mrs. Frederick’s apartment.”
She said: “No, I didn’t really think—” and her hands tightened their grip on the chair arms.
Pete sat down opposite her and they looked at each other in silence. He wanted desperately to do something to break that frozen misery of Aileen’s eyes. But about all a man could do was to sound calm.
“I suppose,” he said, “I’d better start out and round up the block.” He thought: “I can get the police busy, but I won’t tell Aileen that.”
But he didn’t rise. They sat on looking at each other, incapable, it seemed, of moving. Pete tried to realize the thing that faced them, only it seemed too preposterous to believe. You read about such things in those heartthrob picture papers, but they didn’t happen to yourself or the sort of people you knew.
He could hear Hulda moving about in the kitchen getting dinner. Someone passed outside in the hall, feet shuffling on the marble steps. An elevated train rumbled by, a block away, with a crescendo of sound that rapidly died out. After that, stillness settled on them, a stillness that seemed to throb and beat and go on into eternity.
Then through the open door of the foyer and from the nursery beyond came a sound like the creaking of a wicker chair. It was followed by a yawn—a long, luxurious, lazy yawn.
Aileen grew rigid and her eyes looked wildly into Pete’s. He half rose, and they both waited motionless, listening.
“Bum-m!” said a sleepy voice, keyed to a high treble. “Bum-m! Come in here and see your itty babee! Bum! I’m—It!” And then a small boy gurgle of mirth as though a very rudimentary sense of humor had got the better of a game of make-believe.
Aileen stood up slowly, her face so pale that Pete was afraid she might crumple up before he could reach her. But he had her arm in a single spring forward.
“Bum-m!” said the treble again.
Somehow they reached the nursery. They were in the living room staring at each other blankly, and then they were in the nursery staring at—well, the most ridiculous sight in all the world.
Above the white dimity canopy of the bassinet that had been made ready for Sister Alice and pushed back into a corner out of the way, rose the head of their first born. On his head, and much too small for it, was perched a baby’s cap with perky, pink ribbon rosettes at either side. And, beneath it, Petey’s small face, rosy from sleep, was grinning sheepishly.
“Hello, Pete,” he greeted his father. “Aren’t you home early!” Then with a giggle and eyes that danced: “How you like your itty babee, Daddee? You ’n Bum don’t need no other babee—not a-tall. Do you, Bum?”
Aileen was holding weakly to the bars of Petey’s crib; she seemed still too dazed to move or speak.
Pete, his mouth set in a hard line, his eyes blazing, hauled the bassinet around foot foremost and displayed Petey’s hiding place. “Though how the devil he crammed himself into it and slept like that—!” he thought.
“Oh—yaw-w,” Petey yawned again.
Pete was trembling as he lifted him out and yanked off the ridiculous cap. He didn’t know whether it was chiefly from anger or relief or both. Just as his arms half wanted to strain Petey to him and half wanted to shake him till his teeth rattled.
Petey, with the utter inconsequence of four, grinned up at him and said: “Let’s play train, Dadee? Build me a tunnel.”
“I ought,” said Pete, “to—to thrash you. I ought—”
But Aileen spoke and Pete turned. She still held to the crib and her face frightened him. The thing had been more of a shock to her than he’d realized.
“Petey,” she said, “aren’t you—hungry? We’ve had enough play for a while. Go get Hulda to give you—your supper. Daddy and I are going out for—dinner tonight.”
“Get a marshmeller for d’sert?” Petey asked.
“Yes, yes,” Aileen said. “Run!”
Petey ran, calling “Hulda—Bum says I can have a marshmeller.”
They heard Hulda saying: “A-ch—so! You wass not lost then all de time. Beetey, Beetey! Du bist . . .”
Aileen turned to Pete. “I think,” she said, “you’d better ’phone Dr. Martin.”
WHERE’S Bum?” Petey asked. “Bum’s room’s all empty. Where’s Bum? I want Bum.”
Pete, trying to shave with a hand none too steady, after his long night in the hospital, paused and frowned at the haggard image in the bath-room mirror.
“Petey,” he said, “Bum went last night to get that little baby we’ve been talking about.”
“Where’d she go?” Petey asked suspiciously.
“Oh—way up town,” Pete said with assumed brightness. “Just way up town. Way up where the elevated trains go—”
Petey tucked his chin in close and stood silent and even more suspicious. His look said he was being lied to and that he knew it, and that he thought very little of the lie or the liar.
“Aren’t you going to shave this morning?” Pete asked brightly, offering the lather brush.
Petey spurned the brush so violently that he knocked it from his father’s hand to the floor, where it slithered wetly across the linoleum.
“You go get Bum!” he said tensely. “Me’n you’ll go get her. Bum ’n leave the babee. Bum don’t need no babee—”
Pete shaved on frowning. “—’Cause Petey’s Bum’s babee. Petey’s always been Bum’s—”
“Hulda!” Pete called. “Hulda! Isn’t Petey’s breakfast about ready?”
“—Always been Bum’s babee, ’n Bum don’t need to go way up on the elevated to get another.”
“You know,” Pete interrupted his flow of logic, “the baby isn’t a girl after all. It’s a boy—another little boy like Stephen’s brother Jeffrey.”
Petey brightened a trifle, then frowned again. His lip began to tremble and his eyes to glisten with tears. Blindly he came for the haven of big Pete.
“Don’t want a babee!” he howled. “Petey wants Bum! Where’s Bum? Where’s Bum?”
TN THE week that folA lowed that question rang through big Pete’s days till he heard it in the clang of street traffic, in the clatter of typewriters at the office, and woke to it at night— too often in reality; for when Petey, whose crib had been moved in by his father’s bed awoke, it was that question he always asked. “Where’s Bum? Where’s Bum?” »
It was a silly name for a four-year old to call hL mother, Pete thought. He must break Petey of it. Little Anthony mustn’t grow up using it too. It had been Petey’s infant corruption of “Mum”—at least they’d assumed it was that. He’d been calling Aileen ‘ Bum with fervor and affection ever since he could form syllables, and they’d thought it was funny and absurd and altogether wonderful, after the ridiculous fashion of young parents with their firstborn.
But now to Pete, with nerves worn thin by harder work than usual at the office and the added responsibility of home, it seemed a dreadful name for Aileen. Once, even, he scolded Petey for it, but Petey’s tucked-in chin and sober, hurt eyes were too much; and he had gathered him up and hugged him tight with a strange gust of tenderness, and then done penance by setting up all of the track for the mechanical train and helping build a tunnel out of blocks.
But do what he might for him, Petey drooped as the days went by. He had a hurt air, a sort of sullenness, that nothing erased. If it had been possible, Pete would have taken him to the hospital to see Aileen, but the rule against children visitors was adamant, he found; not even Dr. Martin could get a special dispensation.
Finally Petey’s reiterations of “Where’s Dum?” penetrated the shell of that iron dumb-bell, Hulda.
“I tink he mis his mutter,” Hulda observed brightly. “Ja, he tink she go way for goot, hein? Maybe he tinks she’s todt?”
“Sh—” Pete said. “Petey—”
“Where’s Bum?” Petey broke in. “You don’t tell me, not really, Dadee. Petey asks where’s Bum, ’n you—”
“He don’t eat so goot,” Hulda continued “Maybe he get seek.”
Petey’s appearance failed to contradict her. He stood by the kitchen table, a forlorn, drooping little figure with his usual spirit all gone.
“For Heaven’s sake—!” Pete stormed at Hulda, and then shrugged his shoulders, gathered up his son and left the kitchen. After all, what was the use?
OH, PETEY’S fine,” Pete lied to Aileen.
They’d been smiling at each other over the funny, furry head of little Anthony and wondering if their second would ever grow up to be a grand lad like his brother. “You can’t call him beautiful now,” Aileen had said, “but he’s a dear just the same. Only I know Petey wasn’t so old looking. Blessed Petey! How is he, Pete? You aren’t keeping anything from me?” Pete reassured her with “Oh, Petey’s fine,” and made that sound plausible by a colorful narrative of Petey’s prowess in disciplining an objectionable little boy, who had tried to take something from him in the park where he went to play.
“Just remember,” Aileen cautioned, “Dr. Blanche Grant has him especially on her mind, and if you ever have any doubts, or if he seems off his feed or coldy—”
Anthony was nearly two weeks old, and at the hospital the nurses were all saying how beautifully he’d faded, and what lovely hair he had, and how smart he looked; and Aileen was sitting up in a chair reading and writing letters, and she and Pete were rejoicing that she’d be home in less than a week, when at four o’clock in the afternoon Pete’s office ’phone rang and he heard the heavy gutturals of Hulda on the wire.
“Beetey he iss sick,” Hulda announced. “De lady who take him to play mit der park bring him home in a taxi, an’ he look all grün mit der face. I tink you better come queek.”
Some blessed relief had come to Petey when big Pete burst into the nursery breathing heavily from a violent spurt up the apartment house stairs. He sat in his crib, partly undressed, and Hulda, her stolid red face redder than ever, was carrying away a basin.
"Dadee,” said Petey, “’m all sick. I ' got a hake. I—where’s Bum? Tell Bum to come home, ’cause Petey’s got a hake.”
Big Pete stood breathing heavily and holding the small hand. “I’m awfully sorry, old man,” he said. “We’ll get Dr. Blanche right down here and she’ll give you something to chase that bad ache away quick.”
Petey’s line of a mouth and his sober hazel eyes asked the question he’d given up asking audibly.
Pete turned away and went to the ’phone. Petey sat waiting patiently while he pursued the busy baby doctor. It was late January and doctors were hard run. Dr. Grant wasn’t in—mightn’t be in for hours. Pete left a message and came back into nursery.
“I—hake—Dadee, worse!” Petey said as he returned. “Petey’s going to be all sick again, Dadee—Dadee—quick!”
Petey had been very sick indeed, and in the hours that followed his fever had risen till the little chubby body Pete held in his arms seemed afire, its heat burning into his own flesh. He was quiet, Pete found when he held him. He even slept, though it seemed more like a sort of coma.
He had never felt so close to this firstborn man-child of his before; the world had narrowed suddenly to the two of them; even Aileen and Anthony seemed remote and unreal. There was just Petey and himself, and that burning fever and the measured tick of the old clock in the dining room.
The clear old chime struck nine. Pete went to the ’phone and tried again to reach Dr. Grant. She hadn’t returned. Couldn’t they tell him some one else? he asked desperately.
“Well,” the secretary said, “you might try Dr. Elizabeth Gaden,” and gave him the number.
He called it, but nobody answered. He could hear the steady, futile buzz of the ’phone bell at the other end.
He put the receiver down wearily and went back to the bedroom. In the dim, shaded light, Petey lay still in his crib, his breathing heavy, his long lashes dark, against the hot flush of his cheeks. Pete sat and watched, while the old clock ticked away the slow seconds.
At last it struck ten. Pete went to the ’phone in the hall and tried again to get Dr. Grant. No luck. He waited ten interminable minutes and tried once more. She was still out but expected back at midnight. Two hours!
He tried Dr. Gaden . . . buzz buzz. . buzz . . . Click!
“Yes,” said a clear voice, a woman’s voice, “this is Dr. Gaden . . . Nineteenth Street? Do you realize that I’m at 82nd? ... You can’t get any one?
. . . You’re sure he’s really sick? You men folks . . . Temperature 104? I’ll take the subway. Give me half an hour.”
Pete’s hand was shaking as he put the receiver down, and he felt weak and wobbly all over. Just relief, he supposed. Yes, and no food. He’d forgotten all about dinner, and he’d had a very sketchy lunch. He took a look at Petey, and then went out to Hulda’s kitchen, left spotless by that daughter of Kultur when she had departed, according to routine, at eight, and, rummaging about, found cheese and a slab of bread, and set a pot of coffee to percolate.
Half an hour later Dr. Elizabeth Gaden came in, smart and trim, for all of sixteen hours behind her that day. It certainly was good to see a doctor and a woman, Pete thought.
“Pretty sick,” she said, when she’d examined Petey, “but I don’t think it’s anything serious. Looks like nothing worse than the first stages of a bad tonsilitis. You say he’s been jealous of the new baby and misses his mother? That’s helped bring it 6fl. Yôu men folk are all alike. The we&kér sex! Can’t get along Without Us—go to pieces if wé Hâve ÿôU tb yourselves.” Her eyes twinkled, and she smiled.
“What Petey needs right now is a good nurse who’ll make a fuss over him. You can’t leave him just to any one. I’ll have the right person for you by eight-thirty in the morning. To-night, keep a steam kettle going and give him this every half hour.”
PETE had Aileen in his arms, and Aileen had Anthony, and Pete was carrying them both up the three flights of stairs to the apartment. He stopped on each landing, and Aileen insisted twice that he put her down.
“Blessed Petey!” she was saying. “Blessed Petey! I can’t wait, Pete. Oh, I can’t wait!”
He let them in quietly and laid Aileen on her bed, and put the baby in the waiting bassinet. Then he slipped into the nursery.
Petey stood in his pajamas, a fire engine under one foot, a cascade of toys caught in the bars of the crib and hanging precariously. His eyes were big and wide in a white little face. His week’s illness had left,its mark.
His eyes met his father’s, and Pete grinned.
“Bum’s—come?” Petey whispered. “Yes, old man,” Pete said. Petey stretched out his arms.
Pete couldn’t watch them. He had to go over and look out of the window the jungle of walls and windows, clotheslines and chimney pots. Petey’s cry when he first saw her, and his happy sob as he reached her arms, and the way he kept feeling her cheek to be sure she’d really come back and was there
Pete stood in the window, big and awkward and shaken, clenching part of the curtain in his moist palm. He heard Petey telling Aileen about his “hake” and how he’d dreamed about her, and about Dr. Gaden and Miss Ferris, the nurse, and that the ellenfant had lost an ear , .
Pete was thinking that life would be worth living now that Aileen was home again. That doctor woman had been right when she’d said men “can’t get along without us . .” But durn it all—that wasn’t the men’s fault, was it? Didn’t women help make them that way? Even a cave man had to go out and hit one over the head with a club and bring her in to brighten up his dismal dwelling. Even he couldn’t do without that combination of being mothered and laughed at and petted, and — well, understood. No wonder a little beggar like Petey ate his heart out because he thought he was going to be superseded.
Aileen interrupted his philosophizing. “Pete, you nice old thing,” she called. “Pete! Bring me the baby and come here.”
He turned and went to the bassinet and lifted Anthony in his swathings of shawls and blankets—he was still just as he’d come from the hospital—and unwrapping some of them put him in Aileen’s arms.
Petey watched, his little jaw set, his eyes narrowed. He had forgotten all about this intruder, and here he was bobbing up to spoil everything.
Aileen held Anthony up so that the light from the window shone on his squidgy little face, and made his funny little eyes blink, and caught in the silky fluff of his light hair.
“Petey,” Aileen said, “meet your brother, Anthony Cobb Anderson. You’ve got to help look out for him. He’s your baby as much as mine and Daddy’s. And the three of us have to bring him up right and make a proper lad out of him. Just sit back against the pillows. Now—there! You can hold him.”
The funny little thing in the bundle got out a tiny claw of a hand that searched for, and found, a thumb—Petey’s thumb.
“Wah-wah!” said the little voice, whether in triumph or complaint one couldn’t tell.
Petey regarded him seriously, but with a look of unbelief, then a real smile came Over his face.
“Bum,” he said, “Bum! I don’t want to be a itty babee—not a big boy like me! I’m your big, big boy, aren’t I, Bum? And the itty babee’s my brudder!” He felt the downy little head with his free hand. “Mine brudder Ankony Gobb!” he announced to his family and the world, and his accents were bursting with pride and importance.
Pete sat down on the bed and Aileen put her slim hand, in his, She smiled up at him and he smiled back.
“You men folks!” she said. “And to think I’ve got three of you—bless you all! But Peter, I wonder which really is the biggest baby of the lot?”
Anthony had no intention of being cheated out of that honor. “Wah-h!” he said on a thin, acidulous note. Then much louder: “Wah-h!”
“Come, you little brute,” Aileen said. “RUA along, big boys.”