FICTION

The New Arrival

They wanted a baby with sweet, endearing ways, and they got a woman-hating Scot who quoted gran’faither and demanded saut in his parritch

KIT HIGSON December 15 1939
FICTION

The New Arrival

They wanted a baby with sweet, endearing ways, and they got a woman-hating Scot who quoted gran’faither and demanded saut in his parritch

KIT HIGSON December 15 1939

The New Arrival

FICTION

They wanted a baby with sweet, endearing ways, and they got a woman-hating Scot who quoted gran’faither and demanded saut in his parritch

KIT HIGSON

GEORGE BANNOCK—George Jenks Bannock, to give him his full title—regarded his wife with a growing uneasiness. She sat by the window that overlooked a well-kept lawn, herself as trim and neat as the flower beds that surrounded the green. Less than a year back he would have joined her, taking the opposite easy chair.

But much can happen in a few months, as George had discovered to his cost. It wasn't any use trying to explain either—the time for that had been on his return from that fatal day in the City. It would have been easy enough then. His mind reverted to his wife’s illness—her first really serious illness since their marriage twenty years before. He had been sufficiently attentive to satisfy the most spoiled of women while Margaret battled through weary hours in the chamber above. But the prolonged convalescence, while it brought relief to George, also brought boredom. He was an active little man, as Margaret, when she was well, was an active woman. They had always spent their week-ends on the golf course, their evenings in some mutually interesting pursuit—gardening, walking, and so forth; had been, in fact, the best of friends.

It was Margaret herself, a dreamily content and indifferent Margaret, who suggested one afternoon, while a bee buzzed above her strangely placid head, that George should get busy with his golf again. He demurred at first, but finally took her at her word.

The club had gained a new member in his absence—a temporary member. Miss Perkins was breezy and merry. She liked George and George liked her, in a perfectly platonic and harmless fashion. 1 íe was genuinely sorry when she told him she was due to sail for New York, readily fell in with her suggestion that they should give the golf a miss and have a few hours in town by way of good-by. He had meant to tell Margaret all about it. But fate, in the shape of a mischief-making female acquaintance of his wife’s, 8tepj>ed in and .forestalled him.

‘‘1 hapjx*ned to be in town, my dear,” she said, primming thin li|)s, finished her very garbled and exaggerated account with, “Of course, they’ve been seeing a lot of one another on the golf course. Men are like that.”

/^EORGE thought now as he looked at this new and ^ gloomy Margaret who had been born as the result of his supposed infidelity: “And 1 never even kissed the girl —didn’t want to, as a matter of fact."

As if he had spoken aloud. Margaret’s grey eyes left the Hugh Dickson roses, and met his. He said on the spur of the moment: “If there's anything at all 1 can do to make amends for what I haven’t done. Margaret, you’ve only to let me know." 1 íe was in earnest, if a bit mixed. 11er reply left him with his mouth a little open.

"A baby!” he repeated.

“Yes, we could get one at the orphanage.” Margaret, her hands clasped in her lap. went on to explain with a calm decisiveness that her astounded spouse found a little horrifying: “I’vebeen thinking for some time I would like to adopt one. You have your golf, George.”

George said in a hurry: “You user! to like golf, too, Margaret.”

“Those days have gone forever.” She sat very upright, surveying him, an inexorable judge, then went on deliberately: “I should get one a few weeks old. so that I could train him from the start in ways of probity and truth.” George told her weakly, and after an appreciable pause. “They yell in the night.”

Margaret answered, quoting the book she had been reading: “No properly trained and happy infant cries

unnecessarily.” She added in a fashion that brooked no denial: “They sleep all night and most of the day.”

George pointed out after a brief silence: “That wouldn’t be much company.”

“It would be all the company I require,” Margaret continued. a slight break in her voice. “I want an anchor, George. Something to hold onto—to live for.”

George, remembering all the babies he had at one time and another seen in the park, failed to remember in one of them anything in the nature of an anchor. They were one and all, on the contrary, all over the place. Not that he disliked babies—in prams, with good-tempered nursemaids. But in his house that was, like Margaret herself, of a delightful orderliness! George shuddered.

A few seconds after he objected weakly: “They’re

frightfully messy—always sucking things-and dribbling. You've no idea. Margaret. They’ve got one at Meredith’s now. Everything’s sticky.”

He stopped short, struck by an idea that minimized the unpleasantness of the suggested situation. Of course, Margaret would have a nursery. They weren’t, thank heaven, short of room and money, as were the Merediths. It could be built off the spare room—made soundproof.

George, who really enjoyed planning alterations and improvements inside and out his small domain, looked across at his wife hopefully. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea after all; not such a bad idea, at any rate, as it had seemed some minutes before. Margaret would be bound to consult him about the necessary addition to the premises; perhaps she’d get so interested she’d come off her high horse and the old sore w ould heal.

He said aloud, “If you’ve really set your heart on it, Margaret—”

“I have.”

“Very well.” He drew his chair a little closer to the table and fished out a pencil. “If you like,” he offered, “I'll make a rough sketch of the best position for the nursery. It’ll take the rest of the year for us to get ready for ‘It.’ ”

Margaret broke in. "My baby will need no nursery. And no nursemaid.”

“No nursery and no nursemaid!" her husband stared at her.

“No, he will be with me all the time, indoors and out.”

“That's a ghastly idea!” George put down his pencil. A vision of the Merediths’ infant as he had last seen it flashed across his horrified vision. He had been asked to dine en famille. And had found himself sitting opposite a thing they called a high chair, into which was presently placed the youngest Meredith. He could see it now. its

fat little hands grasping a greasy bone with which it explored a shining face, poking it haphazard into eyes and cheeks and nose.

And Margaret was actually proposing a similar state of affairs at Willow Dene! He said, when he had a little recovered, “It’s out of the question, Margaret. You’ve never lived in a house with one or you wouldn't suggest it —they’re quite different indoors from what they are out in their prams—they get messed up in no time. They crawl over things and squeal like little pigs.”

Margaret said coldly, “Because you’ve seen one neglected unhappy babe being dragged up by ignorant parents is no reason why you should credit all babies with being an eyesore.” She quoted from the book again: “There is no sight more beautiful, more heart-warming, than a sensibly fed and clothed and spotlessly clean babe.”

George groaned.

After a brief silence, Margaret told him, “I have decided to choose one with blue eyes and curly hair.”

Just, her husband thought, as if “It” were a doll. The dispute ended there. George, reluctantly renouncing all bright ideas concerning soundproof nurseries and trim nursemaids, became as gloomily aloof and silent as Margaret herself.

TT WAS two days before the proposed visit to the orphanage—when Margaret had devoured so much literature devoted to infants and their needs that she could have given jxjints to any nurse at a clinic—that the letter came. She said when she had reread the closely written sheets, “It seems almost providential.”

George, devouring a slice of bacon without appetite, asked morosely, “What does?”

Margaret explained, “You know Mary West, the girl who came to my wedding?”

“Yes.” George finished his coffee at a gulp.

“You remember she married a Scotsman and went to live in the wilds of Inverness?”

George, not particularly interested, nodded. “They both died of pneumonia, didn’t they?” he wanted to know'.

“Yes, and the baby was taken by the grandfather.” George realized that Margaret was quite excited.

She w'ent on: “The letter was from the old woman who kept house for Mr. Mackellen. That was the grandfather, you know. It seems he died suddenly, leaving the child destitute.”

George, beginning to see daylight, asked, “How' old is the child?”

“Five,” Margaret told him.

George said after a brief pause, and in a funereal voice: “That is the age when they blow trumpets, run into one on scooters, play with matches, leave the bath tap running with the plug in, and shy things. And have the nose-bleed. The Lamberts have two.”

Margaret answered dreamily, “I can just imagine Mary’s baby. He’ll have great grey eyes and a silky mop of hair, and sweet endearing ways.”

“It doesn’t follow.” George, no longer interested in the marmalade, got to his feet. He repeated, “It doesn’t follow.”

Letters passed after that between Margaret and the old woman who signed herself Pendy Macfee.

And in due course Donald Mackellen left the tiny cottage that was lost among great hills, and, labelled like a small parcel, was marshalled into the train that would take him South.

George hadn’t intended to accompany Margaret to the station. He had made it quite plain when she announced her irrevocable decision to adopt Mary’s small son that Donald was to belong to her and her alone. “I don’t want him.” he finished. “I’m more than satisfied with my wife and home.”

“Your wife and home—and the rest.” Margaret stopped short there. After all, it was very undignified—and led nowhere.

George said in the voice of a much tried man, "I shall be playing golf the afternoon he arrives.”

But man proposes—

A THICK fog descending on Moor Cross left Margaret only too glad to accept her husband’s escort across the town. Even then, with George’s sure guidance, they were a long time getting to their destination. The platform was deserted when they arrived save for a single small figure that waited beside a bulky package. Margaret, almost running toward it. came to a sudden pause. A pair of brown eyes, so ow'l-like that they suggested spectacles, gazed past her. A reproving voice told George, “Ye’r awfu’ late. Ma gran’faither wad always say—punc-tu-aleety is the soul of beesiness. I ken it wis the wuman. But steel !"

Margaret straightened herself with a jerk, forgetting the kiss she had been about to bestow'. George had come closer. He informed Donald. “There’s a fog, thick as pea soup, outside. That’s what delayed us.”

“Aweel.” Their small judge gave them the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, come along.” George took the lead the second time. A small hand encased in a coarse woollen glove placed itself in his.

Donald, looking over his shoulder, adjured Margaret: “Ye’d better look after the package. There licht fingers aboot, nae doot.”

She found her voice at last, said almost sharply: “The porter will look after your luggage.”

They went off the platform like that. George and a very small boy in a very short kilt, in front; a disappointed, almost a dumfounded Margaret, in the rear. It took them a long w'hile to make the return journey to Willow Dene, George looking back now' and then to be sure Margaret was following him and the porter following Margaret.

Later, after a small Scots cap had been removed from the side of his head, Donald mentioned to Margaret, standing close beside the W'ash-basin: “Dinna fash yerself. If yer

pit a bit soap on the flannel 1 can manage.”

Her eyes while he managed took in the close crop of wiry brown hair, the short stocky figure. It doesn’t seem possible, she thought—meaning, it doesn’t seem possible this can be Mary’s son.

Donald interrupted her cogitation: “I'm ready,” he mentioned.

She preceded him down the stairs.

The tea table, with its array of trifles meant to tempt the appetite of a weary and possibly homesick child, held his attention for a spell. He told George then:

“The wuman’s forgotten the parritch.”

“You shall have some porridge for breakfast,” Margaret broke in determinedly. “Come and try these scones."

She would have helped him into the chair placed beside her own, but he so plainly did not require such assistance. He scarcely spoke during the meal that followed. What little conversation he made was addressed to George. And to George alone.

The sweet little sleeping suit that Margaret had purchased a few' days before for a child of five was spread on the fresh white counterpane when Donald went upstairs. He regarded it as he undressed; said, when he had removed his kilt, “Ye’ll'hae taken ma shirrt fra oot the package, nae doot.”

They argued for a brief spell after that; then Margaret produced the coarse calico garment she had found among Donald’s possessions. He kneeled down when he got it on, droned “Matthew. Marrk—Luke an’ Yhon—bless the bed that I lee on.” He would have dived straight under the covers after that, but the huge teddy bear that had been intended to bring such joy to the heart of an orphan boy caught and held his attention. He asked at last, when

Margaret was beginning to find the silence distressing, “I’m nut tae sleep wi’ yon beastie?”

"Wouldn’t you like to?" Margaret’s smile was merely a painful stretching of stiff muscles.

Margaret removed the offending article without comment. the fight concerning the shirt still fresh in her mind. ‘T ou’d like to play with Teddy tomorrow, perhaps?” she asked.

Donald laid his close-cropped head on the pillow. Margaret, placing the night light in position, was still hesitating about the kiss that was to have brought such consolation to them both, w'hen her small charge advised, "Ye may gae, wuman.”

Margaret went. She. w'as aware before she closed the door that the tiny flickering flame that was to protect her baby from the terrors of a strange room had been blown out. She carried with her downstairs the sound of a small voice muttering, “ ’Stravagant quean,” and a picture of fiercely puffed-out cheeks.

George, tiptoeing out of the bedroom some two hours later, told Margaret, waiting in the passage, “He doesn’t look so awe-inspiring when he’s asleep.”

His w'ife did not reply, being afraid of the rush of angry tears that threatened her eyes.

DRKAKKAST next morning proved an unfortunate affair. Donald, having taken iiis first mouthful of jxirridge, put down his spoon and addressed George. "The wuman’s pit nae saut in." he said. "Ma gran’faither wad always say. ‘A wuman that canna mind tae saut herr parritch winna mind tae wesh herr lugs.’ ’’

George, seeing that Margaret for once was completely deprived of the power of speech, addressed her small charge. "You mustn’t call Mrs. Bannock ‘the woman,’ Donald,” he said.

"Whut wull I be calling herr then?” Donald’s owl-likc gaze enveloped him.

“You may call me Aunty." Margaret hadn’t intended to offer the suggestion in that voice or in that manner. But there were limits.

He gave her a quick, reproving glance and turned once more to George. “The wuman’s asking me tae lee,” he said. "Ma gran’faither wad always say. ‘Ye can trust a female sae far as the bend in the road—an’ no further.’ ”

“I’m not asking you to lie, Donald.” Margaret's voice rose against that of her husband. "We’ve adopted you. Listen, while I explain.”

Donald had finished his unsalted porridge before she concluded her attempt to make the situation clear to him. He put down his spoon with a small bang, told George, “Ye’re nut ma uncle. I haena uncle. An’ yon wuman is not ma aunt—I haena aunt—I winna lee tae please ye— the guid book says ‘Keep y'er haunds—irae pickin’an’ stealin’. An' y’er lips frae—evil—speaking—leein an’— slanderring.’ ”

“Gosh !" George gazed down at him.

Donald, having gained his point, mentioned in tones decidedly less suggestive of the pulpit: “I’d fine weel like one of yon curranty buns.”

George, having gratified what he felt with relief was at least a natural request, asked, “What do you intend to call us. young man?"

“By y’er names o’ course.” Donald swallowed a large lump of bun. "Mister an’ Missus Bunnock—though ma gran'faither wad always ca' oor wuman Bendy—The wuman’—juist that.”

“You see," George explained, “the lady on the other side of the table is my wife.”

“Is she noo?" Donald allowed Margaret a fleeting glance, then. “Ye micht hae tocht herr tae saut herr parritch,” he advised.

“Cook makes the porridge. Donald.” George avoided Margaret's eyes and played with his napkin ring.

"Where is the wuman?” The light of battle was in the owl-like eyes.

"In the kitchen.”

"Doon the passageway?”

George nodded.

Donald asked immediately afterward, “I’ll get doon fra’ the table if ye please?”

He had left the room some time when George suggested, “He’ll improve with time.”

Margaret, with remarkable restraint, replied, “Of course he will.” She continued in her most dignified manner: “He has spent all his childhood with that horrible—with that old Scotsman. If his grandmother had lived—”

George answered cheerfully, ”1 expect the old chap killed her off.”

In the kitchen, Annie, the cook, was fighting the battle of her life.

“Ye didna saut ma parritch, wuman,” I>onald insisted. “Dinna lee tae me. Ye didna saut ma parritch—ma gran’faither wad always sae, ‘A wuman that canna mind tae saut herr parritch wdnna mind tae wcsh herr lugs.’ ”

“Lugs!” Annie, her face scarlet with temper, scowled dowm at the small figure in the doorway.

“I said lugs, wuman—lugs !” Donald grasped one small ear and pulled it for the big woman’s instruction.

Margaret, coming down the passage some ten minutes

later, was aware of a growing crescendo of sound. Cook’s hysterical repetition of, ”1 did salt the porridge,” mingled with Donald’s placid droning of, ”1 tell ye, ye didna saut the parritch.”

He departed on her arrival, without waiting for comment.

“Twa wimmen.” he told George, who was still in the breakfast room, “wad dcx>n ony mon wi’ their clack. Ma gran’faither wad always say, ‘Steer clear o’ the wimmen, laddie, as ye wad o’ a plague.’ ”

He seated himself within easy range of his new protector, asked conversationally, “Whut made ye marry Missus Bunnock? Ma gran’faither wad always say he marrit ma gran’mither in a fit o’ madness. That’s whut ma gran’faither wad say. Wis it like that wi’ ye?”

George, opening his mouth to reply, shut it again. Margaret, closing the dx>r gently behind her, said with dangerous calm, “You’ll be late for business. George.” “Ma gran’faither wad no hae been ordered fra the room by ony wuman,” Donald informed that gcxxl man’s departing back. He concluded, “I’ll be ganging for a bit walk, Missus Bunnock !”

“Ban-nock !” Margaret snapped. She added in a slightly more moderate tone: “Sit down. 1 want to talk to you. Donald.”

Donald, still standing, observed mutinously, “A wuman wull be clacking a’ the oors o’ the day if ye’ll let herr. Ma gran’faither wad always say tae me, ‘Dinna ’courage the wimmenfolk tae clack, laddie. Half the time there’s nae sense nor reason in whut they wull lx* saving’—that’s whut ma gran’faither wad say tae me.”

Margaret, clasping her hands tightly—a sign, as George

would have very well known, that the wife of his bosom was losing her temper, ordered: “I don’t wish you to keep

quoting your grandfather. Donald.”

“Ma gran’faither,” Donald told her, “wis a Mackellen o’ the Mackellens.”

"I can’t help that. I don’t wish you to keep bringing him into our conversation.”

“Ye use awfu’ lang worrdsfor a wuman,” Donald mentioned. "Most like ye dinna ken the meaning o’ half ye say.”

Margaret, ignoring the thrust, went on: “There are

certain rules in this house I shall expect you to obey. I want you to be happy here. But you must do as you are told. Never again are you to go dowm to the kitchen without my express permission. You understand?”

Donald replied, after a brief pause, during w'hich he and Margaret had gazed at one another rather in the fashion of two antagonistic dogs. “Yon prood quean didna pit saut in ma parritch.”

TT ENDED there, Margaret being weary of so much disturbance, and uncertain as to the proper attitude to adopt with respect to the rebellious newcomer.

But the battle proceeded in one shape or another

throughout the remainder of the day. George, coming home later than usual, found his wife on the verge of hysterics. “I wanted a baby,” she said, “not a horrible quotation.” George told her again, and very soothingly: “He’ll

improve. Margaret. He’s only just come, you know. Give the little chap a chance.”

But therein George was mistaken.

Donald, as far as Margaret was concerned, did not improve. On the contrary he grew ever more dictatorial, less respectful. She was “a wuman.” And it had been drilled into Donald before he could toddle just what a woman was, just where she should be kept. For George he showed an increasing liking. “Ye’r a’ richt,” he would say, sometimes “Ye’r fine.” And even Margaret recognized how great a compliment was contained in the speech. As for George, he found himself on the horns of a dilemma. He wanted to be a lot nicer to the little chap than, in the face of his conduct to Margaret, he dared be. Donald was in fact filling the position in her husband’s life that Margaret had hoped her adopted baby would fill in her own. They were pals, in spite of the disparity in their years. To Margaret, the situation grew ever more exasperating. To George, if it hadn’t been so dangerous it would have been decidedly entertaining.

nPHE CLIMAX came when Donald had been at Willow -*• Dene three months. It was the breakfast hour. For once his "parritch” had been over-salted instead of the reverse. 1 íe told George about it. ignoring Margaret. She said sharply, “Eat your porridge and stop talking about it.” "I’ll nut.” Donald was ojienly defiant. “I’ll nut,” he repeated.

Margaret brought her hand dowm on the table with a little bang. “Eat your porridge.” she snapped.

Donald rose. “Ma gran’faither wis a Mackellen o’ the Mackellens,” he told Margaret for the hundredth time. “ He wouldna be ordered tae dae this an’ that by a wuman. An’ neither wull I.”

“Are—you—going—to eat that porridge?”

“Na.”

What happened next surprised George even more than it did Donald. Margaret, with what he felt to be violent calm, removed her adopted son from his place at the table to a far less comfortable place across her lap. His kilt flew up—at least that was how it appeared to George. She demanded of her husband, “Y'our slipper, George!”

George remonstrated at last and when the slap—slap— slap of the slipper had continued for some minutes, “Margaret!”

She gave one more resounding thwack to Donald’s anatomy. Then, with a little bump, placed him on his feet again. His brown eyes met hers in an unwavering gaze that held for the first time something perilously like respect. He said in a voice that trembled ever so slightly: “Ma worrd, but it’s a sträng haund ye’ve got an a’.”

“And it’s time you found it out,” Margaret, rising, repeated, “high time.”

She had left the room when George said, “Y’ou’ve earned it, old chap.”

Donald answered unsteadily: “Ma gran’faither wis a Mackellen o’ the Mackellens. But he wouldna hae pit herr doon like he pit Pendy doon.” He asked a few seconds later, “Hae Miss Bun—I meanBa^-nock ever hided ye?”

George nodded.

“Tell me about it?” Donald blinked the moisture from his eyes. “Gie me a bit cushion forr ma seat an’ tell me.” George obeyed.

“Y'ou see, Donald,” he began, “I deceived her.”

“Ye did?” Donald, sitting uneasily on his cushion, looked up at him.

“Yes.” He told the small boy then of Margaret’s illness. “And when she wis on the mend she lay ootside by the oor?” Donald wrinkled his brow. “That must hae been awfu’ slow for ye,” he opined.

“It was,” George admitted. “That was the trouble.” Donald asked a few' seconds later, “An’ this wuman ye took oot, w'is she a peinted wuman?"

“Good heavens, no.” George, scandalized, sat bolt upright.

“Ma gran’faither tauld aboot them.” Donald explained. “They’re w'itches wi’oot brooms,” he went on as George continued to stare at him. “If she wis no a peinted wuman, whut harrm?”

George, finding his voice, told him, “No harm at all.” “It wis a’ a mistake?” Donald asked. “An’ she hided ye like she did me?”

“Not quite,” George told him. “It was my heart she struck.”

“Nut y’er seat?”

“No.”

“Aw'eel, ye’ll be ower it noo.” Donald forgot his own sorrow in feeling for his friend.

George shook his head.

“It hurrts ye yet?”

“Yes, it hurts me yet.”

“Could ye nut hae sometheeng tae stop the smarrt?” George answered with a little sigh, “Only Margaret can stop the smart. Donald. She’s got the right salve, you see.” “An’ she winna pit it on?”

“No, she winna pit it on.” George smiled. “Women are like that,” he said.

“Mebbe if I pit it tae herr.”

Donald, his small face set in lines of grim determination, got to his feet.

He found Margaret in the sitting room. She stopped his explanation with a kiss.

“I heard,” she said. “I was outside the door.”

“Ye nerer listened ! Ma gran’faither—” Donald stopped short, one brown hand seeking the back of his kilt. “Ye were dusting—or sometheeng o’ that?” he suggested.

“I was listening, Donald. Some day I will tell you why.” Donald asked after a brief silence, “An ye’ll pit the salve on? It’s an awfu’ long time his hearrt hae been hurrting George.”

“George!” Margaret tried and failed to be severe. Donald explained in a hurry and with due respect: “The mon says I can ca’ him that. Misterr Bun—Ban-nock’s a fearsome mouthfu’ye ken. Y'e’ll pit the salve on. Marg’ret?” Margaret kissed him a second time. “I’ll put the salve on,” she promised.

“An’ ye winna mind if I ca’ ye—Marg’ret?”

Margaret answered, to her own surprise, “I’d like it!”

SHE TOLD George that night, an outrageously pleased and self-satisfied George: “He’s not a bit like any child I’ve ever known. But I wouldn’t change him now. It’s funny, but I wouldn’t, not for all the yellow curls and blue eyes and rosebud mouths in the world.”

George answered, quoting the only Scotsman of his acquaintance, "The little chap's canny.”