MINDING THE BABY
It was in the early days of his marriage. His wife had gone out for the evening to visit a friend and he was left at home to mind the baby. There he sat with his first-born on his lap, duly fed and now fast asleep. But as he was feeling rather lonely and uninspired just then, he kept the child in his arms for their mutual consolation while he sat brooding in front of a low fire.
After a while he heard a dull thud in the chimney, followed by a scuffling sound. He thought at first it was a mouse, until he saw something much larger appear, gasping and struggling in the embers.
Now the fireplace was little more than a hearth with the chimney-opening simply an undisguised hole fairly close to it. It was at the mouth of this hole that the struggle was going on, and putting down the child he was holding, he poked about to see what the mystery was.
To his surprise, he discovered a tiny infant which lay, stirring faintly, gasping for air, black and suffocating with soot. After quickly clearing its air-passage, he thought a bath of water would provide the quickest remedy. The kettle was hot, the bath handy, so he got busy.
As he bathed the child he saw that it not only became rapidly cleaner but just as rapidly older: in such a way, that he had no doubt that he was handling the brother of his own child. He had no time to realise the significance or obsurdity [sic] of this observation before he was further absorbed by hearing him speak. In perfectly well-formed sentences the child told him that he had been playing on the roof where, having the urge to make water and wondering where to do it, he had thought the chimney would be the most suitable place. Unfortunately, while thus engaged, he had lost his balance and fallen down the chimney, to be retrieved at length from the ashes of the fireplace...
However, instead of all this, and thinking that he must have dreamt it, he was still sitting by the fire minding the baby and wondering how much longer his wife would be. But as he sat there mooding, he heard a dull thud in the chimney, followed by a scuffling sound. At first he thought it was a mouse, but then he seemed to remember that it could be a child. Except that now he was seated in the kitchen, before a kitchen stove that was completely shut in, with the chimney inaccessible.
He put down the baby he was holding and stood listening helplessly to the pitiful struggles and gasps that issued from behind the stove.
At last, in desperation, he picked up the first handly [sic] weapon he could find (which happened to be a small chopper) and smashed the cast-iron back of the stove. It was some time before he could reach down properly into the flue and get at the child, thick with dust and soot.
He lay very still. A suggestion was already at the back of his mind ... but in a mood of utter despair he could see it was no use bathing the child or watching him grow up until he was old enough to tell his story or even, perhaps, one day become a man and a real credit to his parents...
No. He was dead.