By the author of “Three Men in a Boat,” “Three Men on the Bummel,” “Diary of a Pilgrimage,” “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow,” “Stage-Land,” etc. First published 1901.
The book begins: “This is the story, among others, of Henry the waiter — or, as he now prefers to call himself, Henri — told to me in the long dining-room of the Riffel Alp Hotel, where I once stayed for a melancholy week ‘between seasons’.”
Henry spins five enjoyable yarns about friends and acquaintances, laced with humor and wit, home-spun wisdom, and more than a little satire. Among others, you will meet a young lower-class girl tranformed by the magic of publicity into a “marchionesse”; a gentleman traveling with his infant son in a hamper basket who suddenly finds a bulldog pup in the basket instead; and a burglar who meets his match in a housemaid.
“Who wouldn’t believe what?” I asked.
“Why, women—that they can tell one baby from another, without its clothes. I’ve got a sister, a monthly nurse, and she will tell you for a fact, if you care to ask her, that up to three months of age there isn’t really any difference between ’em. You can tell a girl from a boy and a Christian child from a black heathen, perhaps; but to fancy you can put your finger on an unclothed infant and say: ‘That’s a Smith, or that’s a Jones,’ as the case may be — why, it’s sheer nonsense. Take the things off ’em, and shake them up in a blanket, and I’ll bet you what you like that which is which you’d never be able to tell again so long as you lived.”
I agreed with Henry, so far as my own personal powers of discrimination might be concerned, but I suggested that to Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith there would surely occur some means of identification.
“So they’d tell you themselves, no doubt,” replied Henry; “and of course, I am not thinking of cases where the child might have a mole or a squint, as might come in useful. But take ’em in general, kids are as much alike as sardines of the same age would be. Anyhow, I knew a case where a fool of a young nurse mixed up two children at an hotel, and to this day neither of those women is sure that she’s got her own.”
“Do you mean,” I said, “there was no possible means of distinguishing?”
“There wasn’t a flea-bite to go by,” answered Henry. “They had the same bumps, the same pimples, the same scratches; they were the same age to within three days; they weighed the same to an ounce; and they measured the same to an inch. One father was tall and fair, and the other was short and dark. The tall, fair man had a dark, short wife; and the short, dark man had married a tall, fair woman. For a week they changed those kids to and fro a dozen times a day, and cried and quarrelled over them. Each woman felt sure she was the mother of the one that was crowing at the moment, and when it yelled she was positive it was no child of hers. They thought they would trust to the instinct of the children. Neither child, so long as it wasn’t hungry, appeared to care a curse for anybody; and when it was hungry it always wanted the mother that the other kid had got. They decided, in the end, to leave it to time. It’s three years ago now, and possibly enough some likeness to the parents will develop that will settle the question. All I say is, up to three months old you can’t tell ’em, I don’t care who says you can.”
Six full-page color illustrations. Embedded fonts for drop-caps, chapter heads and tail decorations. Plain-cap version uses large caps instead of drop-caps.
I hope you find it as amusing as I did.
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