When Margery was three months old I wrote a letter to her mother:
Dear Madam,–If you have a copy in Class D at 1/10d. net, I shall be glad to hear from you.
~The Baby’s Uncle.~
On Tuesday I got an answer by the morning post:
Dear Sir,–In reply to yours: How dare you insult my child? She is in Class A1, priceless and bought in by the owner. Four months old (and two days) on Christmas Day. Fancy!
~The Baby’s Mother.~
Margery had been getting into an expensive way of celebrating her birthday every week. Hitherto I had ignored it. But now I wrote:
Dear Madam,–Automatically your baby should be in Class D by now. I cannot understand why it is not so. Perhaps I shall hear from you later on with regard to this. Meanwhile I think that the extraordinary coincidence (all but two days) of the baby’s birthday with Christmas Day calls for some recognition on my part. What would Margery like? You, who are in constant communication with her, should be able to tell me. I hear coral necklaces well spoken of. What do you think? I remember reading once of a robber who “killed a little baby for the coral on its neck”–which shows at any rate that they are worn. Do you know how coral reefs are made? It is a most fascinating business.
Then there is a silver mug to be considered. The only thing you can drink out of a mug is beer; yet it is a popular present. Perhaps you, with your (supposed) greater knowledge of babies, will explain this.
Meanwhile, I am,
~The Baby’s Uncle.~
P.S.–Which is a much finer thing than a mother.
To which her mother:
My Dear Boy,–It is too sweet of you to say you would like to get Baby something. No, I don’t know how coral reefs are made, and don’t want to. I think it is wicked of you to talk like that; I’m sure I shan’t dare let her wear anything valuable now. And I don’t think she really wants a mug.
I’m sure I don’t know what she does want, except to see her uncle (There!) but it ought to be something that she’ll value when she grows up. And of course we could keep it for her in the meantime.
Her Father has smoked his last cigar to-day. Isn’t it awful? I have forbidden him to waste his money on any more, but he says he must give me 500 for a Christmas present. If he does, I shall give him that sideboard that I want so badly, and then we shall both go to prison together. You will look after Baby, won’t you?
~The Baby’s Mother.~
P.S.–Which she isn’t proud, but does think it’s a little bit classier than an uncle.
And so finally, I:
Dear Child,–I’ve thought of the very thing.
~The Baby’s Uncle.~
That ends Chapter I. Here we go on to
Chapter II finds me in the Toy Department of the Stores. “I want,” I said, “a present for a child.”
“Yes, sir. About how old?”
“It must be quite new,” I said sternly. “Don’t be silly. Oh, I see; well, the child is only a baby.”
“Ah, yes. Now here–if it’s at all fond of animals—-“
“I say, you mustn’t call it ‘IT.’ I get in an awful row if I do. Of course, I suppose it’s all right for you, only–well, be careful, won’t you?”
The attendant promised, and asked whether the child was a boy or girl.
“And had you thought of anything for the little girl?”
“Well, yes. I had rather thought of a sideboard.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Sideboard Department is upstairs. Was there anything else for the little girl?”
“Well, a box of cigars. Rather full, and if you have any—-“
“The Cigar Department is on the ground floor.”
“But your Lord Chamberlain told me I was to come here if I wanted a present for a child.”
“If you require anything in the toy line—-“
“Yes, but what good are toys to a baby of four months? Do be reasonable.”
“What was it you suggested? A sideboard and a cigar?”
“That was my idea. It may not be the best possible, but at least it is better than perfectly useless toys. You can always blow smoke in its face, or bump its head against the sideboard. Experto crede, if you have the Latin.”
Whereupon with great dignity I made my way to the lift.
In the Sideboard Department I said: “I want a sideboard for a little girl of four months, and please don’t call her ‘IT.’ I nearly had a row with one of your downstairs staff about that.”
“I will try to be careful about that, Sir,” he replied. “What sort of a one?”
“Blue eyes and not much hair, and really rather a sweet smile…. Was that what you wanted to know?”
“Thank you, Sir. But I meant, what sort of a sideboard?”
I took him confidentially by the arm.
“Look here,” I said, “you know how, when one is carrying a baby about, one bumps its head at all the corners? Well, not too much of that. The mothers don’t really like it, you know. They smile at the time, but…. Well, not too many corners…. Yes, I like that very much. No, I won’t take it with me.”
The attendant wrote out the bill.
“She’s the first. That’s why I’m so nervous. I’ve never bought a sideboard for a child before.
“Your Stores number, I mean, Sir.”
“I haven’t got one. Is it necessary?”
“Must have a number, Sir.”
“Then I’ll think of a nice one for you…. Let’s see–12345, how does that strike you?”
“And the name?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you that. You must look that up for yourself. Good-day.”
Downstairs I bought some cigars.
“For a little girl of four months,” I said, “and she likes them rather full. Please don’t argue with me. All your men chatter so.”
“I must,” said the attendant. “It’s like this. If she is only four months, she is obviously little. Your observation is therefore tautological.”
“As a matter of fact,” I said hotly, “she is rather big for four months.”
“Then it was a lie.”
“Look here, you give me those cigars, and don’t talk so much. I’ve already had words with your Master of the Sideboards and your Under-Secretary for the Toy Department…. Thank you. If you would kindly send them.”
So there it is. I have given the spirit rather than the actual letter, of what happened at the Stores. But that the things have been ordered there is no doubt. And when Margery wakes up on Christmas Day to find a sideboard and a box of cigars in her sock I hope she will remember that she has chiefly her mother to thank for it.