By Greg Clark, February 24, 1934
“Is that you?” asked Jimmie Frise over the telephone.
“Who were you expecting?” I retorted.
“Say, can you come over to my place now?” asked Jim.
“Well,” I said, “I’m in the middle of waxing the floors. And, anyway, it’s after eight o’clock.”
“I need you,” said Jim. “My family are all out and the neighbors, that young couple I was telling you about, asked me to mind their baby. They got an unexpected invitation to go to a . . .”
“I’ll be right over,” I said, banging up the telephone. Because if there, is anything that makes me nervous it is the thought of Jimmie being left to mind a baby.
I walked the two blocks to Jimmie’s house in jig time and found Jimmie in the living room downstairs, walking up and down the floor with a baby of about ten months in his arms.
“Here,” I said, “put it down. You don’t walk babies any more. Put it down.”
“It cries,” said Jimmie. “You would think it was never going to breathe again.”
“Aw, here,” I said, reaching out. “Give it here.”
“I’ve got him,” said Jimmie. “He’s all right.”
I looked down and there was the usual dear little round head and peaceful face, its eyes softly closed in sleep. Its little mouth pouted.
“The room’s too hot,” I said. “Run down and check the furnace while I hold him.”
“No, you don’t!” said Jim, holding his arms up out of reach so that I could neither see nor reach the baby.
“Aw, you’ve had him for an hour; let me have him just a few minutes.”
“I’ve got him quiet now,” said Jimmie. “Don’t disturb him.”
And he started walking up and down, humming a tune.
I sat down and watched him. He didn’t do it right. You have to tilt a little bit when you walk a baby. You know. Sort of rise and fall as you walk, with a gentle, floating motion. It’s like a dance. In fact, it is a dance. One of the oldest and loveliest dances in the world
“Jim,” I said, “you don’t handle that child right. Let me show you something.”
“Sit down,” said Jimmie. “I’ll get tired of it presently and then you can have it. By O baby, go to sleepie!”
“You shouldn’t breathe down on a baby like that,” I admonished.
“I’m just looking at him,” said Jim. “I’m breathing in when I sing.”
“But We’re Minding a Baby”
He continued to walk up and down the living room.
“How long will this young couple be out?” I asked.
“They went to a rassling match or something,” said Jimmie. “About eleven-thirty, I guess.”
“I’ll take him at nine-thirty then.” I said, “and keep him until they come in; how’s that?”
“We’ll see,” said Jimmie. “On the tree top. When the wind blows the cradle will rock.”
Jim walked interminably up and down the room, sometimes holding the baby close up under his chin, with his head sideways. You know. And sometimes swinging it softly from side to side as he paced.
The telephone rang.
“Here, I’ll hold him while you answer,” I cried.
“You answer,” said Jim. “Let’s not disturb him with changing.”
It was Billie Cain on the line and he wanted Jimmie and me both to come over to his place to meet a man just home from Baker Lake or somewhere up in the Arctic. He had had some marvelous duck shooting and wild geese and he had the most wonderful collection of snapshots of wild game and catches of lake trout up to fifty pounds per fish!
“Sorry, Bill,” I said, “but we are minding a baby.”
“Put it in the clothes basket and bring it over,” said Bill. “It’s only three blocks and a lovely mild night.”
I went back and told Jimmie. His eyes glistened.
“I suppose it would be all right. For an hour or so,” said Jim. “I’ve always wanted to hear about the shooting up in that Great Bear Lake country. What do you say?”
“We could put him in a clothes-basket.”
“Tell him we’ll come,” said Jim.
I got the clothes-basket from the laundry down cellar and we rigged up some cushions off the chesterfield and we folded up an eiderdown from upstairs for a cover and packed the baby cozily, without him even smacking his lips, let alone opening his eyes in that sudden wide still way they do.
“Let’s not go in the car,” said Jim. “The racket of stating and so on would disturb him.”
So I took one handle of the clothes-basket and Jim the other and through the lovely night we walked over to Bill Cain’s place. It was wonderful, with that little fellow between us, swinging alone through the darkness, sound asleep and all unaware of the wonderful world he was ushered into, the mystery, the greatness, and him so small and helpless with two perfect strangers bearing him in a cradle through the night. There was three or four fellows at Bill’s, and we all had a look at the baby, especially the fellow from Baker Lake, who hadn’t seen a baby for five years or something. But after admiring him for a few minutes Jimmie carried him upstairs to Bill’s wife bedroom (she was at the movies, too) and parked him in the basket on the bed.
Forgetting Their Charge
The man from Baker Lake had some wonderful tales to tell. Of the myriad flocks of wildfowl and geese. Of making a hide from rushes and hunks of the tundra and decoys out of a few dead ducks he had pot shot, and then having flights of a thousand ducks come into the decoys, with eleven ducks to five shots of his pump gun.
And geese! He made flying shots at eighty and ninety yards, and they packed the wild geese in barrels with salt for the winter. And lake trout. Forty and fifty pounders were commonplace. All they had part of the time was a small raft made out of little poles, and they trolled from this raft, with a piece of chalk line and a hunk of pork, and hauled up forty pounders. And maybe it wasn’t some fight, handling these slithery monsters on a little bit of raft half-submerged.
It was a wonderful story this Baker Lake chap had to tell. Mrs. Bill came in from the movies about eleven and we forgot to mention the baby upstairs on her bed. She made coffee and sandwiches and while we men were eating them she went upstairs and found the baby.
“What’s this?” she cried, all flushed and beautiful, coming halfway down the stairs to beckon and whisper at us.
So if course we had to explain and all go upstairs while Mrs. Bill, who has no children, had a grand time. She picked the baby up and it waked, and smacked its little mouth and stared with its large gray eyes, while Mrs. Bill pretended it was hers. She sat on the edge of the bed and cuddled it. Stood looking at herself in the mirror holding it against her cheek. And she disappeared with it for a few minutes. And it was with a sudden sense of shock that I looked at my watch and saw it was ten minutes to twelve.
“Jimmie,” I cried. “It’s midnight!”
“We’ll have to run,” said Jimmie.
But with putting the baby back in the basket and making a few farewell remarks to the man from Baker Lake and so on, it was ten or fifteen minutes after midnight before Jimmie and I got out on the street with the basket.
“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “this kid’s parents will be nearly crazy!”
“Aw, they know me-they’ll trust me,” said Jim.
“Yes, but you don’t know youthful parents. This is their first baby. They come home sometime about eleven-thirty, and find you out. Your family didn’t know you were minding the baby, did they?”
“No, they didn’t ask me to mind the kid until after my folks had gone out,” said Jim.
“Well,” I said, as we walked along with the basket between us, “they come home from the rassling and call at your home and your family don’t know what they are talking about. Jimmie isn’t home. I tell you, they are likely to be pretty frightened or even mad when you get back.”
“What do they want to ask me to mind their kid for,” asked Jim, “if they can’t trust me? They ought to know it would be all right.”
“I’ll leave you at your front door,” I said.
“Kill the Kidnapper”
Jimmie suddenly halted.
“Just a minute,” he said. “I forgot my cigarette case. You carry the basket a minute while I run back to Bill’s for it.”
It was only half a block.
I picked the basket up and walked on while Jim hurried back the street. I got to the corner and turned down, when a street light roused the baby and, after a few preliminary tries, he suddenly started to squall.
“Husssssshh!” said I.
The baby let out half a dozen of those inimitable wows that small babies can emit.
As I passed a house, the door opened suddenly and a woman appeared on the veranda. I heard her let out a slight scream as she dashed back into the house.
A car passing suddenly jammed on the brakes and four men, all strangers to me, leaped out and surrounded me before I knew what was happening.
One of them wrenched the basket from me.
Good heavens, in my wildest dreams I never expected to be faced with such a horrible situation.
But even rabbits will fight if cornered. I felt the other three taking strong, clinch holds on me while the other one ran for the car with the basket. I fought like a wildcat, trying to shout for help, but one man’s arm was around my neck and face, shutting off my wind. I kicked, jabbed, clawed, bit and heaved.
In less than thirty seconds, half a dozen more cars had gathered, and I was the core of a fighting, shouting, heaving mob of people, none of whom I could see, but I was sincerely hoping, as I writhed and clawed and kicked, that they would sense the situation and save the child from the kidnappers.
“Kill the dirty kidnapper!” I heard a woman scream, and I was in the midst of a sag of relief when I felt myself kicked viciously from behind.
I heard a woman crying.
“I’ve got him,” said a voice close to me, “Let’s have a look at him.”
“Are you sure it isn’t Frise?” asked another voice.
“No, it’s a little runty guy, with a very touch look about him.”
I felt myself being cleared of clinging forms, and in the street lights, all in a bundle, I was revealed to the gaze of about thirty people, both men and women.
“That certainly isn’t Mr. Frise,” said the young lily who was, I saw, cuddling the baby in her arms.
There was a growl from the little mob, “What has he done with Frise’s body?” asked a voice.
“What are you talking about?” I snarled.
“Take him to the police station,” shouted a voice.
“Kill him and throw him in the Humber,” shouted another voice.
Just a Way Men Have
They were crowding close, and the man holding me was gripping my arms so tight they were starting to go to sleep, when I heard feet pounding and then Jimmie’s welcome voice asking what was all the trouble.
“Oh, poor Mr. Frise!” cried the young lady hugging the baby. And she ran up to him, with a gesture of tenderness.
“Poor Mister my neck,” I snarled. “Let go of me.”
“Did they hurt you, Mr. Frise?” cried the young mother. “Oh, how you must have fought to defend my baby!”
“Here,” said Jimmie, seeing me gripped and helpless. “Let him go. What did he do?”
“The kidnapper!” cried the mother, “It was him had the baby in a clothes basket!”
I saw Jimmie stand irresolute for one awful minute as he pondered whether to let it go at that and get out of the mess or to make a clean breast. But Jimmie always comes through.
“This,” said Jimmie, indicating me, “is Mr. Clark, my old friend, who was helping me mind the baby.”
“But where have you been?” demanded a young man, who, I suppose, was the father of the infant.
“I had to go over to a friend’s for a minute,” said Jim, “so Mr. Clark was helping me mind the child and we carried him along with us, not wishing to leave him unguarded in my house.”
“But we came home from the rassling at ten o’clock,” cried the father. “And there was no one in your house. We waited. Then my wife got nervous. And as time went by and no sign of you, we got excited. We called at all the neighbors, not knowing what to do . . .”
“Then your family came in, about eleven,” went on the young mother. “It was past feeding time, and they said it wasn’t like you to go out when left in charge . . .”
“So we started hunting . . .”
“Down in your cellar . . .”
“And in all the vacant lots nearby . . .”
“And the more we did, the more unbearable it became . . .”
“And then,” said I, trying to smooth down my clothes, “they see me walking along alone with the baby while Jimmie ran back to his friend’s house to get his cigarette case.”
“I think, Mr. Frise,” said the young father, as we stood with all the neighbors listening. “it was very inconsiderate of you to go out for so long when you undertake to care for our baby.”
“I think,” said Jim, “that when you have trust enough in a man to leave your baby with him, you might trust him enough to turn up, no matter how mysterious the circumstances.”
“It’ll be the last time.” said the young mother starting away.
“Indeed it will,” said Jimmie.
He took my arm and we crossed the lawns over to the uninhabited side of the street.
“They almost killed me, Jim,” I said. “They were going to lynch me.”
“Well, you wanted to have the baby to yourself, didn’t you?”
“That was earlier in the evening.” I said. “Men are queer about babies. They love them, of course. They get a great kick out of minding them. But it is only for a little while. It is an impulsive emotion, but it doesn’t last long.”
“I guess men shouldn’t be asked to mind infants,” said Jim.
Which is the moral of this story.
Editor’s Note: The people were probably jumpy about kidnapping in this story as it had only been two years since the famous kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby. The arrest of a suspect did not occur until September 1934, after this story was written.
“In jig time” means to move very quickly.
“A very touch look about him” means he looks a little crazy.