A FAIR EXCHANGE?
Mrs. Maynard opened the front door just as the children approached with the baby-carriage.
"Come along, girlies!" she cried. "Marjorie, wheel the carriage right into the hall."
"The baby's asleep, Mother," said Midget, as she and Gladys brought the carriage over the door-sill.
"Oh, is she? Totty's asleep, Mildred," she called, in a stage whisper, to Mrs. Harrison, who was upstairs.
"I thought she would be," responded that lady. "Just throw back her veil, and leave her as she is. She often takes her nap in her carriage, and there's no use waking her."
Gently, Mrs. Maynard turned back the veil from the little sleeping face, and, as she had no thought of anything being wrong, she did not notice any difference in the baby features.
"Gladys, we'd like to have you stay to luncheon," she said. "So you and Midge run upstairs and tidy your curls at once." With demure steps, but with dancing eyes, the girls went upstairs.
"I'm afraid it's mischief," whispered Gladys to Marjorie, as she tied her hair-ribbon for her.
"No, it isn't!" declared Midge, stoutly. "It's only a joke, and it can't do any harm. Mother didn't know it was a different baby, and I don't believe Mrs. Harrison will know either."
Trim and tidy once more the two friends went downstairs.
As they were on the stairs they heard the sound of the telephone bell.
Mrs. Maynard answered it, and in a moment Gladys realized that her own mother was talking at the other end of the wire.
After a short conversation, Mrs. Maynard hung up the receiver, and said:
"Mrs. Fulton says that Mr. Fulton has come home quite unexpectedly and that they are going for an afternoon's motor ride. She wants both of you girls to go, but she says you must fly over there at once, as they're all ready to start. She tried to tell us sooner, but couldn't get a connection on the telephone."
"But we haven't had luncheon," said Marjorie, "and I'm fairly starving."
"They're taking luncheon with them," explained Mrs. Maynard. "And you must go at once, not to keep Mr. Fulton waiting. Of course, you needn't go if you don't want to, Midge."
"Oh, I do! I'm crazy to go! And luncheon in baskets is such fun! What shall I wear, Mother?"
"Go just as you are. That frock is quite clean. Put on your hat and coat, and I'll get a long veil for you."
Gladys had already run off home, and Marjorie was soon equipped and ready to follow.
As she flew out of the door, she remembered the joke about the babies.
"Oh, Mother, I've something to tell you!" she cried.
"Never mind now," said Mrs. Maynard, hurrying her off. "It will keep till you get back. And I hate to have you keep the Fultons waiting. They're in haste to start. So kiss me, and run along."
Even as she spoke, Dick Fulton appeared, saying he had been sent to hurry Marjorie up; so taking Dick's hand, the two ran swiftly down the path to the gate. Mrs. Maynard watched Marjorie's flying feet, and after she was out of sight around the corner, the lady returned to the house.
With a glance at the sleeping child, she turned to Mrs. Harrison, who was just coming downstairs.
"Totty is sleeping sweetly," she said, "so come at once to luncheon, Mildred."
"In a moment, Helen. I think I'll take off her cap and coat; she'll be too warm."
"You'll waken her if you do."
"Oh, well, she'll drop right to sleep again; she always does. And anyway, it's time she had a drink of milk."
"Very well, Mildred. You take off her wraps, and I'll ask Sarah to warm some milk for her."
Mrs. Maynard went to speak to Sarah, and Mrs. Harrison lifted the sleeping baby from the carriage.
She sat the blinking-eyed child on her knee while she unfastened her coat. Then she took off the veil and cap, and then,—she stared at the baby, and the baby stared at her.
Suddenly Mrs. Harrison gave a scream.
"Helen, Helen!" she called to her friend, and Mrs. Maynard came running to her side.
"What is the matter, Mildred? Is Totty ill?"
By this time the baby too had begun to scream. Always afraid of strangers, Miss Dotty Curtis didn't know what to make of the scenes in which she found herself, nor of the strange lady who held her.
"Mildred, dear, what is the matter? You look horror-stricken! And what ails Totty?"
"This isn't my child!" wailed Mrs. Harrison.
"Totty isn't your child! What do you mean?"
"But this isn't, Totty! It isn't my baby! I don't know who it is."
"Mildred, you're crazy! Of course this is Totty. These are her blue kid shoes. And this is her coat and cap."
"I don't care if they are! It isn't Totty at all. Oh, where is my baby?"
Mrs. Harrison was on the verge of hysterics, and Mrs. Maynard was genuinely alarmed.
"Behave yourself, Mildred!" she said, sternly. "Gather yourself together. Here, sip this glass of water."
"I'm perfectly sensible," said Mrs. Harrison, quieting down a little, as she noticed her friend's consternation. "But I tell you, Helen, this is not my baby. Doesn't a mother know her own child? Totty's hair is a little longer, and her eyes are a little larger. I don't know who this baby is, but she isn't mine."
"I believe you're right," said Mrs. Maynard, looking more closely at the screaming baby.
"There, there!" she said, taking the frightened little one in her own arms.
"Ma-ma!" cried the baby.
"Hear her voice!" exclaimed Mrs. Harrison. "That isn't the way my Totty talks. Oh, Helen, what has happened?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Maynard, her face very white. "It doesn't seem possible that any marauder should have slipped into the house and put this child in Totty's place. Why, it was only about a half-hour ago that the girls brought Totty in. Mildred, are you sure this isn't Totty?"
"Am I sure! Yes, I am. Wouldn't you know your own children from strangers? Helen, a dreadful crime has been committed. Somehow this baby has been substituted for mine. Oh, Totty, where are you now?"
"What shall I do, Mildred? Shall I call up Mr. Maynard on the telephone, or shall I ring up the police station?"
"Yes, call the police. It's dreadful, I know, but how else can we find Totty?"
Meantime Sarah appeared with a cup of warm milk.
The baby stretched out eager little hands, and Mrs. Maynard carefully held the cup for her to drink.
"She's a nice little thing," observed that lady. "See how prettily she behaves."
"Helen, you'll drive me crazy. I don't care how she behaves, she isn't Totty. Why, that isn't even Totty's little dress. So you see the kidnapper did change her shoes and wraps, but not her frock."
Mrs. Harrison showed signs of hysterics, and Mrs. Maynard was at her wits' end what to do.
"I suppose I'd better call the police," she said. "Here, Mildred, you hold this baby."
Mrs. Harrison gingerly took the baby that wasn't hers, and looked like a martyr as she held her.
But comforted by the warm food, the baby pleasantly cuddled up in Mrs. Harrison's arms and went to sleep.
Mrs. Maynard, greatly puzzled, went to the telephone, but before she touched it there was a furious peal at the front-door bell.
The moment the door was opened, in rushed a pretty, but frantic and very angry, little lady, carrying a child.
"Where's my baby?" she demanded, as she fairly stamped her foot at Mrs. Maynard.
"That's my child!" she went on, turning to Mrs. Harrison. "What are you doing with her?"
"I don't want her!" cried Mrs. Harrison. "But what are you doing with my baby?"
Totty, in the visitor's arms, held out her hands to her mother, and gurgled with glee.
"Ma-ma!" said the other baby, waking up at all this commotion and holding out her hands also.
The exchange was made in a moment, and, still unpacified, Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. Curtis glared at each other.
Mrs. Maynard struggled to suppress her laughter, for the scene was a funny one; but she knew the two ladies were thoroughly horrified at the mystery, and mirth would be quite out of place.
"Let me introduce you," she said. "Mrs. Curtis, this is my dear friend, Mrs. Harrison. Your little ones are the same age, and look very much alike."
"Not a bit alike," said both mothers, at once.
"I confess," went on Mrs. Maynard, "that I can't understand it at all, but you certainly each have your own babies now; so, my dear Mrs. Curtis, won't you tell me what you know about this very strange affair?"
Mrs. Curtis had recovered her equilibrium, and, as she sat comfortably holding Dotty, she smiled, with a little embarrassment.
"Dear Mrs. Maynard," she said, "I'm afraid I understand it all better than you do; but I'm also afraid, if I explain it to you, you will,—it will make——"
Suddenly Mrs. Maynard saw a gleam of light.
"Marjorie!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," said Mrs. Curtis; "I think it was due to Miss Mischief. When I returned home from an errand, Lisa said that your Marjorie and Gladys Fulton had had Dotty out in her carriage, and had also another baby who was visiting you. The girls had left Dotty—or rather, Lisa supposed it was Dotty—asleep in her coach, and Nurse let her stay there, asleep, until my return. Then the child wakened—and it wasn't Dotty at all! The baby had on Dot's slippers, cap, coat, and veil, but the rest of her clothes I had never seen before. I felt sure there had been foul play of some sort, but Lisa was sure those girls had exchanged the babies' clothes on purpose. I hoped Lisa was right, but I feared she wasn't, so I picked up the baby and ran over here to see."
Mrs. Maynard was both grieved and chagrined.
"How could Marjorie do such a thing!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, don't be too hard on her, Mrs. Maynard," said Mrs. Curtis. "It's all right, now, and you know Marjorie and Gladys are a mischievous pair."
"But this is inexcusable," went on Mrs. Maynard. "Mrs. Harrison nearly went frantic, and you were certainly greatly alarmed."
Mrs. Curtis smiled pleasantly. "I was," she admitted, "but it was only for a few moments. I was mystified rather than alarmed, for Lisa said the carriage had not been out of her sight a moment, except when the girls had it."
Mrs. Curtis took her leave, and, carrying with her her own baby, went away home.
Mrs. Maynard made sincere apologies to her friend for naughty Marjorie's mischief.
"Never mind, Helen," said Mrs. Harrison. "I can see now it was only a childish prank, and doubtless Marjorie and Gladys expected a good laugh over it; then they ran off unexpectedly and forgot all about the babies."
Mrs. Maynard remembered then that Midget had said at the last moment that she had something to tell her, but that she had hurried the child off.
"Still," she thought to herself, "that was no excuse for Midge. She should have told me."
After a refreshing luncheon, Mrs. Harrison was able to view the matter more calmly.
"Don't punish Marjorie for this, Helen," she said. "Children will be children, and I daresay those girls thought it would be a fine joke on me."
"I certainly shall punish her, Mildred. She is altogether too thoughtless, and too careless of other people's feelings. She never does wilful or malicious wrong, but she tumbles into mischief thoughtlessly. She will be honestly grieved when she learns how frightened and upset you were, and she'll never do such a thing again. But, the trouble is she'll do some other thing that will be equally naughty, but something that no one can foresee or warn her against."
"Well, just for my sake, Helen, don't punish her this time; at least, not much. I really oughtn't to have gone to pieces so; I ought to have realized that it could all be easily explained."
But Mrs. Maynard would not promise to condone Midget's fault entirely, and argued that she really ought to be punished for what turned out to be a troublesome affair.
Mrs. Harrison went home about four o'clock, and it was five before Marjorie returned.
Her mother met her at the door.
"Did you have a pleasant time, Marjorie?" she said.
"Oh, yes, Mother; we had a lovely time. We went clear to Ridge Park. Oh, I do love to ride in an automobile."
"Go and take off your things, my child, and then come to me in my room."
"Yes, Mother," said Marjorie, and she danced away to take off her hat.
"Here I am, Mother," she announced, a little later. "Now shall I tell you all about my afternoon?"
"Not quite yet, dear. I'll tell you all about my afternoon first. Mrs. Harrison had a very unhappy time, and of course that made me unhappy also."
"Why, Mother, what was the trouble about?"
Mrs. Maynard looked into the clear, honest eyes of her daughter, and sighed as she realized that Marjorie had no thought of what had made the trouble.
"Why did you put Dotty Curtis' cloak and hat on Totty?"
Then the recollection came back to Marjorie.
"Oh, Mother!" she cried, as she burst into a ringing peal of laughter. "Wasn't it a funny joke! Did Mrs. Harrison laugh? Did she know her own baby?"
"Marjorie, I'm ashamed of you. No, Mrs. Harrison did not laugh. Of course she knew that the child you left in the carriage was not her little Totty, and as she didn't know what had happened, she had a very bad scare, and her nerves were completely unstrung."
"But why, Mother?" said Marjorie, looking puzzled. "I thought she wouldn't know the difference. But if she did know right away it wasn't Totty, why didn't she go over to Mrs. Curtis' and change them back again?"
"She didn't know Totty was at Mrs. Curtis'. Neither did I. We never dreamed that you couldn't be trusted to take a baby out to ride and bring her home safely. She thought some dreadful thing had happened to her child."
"Oh, Mother, did she? I'm so sorry. I never meant to tease her that way. I only thought it would be a funny joke to see her think Dotty was Totty."
"But, my little girl, you ought to have realized that it was a cruel and even a dangerous joke. You cannot carelessly dispose of little human beings as if they were dolls, or other inanimate things."
"I never thought of that, Mother. And, anyway, I started to tell you about it, just as I went away, and you told me to run along, and tell you what I had to tell after I came home."
"I thought you'd say that; but of course I thought you meant you wanted to tell me some trifling incident, or something of little importance. Can't you understand that what you did was not a trifle, but a grave piece of misbehavior?"
Mrs. Maynard bit her lip to keep from smiling at Marjorie's innocent request for information.
"It was mischief, I suppose. But it was more than that. It was real wrong-doing. When little girls are trusted to do anything, they ought to be very careful to do it earnestly and thoroughly, exactly as it is meant to be done. If you had stopped to think, would you have thought either of those mothers wanted you to exchange their babies?"
"No," she said, at last; "but, truly, if I had thought ever so hard I wouldn't have thought they'd mind it so much. Can't they take a joke, Mother?"
"Marjorie, dear, you have a fun-loving disposition, but if it is to make you joy and not sorrow all your life, you must learn what constitutes a desirable 'joke.' To begin with, practical jokes are rarely, if ever, desirable."
"What is a practical joke?"
"It's a little difficult to explain, my dear; but it's usually a well-laid plan to make somebody feel foolish or angry, or appear ridiculous. I think you hoped Mrs. Harrison would appear ridiculous by petting another child while thinking it was her own. And you meant to stand by and laugh at her."
This was putting it rather plainly, but Marjorie could not deny the truth of her mother's statement.
"And so," went on Mrs. Maynard, "that was a very wrong intent, especially from a little girl to a grown person. Practical jokes among your playmates are bad enough, but this was far worse."
"I understand, Mother, now that you've explained it; but, truly, I didn't mean to do anything so awfully dreadful. How are you going to punish me?"
"Mrs. Harrison was very forgiving, and begged me not to punish you severely. But I think you deserve a pretty hard penance; don't you?"
"Why, the way you tell me about it, I think I do. But the way I meant it, seems so different."
"Well, I've thought it over, and I've decided on this. You dislike to sew; don't you?"
"Yes, I do!" said Marjorie, emphatically.
"I know you do. But I think you ought to learn to sew, and, moreover, I think this would be an appropriate thing to do. I want you to make a little dress for Totty. I will do the more difficult parts, such as putting it together, but you must run the tucks, and hem it, and overhand the seams. And it must be done very neatly, as all babies' dresses should be dainty and fine. You may work half an hour on it every day, and, when it is finished, it will be a pretty little gift for Mrs. Harrison, and it will also teach you something of an old-fashioned but useful art."
Marjorie drew a deep sigh. "All right, Mother. I'll try to do it nicely; but oh, how I hate a thimble! I never again will mix up people's babies. But I didn't think it was such an awful, dreadful thing to do."
"You're a strange child, Midget," said her mother, looking at her thoughtfully. "I never know what you're going to do next."
"I never know myself," said Marjorie, cheerfully, "but you can always punish me, you know."
"But I don't want to. I want you to behave so you won't need punishment."
"I'll try real hard," said Midge, as she kissed her mother, again and again.