THE WIDOW’S BABY.
Any unfortunate being who ever attempted to smuggle anything from the Continent, and fell into the hands of Captain Peter Muggins, of her British Majesty’s Customs, on landing at Dover, never forgot the circumstance.
The captain was the one to vindicate the honour of the said British Majesty. He was a short, stout, red-faced, well-fed, and exceedingly ill-tempered son of Mars. His martial tread and loud-voiced oaths did not convey the idea of a carpet-knight, yet he had never faced the foe, nor “sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth.” No, he had contented himself with filling the “Queen’s Tobacco pipe,” as the kiln where contraband goods were formerly burned was somewhat profanely styled.
The captain was prepared to “fix” anyone who carried ashore one cigar, one inch of lace, a pair of gloves, or any other item.
As he stood thus, watching the coming ashore of the passengers with a “stony British stare,” he espied a lady who walked with the gentle, appealing, uncertain step of a young widow.
She was followed by a nurse, wearing the cap and apron of a French bonne and in the arms of this nurse was a baby, in long and flowing white robes.
The captain was on the alert.
The lady came up to him, and, throwing back her long crape veil, addressed him in deep, musical accents:
“You are the custom officer, sir?”
“I am,” responded the captain, rather gruffly.
Now, the widow was sufficiently beautiful to disarm even the ill-nature of Captain Muggins, and just the style of beauty he would be sure to admire.
The widow was beautiful, with a clear, brown eye—or, rather, two of them velvet-lidded, heavy fringed, full and languid, prone to be cast down modestly and upraised suddenly, to the no small confusion of the luckless male bystander.
She wore the full attire of woe. A small crape bonnet, with a slight frost-work of white under its brim, rested on her glossy black hair. Such hair waving, and shining, and blue-black.
Her brow, so smooth and broad, was undisfigured by lunatic fringe or bang. Her eyebrows were black and delicate, but straight, not arched. Her nose might be a trifle large, but it was beautifully formed and clearly chiselled and her mouth was beautiful, the lips so full, so heartlike, in their proud arch, their colouring so fresh and rich.
Then her complexion was of a soft, ruddy, indescribable brunette tint, impossible to picture in words, but wholly charming; her chin was so finely moulded, and her throat full and round.
Altogether, the irascible captain thought “The finest woman I’ve seen for years!” For the widow’s form fully equalled her face, and she was handsomely dressed.
“I am, madam,” he repeated. Where is your luggage?”
“Here it is. I am alone—that is with the exception of my nurse and baby. I have to travel so much now and always alone.”
Tears seemed very close to the widow’s lovely eyes, and a mournfully appealing tone touched even the ironclad heart of Captain Muggins.
“All right, ma’am. Have nothing to declare, I suppose?”
“Nothing. Please examine my trunks, for I long to rest, and my baby has been quite seasick, poor darling.”
The trunks were examined carefully for, however fine a woman the widow might be, “duty before sentiment” was the captain’s motto.
Nothing was found, and the trunks were passed.
The widow took her baby from the nurse’s arms, and hushed it to sleep as it had evinced signs of disquietude by beginning to whimper.
“A fine child, ma’am,” said the captain, who hated babies like poison.
“Is he not beautiful, my Henry?—the image of his dear—oh!” a sob completed the sentence.
He was beautiful at least as much as could be seen of him, for he was one mass of lace and embroidery, his rosy face half concealed by a filmy veil.
“He is a fine fellow; how old might he be?” The captain’s parboiled eyes shone with interest, he admired the widow more every moment.
“Seven months to-morrow—poor little darling! To think how much he has travelled!”
“He has, ma’am?”
“Yes by his dear father’s strange will I live six weeks in Paris and six in England alternately.”
“Rather troublesome for you, ma’am.”
“Oh, I don’t mind for myself,” said the bewitching widow, with a swift upward flash of her adorable eyes, “but my poor little boy—fancy, I might risk his health, might even lose him.” Here she seemed about to give way to her feelings, but just then the captain murmured “Oh, I hope not,” sympathetically, the bonne came up to say that the carriage waited, and with a hurried, “Thank you so much—good-by,” the beautiful widow disappeared.
“Ah! that’s something like a woman!” ejaculated the captain, as he resumed his official duties. He felt that Providence had been guilty of gross injustice in not providing him with just such a wife, instead of poor, faded, weak-eyed, heart-broken Mrs Muggins. In three weeks the beautiful widow returned to France, and in six weeks she again had her luggage examined by the Captain, who became more deeply interested than before. This sort of thing continued for nearly a year. Captain Muggins was now violently enamoured of the lovely widow, who long ago had informed him that her name was Mrs Cecil, and that her husband’s death had left her very wealthy, though sadly inconvenienced by the terms of his strange will.
Master Henry throve apace he grew wonderfully large and heavy, and was a remarkably good boy—so quiet.
“He is quite a sailor,” said the captain, as he stood examining the trunks after rather a stormy voyage.
“Yes; and, poor darling, he cried so very dreadfully during the passage, he is quite worn out.”
When the widow and the captain had been acquainted a year or so the head officer of the department sent for Captain Muggins one day.
He received him in his private office, and remarked as soon as he saw him: “I sent for you, Muggins, for I know you’re very sharp.”
“Thank you, sir,” replied the captain, pleased by the compliment.
“Well, Muggins, I have something rather unpleasant to say.”
“Yes, sir.” The captain felt rather alarmed.
“I’ve received information that a noted smuggler has been getting ahead of us for a year, bringing over diamonds, laces, &c— thousands of pounds worth of valuables. I have known it for some time but though I’ve tried every way, I’m blowed if I can spot him.”
The captain’s red face grew redder.
“I hope, sir, you don’t imagine that I neglect my duty,” he said humbly.
Like all other bullies, he was a great coward.
“No, I don’t. But it is quite possible that some one has been a little too smart for you.”
“I scarcely think that possible,” said the captain indignantly.
“Well, well, the thing is that the game is going on, and I want to tell you what I am going to do. I’ve sent to Scotland Yard for one of their sharpest men, and he’ll be on the wharf the next trip.”
No crimson dye of Eastern fame could equal the tint of Captain Muggin’s face. A detective put on his wharf—to overlook him!
He dared not offer a remonstrance but anyone who knew him could judge for themselves what a nice time his wife and daughter would enjoy when he returned to his home, as they were always the helpless victims of his fury when any indignity was put upon him by outsiders.
He left the office and returned to his duties. His blood boiled with indignation, and he scarcely replied to the many questions asked him during the day by those with whom he came in contact through his official position.
When the steamer arrived and her passengers flowed ashore in a stream, the captain espied the widow advancing with her usual smile, her nurse and her baby. “Ah! how are you my friend?” said the charmer, in her usual soft, melodious accents.
“Well, thank you. How is Master Henry?”
“Oh, so well, so beautiful!”
The trunks were passed, and after a few pleasant words the widow prepared to depart, but just as Julia, the bonne had announced the carriage, a quiet-looking man, in a salt-and-pepper suit, stepped up and laid a profane hand on the beautiful shoulder of the charming widow.
“Caught again, Iky!” he said, in a pleasant manner.
The widow started. She glanced around in terror, alarm.
“No use, Iky!” said the salt-and-pepper man. “I’ve been wondering why you kept so quiet. Game up, old boy.”
The captain stood by in speechless amazement while the detective arrested the beautiful widow.
And the baby, Master Henry, what of him?
He was disrobed of his lace and his embroidery, and he proved to be one mass of smuggled goods adroitly built together on the foundation of a bottle of the best French brandy, and furnished with a waxen face and an apparatus to make a noise resembling the cry of an infant.
The captain is still employed as an officer of Her Majesty’s Customs, but he is more humble, for his beautiful widow was a smart young smuggler from Paris. He was singularly handsome and made up well as a woman, and he had brought thousands of pounds’ worth of valuables through right before the redoubtable captain’s nose and as long as the captain lives he will never hear the last of the widow’s baby.— Prize Tit Bit.
The American Magazine 1888
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing else to add except her admiration for the ingenious young smuggler and his cunning crying-baby scheme, which reminds her of this apparatus:
A mechanical genius has hit upon the most effectual means of securing ladies travelling by railway from male intruders. This is his advertisement, which needs no comment “Artificial Babies for Travellers.— Common travelling infants, yielding intermittent cries of fear, and capable of being put into the pocket, 10s. Second class, crying not too loudly, but lamentably and insupportably, 20s. Third class, full squallers, with a very piercing and aggravating voice of five octaves, £2. The same, arranged as a prompt repeater, £2 6s Fifth class, first quality, capable of continued squalling, £3.”
Otago Witness, 8 January 1876: p. 5
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.