Billikings by Unknown

Billikins' father was a soldier, and Billikins' father had to go to war.

Billikins wondered why Mother looked so worn and sad, and why Daddy hugged and kissed him very much, one night, as he was going to bed; and why Father's face felt wet. The next morning, when he came to breakfast, no Father was there—only Mother, with tear-swollen eyes, who tried to smile at Billikins, and could not. He felt in his tender little heart that something was wrong, and so he just climbed on Mother's lap, and put both his arms round her neck. Mother pressed him tightly to her heart.

'Oh, little Billikins!' she said. 'Father's little Billikins!'

'Where's Father?' asked Billikins.

Mother began to cry bitterly. 'Father has gone away for a long, long time,' she said, as soon as she could speak.

'Has he gone to the war?' asked Billikins, in an awed voice.

'Yes, dear, to the war. It is very wrong of me to be so silly. I'm a soldier's wife, and I ought not to grudge my husband to his country. And remember, Billikins, you are a soldier's son—always remember that. You must never run away from a danger; you must face it. A soldier's son must be a brave man.'

'I shall not forget, Mother,' said Billikins.

Mother set him gently on the ground, dried her eyes, and began to bustle about.

'And a soldier's wife must be brave, too,' she said to herself.

For many, many weeks after that Billikins and his mother were very anxious, though Billikins tried his best to be cheerful, and not let Mother see that he felt sad. News came to them—sometimes, good news, and then Mother brightened.

At last, one happy day, they heard that the war was over.

'Father will be home soon,' said Billikins, joyfully.

'Yes, dear, thank Heaven, very soon now,' said Mother, and kissed him fervently.

As the time passed Mother grew more and more cheerful. The ship that was bringing Father home would soon be due.

'Billikins, do you think you can stay here alone, dear, while I go out and do a bit of shopping?' Mother asked one evening, and Billikins answered, 'Yes, Mother; I will be good while you are gone.'

Mother put on her bonnet and cape, took a basket, and sallied forth. Left alone, Billikins sat at the window, and gazed out at the busy street. There was a great deal of noise going on overhead. The Jones children, who lived in the 'flat' above, were always rather noisy. Billikins had seen Mrs. Jones go out with a basket some time ago, so he knew that they were all alone. Suddenly there was a great crash, a sound of breaking glass, and then wild screams of distress, which seemed to come from upstairs.

Billikins rushed out.

Two Jones children were flying wildly downstairs, while a third followed more slowly, crying and sobbing.

'What is the matter?' asked Billikins.

'Oh, oh, we have upset the lamp!' sobbed little Lizzie Jones. 'The rooms is on fire, it's all ablaze! What shall I do? What shall I do? I am so frightened!'

'Where's the baby?' gasped Billikins. He knew there was a Jones baby—a new and tiny one.

'Oh, I don't know! I don't know!' sobbed Lizzie. 'In the cradle, I think.'

Billikins simply tore upstairs. A great puff of smoke came out on the landing from the Jones's door, and nearly choked him. For an instant he hesitated; then he seemed to hear his mother's voice——

'Remember, Billikins, you are a soldier's son; you must never run away from danger, always face it.'

He rushed across the room, half-blinded by smoke, feeling the flames scorch him, he reached the cradle. The baby was in it. Already the flames were beginning to lick the sides. With a strong effort he lifted the baby, feeling the flames scorch his arms as he did so. Oh, the heat and the smoke that were stifling him! Would he ever reach the door? He staggered, and nearly fell.

'A soldier's son, a soldier's son,' seemed to ring in his ears. He staggered forward and reached the landing, to be caught in the arms of a splendid man in a brass helmet. And then all grew dark, and he knew no more.

When he woke he was lying on a strange bed, in a strange place; his head was bandaged all over the top, and his arms were all bandaged, too. He felt very weak.

'Where—am—I?' he said, feebly, and some one, in a white cap and a large white apron, came to the bedside and bent over him. 'Where—is—Mother?' said Billikins. 'And—who—are—you?'

'Mother will be here soon, and I am Nurse Katherine,' said a sweet voice, and a soft, cool hand was laid on Billikins' forehead.

He smiled gratefully, and then from sheer exhaustion he fell asleep.

When he woke again Mother was sitting by the bed, talking to Nurse Katherine.

'Yes, going on nicely,' he heard Nurse say. And—and—who was that sitting by the other side of the bed? A tall, bearded figure——

'Father!' cried Billikins, joyfully.

'My brave, brave boy!' said Father, and his voice was not quite steady. 'My own son! To think how nearly I lost him!'

Then remembrance came to Billikins. 'The baby?' he managed to say.

'The baby is safe, darling,' said Mother, from her side of the bed. 'Thanks to my brave little Billikins, who risked his life to go and fetch it.'

Billikins smiled feebly.

'I—was not—brave,' he said; 'I—only remembered—what you told me, that—I was—a—soldier's son.'

And he was so tired that he only wondered faintly why Father made a funny sound in his throat, as if he were choking, and why Nurse Katherine wiped her eyes.