THE CARRYING OF THE BABY.

By Ethel Turner.

Larrie had been carrying it for a long way, and said it was quite time Dot took her turn.

Dot was arguing the point.

She reminded him of all athletic sports he had taken part in, and of all the prizes he had won; she asked him what was the use of being six-foot-two and an impossible number of inches round the chest if he could not carry a baby.

Larrie gave her an unexpected glance and moved the baby to his other arm; he was heated and unhappy, there seemed absolutely no end to the red, red road they were traversing, and Dot, as well as refusing to help to carry the burden, laughed aggravatingly at him when he said it was heavy.

"He is exactly twenty-one pounds," she said, "I weighed him on the kitchen scales yesterday. I should think a man of your size ought to be able to carry twenty-one pounds without grumbling so."

"But he's on springs, Dot," he said; "just look at him, he's never still for a minute; you carry him to the beginning of Lee's orchard, and then I'll take him again."

Dot shook her head.

"I'm very sorry, Larrie," she said, "but I really can't. You know I didn't want to bring the child, and when you insisted, I said to myself, you should carry him every inch of the way, just for your obstinacy."

"But you're his mother," objected Larrie.

He was getting seriously angry, his arms ached unutterably, his clothes were sticking to his back, and twice the baby had poked a little fat thumb in his eye and made it water.

"But you're its father," Dot said sweetly.

"It's easier for a woman to carry a child than a man"—poor Larrie was mopping his hot brow with his disengaged hand—"everyone says so; don't be a little sneak, Dot; my arm's getting awfully cramped; here, for pity's sake take him."

Dot shook her head again.

"Would you have me break my vow, St. Lawrence?" she said.

She looked provokingly cool and unruffled as she walked along by his side; her gown was white, with transparent puffy sleeves, her hat was white and very large, she had little white canvas shoes, long white Suède gloves, and she carried a white parasol.

"I'm hanged," said Larrie, and he stopped short in the middle of the road; "look here, my good woman, are you going to take your baby, or are you not?"

Dot revolved her sunshade round her little sweet face.

"No, my good man," she said; "I don't propose to carry your baby one step."

"Then I shall drop it," said Larrie. He held it up in a threatening position by the back of its crumpled coat, but Dot had gone sailing on.

"Find a soft place," she called, looking back over her shoulder once and seeing him still standing in the road.

"Little minx," he said under his breath.

Then his mouth squared itself; ordinarily it was a pleasant mouth, much given to laughter and merry words; but when it took that obstinate look, one could see capabilities for all manner of things.

He looked carefully around. By the roadside there was a patch of soft, green grass, and a wattle bush, yellow-crowned, beautiful. He laid the child down in the shade of it, he looked to see there were no ants or other insects near; he put on the bootee that was hanging by a string from the little rosy foot, and he stuck the india-rubber comforter in its mouth. Then he walked quietly away and caught up to Dot.

"Well?" she said, but she looked a little startled at his empty arms; she drooped the sunshade over the shoulder nearest to him, and gave a hasty, surreptitious glance backward. Larrie strode along.

"You look fearfully ugly when you screw up your mouth like that," she said, looking up at his set side face.

"You're an unnatural mother, Dot, that's what you are," he returned hotly. "By Jove, if I was a woman, I'd be ashamed to act as you do. You get worse every day you live. I've kept excusing you to myself, and saying you would get wiser as you grew older, and instead, you seem more childish every day."

She looked childish. She was very, very small in stature, very slightly and delicately built. Her hair was in soft gold-brown curls, as short as a boy's; her eyes were soft, and wide, and tender, and beautiful as a child's. When she was happy they were the colour of that blue, deep violet we call the Czar, and when she grew thoughtful, or sorrowful, they were like the heart of a great, dark purple pansy. She was not particularly beautiful, only very fresh, and sweet, and lovable. Larrie once said she always looked like a baby that has been freshly bathed and dressed, and puffed with sweet violet powder, and sent out into the world to refresh tired eyes.

That was one of his courtship sayings, more than a year ago, when she was barely seventeen. She was eighteen now, and he was telling her she was an unnatural mother.

"Why, the child wouldn't have had its bib on, only I saw to it," he said, in a voice that increased in excitement as he dwelt on the enormity.

"Dear me," said Dot, "that was very careless of Peggie; I must really speak to her about it."

"I shall shake you some day, Dot," Larrie said, "shake you till your teeth rattle. Sometimes I can hardly keep my hands off you."

His brow was gloomy, his boyish face troubled, vexed.

And Dot laughed. Leaned against the fence skirting the road that seemed to run to eternity, and laughed outrageously.

Larrie stopped too. His face was very white and square-looking, his dark eyes held fire. He put his hands on the white, exaggerated shoulders of her muslin dress and turned her round.

"Go back to the bottom of the hill this instant, and pick up the child and carry it up here," he said.

"Go and insert your foolish old head in a receptacle for pommes-de-terre," was Dot's flippant retort.

Larrie's hands pressed harder, his chin grew squarer.

"I'm in earnest, Dot, deadly earnest. I order you to fetch the child, and I intend you to obey me," he gave her a little shake to enforce the command. "I am your master, and I intend you to know it from this day."

Dot experienced a vague feeling of surprise at the fire in the eyes that were nearly always clear, and smiling, and loving, then she twisted herself away.

"Pooh," she said, "you're only a stupid over-grown, passionate boy, Larrie. You my master! You're nothing in the world but my husband."

"Are you going?" he said in a tone he had never used before to her. "Say Yes or No, Dot, instantly."

"No," said Dot, stormily.

Then they both gave a sob of terror, their faces blanched, and they began to run madly down the hill.

Oh the long, long way they had come, the endless stretch of red, red road that wound back to the gold-tipped wattles, the velvet grass, and their baby!

Larrie was a fleet, wonderful runner. In the little cottage where they lived, manifold silver cups and mugs bore witness to it, and he was running for life now, but Dot nearly outstripped him.

She flew over the ground, hardly touching it, her arms were outstretched, her lips moving. They fell down together on their knees by their baby, just as three furious, hard-driven bullocks thundered by, filling the air with dust and bellowing.

The baby was blinking happily up at a great fat golden beetle that was making a lazy way up the wattle. It had lost its "comforter" and was sucking its thumb thoughtfully. It had kicked off its white knitted boots, and was curling its pink toes up in the sunshine with great enjoyment.

"Baby!" Larrie said. The big fellow was trembling in every limb.

"Baby!" said Dot. She gathered it up in her little shaking arms, she put her poor white face down upon it, and broke into such pitiful tears and sobs that it wept too. Larrie took them both into his arms, and sat down on a fallen tree. He soothed them, he called them a thousand tender, beautiful names; he took off Dot's hat and stroked her little curls, he kissed his baby again and again; he kissed his wife. When they were all quite calm and the bullocks ten miles away, they started again.

"I'll carry him," said Larrie.

"Ah no, let me," Dot said.

"Darling, you're too tired—see, you can hold his hand across my shoulder."

"No, no, give him to me—my arms ache without him."

"But the hill—my big baby!"

"Oh, I must have him—Larrie, let me—see, he is so light—why, he is nothing to carry."