Ominous Baby.

Stephen Crane

   A babyY was wandering in a strange country. He was a tattered child with a

frowsled wealth of yellow hair. His dress, of a checked stuff, was soiled

and showed the marks of many conflicts like the chain-shirt of a warrior.

His sun-tanned knees shone above wrinkled stockings which he pulled up

occasionally with an impatient movement when they entangled his feet. From a

gaping shoe there appeared an array of tiny toes.

   He was toddling along an avenue between rows of stolid, brown houses. He

went slowly, with a look of absorbed interest on his small, flushed face.

His blue eyes stared curiously. Carriages went with a musical rumble over

the smooth asphalt. A man with a chrysanthemum was going up steps. Two

nursery-maids chatted as they walked slowly, while their charges hob-nobbed

amiably between perambulators. A truck wagon roared thunderously in the


   The child from the poor district made way along the brown street filled

with dull gray shadows. High up, near the roofs, glancing sun-rays changed

cornices to blazing gold and silvered the fronts of windows. The wandering

baby stopped and stared at the two children laughing and playing in their

carriages among the heaps of rugs and cushions. He braced his legs apart in

an attitude of earnest attention. His lower jaw fell and disclosed his small

even teeth. As they moved on, he followed the carriages with awe in his face

as if contemplating a pageant. Once one of the babies, with twittering

laughter, shook a gorgeous rattle at him. He smiled jovially in return.

   Finally a nursery maid ceased conversation and, turning, made a gesture

of annoyance.

   "Go 'way, little boy," she said to him. "Go 'way. You're all dirty."

   He gazed at her with infant tranquillity for a moment and then went

slowly off, dragging behind him a bit of rope he had acquired in another

street. He continued to investigate the new scenes. The people and houses

struck him with interest as would flowers and trees. Passengers had to avoid

the small, absorbed figure in the middle of the sidewalk. They glanced at

the intent baby face covered with scratches and dust as with scars and

powder smoke.

   After a time, the wanderer discovered upon the pavement, a pretty child

in fine clothes playing with a toy. It was a tiny fire engine painted

brilliantly in crimson and gold. The wheels rattled as its small owner

dragged it uproariously about by means of a string. The babe with his bit of

rope trailing behind him paused and regarded the child and the toy. For a

long while he remained motionless, save for his eyes, which followed all

movements of the glittering thing.

   The owner paid no attention to the spectator but continued his joyous

imitations of phases of the career of a fire engine. His gleeful baby laugh

rang against the calm fronts of the houses. After a little, the wandering

baby began quietly to sidle nearer. His bit of rope, now forgotten, dropped

at his feet. He removed his eyes from the toy and glanced expectantly at the

other child.

   "Say," he breathed, softly.

   The owner of the toy was running down the walk at top speed. His tongue

was clanging like a bell and his legs were galloping. An iron post on the

corner was all ablaze. He did not look around at the coaxing call from the

small, tattered figure on the curb.

   The wandering baby approached still nearer and, presently, spoke again.

"Say," he murmured, "le' me play wif it?"

   The other child interrupted some shrill tootings. He bended his head and

spoke disdainfully over his shoulder.

   "No," he said.

   The wanderer retreated to the curb. He failed to notice the bit of rope,

once treasured. His eyes followed as before the winding course of the

engine, and his tender mouth twitched.

   "Say," he ventured at last, "is dat yours?"

   "Yes," said the other, tilting his round chin. He drew his property

suddenly behind him as if it were menaced. "Yes," he repeated, "it's mine."

   "Well, le' me play wif it?" said the wandering baby, with a trembling

note of desire in his voice.

   "No," cried the pretty child with determined lips. "It's mine! My ma-ma

buyed it."

   "Well, tan't I play wif it?" His voice was a sob. He stretched forth

little, covetous hands.

   "No," the pretty child continued to repeat. "No, it's mine."

   "Well, I want to play wif it," wailed the other. A sudden, fierce frown

mantled his baby face. He clenched his thin hands and advanced with a

formidable gesture. He looked some wee battler in a war.

   "It's mine! It's mine," cried the pretty child, his voice in the treble

of outraged rights.

   "I want it," roared the wanderer.

   "It's mine! It's mine!"

   "I want it!"

   "It's mine!"

   The pretty child retreated to the fence, and there paused at bay. He

protected his property with outstretched arms. The small vandal made a

charge. There was a short scuffle at the fence. Each grasped the string to

the toy and tugged. Their faces were wrinkled with baby rage, the verge of


   Finally, the child in tatters gave a supreme tug and wrenched the string

from the other's hands. He set off rapidly down the street, bearing the toy

in his arms. He was weeping with the air of a wronged one who has at last

succeeded in achieving his rights. The other baby was squalling lustily. He

seemed quite helpless. He wrung his chubby hands and railed.

   After the small barbarian had got some distance away, he paused and

regarded his booty. His little form curved with pride. A soft, gleeful smile

loomed through the storm of tears. With great care, he prepared the toy for

travelling. He stopped a moment on a corner and gazed at the pretty child

whose small figure was quivering with sobs. As the latter began to show

signs of beginning pursuit, the little vandal turned and vanished down a

dark side street as into a swallowing cavern.