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
"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
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
"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
"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!"
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.