"It's a Holy Terror," said Betsy Barnacle, the monthly nurse. "I never
heard such a baby. Scream and scream it does. And its little fists!"
"There ain't nothing wrong with it?" asked cook.
"Only it's a little Turk," said Betsy. "Goes stiff it does and if you
tried to stop it, there'd be convulsions. Hark at it now! You'd think it
would rupture itself."
The two women listened judicially. Their eyes met in a common wonder.
"I shouldn't have thought its father had it in him," said cook.
The baby grew into an incessantly active, bilious little boy with a large
white face, a slight scowl and the devil of a temper. He was a natural
born kicker; he went straight for the shins. He was also a wrist-twister,
but he bit very little. On the other hand he was a great smasher of the
cherished possessions of those who annoyed him, and particularly the
possessions of his brothers Samuel and Alf. He seemed to have been born
with the idea of "serving people out." He wept very little, but when he
wept he howled aloud, and jabbered wild abuse, threats and recriminations
through the wet torrent of his howling. The neighbours heard him. Old
gentlemen stopped and turned round to look at him in the street.
By the time he was seven or eight quite a number of people had asked:
"What can you do with a boy like that?" Nobody had found a satisfactory
solution to the problem. Many suggestions were made, from "Knock his
little block off," to "Give him more love."
Nowadays many people deny that the unpleasantness of unpleasant children
comes naturally. They say they are love-starved. His Aunt Julia, for
example, did. "You think so," said his mother, and did not argue about
it, because at times she was very doubtful indeed whether she did love
him. She was for a mother unusually clear-headed. She was affectionate
but she was critical. And what to do with him she did not know.
His name was Rudolf, not perhaps the wisest name to give a child, which
shortened naturally into Rudie, but which after he had heard of the
existence and world-wide fame of Mr. Kipling he insisted upon shortening
further and improperly--since it altered the vowel sound--into "Rud." He
was also called Young Whitlow, Whitlow Tertius, Wittles and Drink,
Wittles and Stink, Grub and simply The Stink. He objected strenuously to
the last and always attempted the murder of anyone not too obviously an
outsize who used it. It referred to some early accident in his career
which he desired to have forgotten.
His relations with his brothers were strained. Samuel was inclined to
mock and tease him--a perilous joy. He threw a dinner-knife across the
table at Samuel and nicked a bit off the top of his ear. Samuel had
either taken an overdose of mustard or, as Rud declared, twisted his nose
in such a way as to imply "Stink." The subsequent enquiry never settled
this. The ear bled copiously into Mrs. Whitlow's handkerchief and nobody
could imagine what would have happened if the knife had gone four inches
straighter. "Might have blinded me," accused Samuel, from under Mother's
arm. "Might have cut my eye clean out." It was a tremendous scene and Mr.
Whitlow, who disliked the job extremely, took little Rudie upstairs and
spanked him, calling him "You little Devil!" between each smack, and left
him in the bedroom.