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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter I. Bert is Introduced

IF Cuthbert Lloyd had been born in the time of our great grandfathers, instead of a little later than the first half of the present century, the gossips would assuredly have declared that the good fairies had had it all their own way at his birth.

To begin with, he was a particularly fine handsome baby; for did not all the friends of the family say so? In the second place, he was an only son, which meant that he had no big brothers to bully him. Next, his birthplace was the stirring seaport of Halifax, where a sturdy, energetic boy, such as Cuthbert certainly gave good promise of being, need never lack for fun or adventure. Finally, he had plenty of relations in the country to whom he might go in the summer time to learn the secrets and delights of country life.

Now, when to all these advantages are added two fond but sensible parents in comfortable circumstances, an elder sister who loved little Cuthbert with the whole strength of her warm unselfish heart, and a pleasant home in the best part of the city, they surely make us as fine a list of blessings as the most benevolent fairy godmother could reasonably have been expected to bestow.

And yet there was nothing about Master Cuthbert’s early conduct to indicate that he properly appreciated his good fortune. He was not half as well-behaved a baby, for instance, as red-headed little Patsey Shea, who, a few days after his first appearance, brought another hungry mouth to the already over-populated cottage of the milkwoman down in Hardhand’s lane. As he grew older, it needed more whippings than the sum total of his own chubby fingers and toes to instil into him a proper understanding of parental authority. Sometimes his mother, who was a slight small woman, stronger of mind than of body, would feel downright discouraged about her vigorous, wilful boy, and wonder, half-despairingly, if she were really equal to the task of bringing him up in the way he should go.

Cuthbert was in many respects an odd mixture. His mother often said that he seemed more like two boys of opposite natures rolled into one, than just one ordinary boy. When quite a little chap, he would at one time be as full of noise, action, and enterprise as the captain of an ocean steamer in a gale, and at another time be as sedate, thoughtful, and absent-minded as the ancient philosopher who made himself famous by walking into a well in broad daylight.

Cuthbert, in fact, at the age of three, attracted attention to himself in a somewhat similar way. His mother had taken him with her in making some calls, and at Mrs. Allen’s, in one of his thoughtful moods, with his hands clasped behind him, he went wandering off unobserved. Presently he startled the whole household by tumbling from the top to the bottom of the kitchen stairs, having calmly walked over the edge in an absorbed study of his surroundings.

The other side of his nature was brilliantly illustrated a year later. Being invited to spend the day with a playmate of his own age, he built a big fire with newspapers in the bath room, turned on all the taps, pretending that they were the hydrants, and then ran through the hall, banging a dustpan and shouting “fire” at the top of his voice.

“He is such a perfect ‘pickle,’ I hardly know what to do with him, Robert,” said Mrs. Lloyd to her husband, with a big sigh, one evening at dinner.

“Don’t worry, my dear, don’t worry. He has more than the usual amount of animal spirits, that is all. Keep a firm hand on him and he’ll come out all right,” answered Mr. Lloyd, cheeringly.

“It’s easy enough to say, ‘Keep a firm hand on him,’ Robert, but my hand gets pretty tired sometimes, I can assure you. I just wish you’d stay at home for a week and look after Bert, while I go to the office in your place. You’d get a better idea of what your son is like than you can by seeing him for a little while in the morning and evening.”

“Thank you, Kate, I’ve no doubt you might manage to do my work at the office, and that my clients would think your advice very good; but I ’m no less sure that I would be a dismal failure in doing your work at home" responded Mr. Lloyd, with a smile, adding, more seriously: “Anyway, I have too much faith in your ability to make the best of Bert to think of spoiling your good work by clumsy interference.”

“It’s a great comfort to have you put so much faith in me,” said Mrs. Lloyd, with a grateful look, “for it’s more than Bert does sometimes. Why, he told me only this morning that he thought I wasn’t half as good to him as Frankie Clayton’s mother is to him, just because I wouldn’t let him have the garden hose to play fireman with.”

“Just wait until he’s fifteen, my dear,” returned Mr. Lloyd, “and if he doesn’t think then that he has one of the best mothers in the world, why—I’ll never again venture to prophesy, that’s all. And here comes my little man to answer for himself,” as the door opened suddenly and Bert burst in, making straight for his father. “Ha! ha! my boy, so your mother says you ’re a perfect pickle. Well, if you ’re only pickled in a way that will save you from spoiling, I shall be satisfied, and I think your mother may be, too.”

Mrs. Lloyd laughed heartily at the unexpected turn thus given to her complaint; and Bert, seeing both his parents in such good humour, added a beaming face on his own account, although, of course, without having the slightest idea as to the cause of their merriment.

Climbing up on his father’s knee, Bert pressed a plump cheek lovingly against the lawyer’s brown whiskers and looked, what indeed he was, the picture of happy content.

“What sort of a man are you going to make, Bert?” asked Mr. Lloyd, quizzingly, the previous conversation being still in his mind.

“I’m going to be a fireman,” replied Bert, promptly; “and Frankie’s going to be one too.”

“And why do you want to be a fireman, Bert?”

“Oh, because they wear such grand clothes and can make such a noise without anybody telling them to shut up,” answered Bert, whose knowledge of firemen was based upon a torchlight procession of them he had seen one night, and their management of a fire that had not long before taken place in the near neighbourhood, and of which he was a breathless spectator.

Mr. Lloyd could not resist laughing at his son’s naive reply, but there was no ridicule in his laugh, as Bert saw clearly enough, and he was encouraged to add:

“Oh, father, please let me be a fireman, won’t you?”

“We’ll see about it, Bert. If we can’t find anything better for you to do than being a fireman, why we’ll try to make a good fireman of you, that’s all. But never mind about that now; tell me what was the best fun you had to-day.” Thus invited, Bert proceeded to tell after his own fashion the doings of the day, with his father and mother an attentive audience.

It was their policy to always manifest a deep interest in everything Bert had to tell, and in this way they made him understand better perhaps than they could otherwise have done how thoroughly they sympathised with him in both the joys and sorrows of his little life. They were determined that the most complete confidence should be established between them and their only boy at the start, and Bert never appeared to such advantage as when, with eyes flashing and graphic gestures, he would tell about something wonderful in his eyes that had happened to him that afternoon.

By the time Bert had exhausted his budget and been rewarded with a lump of white sugar, the nurse appeared with the summons to bed, and after some slight demur he went off in good humour, his father saying, as the door closed upon him:

“There’s not a better youngster of his age in Halifax, Kate, even if he hasn’t at present any higher ambition than to be a fireman.”

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