‘Oh, what a beautiful baby!’
Everyone is saying that! thought Madge, sitting gloomily on the stairs of the big Indian house. She’s not THAT pretty. I mean, no baby is THAT pretty. They all look like that fat politician who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, really. You can’t really go around saying that she’s a pretty baby, not when she’s still so small.
But, annoyingly, it was true. Her baby sister really WAS beautiful. Everyone had fallen in love with her - Papa and Mamma were head over heels, Papa’s boss at work had come round and had been so smitten he had had to stay for dinner, which he ate with one hand (the other being clasped around the little baby, whom he refused to relinquish even to her doting parents). Even Dick adored her - he spent all his time upstairs, hanging over her cradle and cooing at her. Only Madge, it seemed, saw her little sister for the monster that she really was.
‘I bet she isn’t really human,’ she said to herself. ‘I bet she ends in a tail or something. There’s definitely something wrong with her.’
When the visitor had gone, Madge got down from the stairs and went into her mother’s room. Mamma was bending over the cradle, putting the baby down to sleep, and she barely turned when her elder daughter said,
‘Mm. Yes, dear?’
‘Mamma, will you read with me tonight? We haven’t read anything together in ever so long.’
Mamma wasn’t listening! She was cooing over that brat again! Madge took another step forward and tried again.
‘Mamma? Will you read with me?’
‘What?’ Mamma half-turned, an irritable frown wiping some of the beatified expression from her face. ‘Oh, run away, Madge, do. Can’t you see I’m looking after the baby? Go and find something to play with, there’s a good girl.’
Madge did run, an angry catch in her throat. She ran so hard that, as she galloped off the last step and rounded the corner, she bumped headfirst into Dick, who was running in the opposite direction. He fell over backwards with a wounded yelp.
‘Watch where you’re going, ninny!’ he said, rubbing his head where he had bumped it.
‘Watch yourself!’ returned Madge. ‘You were running too. Where were you going to?’
‘Mumble bumble fum,’ said Dick, suddenly bashful, and Madge stared.
‘You what?’ she said, and he said, a little more clearly.
‘Going to see the baby.’
‘That brat? I wonder you’ve the time for her. She’s no fun at all, just a horrid little waste of space.’
‘She’s not!’ cried Dick. ‘She’s the most beautiful girl I ever saw - a thousand times prettier than you. You should be proud to be her sister, but you’re not - you’re jealous!’
Madge rose to her with dignity and stood aside with mock-courtesy, allowing her brother to pass.
‘Don’t let me stop you paying homage to our new queen,’ she said.
He trudged past her, hands in his pockets, affecting a nonchalance that neither believed, and as soon as he thought her back was turned he took them out of his pockets and dashed upstairs, eyes glowing and face alight with pleasure.
Madge went more slowly outside.
Everyone loves the baby, she thought. It’s not fair! She’s so pretty, and I’m not. No-one loves me any more.
When she went back inside she saw her mother going into her father’s study, and she seized her moment. She dashed up the stairs, into the nursery, and hung over the cradle, much as her brother had done earlier that afternoon.
There she was - the beautiful Baby Joey. A chubby face with skin pale and smooth, surrounded by soft black ringlets, and set into it were the biggest pair of blue eyes, all rimmed with thick black lashes. Her lips were a perfect rosebud, her nose tiny and delicate, and the little fists she waved towards her sister were round and smooth and fitted with the most adorable half moon nails ever seen. She looked up at her sister, all round-eyed innocence, and then she smiled and cooed and burbled in a way which had won the hardest hearts of their corner of the British Raj.
But there was one heart she would never win. Madge looked down at the fragile child, all sweet perfection, and her heart was hard as ebony.
‘You’ve been horrible since you got here,’ she said. ‘Nobody loves me any more. Well, I’m not going to put up with it any longer. One of us will have to go.’
And before a soul could stop her, she had snatched up the baby and had flung her out of the window onto the hard flagstones below.
The skull, she thought, made a very pleasant sound as it landed, rather like a melon smashing.