“What’s this?” exclaimed Tom Briggs, the gamekeeper of the Brightmoor Estate, when Bridie, his black Labrador, unearthed what appeared to be a pile of old rags. “Well, blow me, if it isn’t a child. What a sorry sight, to be sure!”
He looked around to check if the child was alone and, as there was no one else in sight, he picked him up and carried him the short distance to The Grange, Bridie yelping alongside him.
He pushed open the door of the large kitchen to find Nellie, the housekeeper, sitting at the table enjoying a snatched cup of tea with Freda. The cook was rather homely, but Nellie was dressed immaculately as usual in her black uniform, not a hair daring to peep from under her cap.
“What’ve you got there?” Putting down her cup she got up and went across to see what he was holding.
“It’s a scrap of a child I found down by the roadside. He seems in a bad way.”
“Give him here.”
Tom gently placed the murmuring boy in her arms.
“We need to get these wet clothes off him or he’ll catch his death of cold.” Freda hastily unbuttoned the child’s clothes and enfolded him in a warm blanket. “Poor little mite. I wonder who he is? I’ve never seen him before, have you?”
“Can’t say that I have.” Nellie peered at the child’s face. “I can’t see much beneath all that grime, but he doesn’t look familiar.” She turned to Tom. “Wasn’t there anybody with him?”
“No, I couldn’t see anyone.”
They all stood staring at the whimpering child, now swaddled like a new-born baby in the soft blanket.
“Let’s get him into a bed. We can use the yellow bedroom. Nobody ever goes in there nowadays,” the housekeeper suggested.
Tom opened the door for her and she carried the boy out. “What do you make of that then? Where can he be from?” Tom took his pipe out of his pocket and placed it between his lips. “And, more to the point, what are you going to do with him?” He put some tobacco into the pipe before striking a match on the hearth and lighting it.
The cook chopped up a block of salt on the table. “I’m not sure, but Nellie will know what to do. We’ll leave it in her capable hands.” She scooped the salt into an enamel bin. “Would you like a cup of tea to warm you up before you go back on your rounds?”
“I wouldn’t say no, and I don’t suppose there’s any of your fabulous seed cake to mop it up with? You know how partial I am to it.”
The cook’s round face beamed. “You’re lucky, there’s just one piece left.” After washing her salty hands, she disappeared into the pantry to fetch the cake.
As she re-emerged, Nellie’s voice could be heard through the cloud of grey smoke erupting from Tom’s pipe. “You can put that smelly thing out,” the housekeeper sputtered as she wafted the smoke away from her face.
“Sorry, I’m trying a new brand of baccy and it’s stronger than my usual one.” He tipped his pipe out onto the hearth. “How was the boy?”
“His breathing was easier when I tucked him up, and he’s sleeping now, so we’ll have to see how he is later, see if he can tell us anything.”
He stood up and brushed the crumbs from his coat. “Well, I’d better be off. It wouldn’t do for the master to catch me sitting here chatting. Do you think we should tell him about…?” He gestured with his head towards the ceiling.
“I don’t think so, not yet a while. Wait to see what we find out first,” replied Nellie. “He’s still not over losing young Freddy like that, so I don’t know what his reaction would be.”Click here to return to book