|Eleanor Waters scurried along the path through the woods, pulling up her skirt around her ankles with one hand as she clutched the bundle tightly to her with the other. This wasn't how it was supposed to end! Her light, Summer affair turning into this mess! There was a small wail, and she snuggled the shawl further around her precious burden.|
She had been ill, and sent to her aunt's country home to convalesce. She had been bored out of her mind for about a month, and then...him
Her Lionel had seemingly sprung from nowhere, a nephew of one of her aunt's friends, just a short walk away. They had gone for tea at each other's houses, and met away from their aunts as well, secret meeting, discussing art - he was a painter, doing lots and lots of little country views - and music, theatre and literature.
He was dashingly handsome, enchantingly vivid, fast and dangerous and never quite in one place. As they talked and talked, Eleanor found herself slowly beginning to fall under his spell. She found herself breathless whenever he spoke, hanging onto his every word. And then, one day, he had taken her out, once she had quite recovered, and he had told her that he felt exactly the same way.
And so had begun a glorious affair. They had walked, caught trains to the nearby towns, kissed, down by the little stream, and, as the affair had grown more passionate, even...
One morning, Eleanor had woken up feeling "queer". Not a feeling she recognised, but rather like the cramps she had become used to experiencing once a month. She had no idea what was wrong with her, and so she wrote to her parents saying that she had had a relapse and would be staying until the Winter was over.
It was when her stomach had started to swell that Lionel disappeared. No note, no word of anything - just no more visits. His aunt said that he had moved on to paint other places. But she wondered if he had got word of her illness, and departed. Perhaps he didn't want her to give him the disease.
His reasons for leaving had become abundantly clear when the baby arrived. Her aunt had been angry, furious, ashamed, but, out of love for her niece, promised not to tell her parents. And so Eleanor was home: nearly home, anyway, back in Cornwall, and was hoping to get rid of the baby before Christmas.
She reached the door of the house, knocked, and went in. The baby stirred in her arms, and she looked down and saw her little girl gazing up at her through those big black eyes, just like Lionel's.
She was in the house of an old childhood mentor of hers, a Mr. Thomas Keate. Over a cup of tea, she told him the whole sorry tale. He gently patted her on the arm.
"Of course I'll look after her, Ellie, don't you fret." he told her. "I can't look after the kid, but I'll find someone who can. You get home now, Eleanor-baby."
Eleanor gently kissed the little forehead, and, reluctantly, handed the child over.
"Goodbye, my little one." she whispered, and then she was gone.
Eleanor was not the only person who recieved help and guidance from Mr. Keate. It was four months after he recieved the baby that he had a visit from a middle-aged man.
"Good afternoon, Major Bettany!" he said happily, showing his guest in and providing him with tea. "And how does life find you today? How's that afterthought of yours? How's baby Josephine?"
It was obvious from the way the Major slumped that this was the wrong question to ask. He shook his head, looking as though he had lived one hundred years of misery.
"The fever was too much for her. She died a few weeks ago. Obviously Margaret and I haven't been out much since then, and the twins have been very subdued." He shook his head again.
"On, dear! She was such a sweet little thing, too - all that fair hair, and those lovely blue eyes." responded Mr. Keate. "She'll be about the same vintage of the bairn my housekeeper's seeing to upstairs."
"You have a baby upstairs?" demanded the Major. "Surely not yours!"
"On, no - some lass got herself into difficulties if you know what I mean. She's a very quiet little babe."
"She does sound like our little Josephine." Then Major Bettany looked thoughtful. "We were thinking of taking an orphan. You know, to fill the gap. Could I see her?"
The deal was done quickly. After remarking that this child was so dark, whereas their daughter had been fair, he had had no qualms, and had taken to the girl instantly. He soon left with her huddled in his arms.
When he arrived home, he found his wife bent over the empty cradle, Madge and Dick sitting at her feet. He immediately went over to her, as his two children's eyes were instantly drawn to the newcomer into their home.
"Here, Margaret." he said softly to her. "A new little girl to love."
Then he laid her in the cradle, tucked her in. He would tell the girl of her adoption, one day, when she was old enough. But for now...
Margaret kissed the little forehead, a gesture of acceptance.
"Sleep well, Josephine."
There's not really that much potential for this - it's probably only going to be 500 words or so.