"Well, good morning, young man." David forced a smile. "Not a morning person, I see." He again gave a smile, but with a little more meaning.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep, Miss, it was rude; but I was really tired." Looking at him, she gave a smile, then asked him to the table, where there was a pot of tea and two cups.
"Help yourself to milk and sugar, young man."
"Thank you, Miss."
"What would you like for breakfast?" When she didn't get a reply, she suggested cereal. "Now, if you don't talk, how will I to know what my guest likes to eat?"
"Yes, Miss. Thank you." Despite his perfect manners, she had to find a way to break the formality.
"Please call me Beth, Miss is a little formal, don't you think?" To say he looked uncomfortable with this turn of events would be an understatement.
"Yes, Miss, err… Beth."
George listened in on the conversation a little surprised. Being the Lady of the Manor, so to speak, demanded respect, but it seemed that with this little miscreant she'd changed the rules. The little fellow was getting to her… he smiled.
George you may ask?
George was taken some five and a quarter years ago. He was taken to his resting place by what takes many... tiredness… old age.
He was ripe in yearly terms, but had survived a few more than he probably should have. However, it seems the great unknown was still not ready to; hmm.... scuttle the old boy. So, now he was marooned; but despite the 'not wanted' tag, George was as happy as a pig in mud. His remaining earthly dwelling could be nowhere other than with his sweetheart in life. Wanting this until they let him through the pearly gates was his only thought.
George, the Wiley old fox, is - or is that was? - the husband of Elizabeth, or his better half as he liked to call her. Seated at the far side of the table he watched the goings on. Though serious, he smiled at the way his beloved responded with care and concern for one so young. Watching while many expressions seemed to slip from the boy's face - his true love giving a different smile to everything that became sound from the young man. Without any argument from him, he knew Elizabeth was in her element, her glory… again being a mother.
"Please, Miss, it just doesn't seem right to call you by your first name. With respect, may I call you Ma'am?" His look gave a feeling that he'd broken a rule by speaking out.
George saw a look of respect, even bewilderment at his manner. She did nothing more than give a nod and a smile.
After breakfast was finished, David got up, taking the dishes to the sink to be washed-up. Elizabeth watched this with a smile on her face. Though impaired, he made the task look a lot simpler than it was. ""Thank you, David, that was very kind of you."
"It's only fair, Ma'am." She again smiled.
"Would you like a drink of milk?" A nod and a smile gave her the answer.
Gingerly, he followed Elizabeth into the lounge. Though debilitated, after some rest, he was you could say, light on his feet.
David was small for his age. At '3.8" he was, as he was told often, scrawny. His build was as his height, small. His features gave the look of an eight - year old child. Though he looked healthy, his looks gave her a feeling of depression.
"David, where are your parents?" He just looked without comment. Seeing the hurt, she didn't broach the subject again.
Though seeming there was distress she needed to get the boy to open up.
"Do you live in the village?"
"I live in Ipswich, Ma'am." She felt the hesitation as he answered.
"Ipswich? Well, you have travelled a long way." He gave a quick glance at Elizabeth as he picked up his milk. After taking a drink, he again looked at the lady, then quickly shifted his gaze.
She prompted him a little, hoping he would say more. "I live in the children's home," giving another quick look to see her reaction… she seemed not to have any concerns.
"I take it, this was not a sightseeing trip, then." David bent his head, guiltily staring into his lap. "Can you tell me why you ran away?"
She saw a tear enter his eye. Staring into his lap, "It's lonely, Ma'am… nobody wants a cripple. My best friend Billy was adopted, now I'm alone again." Though refusing to cry, he looked at Elizabeth with what looked like a challenge, a little uncertain that she was going to do the same. She felt a little numb, but tried to hold her feelings to herself.
"Can you tell me how you lost your leg?" She looked at the boy with hope on hope that he wouldn't get upset.
"It happened when I was a baby." 'What you never had, you never miss', she thought. There wasn't a hint of regret or complaint, which again was to his credit.
"Well, I would say that you get along just fine." He looked without making a comment.
"What did I do wrong, Ma'am?"
The comment didn't strike home straight away, but then... a little perturbed, she thought of how something so simple can cause such hardship. David sensed the change. At that moment, she felt his thoughts and quickly changed her expression. "David... you did nothing wrong," emphasising 'wrong'. " And you're not alone. I didn't turn you away, now did I? A body doesn't make a person. What's inside, how you treat people is what makes you who you are. You've had a raw deal, but you have a big heart." It seemed at that moment that big boys do cry.
Tentatively, he looked at the floor. "I'm sorry, Ma'am. I can't help it." Lifting his head, she smiled, then rested his head on her bosom.
Sitting in silence, Elizabeth finally came out of what was a tender moment. "David." He looked up in what seemed a daze. "You know I'm going to have to call the home, don't you?"
"Quiet now. They will have to take you back, and you must take your punishment for running away."
"But, Ma'am, can't I stay here? I won't be any trouble… I'll be good."
For as much as she would like that, she couldn't cope with a youngster at her time of life - could she? "David, look at me."
"Please, Ma'am. I promise I'll be good… I'll clean my room… I'll wash up… I'll even wash my own things."
The thought to be loved was not a proper thought for one so young. Nor is it a desire that should not be in anyone's mind.
"David, I'm not a spring chicken any more… I'm an old woman."
"Please, Miss." Within the nicety, there was a good boy. Even the looks she was getting were genuine.
"You have never looked so happy in a long time. Go for it woman… let me get some rest."
She looked up to the heavens in surprise. 'Am I going senile?' were her inner thoughts. He spoke to her again, pulling her out of her reverie. "George!"
"Are you alright, Miss?" She looked at the fear in his expression.
Nodding, she came to her senses. "I can't promise anything mind you, but I'll see what I can do." He squeezed her so hard that taking a breath came nigh to impossible… but it didn't matter. It seemed her motherly side was now in charge. Her boys were grown, but she knew in her heart of hearts that they would really like this little one - 'But!'
"Let's go and get you cleaned up." Taking her hand, he walked with her up the winding staircase. "Get yourself a good wash. I'll be downstairs when you're done." Giving him a towel from the airing cupboard she headed off toward the stairs.
Back in the lounge, she again looked up to the heavens. "You old fool; you're getting too old for this." She picked up the telephone and rang Edward. Not getting an answer, she rang his home.
"Mum, good to hear from you. I'm sorry I haven't been to the house, but things are busy at the moment. Is everything okay?"
"Yes, Edward, everything's fine. But I do need some help… and maybe some advice." Then she went through the details of the past twelve or so hours.
"Mother! What have you gotten yourself into," he said, with no way of hiding his surprise.
"I have your father telling me to... never mind. Son, I need to do something for the boy. He needs to be loved. He needs someone!" She said, venting her frustration. "If you could have only seen him, you..."
"Do you think you can manage? I mean it's a big step for someone your age."
"I am certainly not over the hill yet," she said, with some disquiet at the suggestion of her age. Feeling guilty for the answer she'd given the young boy. "As for being able to manage, I don't hear you or your brother complaining."
Feeling he'd been admonished. "Okay, Mother, I'm now free for the rest of the day. I'll be around early afternoon. Don't do anything till I get there. Okay?"
"Okay, but no reaction when you see him. And don't you feel sorry for him - I mean it, Edward."
"Okay, Mother. I promise."
"I Love you, Son," she said as the phone went silent.
Sensing movement, she turned, seeing David standing at the foot of the stairs. "My, aren't you handsome?" Blushing, he made haste, wrapping his arms around her waist.
"Thank you, Ma'am."
"Come on; let's see what treat we can find for lunch. Did you bring the towel down?" Once a mother…
"I folded it over the bath."
Just before one thirty, the doorbell rang. David, hearing the bell, walked a little toward Elizabeth, then stopped short of reaching her, feeling protection would be better at a distance. Standing within the confines of the door stood a man of maybe five foot eight. Edward wasn't your dress up kind of person - only when the choice was limited. His clothes, though casual, resembled someone who had just come back from watching a football match. Though they were clean and tidy, but didn't give off the same respectability of someone who was on the better side of gentry.
Walking over, he gave his mother a hug and a kiss on the cheek. David hesitantly stepped even further back from Elizabeth. Edward looked down at the young man, who was trying, but not succeeding, to hide himself. "Who do we have here?" David looked at the man apprehensively. "I don't bite… I've already eaten lunch." David gulped and took a deep breath.
"Does David have a surname?"
"Ward, Sir, David Ward."
"Well, David Ward, I'm Edward Whitmore, and I think you've already met my mother," at that he gave a warm smile, which seemed to put David a little more at ease.
"So, how old are you, my little friend?"
"You look a little small for eleven. A midget I would say." The comment upset David and at the same time made him mad.
"That's mean!" He said, giving an angry look to show how he felt about it.
"Feisty, as well." Seeing the looks he was getting, he stopped winding the poor boy up. "Only playing! Forgive me?" David looked at him still throwing darts. Holding his hands up, Edward asked where he came from.
"You've travelled a long way. Where do you live, David?" He watched as David slumped a little.
"Briarcroft? … I see. Do you get your schooling there?"
"Clever as well as feisty." There was a look of a smile. A compliment was David's first thought, but he wasn't sure. "Well, Mother, looks like you picked a smart one. Briarcroft is indeed an orphanage, but it's also private as of a few years ago. Expense was the key to keeping the buildings open. The orphanage is a mighty big place and the powers that be - big wigs - cut the budget. Rather than close, they merged with the school next door you might say. Being as the school is private; it's outside a lot of the government's tittle tattle rules." Showing his disdain of politicians. "As part of the merge, Briarcroft acquired two of the buildings supporting extra rooms, increasing its pupil numbers. The orphanage had four separate buildings housing male and female, and supporting different age groups to each building. An incentive to help the merger go through was added. All residents of the orphanage were at the end of each term screened for their abilities, unbeknownst to them of course. At the end of the final term, results were marked and checked to see if performance was consistent over the year, if so, they were enrolled as students. The standards were strict, but it seems there were more fitting for the chance than places that could be held open. No knowledge was ever given on either side of the divide. It was, on occasion, found out, but expulsion usually deemed that problem non-existent."
David listened to the man, but was deep in thought. Elizabeth turned around and tried to guide David forward. He trundled forward with little speed, and with a lot of apprehension. "David, he won't bite."
"David, I was only trying to put you at ease, but it seems I did the opposite. Forgive me? Can we start again?" David though apprehensive, moved with slightly more vigour, walked over and took his hand, getting a smile to ease the contact.
"Let's go sit down." After making sure everyone got comfortable, "David, I need to know as much about you as I can. Do you understand?" Giving a less than an agreeing nod, he began to tell Edward all about himself, other homes and foster parents he'd had. But he couldn't tell him anything about his mum and dad. "It seems you've been given a bad hand, but I'm going to try and change that, if you'll let me." Still not feeling sure of himself or his future, he answered with a low, but timid "yes," before again settling at the side of Elizabeth. "I don't know what I can do or how much, but I'll do everything I can. Okay?"
Thank you, Sir."
"Don't thank me yet, there are a lot of people to convince. And I'll need all of them along with me. But David, you have to trust me, okay. You may have to go back to the orphanage, but I'll be working hard to try and get you something better. You have two people on your side, and that's a good start. I won't give up on you, I promise. And it seems that my mother wouldn't let me." Going back was not what David had in mind.
The atmosphere was beginning to thin. Elizabeth, seeing this, offered a snack with hope it would lighten the mood a little, sending David off into the lounge and asking Edward to help in the kitchen. As milk was being poured, Edward asked about his dad. Whispering, "You were about to say my father wants you to take him in?"
"David had asked about staying here, and I wasn't so sure. Then there was a voice in my head…
'You have never looked so happy in a long time. Go for it woman, let me get some rest.'
It was your father's voice. I know that sounds crazy, and at the time, I thought I was going senile. But it was your father who spoke to me." Knowing his mother as he did, though unlikely to the point of extreme, if she says his father spoke to her, then it was more than probable that it was true. But he still had his doubts.
"They say there are more things in heaven and earth, so I guess you heard Dad." She turned, giving her son the inevitable kiss on the cheek, which went down the same as with all grown-up boys… like a lead balloon.
"Okay, David, I'm going to make some phone calls, and then we have to get you home." David didn't like the idea, but agreed. Seeing his look of distress, "Remember, you have to trust me."
Cambridge was the site to best describe Briarcroft. Though not in the same league, it was within a shadow of the grounds that graced the university. It was the perpetual straight sided 'U' with a vast lawn spread before it, if you looked to either side, as if going around to the back, where there were accommodations for students and residents alike.
I had heard and knew of the school, though I'd never, in truth, set eyes upon the site. And it was a little hard to fathom how with so many boys of, or around, the age of David, why anyone could possibly be lonely.
Before leaving the house, I'd made a few calls. One, to the staff on duty at the present site; and another one to the police, who at hearing from a QC, agreed they would speak to the boy when he returned to the orphanage. Social services was my third call. They seemed to be spending more care, time, and attention to processing paperwork, than they were to their charges.
After David pointed to which was his house, we strolled… no pampered our way inside. I say pampered as he, David, was still wholly apprehensive in being back. As we came to the steps, I had to hold David's shoulders with both hands, as I feared he may try and, as they say, make a run for it.
With more concern for pleasantries, I was introduced to an Edward Heard. The man's appearance had, as the years departed, seen better days. His manner was of a man who at will or persuasion got his own way.
"Good day, Mister Whitmore." Even the shake of his hand was cold. "Please come inside." With little concern shown to David, not even seeing him, or maybe he just wasn't noticed, he walked inside, leaving David distressed as he moved as slowly as possible. Turning, inviting me to pass him, he saw little movement by David and made his feelings known by just a look. This man had shown in less time than to take a breath, who, and how, his charges obeyed.
I was as in as much distress to the situation as was the scared little boy that hesitated and entered behind me. Offering tea and walking into what was his office, come accommodations, we sat in two not too comfortable leather chairs. After some thirty minutes, he actually took notice of his charge, David, by actually speaking to him. The spoken word gave a false pretence of what was actually said. The impression was even less of a good sign.
Looking with disdain at the man, I made my feelings known. "I can readily see why this boy feels so alone here. My intention was to bring the boy here with the pretence he was going to be looked after and cared for. I see no evidence of that and, furthermore, I will be reporting my findings to the governor, whom I know very well."
I had no respect for this Mister Heard; in fact, my blood was boiling. With no more than half an hour in his company, I had a feeling of going back to the early eighteen hundreds. The scene had relevance to 'Oliver'.
"Are you the regular attendant at this home?"
"Yes, my time is spread over the day. It's such a privilege to work with so many fine boys."
"If the reaction of David is a pointer, I am sure he, and definitely myself, would not agree. Your time has been spent flirting with me as to who I am and with concern no doubt, of what could ultimately be your reputation. In that time, never once bringing attention to this boy, and I would hazard a guess, any other boy in your care."
"Mister Whitmore, this orphanage, this school, is beyond accusations for care and attention."
"No doubt, but from my observations of this house, I would strongly suggest it differs from the other houses. David, I was made aware, ran away because he was, in his own words, 'lonely'. In a house of sixty, maybe seventy boys, and only one feeling left out had me thinking he was keeping himself apart because of his, shall we say, his situation, not to embarrass the boy. But after my time here, I would suggest that the boy doesn't commandeer your attention, because of his disability." He said, looking at David with some concern at his wording. "I will have this house investigated, and my findings will involve all the residents of this house. Be aware, Mister Heard, if I find discrimination, and what I suspect at this moment is cruelty, I will have you before the court without hesitation."
"Sir, you have no..."
Paying no concern to the man, but with all the will in the world showing restraint, I rose and departed from the room, with what looked like a very confused little boy following close behind. Outside, I took him by the hand and knelt down in front of him.
"David, I need you to be strong. I can't take you with me, but I will be back. If not today, then tomorrow." I looked at Mister Heard with defiance. Is it possible to take a sudden dislike to someone, hypothetically of course? Being a QC you tend to know people at a glance. I, myself, have dealt with many a shady criminal with the same characteristics as our Mister Heard. Looking at David, "Remember, David, you have to trust me." His smile gave little hope with a lot of uncertainty as he slipped my card into his pocket.
"You will be seeing more of me, Sir." I bade Mister Heard goodbye. Again, smiling at David, I removed myself from the building and shivered.