The Foundling

By Angeline Hawkes-Craig

Cold wind curled its icy fingers around the walls with blasts of snow and snow-laden gusts. The only thing white in the dreariness of the soot-blackened alley was the snow that had not yet hit the cobblestones. The pale brick walls, square and uniform, were streaked with ice rivulets and ice streams that had frozen from water dripping down the walls in steady paths. It was dark. The one dim lantern swaying in the wind, hung from the iron ring, did little to light the doorstep. Even that poor excuse for light was in danger of being snuffed out by the gales of death cold wind.

The large basket hung empty outside of the Foundling Hospital. The bell tinkled in the blasts of wind, but no one peeked through the window pane to see if a baby waited there - huddled in a bundle of rags, wrapped in cast-off clothes like the throw away item the baby had become. Not all of the babies were unloved or unwanted. Sometimes the wretched of the city, too poor to afford a proper burial would leave their precious dying children in the basket to be nursed until the end and then buried at the hospital's expense. How many wailing women had been dragged away from spending their baby's last few moments holding that little life in their arms all because they lacked the resources to bury the pathetic child in the end? No questions were asked of those leaving their infants or small children huddled in the basket. All babies were taken, and loved as much as an institutional setting would allow until a home could be found for the unfortunate babe.

The lantern blew out in one whoosh of wind. Darkness enveloped the already dark alley. The steps to the door were just a slight glow in the faint whisper of light set off from inside of the hospital.

The bell rang sharply - again and again.

"Damn. Mary! Check the basket." Mrs. Nelson called out to the young girl stoking the fire."

"Jest the wind, Mum. No one would be daft enough to leave a babe on this kind of night!" Mary poked the log with the iron poker and wiped her sooty hands on her apron.

The bell rang noisily and persistently out in the darkened street.

"Mary!" Mrs. Nelson bellowed again.

"I'm goin', I'm goin'. I'll look to it!" Mary grumbled and kept grumbling down the hall and into the cold, open foyer. She cracked the door a bit bracing herself against the anticipated blast of wind.

"Bugger me! There's a baby out 'ere!" Mary yelled from outside as she ran to fetch the huddled babe from the ice covered basket.

Mrs. Nelson came waddling down the hall as fast as her fat haunches would propel her. "Alpheus! Fetch some warm things! 'Lizabeth, pour some warm water into the basin!" She barked her orders as Mary struggled back indoors, slamming the door behind her with a bump of her ample backside while cradling the chilled babe in her arms.

"Mite's 'alf frozen!" Mary pulled back the rags the baby was wrapped in to reveal a porcelain white baby - as white as the falling snow.

"Get him to the kitchen." Mrs. Nelson again bellowed, assuming the baby was a he.

Mary raced him to the kitchen where Elizabeth had a basin of warm water set before the blazing fire. She peeled off the layers of tattered rags one at a time. Finally she peeled back the last piece of rough woven linen to, astonishingly enough, reveal a rich burgundy velvet blanket trimmed in black fox and bearing gold tassels at each corner.

Mary stopped for a minute. "Well, what do ye make of that?" She asked aloud, and then whistled at the finery from between her teeth.

Mrs. Nelson's eyebrows flew up in a flash, "Odd." She muttered.

Mary unfolded the velvet blanket to reveal a smartly dressed baby in a fine white lawn shift with delicate embroidery around the hem and neck. Tied around the baby's midsection was a gilded cross.

"Mum, there's a note 'ere." Mary handed the parchment to Mrs. Nelson as Mary could neither read nor write.

Mrs. Nelson read it silently, then muttered, "Odd", once again.

"What does it say?" Mary questioned impatiently.

Mrs. Nelson looked over the edge of the parchment, down her long, straight nose and into Mary's blue eyes and frowned. "It says: Remove not the cross."

Mary frowned as well. "That's it?" She asked.

"That is it. Whatever do they mean, I wonder. Of course we have to remove the cross, can't very well let the little bastard run around all his life with a cross strapped to his bosom." Mrs. Nelson knit her brows together closely.

Mary continued to undress the baby and handed the gilded cross to Mrs. Nelson (who slipped it into her apron pocket) before pulling the white gown from the baby. "'Igh quality this shift is." Mary commented and laid the little shift on the table away from the splashing water, and next to the pile of rags and the velvet blanket.

"What gent would off an' leave 'is babe on the doorstep of a charity 'ospital?" Mary wondered aloud.

"One who has been up to no good, apparently." Mrs. Nelson said before tut-tutting at the shame of it all.

"'E seems to be well cared for. Plump and pretty this one." Mary said smiling at the baby who was now cooing in the comfort of the warm water.

"Well, I'll go write him down in the books. We'll call him George, Little royal babe!" Mrs. Nelson chuckled at her bit of humor. "You bathe him and dress him, and take him to the ward with the other his age."

Mary smiled. "Aye. Will do, Mum." She continued to pour the warm water over little George.

She washed behind his ears and went to wipe the water from around his eyes with her fingers, when she brushed against his little ruby lips. "Ow!" Mary hollered.

Elizabeth looked up startled, "Is it?" She asked sleepily.

"Little bugger bit me!" Mary screeched, blood welling up from the slice in her finger.

"'E got teeth?" Elizabeth questioned somewhat shocked.

"Bastard 'as little daggers for teeth it seems." Mary \xamined her finger while holding onto the squirming baby with her other hand.

"Goodness!" Elizabeth wrapped a rag around Mary's gushing finger. "Bit you 'ard, 'e did!"

Mary peered closer at George's mouth. She wanted to pull back his pouty lips and have a look at his teeth, but fear of being bit again discouraged her. She wrapped her fingers in rags and then grasped his lips. There they were - gleaming knife sharp fangs protruding from his tiny pink gums.

"Mother Mary!" Elizabeth uttered as she looked over Mary's shoulder.

"What the devil?" Mary gasped and then added, "Go get Mrs. Nelson."

Elizabeth closed the kitchen door behind her and walked down the dim corridor to Mrs. Nelson's room. She knocked.

"Come in." Mrs. Nelson said in a tired tone of voice.

Elizabeth cracked the door a bit. "Don't mean to disturb you, Mum, but Mary 'as discovered something most peculiar about George. She told me to fetch you."

Mrs. Nelson frowned, heavy lines rippling across her heavy face; but, sitting down her quill and capping her ink, she got up and followed Elizabeth.

They walked silently through the corridor so as not to wake the other sleeping children. Elizabeth opened the kitchen door and quietly closed it behind them again. As she turned around she saw Mrs. Nelson mutely standing frozen staring at the ghastly scene before them.

Mary's body was sprawled bloodily across the floor before the fire. Nude, plump baby George, gore-smeared, with blood trickling from his open mouth and blood spurting from the savage gash torn into Mary's throat, was sitting on Mary's crimson bosom.

Mrs. Nelson stared at the abhorrent scene.

"My God!" Elizabeth cried loudly and her hand flew to cover her open mouth.

George looked in their direction, squinted up his eyes, and began to wail.

"What do we d-d-d-do?" Elizabeth stuttered.

"Get the baby." Mrs. Nelson said hoarsely.

"I'm not touching that monster! 'E be the devil's own child!" Elizabeth gasped in horror.

"Remove not the cross." Mrs. Nelson said suddenly.

"Twas a warning." Elizabeth whispered.

"Aye. We have to put the cross back on that child." Mrs. Nelson pulled it from her apron pocket.

"Need to kill the little bastard, if you ask me!" Elizabeth stated.

"I didn't ask you." Mrs. Nelson said calmly. "You grab the baby, and I'll bind the cross back on his chest." Mrs. Nelson ordered.

Elizabeth looked skeptical.

"The cross must be replaced!" Mrs. Nelson hissed.

"What if 'e bites me? 'E bit Mary before she sent me to fetch you." Elizabeth said fearfully.

"We'll be quick about it." Mrs. Nelson had the cross and the binding strip of linen ready. "On my mark then?"

Elizabeth nodded.


Both ladies plunged towards the bloody baby and setting hold to him, bound the cross around his midsection firmly.

"Poor Mary!" Wailed Elizabeth.

"This baby has to be destroyed." Mrs. Nelson said coldly.

"What? You mean kill 'im?" Elizabeth asked wide-eyed. "I wasn't serious when I said that before!"

"It is evil. Should have been left at the church door, not here." Mrs. Nelson tugged the shift over the baby's head and pulled it through the bound cross and linen, so that the shift ended up underneath of the gilded cross in a puffy sort of way. She watched as the little beast's cherubic curls sprang up here and there again.

"Fetch Willie." Mrs. Nelson said to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth nodded and left. She came back with Willie, the handy man, jack-of-all-trades they boarded and employed. Willie was a simpleton who had been raised at the hospital himself. He was more child than man - trapped in an adult body with the mind of a boy.

"Willie." Mrs. Nelson said calmly. "I need you to take this basket of old rags down and throw it into the river. Can you do that for me?" Mrs. Nelson asked with a smile.

Willie smiled proudly. He was always proud to be entrusted with a chore by Mrs. Nelson. "Yes, Mum. Right away, Mum."

"Now, you go straight to the river, toss it all in, basket and all. Then you come straight back home. It's freezing out there and you'll catch your death. Come straight home." Mrs. Nelson pointed a finger at Willie.

"Yes, Mum. Straight home. Basket in the river. Come straight home." Willie said in a childish sing-songy voice.

Mrs. Nelson walked with him to the door and patted him on his big square back.

"Straight home." She admonished again.

Willie trudged out into the swirling snow, basket in one hand, lantern swinging in the other.

"What if 'e cries?" Elizabeth asked closing the door.

"Won't. I gave him a sleeping draught while you were fetching Willie. Should sleep his way into Hell." Mrs. Nelson grunted.

"Tis murder, Mum." Elizabeth whispered.

"It murdered Mary most foul! It isn't a baby, girl. That's a monster. Something evil. A beast borne from Satan's loins, if any!" Mrs. Nelson grasped Elizabeth firmly by the shoulder. "Come. We've poor Mary's body to tend to."

Willie tramped through the frozen sludge and through the cold stench of the icy streets toward the putrid smelling river. Losing his footing, he slipped on the ice-covered street. His hand flew into the basket and collided with something hard. He dug through the rags and soon revealed the sleeping baby.

"Baby?" Willie asked fumbling to sit up and retrieve his lantern. He held the light up to the basket near where the baby lay sleeping in the nest of rags.

Willie saw the gilded cross gleaming in the lantern light. "Gold?" He asked aloud through blackened teeth.

Willie scooped up the basket and the lantern and ducked into the closest doorway to figure out this mystery with his slow-churning brain. Willie's simple mind worked very slowly and his gears up there just couldn't quite make sense out of anything so far.

"Mrs. Nelson asked me to kill the baby? Throw the basket into the river. Come straight home." Willie repeated his orders, teeth chattering. "Straight back. Go straight back. Back home." He frowned.

"Kill is murder. Murder is bad." Willie wrestled with his boyish mind. "Reverend says kill is wrong. Sin. Willie would burn in Hell for kill."

Willie looked at the sleeping baby again. Suddenly an idea formed in his dim brain. There was another charity hospital across town. He'd leave the baby there. No one would know. Not even Mrs. Nelson. He'd seen hundreds of women do it. Put the baby on the step, or in the basket, and run away.

Willie felt proud of himself for this revelation and he gathered up the basket of baby and his lantern and trudged towards the other hospital. He had made the trip several times before. Delivering supplies, collecting supplies. The two hospitals often aided each other in their collective effort to relieve the suffering of the unfortunate.

Willie saw the looming building before him and fought his way through the biting cold wind to the steps of the charity hospital. He placed the baby in the basket on the steps and turned to go. Turning slowly back to the baby he looked one more time at the gold cross tied to the baby's chest.

He had never had anything gold. He had always been poor Willie, cared for by the hospital and by Mrs. Nelson. He rarely had any money to spend on what he would like to buy. He would like to buy Mrs. Nelson a ribbon. He could buy some nice things with gold. Sweets. He loved sweets! Willie smacked his lips. He could almost taste the sugary confections melting on his tongue.

He slowly slid the cross out from beneath the linen band that bound it there, careful not to wake the baby. "Straight home." Willie whispered as he slipped the gilded cross into his tattered pocket.

A scream sounded in the darkness. The door was thrust open to reveal a young girl in the midst of depositing a bundled baby on the steps, next to a basket with a sleeping, blood smeared baby and a much butchered body of a husky man.

The girl thrust the baby into the arms of the startled woman who was standing on the steps and dashed into the dark street.

The woman and man, who had opened the hospital door, stood staring at the gruesome image laid out on their doorstep.

"Is the babe..." The woman hesitantly began.

The man hovered over the bloodied babe. "No. He's alive. Sleeping covered in blood, but no injuries. Not like the poor bloke there." He nodded towards the bleeding man stretched out in the snow.

"Someone must have killed him while he was leaving the baby." The woman shook her head. "But why?"

"What sort of a beast would kill a man like this?" The man rolled the dead man over to reveal a mangled mass of pulp and shredded skin and muscle where once his throat had been.

"Blessed Mary." The woman gasped.

"Best send for the authorities." The man stood up and picked up the basket with the sleeping baby.

"Need to clean that poor mite off." The woman nodded to the basket and went inside still clutching the other hapless baby.

The man stopped and surveyed the dead man one last time, and head shaking, turned to follow his wife inside.

The soft glow from the street lanterns fell upon the sleeping baby, whose eye's flashed open and pursed lips revealed a gleam of pearly white, bloodied teeth.

"Let's get you washed off now, shall we?" The man clucked to the babe in the basket and closed the door to the freezing street behind them.

The End

Copyright © 2002 by Angeline Hawkes-Craig

Angie lives in Rowlett, Texas. She is married and has two children. She is a member of The Writer's League of Texas. Her novel, The Swan Road, was published in September. For more information, please visit her web-site.



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