T’was always terrible busy in Boston that time of night with carriages and carts rattling past the house as everyone returned to their homes. And that made it doubly hard to hear the master’s coach arrive out front.
I’d looked for as many excuses as I could to escape the kitchen, but a kitchen maid has few reasons for being seen above stairs.
“Brigid, what are you doing girl?”
The voice made me start and I went back to scrubbing the stack of pots and pans I was meant to be washing.
Dear Lord, and if my heart was breaking, then what of the poor child? “Sorry Mrs Beecham. But I confess, my mind’s been a’wandering. How in God’s name will the little mite cope?”
Mrs Beecham plonked another pot down beside me on the wooden work bench. “That’s none of our business now, is it. The master has his ways. All you have to concern yourself with is doing what you’re told.”
A tear splashed into the sink. And where did that come from? I didn’t look up, just picked up the next pot and scrubbed where the meat had caught on the bottom. At least Mrs Beecham hadn’t scolded me for that like she normally would.
A hand closed over my arm and I looked around. Mrs Beecham’s eyes mostly accused. Never was there a cook so hard to please. But right now those eyes were soft as a dove’s. “We’re all feeling for the lad, Brigid. But give him a day or two and he’ll get over it. I’ve made him jelly and ice-cream as a special treat tonight. A few mouthfuls of that and he’ll be his old happy self again.”
“To be sure, he’ll be delighted with that, Mrs Beecham.”
“Course he will. Any child would be.”
‘Any child but this child,’ I wanted to add but I held my peace.
It said enough already that she was making him a special supper, considering she never liked Boo. Time and time again she’d fussed that dogs don’t belong in the house. Maybe she felt guilty? I looked at her afresh. Was it Mrs Beecham had complained to the master? Was that was this was all about?
The hallway clock chimed five and my heart plummeted. T’was a death knell, to be sure.
I looked toward the door, straining my ears, but there was still no sign of Mr Garret returning. The water in the sink was almost cold, and that felt about right for this house. When I have a child he’ll be having a dog—two if he wants it.
“Here, Brigid. Be done with that.”
I turned from the sink, drying my hands on my apron. “And what shall I be doing now, ma’am?”
“Take these up to the drawing room.” Mrs Beecham held out a bowl of candies.
My breath caught in my throat. “The drawing room, ma’am?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it. Now go. Hurry girl.” Then she pointed to the back of the door. “And you’d best don a fresh apron. You know how particular the master is.”
I put down the bowl, whipped off the apron I wore, then popped the fresh one over my head. Mrs Beecham tied the back for me as I rushed for the door. “Make sure you give one to the little master, won’t you.”
“I will, ma’am.”
Ordinarily I’d enjoy a treat like that. I liked the click clack my heels made on the black and white tiles once I got above stairs. We only had flagged stones below. But I scarced noticed that night. Any moment the master would be home.
With what Mrs Beecham would have branded ‘unseemly haste’ I rushed for the drawing room. Well, we still called it that, but it was the old one. The new drawing room where the mistress saw callers was at the front of the house, looking down upon Cambridge Street. Jim said she changed it so’s she could pick and choose who she chose to see when they came to call.
I knocked, but when there was no answer I opened the door and put my head in. The candles had already been lit and a fire roared in the hearth but there was no cheer in the woebegone little face that looked up at me, streaked with tears, his hair plastered and wet from where it had pressed against Boo’s side.
To be sure it felt like only yesterday when Jim and me found the bundle of white fur and bone peeking out from the wheels of the Master’s coach. T’was mortal cold that morning, with ice on the ground and a fine snow blowing through the air. Was it any wonder my heart went out to the little darling? So, in spite of Jim’s warnings about what the master would say, I scooped up the shivering mess, wrapped it in my woollen shawl, then brought it inside to get warmed by the kitchen fire. And there he was, tucked up next to the fire and peeking out from my brown shawl when the child first saw him. And surely t’was love between the two of them at first sight – two lonely souls needing a friend.
Boo’s tail wagged as soon as he saw me come in the drawing room, no doubt expecting me to produce a cookie from the pocket in my apron or a bone from behind my back, for he was a spoiled rascal, to be sure. I had to press my lips tight when I felt them tremble. “Not tonight, Boo. Remember I gave you extra last night.”
His tail wagged wildly enough to thump the ground.
The little master held onto him even tighter.
I stepped in further with my bowl of treats. “Mrs Beecham had me bring these up for you.”
The child didn’t even look at the candies. “Take them away, Brigid. I don’t want them.”
I couldn’t say as I blamed him. I’d have no appetite for them either. And it was likely the ice cream and jelly would be treated the same way.
I don’t know how I never heard the carriage when it drove up – considering I’d been listening the last two hours – but the door opened of a sudden and the master strode in. I forgot to curtsy I was so intent on watching his face. Surely once he saw the little fellow he’d change his mind?
“Well, you’ve said your goodbyes I take it?” The master held the day’s mail in his hand and not once did he look up to see the effect his words had.
The child stood with the dog in his hands. I thought for sure he’d be after begging just one more time, but he walked with dry eyes across to Jim who stood behind the master. “You make sure Boo goes to a good home, won’t you, Jim.” The voice went up just a touch on the last word. “He needs someone like me to play with or he’ll get awfully sad.”
Jim pulled at his collar, then coughed into his fist, then rubbed his hands together. But he couldn’t put things off forever. So, finally, he took Boo from the child. At first I thought the master was going to tell Jim to leave straight away but at the last minute a look passed between them and he nodded at Jim to speak.
“Don’t you worry, lad. I’ll be sure Boo finds a happy home.”
Jim, bless him, gave a tiny shrug in my direction, bent down for the child to run a hand over the dog one last time, and then he was gone.
And so was Boo.
I wanted to scoop the boy up in my arms, just like my ma did to me when I was grieving but I could hardly do that with the master there. And is it a heart he has if all he can do is busy himself with opening one of his letters and reading through it when his own child’s heart is breaking?
“He’ll be happy, won’t he?” It was a very small voice that asked that question.
The master took a step closer and ruffled the head of blond hair. “Remember what I told you. There’s no sentimentality in business.”
And what did business have to do with a child’s heart? Did you ever hear such baloney? It wasn’t a business he was running, but a home.
The master’s eyes went back to his letter. “Things will run smoother now, my boy. You’ll get your schoolwork done without distractions. I’ll have Jim take you to the city tomorrow. You can pick out a goldfish.”
Mr Garret finally noticed me in the room. “Brigid?”
I curtsied, keeping my eyes lowered longer than usual lest he saw the murder in my heart. “Mrs Beecham asked me to bring these up.” I held out my bowl of candies.
Mr Garret took one look at them then waved them away. “Not before supper. Mrs Beecham should know better than that.”
And so I left them – Mr Garret starting on another letter while the child stood stiffly at attention in the middle of the room.
I was extra late to bed that night. Mr Garret liked to entertain. It was good for business he said. Even when the child’s world had fallen apart.
Jim was waiting for me in the hallway to women’s quarters but even the sight of him didn’t cheer me up. Sometimes I let him kiss my cheek but he must have known better to ask that night when he took one look at my face. I let him put his arms around me instead.
“There, there,” he cooed.
“That poor mite. I can’t believe how heartless the master can be.”
“Well, it ain’t for me to speak ill of the hand that feeds me, but you better believe it, missy. There ain’t a soft part to him. Not even the marrow in his bones.”
“At least you were able to put Boo in a nice home.”
Jim shifted his feet and my world shifted at his silence. “You did find a good place for Boo didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
Jim let go of me and took a step back. “Now don’t get mad, Brigid darling. You know I have to do like I’m told.”
Mary, mother of God, I was ready to weep.
“Jim Barkly, you tell me what you did with that dog.”
I could scarce see as I walked the ten steps to my room. I was all but undone as I finally opened my door.
“Brigid?” a bundle on my bed said.
He’d tucked himself under my blankets, which was just as well because it was so cold in my room that his breath hung in the air.
“Whatever are you thinking, coming down here my young one?”
He simply held out his two hands. I took him in my arms and held him fast.
“Cry it out. Cry it all out, now.”
“I want my Boo. I want my Boo.”
Bless the child, my tears blended with his and we cried together. No-one was going to be playing with Boo ever again. Nor would Jim Barkly ever get another kiss from me.
And what was I to say to the child? “I know t’is hard and cold comfort to be sure but life will deal you plenty of other blows, some far worse than this.”
He sat up, and pushed himself away from me, wiping the tears from his face with the back of his hand. “I hate him.”
“Oh, hush child.”
“I do. I hate him. And I’m never going to let anyone take anything away from me ever again.”
I stared at him. Six years old he well may be, but I knew he meant it. And I saw nothing but a world of pain and hurt for the child.
Once he’d gone back to his room, I undressed and got into bed. I couldn’t sleep. In the end, I relit my candle, threw a shawl about my shoulders and sat up in bed, hugging my knees.
Sometimes the future seems a long way off, but that night I could surely see right into the very heart of it.
Oh gracious. What had the master done? I could see the child’s future all so clearly.
Heaven help anyone who tried to cross Harlan Garret when he grew up—or who attempted to take something from him that he loved.