The shadowy space under the bridge was an unlikely spot for a nursery. It belonged to the unwanted refuse of London. The midwife, fortyish in age but much older in life experience, wrinkles, and grey hair took a drag on a purloined smoke.
“So, do ye’ even want to know what it is?” The tiny wailing creature bundled in dirty rags lay on the icy stones between the midwife and his mother. The prone figure made a slight gesture and refused to turn her head to view the child.
The infant continued to cry. Grunts of displeasure emanated from the bridge’s denizens. No one however offered to pick him up or bother in any other way to provide the the most humble of human comforts.
The midwife looked away, smoke curling into the chilly evening air. Her work was done. The rest had been pre-arranged as usual.
A long while passed. The child’s crying changed to drained whimpers, ending at last in exhausted silence.
Finally the creaking sound of carriage wheels drew closer. On the road just beyond the bridge the carriage stopped and a man in a long black cloak stepped down. Leaning on a wooden cane, he descended the steps that wound down the side of the bridge abutment.
Approaching the midwife the man tipped his cap.
“Good day ma’am. A boy or a girl - dead or alive?” he asked gently.
“Boy; alive – it’ll be the customary charge sir.” The midwife was all business.
He reached into a pocket of his cloak and handed the woman a few shillings. The man then gestured toward the carriage and a young woman emerged engulfed in an oversized red woolen garment. After picking her way gingerly down the steps she joined the man and at a whispered word, knelt to gather the infant in her arms. Shushing him tenderly she returned to the carriage.
The man tipped his hat once more to the midwife and climbed the steps slowly.
At the top he stood and rubbed an arthritic knee. Reaching into an inner pocket of his cloak he retrieved a pipe and a packet of tobacco. He stood and smoked while he waited.
A few moments later the carriage door swung open and he went to it and stepped inside. The wheels creaked and they moved slowly toward town.
“This‘n ‘as hungry. ‘E took to ‘t quick too.” The child slept finally, lulled by a full belly and the warmth of the woman’s wool garment and the rocking carriage.
The gas lamp lighter was about his business by the time the wheels were clattering over cobblestones. The carriage drew to a stop before the doors of a red brick building. Over the door was a sign: Mercy House Orphanage.
“Thank ye’ again Louisa. We’re much obliged.”
“T’ain’t nothin’ sir. My Jake’ll still ‘ave plenty fer ‘is dinner. This’n got a place t’ go yet?”
“Aye, young couple down in Southampton. Infant boy died of the cholera.”
“Lord, ‘ave mercy. This’n ought’a be a comfort then. Another’n saved from them back street butchers.”
“Aye.” Smiling, he puffed silently and contentedly on his pipe as a couple emerged from the orphanage and loving hands reached to take the tiny boy home.
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