We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
‘I’m telling you, it isn’t mine!’
Bunter looked from the naked infant currently occupying the Chesterfield to his employer’s eldest nephew and raised a sceptical eyebrow.
‘Honestly,’ protested Lord Saint-George. ‘I know it’s not completely implausible, and its hair is the right sort, but I have got a sense of self-preservation. Besides, I’m no expert, but this one looks pretty new to me. It’s very small, and what is that?’
‘I believe it is the cord stump, my lord.’
‘Well, nine months ago – and ten months ago and eight months ago - I was in America. It can’t possibly be mine. Come to that where were you nine months ago?’
‘In France,’ said Bunter chillingly, ‘with his lordship and her ladyship.’
‘Hmm. So that rules him out, too. Good thing really, it’d be a bit tough on Aunt Harriet, all things considered. Spare me the affronted look, it’s not like he hasn’t been around a bit in his time though I wouldn’t expect him to be careless. Let’s have a look at the letter again.’
Bunter produced a neatly folded letter and envelope.
Dear sir, Please take care of my baby. Her name is Margaret. I know that I have not been a good girl and deserve my shame, but your lordship was not to know, and I leave her with you knowing as how a gentleman like you will think of your obligations and not hold the poor mite’s mother against her, and will raise her decent and not put her in one of them horrible homes. May God bless your kindness.
‘Was that all that was with it?’
‘Yes, my lord. It was on tucked into the blanket containing the infant when I made the discovery.’
‘It sounds to me like she’s been reading too many cheap novels. Does anyone really talk like that these days – all Thomas Hardy shame and mites and things? I’ve never heard it.’
Bunter looked thoughtfully at the note.
‘Nor I, my lord. Moreover, I venture that any young person whose literary inclinations did lie in such a direction would not be likely to write them on paper costing 10 shillings for a dozen sheets.’
‘She might be a servant and have pinched it.’
‘It would have required some forethought. A servant would have been dismissed some months ago.’
‘True enough. But look here, isn’t that the sort of dent left by a cuff-link? It looks like my letters to Mother when I’ve had to stop and think about a tactful bit in the middle.’
‘It is indeed my lord.’
‘A compliment about detective genius running in the family wouldn’t go amiss, you know. So in sum we have a baby of unknown origin and a bloke – possibly – trying to get rid of it. Maybe it’s an embarrassment to him, or perhaps it was available and he thought he could use it to embarrass Uncle Peter. I don’t think Aunt Harriet would refuse to believe him if he denied responsibility even if he hadn’t been in France, but the bloke isn’t to know that.’
‘It is an intriguing hypothesis, my lord.’
‘Isn’t it? We’ve got six hours before Uncle Peter gets back. It’s not quite how I’d planned to spend them, but it would be a coup to solve his case for him. He might even forgive that last solicitor’s letter.’
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