David came back from the bathroom, halting at the top of the stairs. Though still tired, he had the urge to go to the study. He slowly made his way down the circled stairway, stopping short of the large wooden doors - shivering as he stood; his single foot cold from the marble flooring.
Earlier that evening, he'd sat in this same room hoping. But the room had remained silent. As quietly as possible, he opened the doors and stepped inside, feeling the carpet like silk as he stepped onto it. He entered farther into the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. To the left of the door stood a small table lamp - pushing the switch gave some light, but didn't dispel the eerie feeling. As with earlier, he sat in the same armchair he'd sat in on his last excursion in the middle of the night. He was hoping, though a little scared, that whoever it was who spoke to him would again.
The bottom half of his pyjamas clung to him as he felt a chill, at that moment wishing he was wearing the top half. As he slipped back into the armchair, the leather eased onto his skin. Sitting farther back, he had the feeling of a sticking plaster being removed.
Time went by with no more of a sound than the second hand as it methodically did a circle of the clock. Getting up, he hobbled over to one of the enormous windows. Though dark, the burgundy curtains were warm and inviting. Opening one side of the curtains, he gazed outside - though blackness was his vision, his memory saw water as it cascaded up into the air, and its sounds as it pooled within the fountains. Then suddenly, he felt a warmth that at that moment could not be from the inside of the room.
As he turned to return to the armchair, a voice, as before, spoke to him. As embarrassed as he would be later, he landed on the carpet backside first. Cussing, he pulled himself up by using the little ornate table that was eclipsed by the bookcase that stood on the left side of the window. Though unseen, George smiled at his indiscretion.
"Did you come to see me with curiosity of who I may be?" David had a combined look of anger and upset.
David, being surprised at his first sight of the figure that up till now was just a voice, fell again on his backside with a loud thud.
Trying to hold his amusement, George couldn't help but laugh at the sight that sat before him. David again worked his way back up to his full posture… his face red with a mixture of emotions. George turned and walked back to his comfortable armchair before David had the inclination to claim it.
David stood, a crutch under his left arm, never moving a muscle. George seeing the look of contempt, decided he should be the first to speak. He looked at David, who at that moment was throwing darts … better to be on the good side he thought.
"George Whitmore … please forgive me." David's face became a flurry of expressions and emotions. He looked with apprehension and saw a tall, plump man with no discernible colour, other than the colour that was displayed at the rear of his image. David stood and looked on in surprise as the figure came toward him. David stammered and stuttered with the difficulty of trying to say his name.
"Da … Dav … David Ward."
"A pleasure to meet you, David; I am, which it seems you have already guessed, Elizabeth's husband."
"Sir, apologies for my insolence, but that was mean and unbecoming of one of an age to know better."
Holding onto as much respectability as he could, "You may be right, young fellow, you may be right," taking the wind out of David's sails. "I'd like to thank you for taking care of my beloved wife; you have made her very happy - given her a purpose." He would like to have said how she now walks round with a smile on her face while humming to a happy tune, but he saw an expression of concentration emanating from David's face.
To David, this was a contradiction. This was a reverse of how he'd been treated in the past - and of the way people had always acted toward him. He was being complimented by being acknowledged.
David, though staring at the figure, saw nothing. As he stared, his thoughts were wandering … thinking of the last few months - his time spent here and at the orphanage; and he had to smile.
George, seeing both a look of uncertainty and contentment, returned the smile.
Taking the armchair across from the figure, he was unable to call him by name as a mark of respect.
"Sir, your wife has been good to me … like a mother. Your son Edward saved me, and has become my friend. Sir, thank you should come from me."
"Let us beg to differ, young man."
David held his head high, a compliment from a stranger? Yes, he'd been given compliments from Elizabeth and Edward, but they were for support, this compliment was for doing something right.
He felt his heart beat as his pulse quickened - he felt pride; and George sensed the mood.
"Suffer not the children, a simple word of joy can bring."
Looking up at what was an old man sitting with no discernible look or expression, but who'd given him words that now filled him with pride.
The timid and uncertain side of David overtook his good side - taking the joy and reversing his thought of pride. Now, the feeling was guilt for the happiness he felt … his eyes went immediately to the floor, trying desperately to hide his shame, but his mind had other ideas, and he raised his eyes momentarily to glance at the old man.
A heart that is hurt, open, and torn, was given silent words. "Let the hurt be your strength … your sword." Though he didn't fully understand its meaning, a feeling of pride again began to surface. A heart so light with words of solace. He looked up, seeing the eyes of the old man so sincere.
"Be what you have become, let your heart be your guide, never look back. Though your heart is weary … it is strong."
Though it seemed the hardest thing he'd ever done, he struggled to get to the old man, and using every ounce of heart he had, he stood before him.
"Thank you, Sir."
David woke with eyes looking up at a sky that gifted blue with its presence; and clouds so white they gave a look of silver as the sun shone through with a glare.
"Well, good morning. You looked like you slept well." A nod and a radiant smile was his only reply, as choices of cereals were put in front of him.
"Nan, may we eat breakfast on the porch?" Elizabeth smiled, knowing her little man was back to his old self.
"Now, why did I not think of that," adding the accent of a distinguished lady. David smiled as he put the bowls and glasses on the tray, helping as much as possible, getting their breakfast out onto the porch.
Midday, Elizabeth got a surprise visit from Edward. "Damn them!" were his first words spoken as he entered the house.
"What in heaven's name has gotten you so worked up?"
"Social services - they never do anything by half. They rang me at the courts this morning," he said with some sarcasm. "Apparently, they have a Miss Robinson coming to check on David and his accommodations. I was in court … in the middle of summing up, and had to adjourn while I took the call. The case resumes tomorrow; Judge Stevens was not happy."
"Whatever day they decided, I hope it's in the afternoon."
"I'm sorry to drop it on you so sudden, Mother, but it's at 1:30 this day. We have an hour before she gets here."
He then smiled. "She'll get a piece of my mind for the inconvenience, and the way they've handled it so far. If I handled my cases as they do, I would be roasted over the coals and out the door quicker than you can swing a stick."
"Edward, try not to aggravate things, best to play along for now."
"I know your right, but a few days notice would have been nice; even making an appointment … but no! As bureaucrats always do, they make their own rules; and at that, it's as they go along. It's damn inconsiderate"
"Have a cup of tea, dear, to help calm your nerves." Edward had to smile at his mother's solution to most problems.
"Yes, Mother, but make it strong."
"Where is he usually?"
"I will take that answer as 'he'll be out near the fountains'. Who said boys were trouble."
<h4>From Edward's viewpoint:</h4>
1:30 came and went. An appointment wouldn't have been useful, after all. At just after 2 p.m., Miss Robinson finally arrived.
"I'm sorry I'm late … traffic; Amanda Robinson from social services."
"Pleased to meet you; Edward Whitmore, and this is my mother Elizabeth Whitmore." Though not being hostile, he let his feeling be known in his tone. "Please come in." Elizabeth offered the usual cup of tea with all the pleasantries. She surely has a way with people, which in thought, he could surely learn from, Edward thought.
With the offer of tea, we made our way into the lounge.
When tea was served, Miss Robinson wasted no time in discussing what was expected of myself and Mother - and of course, the living arrangements.
The accommodations, as expected, adhered to her satisfaction after a cursorily glance. Maybe I'm being a little crass. Maybe it's their inherent lack of professionalism toward other people outside their organisation. Maybe I'm giving them less credit than they deserve ... or maybe not. Not at any point since David was, before and after, removed from the orphanage and school have they shown any ethics; be that with the ability to do their job, or with care and concern. I say this, because this has been the first time they've had any contact with myself or David since he was uprooted, except to advise, at a moment's notice, of their intentions to visit.
As we were discussing his sleeping arrangements, David hobbled into the lounge - the room went silent. Miss Robinson looked on in concern … her job had just gotten more difficult.
"David, this is Miss Robinson from social services." David's expression changed immediately from a smile to a frown.
"Hello, David, it's so good to meet you, I've been told a lot about you - all good," she said with a smile. Give David his due; he was polite and respectful, despite feeling, and probably thinking the worst.
Seeing what looked like concern, I told David to go and get himself a drink.
"Mister Whitmore, I was never told of David's disability. Before I could approve David staying here, a few more things will have to be discussed." As David returned, she left the subject, for now, lie.
"If I may, I would like to speak to David alone. I know it's somewhat inconvenient, but it would be appreciated; that way, we can get David settled in his new home quicker." Her gift of hiding the truth was impeccable.
David looked as if the world was going to fall on his shoulders. I gave him a compassionate look, smiled, and told him that everything was going to be alright. I walked out of the lounge, but not before squeezing his shoulder for support.
Mother and I went into the kitchen to finish our tea. We talked between ourselves, not daring to think the worst, especially on the now, new stumbling block. Of course, what they were discussing in the other room was in our thoughts. At nearly forty-five minutes, they entered the kitchen. David came out of the lounge with a smile on his face - that was a good sign.
"David, will you show me your room? I hope you keep it clean and tidy."
"In the time he has lived here, I have not once had to clean up after him. His clothes are always folded and put away. Clothes he's used are brought down every day for washing. He's a responsible and thoughtful child. I wish my own two had been as clean minded - the work that would have saved," Mother said, giving me a well practiced smile.
As they slowly made their way up the stairs, which took a little longer than usual, David spoke a mile a minute, stopping his captive from getting a word in edgeways. At the top of the stairs, the performance continued. Though we were in the kitchen, you could hear the excitement as he described everything in detail, right down to the fact he had his own sock drawer. I was hoping the social worker would have patience with David, and at the same time be able to roll in his jubilance.
Coming down the stairs was even slower than going up. It seemed our little man had tired himself out with all his excitement. I had other ideas, but that was for another time.
"Did the lady like your room?"
"I think I could describe every little detail, including where he keeps the sticking plasters."
"David, why don't you go outside and play? Your Nan and I have something we need to discuss with Miss Robinson."
"May I have a drink of milk?"
"You wait in the conservatory, and I'll bring a glass out." With that said, he made his way outside, smiling back as he went.
After David got his milk and was out of earshot. "Can you please tell me how a life changing detail, small as it seems to some, wasn't known; more so, never spoke about? I find it a travesty that an organisation such as yours, that holds so much authority when it comes to children, can 'forget' to disclose such an important detail."
"Mister Whitmore, I apologise, but don't you think you're being overdramatic?"
"A little, maybe; but you hold the lives of these children in your hands, wrong decisions have cost children their lives. I know this isn't the case here - but his happiness is."
"I apologise again. There were doubts in the office, at first, of placing David in your residence. I still have my doubts, but you have come a long way to proving me wrong."
"Looking for blame by bringing my suitability into the equation, gives me concerns that you aren't looking out for the child's, in this case, David's welfare."
"Mister Whitmore, your suitability is within the law, not as a consequence for looking for blame."
"Miss Robinson, do not preach to me on the law. I deal with it every day. I would, in truth, like to speak to Judge Moseley on my suitability. Perhaps you should do the same."
"Edward, please … but understand this, Miss Robinson, there are members of this family that have grown extremely attached to that young man, so please forgive my son for caring. After all, caring is standing up for the people you cherish."
"I will acknowledge the mistake of my department, but as the law stands, I cannot leave a child with a male unless he is related. The only reason David was placed in your care, in the first instance, was he would be residing with your mother; and secondly, because Judge Moseley gave you custody, which I was in no position to object. That aside, before we can resolve his placement, I couldn't in all honesty leave here feeling safe with David, in his present condition, having to climb stairs."
"If that be the case, why was David not under the same restrictions at what was his previous home at the school? David, was he not, under social services supervision there too?"
Caught out by their lack of supervision, be that in part their own fault, her argument did not stand up … but her concerns rang true.
"If a solution could be found, I could possibly reconsider my position?" She was now on the back foot, but still a concern to be reckoned with.
"To help you reconsider, David could have a choice of rooms. We have rooms on ground level that can be used for that purpose. Whatever is not suitable can be altered. This house has gone through many renovations in its four hundred years."
"On the north side of the house, there are two adjoining rooms with en-suite bathrooms, they are used on occasions by my brother, his wife, and their two young children. On the south side of the house is what used to be the butler's quarters."
"Would an adult be close, close as sleeping on the same floor?"
"That could be arranged, even though I think your caution is extreme."
"Would that be yourself, or Mrs. Whitmore? You see, apologies, Mrs. Whitmore, but age is a factor in David staying in your household."
This problem I had wrestled with many times myself.
Three people were involved in this, not dismissing James and his family, as they themselves have gotten attached to the little man too. But as a matter of fact, only three mattered. If no solution was found, three were going to get hurt - and in truth, there was only one solution.
As if by magic, David came into the room for another glass of milk. "I'm going to have to get you a bell, that way I'll know when you're coming," he never so much as blinked.
"Sit down, David." I looked at my mother, who was pained to be insulted … and thoughts that you might lose someone special all in the same day would do that. I looked at David, who in truth, had no idea what was happening.
"I have in all honesty known this would eventually come into the equation. My mother is a wise woman, and no doubt expected this at some time also. I love this house; I just don't like the snobbery that's attached to what is upper-class. Before anything else is discussed, what needs to happen so that David can stay?"
"The accommodation, though not perfect, are within guidelines, if suitable changes are made." Miss Robinson looked across to David, then David's Nan. "Adoption would be out of the question, as neither have a spouse. But it would be within my authority for David to have a foster parent, which with the concerns of your mother's age, wouldn't be prudent."
David looked around the room with concern, his eyes dropping to the floor. "If I was to move into the household, would you allow David to be fostered by myself?" Looking across, her face predictably non-committal. Mother, on the other hand, looked surprised. David looked shocked and teary-eyed.
"I would be inclined to accept your proposal to foster David, as there would be female participation; but also dependent on David's safety. May I see the rooms you advised?"
Purely for conversation, I told her the rooms were originally live-in quarters for the staff. The quarters were what are termed as bedsits, used to relax or sleep.
Talking of the staff got me thinking of my parents' perspective, even then. "Servants - not in this house, they are ordinary people that do an honest day's work to earn a living, not slaves." After my father died, with regret, all staff were released from their duties with the exception of the gardener/odd job man, who had his own cottage a short distance from the house.
She had her doubts - or was it a bureaucrat showing who was in charge? The rooms on the north side concerned her, because of the stairs that led separately into each room. If I was being totally honest, the problem of the stairs did cross my mind, also.
The room on the south side - her optimism gave us hope. Her assessment was good on the interim, but critical of its lack of facilities. As I again stated to her, alterations and remodelling should cause no concerns.
My opinion of social services did abate somewhat, but not enough to feel relief with how they ran their organisation.
Preliminary papers were signed, with agreement she would get the judge to sign all the paperwork to make it legal. I was now a foster parent. Also, on agreement, to keep her informed regarding, as she viewed it, David's accommodations.
Holding tears back, he looked me in the eyes. Not a word spoken, but a 'Thank you' was seen and understood.
"Miss Robinson, another matter your department in its entirety has forgotten to resolve … David's education. I could not get him an education till you resolved guardianship, but was advised steps would be taken within your department. David has lost valuable time in his learning because of your incompetence. Due again had to be given, she held a straight face, even though her eyes gave a different view on the comment.
"Again, I must apologize for our lack of professionalism. With the agreement today, I can get David into school, or you may wish ..."
"I would prefer to do that myself. As bright as David is, I suggest any school would be glad to accept him."
After our Miss Robinson left, we all blew a sigh of relief.
David looked across to his Nan, she smiled, giving an approving nod. David hopped over - and as God is my witness, not a happier child you would ever see. He hopped over to me with his hands in the air; picking him up, he wrapped his arms around my neck and sobbed. Offering to make tea to hide her own feelings, I have no doubt Mother did the same as David.
"Dinner was quiet, other than the usual conversation of pass this or that, and of course, at cleaning and putting away the dishes.
After kitchen duties had been done, I went into the study; I had a lot of thinking to do, and for that it had to be quiet.
I stood at the window. It's always a treat to look over the horizon, especially with the views of the gardens. The fountains have always been my favourite spot, even when growing up. If not by tradition, it looks like someone else is going to carry that trend forward.
Both rooms had been modernised, keeping the original designs, making it ideal for when James brought his family. Having bedrooms at the top of the house was fine, at first - that was until Jeremy began to use the stair rail as a slide to get downstairs. I really didn't want to renovate those rooms, as when my nephew and niece stayed over it would have been another problem to solve.
My thoughts drifted to my father, who I thought would love David as much as we all do.
"Sir, would you like a drink of tea? Nan just brewed a pot," ending the daydream that I had slipped into.
"As long as you both come and sit with me for a while."
"I thought you'd fallen asleep, you've been in there so long. What was so important that it takes nearly two hours to think about?"
"Don't fuss, Mother." The clock said eight thirty. Where did the time go?
As the saying goes, thinking out loud how it wouldn't have been plausible to alter the rooms on the north side for obvious reasons; but with the rooms on the south side … problem solved.
"David, come with me. You too, Mother." I picked David up and threw him over my shoulder to a crescendo of giggles.
We got to the room to find it locked, which meant making another trip to find the key.
"When did you get the key?"
"It's always in my apron for when I clean the room."
Inside, the room was immaculate, not a thing out of place. There were no steps to give any problems, if David liked the room. The only problem I could see was it not having a bathroom. Distance would be excessive in the eyes of Miss Robinson, extensions or attachments would have to be made, with of course, planning permission, if needed.
As I was talking to David's Nan, he was, as boys do, opening every door and cupboard he could find. When he had finished exploring, he went to look out the window. He couldn't see the fountains, but he had a good view of the woods and the animals therein. The deer usually gathered on this side of the house to eat all the flowers, and anything else they saw as tasty, so I would think that would make up for not seeing the fountains.
Though the room was furnished, I was certain its contents would need to be updated. The bed was an old three-quarter size, with furniture to match its age. Any fabrics had long since been removed, though the curtains had been regularly cleaned for respectability. The carpet had been retired, leaving wooden floorboards giving the room a nostalgic appearance. There have been times over the centuries that internal furnishing had been changed for more up to date furnishings, as the rooms below the house will testify.
"So, what do you think, David? Do you like the room? It's yours, if you want it, but for now, you'll have to use the bedroom Jeremy uses, on the north side till I can sort out the ablutions."
His movement was amazing - he jumped so quickly, I nearly missed his leap. "Are you sure you haven't hidden a leg on your person?"
Looking to his Nan, "I think we've got ourselves a foster son."
That night, after David had gone to bed, which for now at least, was no trouble, we sat in the study contemplating the day. At times it'd been a thankless one, but well worth all the effort.
"Mother, I know I should have said something, but to have children of your own, then be told that you're not capable because of your age … I knew I could hurt you by telling you that, so I never mentioned it. And as for the renovation of the house, I should have asked first."
"Edward, this house is as much yours and your brothers as it is mine. Your father wouldn't have had it any other way. And now, there's David to add to that. I can't speak for your father, but I'm sure he'd be the first to agree with me."
To be divorced, separated, or a single male in the UK, and to have children living with him, was at that time, nearly impossible, if even heard of.
Comments and questions are always appreciated at Terry