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The Baker's Daughter
By D. E. STEVENSON
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Estate of D. E. Stevenson
All rights reserved.
A curlew, winging its way across southern Scotland, would see the little town of Beilford as a handful of gray pebbles cast down on the banks of the river Beil. It is all gray — gray stone houses, gray roofs, and gray stones paving the streets — for the stone of which it was built came from the quarry at the base of the Castle Rock.
The castle is the seat of Sir James Faulds and is one of the oldest inhabited buildings in the land; it is set upon the cliff overlooking the town, and here the river makes a double bend before flowing away southeastward to the sea.
Beilford is an old town with an East Gate and a West Gate — narrow arches set in thick walls — and the street that runs from one to the other through the middle of the town is narrow and winding. On market days this street is congested with traffic, for Beilford is the shopping center of a prosperous farming community — ironmongers, saddlers, butchers, and drapers all thrive well — at one end of the High Street, near the West Gate, a fine frontage displays the sign of THOMAS BULLOCH, WINE MERCHANT AND ITALIAN WAREHOUSEMAN.
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Thomas Bulloch was a well-respected man in Beilford. He had inherited his business from his father and had extended it by hard work and capable management. His shop was patronized not only by the townspeople, but also by the surrounding landowners, for he had a large and varied assortment of goods and his prices were moderate. The shop was served by a good staff of assistants, but Mr. Bulloch could quite often be seen there himself, for he believed it to be good policy to show a personal interest in his customers, and he enjoyed the work. When Mr. Bulloch was not in the shop he was probably in his office at the back of the premises — a queer stone chamber, three-cornered in shape, wedged in between his ample storehouses — here he sat, day after day, writing letters, interviewing travelers and agents, ordering wines and spirits, butter and bacon, oranges and spices, and a hundred and one necessities and luxuries that it was his business to retail.
There was a very fine smell in this wedge-shaped office, for Mr. Bulloch liked to keep samples of his wares on the shelves that lined its walls: tins of fruit, jars of ginger, glasses of preserves, spices and cereals and dried fruits of all kinds, and, in a very special cupboard that was always locked, a few bottles of very special wines, liqueurs, and brandies. When any of Mr. Bulloch's old customers had reason to visit the shop — customers such as Sir James Faulds of Beil or Admiral Sir Rupert Lang of Bonnywall — they made a beeline for Mr. Bulloch's sanctum, knowing full well that they would be welcomed there and regaled with a glass of old brown sherry and a thin biscuit or perhaps asked to sample some especially delectable brand of ginger or fine cigar. The gentlemen liked that, but perhaps the chief attraction that brought them to "Bulloch's den" was the man himself.
Bulloch was tall and big boned, with shaggy white eyebrows and strong white hair. The eyes beneath the shaggy brows were gray and keen. There was something birdlike about the straight glance, the slightly hooky nose, and the big spare frame, and when Admiral Lang remarked to the Earl that Bulloch reminded him of "a benevolent eagle," the Earl was startled at the aptness of the comparison. There was dignity in Bulloch, and wisdom, and a quiet humor.
One cold November day, Mr. Bulloch was sitting at his desk in his wedge-shaped office. Ostensibly he was engaged in writing a letter to his agent in Calcutta to point out that the last consignment of Orange Pekoe had been distinctly below standard, but the pen had fallen from his hand and he was staring with unseeing eyes at the small coal fire that winked and blinked cheerfully in the polished grate. Today was Mr. Bulloch's birthday, and birthdays are the milestones of life, inviting reflection upon the road that has been traveled, or the road that lies ahead. At seventy there is more road behind than in front, and Mr. Bulloch was looking backward down the years. He was looking back a long way, forty-five years or more, to his courtship of Susan Smart, to their marriage and the happy days that followed. He thought of the birth of his only child, Mary, and of the joy that the baby daughter had brought to the comfortable house above the shop. Those were happy times, thought Mr. Bulloch. Mary's childhood, Mary's school days — how quickly they passed!
When Mary was barely nineteen she had married Will Pringle, the baker whose premises were at the other end of the street. It was a good enough match as far as money went, for the bakery was a large and prosperous concern, but Will was dour and taciturn, with no humor and less kindliness in him, and the Bullochs had never been able to like him however hard they tried. They could not understand what Mary saw in Will, but they had always given her all she wanted, and a habit of this kind is hard to break. To do Will justice, he had been very fond of Mary and good to her in his own way, and as far as his limitations would permit. Mary had borne him two children: a girl who was named Sue after her grandmother and a boy named Alexander. The years sped on — they were calm, contented years in retrospect — and then the blow had fallen.
Mr. Bulloch sighed, for Mary's death did not bear thinking of — it was so unnecessary. If only they had realized in time that her cold was serious! If they had put her to bed and had proper advice she might be alive now! They did all they could when once they knew, but it was too late then, for pneumonia is swift and cruel and tarries for no man.
One evening, when Mr. Bulloch was sitting with Mary, she had opened her eyes for a moment, and seeing him there, she had caught at his hand and whispered, "Dad, take care of Sue; she's too serious." She had drifted away into unconsciousness again before he could answer, but he had known then that there was no hope: Mary was dying.
Sue was fourteen when her mother died, and Will took her away from school to keep house for him. The neighbors talked about it — as neighbors do — some saying that Will Pringle had no right to take the child from school, and others that it was the best training she could have, and she would make a better wife when the right man came along.
Nobody predicted that Will would remarry, for Will was no "ladies' man," and he seemed quite comfortably off with Sue as housekeeper. He waited a long time — until his daughter was twenty-two — and then electrified Beilford with the news that he was going to take a second wife. It is possible, of course, that he may have envisaged Sue's marriage (for there were several young men who would have been glad to have her) and looked about him for a wife-housekeeper before it was too late, or he may have fallen in love with plump Grace Simpson. Nobody knew what was in Will Pringle's head and nobody was ever likely to know, for he was a man who kept his own counsel.
Will's remarriage was a shock to the Bullochs, for they had not forgotten Mary, and her place in their hearts could never be filled, but they kept their bitter feelings to themselves and were friendly and pleasant to Will's new wife. It was necessary that they should keep on good terms with the Pringles on account of the grandchildren.
All this passed through Mr. Bulloch's mind as he sat and stared at the fire, and then, because he was weary of unhappiness, he switched his mind back to the happy times and thought again of the young Mary — of Mary the child. What a gay, pretty creature she was, a fairy princess who had danced her way through life! They had all sorts of foolish little jokes together, he and Mary, and childish secrets and games. And they read fairy tales, for these were her chief delight — Mr. Bulloch sitting in the big armchair and Mary on the floor by his knee. The tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears was their favorite (Mary's own hair was spun gold) and he had read it to her so often that, even now, he knew it off by heart: " ...and when Goldilocks reached the little cottage in the woods, she crept up to the door and knocked softly — three little taps, and then three little taps again, and then another three little taps for luck ..." And always Mary had knocked upon Mr. Bulloch's office door in the same way, with three times three little taps so that he would know it was Goldilocks calling on the Big Bear. Then, before he had time to answer, she would rush in, laughing merrily, her gold hair blown about by the wind, and swinging her schoolbooks at the end of a little strap. "Big Bear!" she would cry. "It's teatime now; school's over for the day!" Mr. Bulloch had that little strap still — it was in his table drawer, a queer keepsake for a hardheaded businessman.
It was this gay, irresponsible creature who had said to him, "Take care of Sue; she's too serious," and Mr. Bulloch often pondered on the words. Did Mary realize that life is hard on serious people and that her own lightheartedness had saved her from hurt?CHAPTER 2
Mr. Bulloch was so lost in dreams of long ago that he was not surprised when he heard Mary's own private signal — three times three taps on his old oak door. He cried, "Come in," and raised his eyes from the fire expecting to see Mary's fair merry face, but it was not Mary who came around the edge of the door, and for a moment Mr. Bulloch gazed at his visitor with a blank, unrecognizing stare.
"Sue!" he said at last, like a man awakening from sleep.
"Yes, it's me," declared his granddaughter, somewhat bewildered by her reception. "Can I come in? You're not too busy?"
"Come in, child, come in," said Mr. Bulloch. "I was dreaming, I think — very reprehensible in business hours. Have ye been up to see Granny?"
"No, it's you I've come to see," Sue replied. She had a small parcel for him — a woolen scarf that she had knitted for his birthday — and Mr. Bulloch drew her head down and kissed her soft cheek with rare tenderness.
"You're a good lass," he declared. "Sit down and talk to the old man for a wee while, Sue."
The mists of the past still lingered so that he had almost called her Mary, yet she was unlike her mother in every way. Different in appearance, with her small pale face and gray-green eyes and the heavy mass of chestnut hair that waved back from her wide serious brow, and different in nature with her thoughtful, quiet ways. She was not like Mary's daughter at all; she was more like Susan his wife. He looked at her, searching her face, wondering if she was happy (how could she be happy with that woman in her mother's place), wondering what sort of thoughts were hidden behind that quiet masklike look, and it seemed to him that she was too old for her years, her mouth too firm, her expression too reserved. He remembered that even as a child she had worn a quaint air of maturity, of responsibility — perhaps that was what Mary had meant.
"You're not old, Grandfather," Sue said, leaning against the edge of his desk and surveying him critically.
"I'm seventy today."
"I know that, but you don't seem old. You're interested in things."
"Things are interesting," he replied.
There was a little silence, and then Mr. Bulloch asked, "Why did ye knock like that?"
"Knock?" she repeated questioningly. "Oh yes, I see. It was just that Mother always knocked on your door with three times three. I used to see her do it and wonder what it meant."
Mr. Bulloch did not tell her about Goldilocks, for Sue would not understand — not for her the foolish tender make-believes that had so entranced her mother. "It was a bairn's trick," he said. "That's all, Sue — a bairn's trick. But never mind that now. Tell me all the news."
Her face clouded over. "There's no news," she said, "or at least nothing important. Have you fixed on the music for the Hogmanay Party, Grandfather?"
Mr. Bulloch was fully aware that this was a red herring, but it was such an attractive red herring that he could not resist it. "We have then," he declared, brightening perceptibly. "Andy Waugh was in last night. It's to be Haydn this year. Wait till I tell ye about it, Sue."
It was a time-honored custom for the Bullochs to give a party on New Year's Eve — a fine dinner first and then a small concert of chamber music. Mr. Bulloch played the cello exceedingly well, and his great friend Mr. Waugh, who kept the music shop in Beilford, was no mean performer on the violin. This year (as Mr. Bulloch proceeded to explain) the party was to be on an even more ambitious scale than usual.
"Hadyn's not easy," declared Mr. Bulloch seriously, "and the piece Andy's chosen has an awful hard solo for me. It'll need a good bit of practice, I'm tellin' ye, but it's beautiful music, Sue."
They were still discussing the subject when they were disturbed by a knock on the door — no three times three this time, but a perfectly sane and sensible rat-tat, rat-tat.
"That'll be Hickie!" said Mr. Bulloch. "What'll Hickie be wanting? Come in."
Hickie came in. He was Mr. Bulloch's chief assistant, a sturdy, well-set-up fellow of about twenty-eight with thick brown hair and bright brown eyes. His eyes fell upon Sue and kindled with pleasure, for he had loved her and waited patiently for her ever since she was a small girl. Sue did not love him, of course, and Bob Hickie knew that, but he was willing to wait for her another nine years if necessary. He knew that she was old Bulloch's favorite grandchild and most probably his heir, and, although he would still have loved her if she had been a pauper, her position was certainly an enhancement of her charms.
"Mr. Bulloch," said Hickie, when he had greeted Sue and asked her how she did. "Mr. Bulloch, it's that Mrs. Darnay. She's asking for you. Will I tell her you're engaged?"
"No, no, I'll see her," declared Mr. Bulloch. "I'll come this very minute. You'll stay and have dinner, Sue. Away upstairs to your grandmother till I see what Mrs. Darnay's wanting."
Sue accepted the invitation, but instead of going upstairs, she followed the two men into the front shop. The fact was she wanted to see Mrs. Darnay. She had heard of her, of course (for the whole of Beilford was interested in the Darnays and talked about them unceasingly), but Beilford folk were not good at describing people, and Sue wanted to see Mrs. Darnay with her own eyes. Sue knew — as everybody knew — that the Darnays lived at Tog's Mill, an old disused flour mill that stood on the riverbank about two miles above the town. They had taken the place on a long lease and had done it up and made it habitable. Everybody thought that this was a very strange thing to do, for the Darnays could have gotten a villa on the outskirts of Beilford for less money than they had expended on the mill — a comfortable modern villa with electric light and other conveniences — but Mr. Darnay was an artist, and artists were well known to be "queer," so perhaps that was why they preferred a tumbledown mill to a decent modern house.
Sue stood a little apart and examined the artist's wife with thoughtful care. She had never seen an artist's wife before and had expected something picturesque, something artistic, with graceful flowing draperies and untidy hair. Sue had seen an amateur production of Patience that the Beilford Dramatic Club had presented to its admiring neighbors and fellow townsmen the previous year, and she had imagined Mrs. Darnay would be "like that." Mrs. Darnay was not the least "like that," but she was sufficiently peculiar and striking to obviate disappointment. She was tall and slim, with very fair hair set in sculptured waves, and her face was "made up" with paint and powder — red lips, pink cheeks, and dark blue shadows around her eyes. Her clothes were peculiar too, for she was hatless, and her leopard-skin coat, sleek and shiny, reached only as far as her knees, while her slim legs were clad in stockings so fine that they looked as if they were bare. Sue gazed at Mrs. Darnay, fascinated by the strangeness of her.
Mrs. Darnay turned from the assistant who was attending to her order and smiled at Mr. Bulloch engagingly. "So good of you to spare me a few minutes," she told him in a high, light voice.
"What can I do for ye, Mrs. Darnay?" he asked. "No complaints, I'm hoping."
"No complaints at all," declared Mrs. Darnay. "The fact is I want you to help me. I don't know many people about here, you see, and I wondered if you could tell me where I could find a cook."
"A cook?" echoed Mr. Bulloch in surprise.
Excerpted from The Baker's Daughter by D. E. STEVENSON. Copyright © 2016 Estate of D. E. Stevenson. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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