But Harvey Angell is nowhere to be found, and witchy women are lining up around the block, desperate to see the baby. Henry is running out of time. He's got to find Harvey Angell before this mystery turns into cosmic disaster.
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Read an Excerpt
"Babies don't bleep," whispered Mr. Perkins.
"This one just did," Henry whispered back. The rocking had proved almost too successful. The baby had stopped bleeping and fallen asleep. "I found her under the hollyhocks," he added.
"Under the...? Her?" For once Mr. Perkins was almost speechless.
"She looks like a she, don't you think?" said Henry. Mr. Perkins peered into the baby's face. Henry thought he was never going to speak again. Eventually Mr. Perkins hitched up his pajama trousers (these being his special Poet Pajamas), cleared his throat, and said, "What a darling!"
At that moment the back door flew open, and Aunt Agatha appeared. "Perkins! Henry! What are you two doing out there?"
Henry and Mr. Perkins exchanged desperate looks.
"The weather?" asked Henry, for this was their way of exchanging vital information about Aunt Agatha's mood.
"Moderate to gale-force winds," replied Mr. Perkins. And then, to Aunt Agatha, "We've got something for you, dear!"
Henry trailed behind Mr. Perkins. He found himself holding the bundle tightly as if to protect it from even moderate winds. "Don't bleep!" he whispered to the baby. "Just please don't bleep!"
Miss Muggins and Miss Skivvy were already in the kitchen when Mr. Perkins, Henry-and-bundle appeared in the doorway. Miss Skivvy was peeling potatoes, Miss Muggins laying the table.
"Well?" snapped Aunt Agatha, "What is it?"
Mr. Perkins stood aside so that she and Henry were face to face. Aunt Agatha's hair, usually swept up in swirls like an ice-cream cone, looked more like a badly made bird's nest. Bits of it stuck out, static with bad temper.
"I think..." began Henry nervously, "I think it's a baby!"
"You think it's a...What on earth d'you mean, child? Here! Let me look." Aunt Agatha peered inside the bundle as if afraid to touch the child inside it.
"Of course it's a baby," she said, so sharply that the baby at once opened its eyes. "Where did you get it, Henry? You must take it back straightaway!"
"I c-c-c-can't," stammered Henry. "You see, I found her "
"We think she's been abandoned," put in Mr. Perkins. He knew it wasn't the right moment (or mood) to mention the hollyhocks. Not yet, anyway.
"Here, give her to me," said Miss Muggins, taking the baby from Henry and seating herself in the old armchair Mr. Perkins used when biscuit scoffing. Miss Muggins looked as instantly comfortable with the bundle as a violinist with his violin or a duck with a duckling. Everyone crowded round her as she undid the baby's airy white wrappings.
"Well!" cooed Miss Muggins, "isn't she a little dear?"
"A charmer," declared Miss Skivvy.
"She is rather nice," said Henry proudly.
"Smashing toes," said Mr. Perkins tickling them.
"We must call the police," said Aunt Agatha.
Swiftly Miss Skivvy moved to put the kettle on. Mr. Perkins eased Aunt Agatha into a chair and fetched a cardigan to put round her shoulders.
"Can't we keep her for just a little while?" asked Miss Muggins wistfully. "Just for a day or two?"
"Of course not!" snapped Aunt Agatha shrugging off the cardigan. "That baby belongs to someone. Besides, have you any idea what babies cost to keep, Muggins? Even for a day or two? There's nappies..."
"Nappies!" cooed Miss Muggins.
"Blankets, cots, carriages," continued Aunt Agatha.
"Blankets, cots, carriages," echoed Miss Skivvy practically and Miss Muggins longingly.
"Oh really!" cried Aunt Agatha. "You're both quite impossible. Perkins. Get on to the police."
"But what if no one claims her?" asked Henry in a very small voice. The baby waved her arms at him as if she had already made her decision. She claimed Henry. Henry took her back from Miss Muggins. She nestled against his shoulder, snuggled into his neck.
There was a silence in the room as they all thought about children's homes, orphanages, unwanted babies. Henry remembered how he'd felt when his parents had been killed in the car accident and how, until Aunt Agatha appeared, he'd thought he'd be homeless.
Aunt Agatha looked down at the bundle in Henry's arms.
The baby attempted a smile. It was new and wobbly.
"Oh, the sweetheart!" they all (except Aunt Agatha) chorused.
"That's not our problem," said Aunt Agatha, turning away as if the smile hurt her. "Now, could one of you do something useful? We'll have to make some kind of crib for the child until the police arrive that is. When I've had a good strong cup of tea, I'll call them myself."
Henry was left holding the baby while everyone else rushed around. Mr. Perkins pulled out a drawer from the bottom of the dresser. Miss Muggins produced blankets and an old, but delicate, shawl. Together they padded the drawer until it looked cosy as a bedroom slipper.
Before Aunt Agatha could take a first sip of her strong cup of tea, Miss Skivvy was down the road and back again with a basket full of nappies, talcum powder, bottles, pacifiers, dried milk, and a rattle.
(Mrs. Sowerby, watching her come and go, was so agog she nearly fell out of her window.)
Mr. Perkins set the crib-drawer across two chairs "so she's not in a draft" and Henry put the baby inside. Miss Muggins tucked the shawl round her.
"There you are, sweetheart," she said. "Snug as a bug in a rug."
"Sweetheart," said Henry. "Let's call her Sweetheart." And as if she agreed, the baby attempted a second wobbly smile.
Reluctantly Aunt Agatha came to look at Sweetheart in her crib. Ice, thought Henry. There's still some ice in Aunt Agatha, and she's afraid of it cracking.
"Funny ears," said Aunt Agatha.
"Like buttercups," said Henry defensively.
"Odd she doesn't cry," said Aunt Agatha.
And at that moment two tiny antennae sprouted from Sweetheart's eyebrows or where her eyebrows would be if she had any and she began bleeping. The antennae were as tiny and delicate as those of a snail and they waved in the air as if Sweetheart was taking in the vibes of those around her, sensing their feelings.
"I'm definitely calling the police," said Aunt Agatha.
Text copyright © 2000 by Diana Hendry