Telling Off Charlie
Charlotte R.D. Randle
Ms. Baldwin had been a school teacher. She was a stiff, no nonsense type of woman who believed in common sense in every form of the words. She had no place in her mind for mystery or fantasy, for all she cared, Rapunzel could sit in her tower forever, Sleeping Beauty could continue her slumber for eternity, and Prince Charming could go get a job instead of carrying young girls off into the sunset. It was all very impractical in her opinion.
Ms. Baldwin was tall and very thin, her hair, once raven black was now graying and was kept pulled back into tight bun. She wore somber shades of gray and brown, her colors very high, her skirts always reaching the floor. The whole effect was very severe and rather intimidating, and she found this to work to her advantage, for it kept those without real business from bothering her unnecessarily.
Now, she packed her spartan things into an old trunk, clearing her small room of its few possessions. It was December of eighteen ninety six, and she had finally found another place of work. Her school had been closed the last year, and since she had been without a position. Now, after months of advertising she had received a letter by that morning's post.
"Dear Ms. Baldwin," the letter had read, "We saw your advertisement in the Times last week, and have decided that you will be the best person for our need, if you will come. Our daughter is ten years old, and we do not wish to have her go to a public school, and we do not wish to send her to boarding school. Thus, we are left with a single choice: to hire a governess to school our beloved girl." Ms. Baldwin had snorted at this; the child was probably spoiled rotten. "We do hope that you will take this offer. Please telegram as soon as you are able.
-Mr. and Mrs. James Carlighle"
Ms. Baldwin had sent the requested telegram right away, notifying them of her acceptance, and that she would be arriving on the first train out of London in the morning.
She carried the trunk down the winding stairs from her flat on the top floor of the small tenement house and set out on the walk in front to wait. She hailed the next cab and climbed in, requesting to be taken to the Station.
She almost missed her train. The cab had been held up by one of the increasing number of motor-cars that insisted on clogging London's roads; one had collided with the median in a round-about, and her cab had been forced to take a wide detour.
Now, she had to run to catch the train as it began to pull out. The conductor grabbed her trunk with one hand, her arm with the other, and deftly swung the two up onto the car.
"Thank you," she said breathlessly, handing him her ticket. He punched it, then waved her on into the car, smiling. She picked up her trunk and moved down the tiny hallway until she came to an empty compartment. Stepping inside, she slid her trunk beneath the seat and turned aroundonly to find the compartment not so empty as she had hoped. A small boy sat alone in the seat, so quiet and unnoticeable that he was almost invisible. Ms. Baldwin felt suddenly irritated, as if he had sat there simply to annoy her.
"Where are your parents?" she asked in a no-nonsense voice. The boy looked up at her, startled. He was not so young as he had appeared, maybe seven or eight years old. His eyes were very large, and were a watery shade of blue; his features sharp and defined, distinguished despite their extreme youth.
He responded to her query in a somber, high voice that had a faint lisp over his 'r's.
"They aw not hewe, madam. They asked me to save seats fow them, on the chance that they would awive befowe the twain left the station." He had a the strong accents of an educated Yorkshire lad, and Ms. Baldwin was surprised and gratified to find him so very well-spoken and polite.
"It appeaws," he said gravely, "that something has detained them and they were unable to awive in time. They said that if such an eventuality as this were to awise, I was simply to wait at the Chawington Cwoss station fow the next twain."
Ms. Baldwin nodded.
"I see," she said, remembering the wrecked motor-car and the ambulances that had gone rushing through the halted traffic to the aid of the car's occupants. She said nothing of it to him, not wishing to alarm him. Besides, what reason had she to assume that it was the poor child's parents that had been in the motor accident? No, she decided, it was better to keep her mouth closed in this case. However, she could not help repressing a shiver when she looked at him now.
There was nothing about his person that might have caused an odd sensation of foreboding and dread in Ms. Baldwin, but she felt very uneasy.
"Sensationalism," she said to herself in a disgusted tone. "You are letting yourself go in your old age."
"If I may inquiaw," the boy said politely, his large blue eyes gazing up at her from the too-large cap that was perched on his brow, "what is youw destination?" She smiled condescendingly at him.
"You may, and I am also going to Charington Cross. I have an engagement there as a governess in the old Birmingham manor." The boy's eyes widened.
"If you will permit me madam," he said, a note of distress creeping into his voice. "I would advise against going thew."
Ms. Baldwin blinked.
"And why not go there?" she asked stiffly.
The boy leaned forward in his seat. "I mean no offense, madam, but I have hewd terrible stowies about that place."
Now Ms. Baldwin's curiosity was aroused, though she was no believer in sensational stories and fantasy.
"It is said that the young Lowd Biwmingham lived in that manor house a hundwed yeaws ago with his young wife. It is said that they bowth fell ill and died within thwee weeks of awiving thew aftew theiw honymoon. The countwy folk, a wathew supewstitious lot in my humble opinion, say that the shade of Lily Bewmingham sits by hew window every night, cwying, waiting fow news of Lowd Biwmingham. It is also said that Lowd Biwmingham's ghost walks the halls of the manow after midnight, seawching for and never finding his beloved." The boy leaned back in his seat, apperantly finished with his narrative.
Ms. Baldwin sniffed.
"Hogwash." she said with finality. "I don't believe in all those silly tales" She looked severely over her spectacles at the boy. "and neither should you. If people spent more time studying and working, idle sensationalistic tales like the one you just related would never come into being."
The boy's eyes widened.
"Why madam, do you not believe in ghosts?" he asked in a curious tone.
"Certainly not." she said, sniffing again.
The boy smiled a small secret smile.
A sudden noise at the window drew Ms. Baldwin's attention, and she glanced at the glass pane. There was nothing in sight.
"It must have been a bird, they often" she began to say, turning back to where the boy wasor had beensitting. He was no longer there. Ms. Baldwin jumped to her feet and stuck her head out into the corridor. There was no one in sight save the conductor, moving from compartment to compartment, stamping tickets.
"Excuse me," she said, and he glanced up at her. "Did you see a small boy out here just now? He was about seven, with black hair and a cap?" The conductor shook his head.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I've seen no one."
Ms. Baldwin returned to her seat feeling purturbed. She looked at the place where the small gentleman had been sitting, and there was not a trace of him. Not even the leather of the seat held any sign of an indentation.
She sighed. Such exasperating creatures, children.