House Stories: Whatever happened to Baby Gertrude?
One can never truly know what transpires behind closed doors, especially heavy old entryways like mine. So pour a cup of tea, pull up a stool, and lean in. I’ll tell you my secrets.
It was October 31, 1907. A most disturbing day for me and those who dwell within my walls. That morning, an icy wind whirled red and yellow leaves across my grounds and morning mist coated my windows. I felt quite chilly, but I had no idea of the coldness that was yet to come.
Mr. Wimbly, the master of the house, left in the pre-dawn hours to attend to his business, while his wife, Mrs. Wimbly, slumbered in my master bedroom. The day started like any other. That is until the most curious thing happened.
It started in the nursery – that room that dripped pale-pink, baby lambs, and all-things-nursery-rhymes. Shelves full of dolls looked down upon the sleeping baby, while the maid, Hermione, puttered about in those wee hours. She propped up scruffy teddy bears, polished the rocking horse, and ran a damp cloth across the iron bars of the canopied baby’s bed.
She reached into the crib and tickled Baby Gertrude under the chin. The young servant then wrapped her fingers around the handle of her duster and gently moved the fat feathers across the child’s smooth face. She caressed the infant’s pink cheeks and teacup rose mouth, tickling her itty-bitty nose, and fluffing her wispy hair.
From down the hall, the typically frenzied Mrs. Wimbly shook awake, as if by instinct. She marched to the room to find Hermione hovering over Baby Gertrude, as the child’s large, long-lashed eyes slowly opened and closed with each duster stroke.
Mrs. Wimbly screeched, pushed Hermione to the side, and snatched her daughter from the crib.
Hermione shook her head. “I’m sorry madam. I meant no harm.” She skulked out of the room, duster in hand.
That evening when Mr. Wimbly walked through my door, Mrs. Wimbly rushed to him. “Those filthy turkey feathers on our precious Gertrude’s face.”
“Dusting her, you say?” Mr. Wimbly hung up his coat and hat and looked down at his pocket watch. “That’s most extraordinary.”
“We must replace that senseless girl you hired.” Mrs. Wimbly squealed.
“It must be a misunderstanding.” He touched his wife’s shoulder. “I’ll speak to her.”
She pulled away from her husband, cupped her hand behind her ear, and leaned towards my staircase. “Goodness. Awake already? I just put her down.” She dashed away, the heels of her boots crashing into my polished maple stairs. The wood fibers of my railing vibrated under her nervous grip. She entered the nursery in a flurry and snatched her daughter from the crib with quivering hands.
Mrs. Wimbly had always been the fidgety type, but ever since Baby Gertrude she’d become quite hysterical. Fussing about and chronically coddling – nay, nearly smothering the child. I could hardly fault her for her overprotective ways. She’d once feared she’d never have a child. The Mrs. was nearly twenty-eight years of age before Baby Gertrude arrived. She was quite determined to keep her wee-one safe.
Mrs. Wimbly now held her daughter close. She settled into the rocking chair and sang a tragically out-of-tune lullaby, the sound of which pained the glass in my arched window.
Meanwhile, downstairs in my study, Mr. Wimbly lowered himself onto his wooden desk chair and lit his pipe. He looked up to the ceiling at the sound of his wife’s horrific singing. He lowered his eyes and solemnly shook his head.
Hermione entered the room. “Evening Sir.” She ran her duster down the length of a corner bookcase, capturing a layer of filth in the dark feathers.
Through a puff of smoke, Mr. Wimbly told the young servant of his wife’s accusation.
Hermione placed her hand over her mouth to hide a blooming smile. Although lovely, I found the young maid to be more than the tiniest bit off. Just the day before, she’d scrubbed my kitchen floor with buttermilk, causing me to feel most sticky and uncomfortable. On a particularly rainy afternoon last week, she’d scooped up muddy water from a puddle in my front yard and used it to wash my hallway walls, leaving me feeling quite soiled.
Her disastrous approach to domesticity seemed to be of no concern to Mr. Wimbly, however. She moved closer to him, as he took her by the hand and lowered her onto his lap. She giggled, while her auburn curls bounced in the dim light. Such an imprudent scene to bear witness to.
I’d long suspected the fair Hermione was more mistress than maid. In addition to her odd ways, she was much too dainty to care for the likes of me on her own. My suspicion was confirmed one evening when Mr. Wimbly crept down my narrow back spiral staircase to the tiny room where the young servant slept.
I was most disturbed by this occurrence, due to my own Victorian moral values, but even more so, I ached for poor Mrs. Wimbly. With her long, crooked nose, close-set eyes, and figure like the leg of a piano stool, she could hardly compete with Hermione’s film-actress beauty.
Upon hearing the clack of his wife’s footsteps, Mr. Wimbly lifted Hermione’s person from his lap.
Mrs. Wimbly stepped into the study snuggling Baby Gertrude to her bosom. She glared at Hermione, as the servant dusted a table lamp. “Baby Gertrude’s wide awake. Still upset from having been dusted, I have no doubt.”
“Madam, again. I’m so very sorry. I meant no harm to the child.” Hermione looked to Mr. Wimbly, as if for answers. “I merely meant it as a tickle game. I thought she rather enjoyed the feathers.”
Mrs. Wimbly protectively cradled her infant closer to her, then stormed out of the room causing my floorboards to quiver.
Outside on my upper balcony, an owl landed and dug its talons into my railing. I braced my walls, sensing a change in the night air.
From the tip of my turret, I spotted a group of costumed youngsters creating quite a ruckus down the street. I witnessed them tip over an odd house, set a pile of leaves on fire, and smash pumpkins, leaving a trail of squash entrails along the brick road.
My shingles quivered when they stopped in front of me and looked up to my gables.
The owl flapped its wings and gripped my banister tighter at the sight of them.
Although undoubtedly still children, the bunch looked quite menacing in their holiday disguises. Faces hidden by ghoulish masks and burlap sacks with the eyes cut out in triangles. A chap in a skull mask and black cape picked up a stone, drew his arm back, and threw it. It narrowly missed my thick-paned front door window but crashed into one of my shutters, leaving quite a bruise. Wishing I had hands to rub the wound, I steeled myself for more destruction.
Inside, the excitable Mrs. Wimbly heard the commotion. She balanced Baby Gertrude in the crook of her arm, opened my door, and stepped over the threshold onto my porch.
The owl hooted in the darkness.
Another member of the group yelled through his jack-o-lantern mask. “Old Mrs.Wimbly! Batty as a mad hatter!”
I suspected these boys were the same youths who’d called insults to Mrs. Wimbly over the summer when she’d pushed her daughter in a buggy, thinking the dear woman peculiar because of her way with Baby Gertrude.
The tallest youngster in the bunch, who wore a clown mask and dunce cap, spotted another stone. He planted his stare on Mrs. Wimbly and pummeled it at her.
The rock struck Baby Gertrude.
Her face cracked.
Mrs. Wimbly drew her hands to her mouth in horror.
Baby Gertrude fell onto the hardwood of my porch. With a crash, she shattered.
Mrs. Wimbly wailed.
The youths pointed and laughed.
Mr. Wimbly ran to my porch to find his wife, wide-eyed, keeled over Baby Gertrude broken into a dozen pieces.
He ushered the poor dear through my front door, revealing a bit of relief in his hint of a smile.
Meanwhile, Hermione scrambled to the porch with a broom and dustpan and began scooping up the porcelain bits, along with, I suspected, fragments of Mrs. Wimbly’s heart.
And that, dear reader, is what happened to Baby Gertrude. As far as the poor Mrs. Wimbly, she lived her remaining short years as broken as the doll she’d once called her daughter.
I wish you a far more pleasant Halloween than poor Mrs. Wimbly and the forever fractured Baby Gertrude.
Until next time, my dear, fare thee well.
Posted in: Flash Fiction, Short Stories
Fantastic writing!!! The plot holds your interest through the entire story. Thanks, Cynthia Lee, I can’t wait until your next story.
I found your blog! Loved the twist to this story. I did not see that coming!
Pat from CWCC