Although a February’s eve, Old Miss Heathering opened her bedroom window. Smiling, she looked down three stories to the ice-laden street. Were it not for her, forty-five girls would have roamed London for shelter. Old Miss Heathering ran Candemoore Home for Girls—no one called it an orphan asylum in her hearing—and 1894 marked its fifteenth year.
For the last three of those years, her sister helped her run the home.
Despite the implication of being called ‘Old’, Miss Heathering minded not her nickname. However, once her sister had grown up, the girls called both of them Miss Heathering. To clear the matter, she told the girls to call her ‘Old Miss’ and her sister ‘Young’.
‘But what will we call Young Miss Heathering when she gets old?’ asked one of the girls.
‘Wait until the problem is upon us.’ was the Old Miss’s reply.
“Sister,” Young Miss Heathering stood in the doorway, her slim build lost in a woolen sweater “what is it with you and open windows?” With pale hands, she turned up the lamp nearest her, its light warming her ruddy waves. She then stamped across the room and shut the window. “No wonder I can’t keep the girls warm.”
Old Miss Heathering let a twinkle into her brown eyes. At times, she had to wonder which of them were truly the elder. “Killjoy.” She tucked a lock of graying brown hair behind her ear
Young Miss Heathering buttoned her sweater. “Why is your window open as if it were July in India?”
“Perhaps it was.”
Young Miss Heathering sighed. “There you go fancying. The air has made you daft. How this place doesn’t fall to a shambles is beyond me.”
“Simple. I let you do all the worrying.” Old Miss Heathering rose. “Let us say good-night to the girls.”
Young Miss Heathering sighed. “It would be easier if we had a megaphone instead of going to each room and to each girl. By the time we finish our good-nights, it’s nearly morning.”
“Well they won’t be long tonight. At half-past nine, we shall have the company of my dear friend Mr. Candemoore.”
Young Miss Heathering frowned. “I do wish you would not speak of him so informally. Lord Joseph has a title.”
Old Miss Heathering tittered. “You act as if you’ve never met him.”
“But I was only five and I scarcely remember it.”
Old Miss Heathering laughed. “I suppose reaching the grand old age of twenty has robbed you of your memories.”
Young Miss Heathering turned down her sister’s lamp. “There are one or two I could live without. I must say that I look forward to seeing Lord Joseph again. I can tell from his portrait that he is kind-hearted. Pictures of that sort rarely brighten a room, but Lord Joseph looks out from it like a proud father. And now that I think on it, his picture hasn’t the pomp of a gentleman.”
Old Miss Heathering stepped into the corridor. “My dear, the last thing Joseph wants is to be called a gentleman.”
At half-past nine, Lord Joseph Candemoore IV arrived. Lord Joseph had welcomed the passing of time, for his gangly youth had given way to lean middle age. His light brown hair showed streaks of white, but the gleam in his green eyes had not dimmed in all the years he had known Old Miss Heathering.
“I know I’m calling late, but your faces were the first I meant to see.”
Old Miss Heathering reached up to embrace him. “Nonsense Joe.” She took him by the arm to the parlor, where a fire waited in the hearth.
Young Miss Heathering entered with tea and biscuits. “Good evening, Your Lordship.”
Joseph sat in a chair across from Old Miss Heathering. “Do spare me that odious title. Besides, this woman cannot be little Maggie. You likely don’t remember me, do you lass?”
“I know you from society reports, sir.”
Joseph wrinkled his mouth. “Oh, those. Now when did I last see you, Miss Maggie?”
Young Miss Heathering poured three cups of chamomile. “Fifteen years ago, sir. I was five.”
Joseph sat up. “Five? Yes, well, I rarely set foot in London for more than a day or two. Somehow or other I’ve managed to cross paths with your sister here. But it is far too long since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you.”
Old Miss Heathering smiled. “And not since she was a ‘Maggie’.”
“Yes,” Joseph nodded “and you were a Felicia. Do the girls still call you Old Miss Heathering?”
“Indeed they do.” Many years had passed since Felicia Heathering heard her own name, and with it came memories of her ambling youth. She counted the home among her blessings, as well as the girls who filled it, for they filled her. “So Joe, tell us about America. I doubt your letters said it all.”
Joseph swallowed a bite of his biscuit. “America is ‘booming’. It’s a word the Yanks like to toss about, and I must say it fits. I stayed in a borough of New York by the name of Manhattan. The streets kept up a racket all hours of the night. I dreaded sundown for the first six months.”
Young Miss Heathering refreshed his tea. “How awful for you.”
“Not really. I had plenty of board meetings, so I caught up on my sleep.”
The ladies laughed and Joseph grinned. He rarely smiled so, but that evening he was in the company of Felicia Heathering. She noticed his smile and recalled another memory, when a 19-year-old Felicia was engaged to a 22-year-old Joseph. Yet when Felicia’s parents died, leaving her to care for baby Margaret, she called off the wedding. In tending to her sister, Felicia found that she wanted to be a mother more than a wife.
‘You deserve a woman who loves you for you.’ she had explained. Joseph went away for a number of months, and Felicia feared she would never see him again. Then one day while unwrapping some fish, the newspaper that held it announced the return of Lord Joseph Candemoore IV. The son of Lord Candemoore III had recently explored the Far East. Although Felicia’s parents left her plenty of money, she knew she dwelled fathoms below a lord. Joseph asked to pay her a visit, and Felicia prepared to give him several pieces of her mind for hiding his title. Though it was she who canceled the engagement, Felicia wondered if Joseph ever meant to go through with it. Upon his arrival, Joseph apologized for omitting his origins and swore that he would have married her. However, his travels revealed that he was content to remain a bachelor so long as he and Felicia remained good friends. Felicia agreed to the new understanding, and both congratulated themselves on their maturity. In the twenty years since, neither had referred to the engagement. Therefore Maggie knew nothing of it.
Young Miss Heathering gathered the collar of her sweater. “I still say that Manhattan place sounds dreadful. I wouldn’t last a day there.”
Joseph sipped his tea. “You seem to fare well in London.”
Young Miss Heathering smiled. “London is my home, sir. Yet even here my nerves are rattled from time to time. I believe I will retire to the country when I grow old.”
Old Miss Heathering sighed. “Part of me has always regretted not bringing you up in Basingstoke. Unfortunately our dreams do not always land us in a safe harbor.”
Joseph glanced at the portrait of himself that hung over the fireplace. “No truer words, Miss Heathering. But you have brought enough of the country to this home of yours.”
Old Miss Heathering looked about the parlor. “What else would you expect of a Candemoore stead?”
Joseph laughed. “I still don’t know how my name got tacked onto this venture.”
Old Miss Heathering laughed too. “‘Venture’ is correct. As in venture capital. Not to mention your name is on the deed.”
“But every shilling I sank into this failure has found its way back into my pocket. And I do believe your name features prominently on all documents.”
Old Miss Heathering drank her tea. “I wasn’t about to let you have it over my head, now was I?”
Joseph sat back in his chair. “Well I still think you should call it Heathering House. I won’t be offended if you change it.”
Old Miss Heathering reached for a biscuit. “You’re quite the fighter, aren’t you Joe? In your own quiet way, you don’t give up.”
“No, I don’t.”
Joseph’s eyes caught the firelight, and Old Miss Heathering looked away. In the silence that followed, Young Miss Heathering wondered if they were still talking about the orphan asylum.
The chime of a doorbell sounded.
Young Miss Heathering rose. “That’s the kitchen door’s bell.”
Old Miss Heathering put her cup down. “Who is making rounds at this time of night?”
Joseph looked at his pocket watch. “Quarter past ten already? And I only came for a chat.” He stood up.
“You sit yourself down, Joseph Candemoore. I’ll not have you trotting off so soon.”
Joseph held up his watch. “But it’s quarter past—”
“Quarter past nothing. You will stay until we are all talked out.”
Joseph smiled. “Very well.” He resumed his seat. “I was hoping you would stop me.”
Old Miss Heathering placed two more biscuits on Joseph’s plate. “Imagine you gadding about America for three years and only visiting an hour.”
“Sister,” called Young Miss Heathering “I think you ought to come in here.”
The Old Miss and Joseph exchanged a look, then stood up.
Joseph held the kitchen door for Old Miss Heathering as she walked through it. “Don’t tell me the milkman’s run his route.”
Young Miss Heathering turned to reveal the package left at the door. “Not unless it comes in a basket.”
Old Miss Heathering stood back. “Don’t tell me—”
“Yes.” The Young Miss placed the basket on the table.
The basket contained a yellow blanket, tucked in on all sides, with a note pinned to the top. For a moment, the three stared at it.
Old Miss Heathering took a small step back. “Who volunteers to read the note?”
Joseph unpinned it from the blanket. “I shall.” He cleared his throat. “‘This baby’s name is…’ Hm.”
Old Miss Heathering looked at the note. “Is the penmanship very bad?”
The Young Miss folded her arms. “At least they could write.”
Joseph turned the note sideways. “Well I’m not familiar with the name. What does A-R-A-R-C-A spell?”
“Look.” Old Miss Heathering squinted at the note. “They were kind enough to sound it out for us. ‘uh-RAR-ka.’ And the last name is Barú, apparently.”
Joseph straightened the paper. “Oh. Ararca, I see it now.” He cleared his throat again. “‘This baby’s name is Ararca Barú, born the 9th of January, 1894. She is part-Turkish, part-Tahitian, part…Colombian, and part-Navajo.’”
Young Miss Heathering gasped. “How on earth did that happen?”
Joseph continued. “‘Tell her this when she grows up, because people will be curious.’”
Again they stared at the basket.
“Who volunteers to look?” asked Old Miss Heathering.
Young Miss Heathering smiled. “Well I answered the door, and Lord Joseph read the note…”
“Very well, I shall look.” Old Miss Heathering lifted the blanket and peeked in on its sleeper. “What a darling! Come look at her.”
Joseph and Young Miss Heathering stood on either side as the Old Miss pulled back the blanket.
“Look how dark she is.” whispered Young Miss Heathering.
Joseph touched the edge of the basket. “A baby bronzed just for you.”
“And the hair on her head.” Young Miss Heathering frowned. “Black as coal, it is.”
Old Miss Heathering smiled at the sleeping baby. “We haven’t had a foreign girl since that little one from Bombay. Lost her parents to influenza when she came to us. And then we lost her, poor lamb.”
Young Miss Heathering scowled. “The sickly thing nearly killed me, lest we forget. Foreigners bring nothing but disease.”
Old Miss Heathering stiffened. “Sister! You certainly did not learn such hog slop from me. A number of girls were ill long before Veena came. And that hasn’t anything to do with this child. One look is enough to see that she is vibrant.” She took the baby’s dimpled hand. “Oh I simply must hold her.”
Joseph put his hands in his pockets. “Will she not cry?”
“Not if I am very careful.” Old Miss Heathering wrapped the blanket around the baby, then lifted her out of the basket. “Oh, she’s warm.”
She touched her nose to the baby’s copper cheek. The baby yawned and opened her eyes.
Old Miss Heathering laughed. “Oh, look at those little black pearls! And the lashes already coming in. Sister, I believe Ararca is our prettiest baby yet.”
“What of Alice Halverson? Do you not remember her golden curls? Her skin was milk and satin. Came straight from the stars, I’d say.” Young Miss Heathering looked down to the baby before her. “This one is terribly dark, and she will only grow darker, I’m afraid. People are their fairest in infancy.”
Joseph buttoned his suit jacket. “It seems you will have your hands full tonight. I shall make it my business to stop again later in the week.”
Young Miss Heathering turned to him. “Do you not agree, sir? I’m sure you dealt with any number of foreigners in America.”
“Yes, I did.” Joseph winked. “Each time I passed a mirror.”
Old Miss Heathering laughed. “And I hold you accountable for another visit, Lord Candemoore.”
Joseph bowed. “Consider it done, Miss Heathering.” He took the baby’s hand between his thumb and forefinger. “Good night, patch quilt. You’ll keep these ladies in line, won’t you? My word. Four corners of the globe went into this creation.”
At a quarter of eleven, the Candemoore carriage rode away. Old Miss Heathering prepared a crib, and Young Miss Heathering looked through the linen closet.
“Won’t it be grand to have a baby about?” said the Old Miss. “Lately the girls have arrived half-grown. But I can’t wait to introduce this one to the fold.”
Young Miss Heathering laid a sheet and quilt in the crib. “They will tease her something awful, don’t you think?”
Old Miss Heathering placed the baby in the crib. “We must wait until the problem is upon us. And what a jolly little nickname Joe gave her.”
Young Miss Heathering’s eyes rolled upward. “I suppose it is better than Orphan 46. And must you call him ‘Joe’? Lord Joseph is society.”
Old Miss Heathering chuckled. “He is indeed, but his title has nothing to do with it. And he is quite right. This baby is our little patch quilt.”