The first novel in the trilogy which continues with Creature Comforts and Hearts of Gold, set in Fife from 1814 into the Victorian era. One November night, highlander Gaddy Patterson strays into the staid lowland parish of Balnesmoor, and stumbles upon a dead girl and her baby. Gaddy struggles to scrape a living for herself and the child, and in her struggle against the hatred of the village, she uncovers their long-hidden secrets... Praise for the trilogy: 'Stirling skilfully offers her readers a story rich with believable characters and colourful settings.' Best Sellers 'Beautifully written - full of the harsh realities and traditional relationships shaping life in early 19th-century Scotland. Highly recommended.' Library Journal
Release date: August 16, 2012
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 446
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Treasures on Earth
She had heard how Pictish warriors, the true folk of the north, had forged this track long centuries ago when they stole south to storm the Roman forts in the hills above the Clyde. Since then many another highlander, some hardly less barbarous, had followed the route from the glens, driving cattle down from the wild free mountains into the lowlands’ guarded pastures. Donald and she were part of that tradition. They had come into Stirlingshire out of remote Argyll every autumn for twenty-two unbroken years. Gaddy had no reason to suppose that the year of 1791 would be different, that on that November night her life would be turned upon itself forever.
For Gaddy Patterson and Donald McIver, the drove was one of many that patterned the seasons. In all they would travel near three hundred miles before the winter snows chased them home to the crofts of Ardelve on the bare backside of Ben Cruachan. In November, though, it wasn’t black cattle they rattled before them. In November they laboured for personal profit not as hirelings of Lorne’s wee lairdies or for penny fees from local cattlemen. The annual horse fair at the Thorn of Cadder on Glasgow’s boundary was the magnet.
The Cadder fair was a modest tryst compared to Rutherglen or the swarming activity of Falkirk’s marts where fifty thousand head would change hands in three days’ trading. But Cadder was best for a man with healthy highland garrons to shift, those sturdy ponies which were the blood and bone of Scottish agriculture and the carting trades. After the fair, with the garrons sold, Donald and she would push on to other business, no less important. They would head down the valley of the Clyde towards Dumbarton, leading the mare, a bold-striding draught-horse, and her two-year-old colt, already strong enough to tip over a haystook with a flick of his tail. By long-standing agreement the mare would be covered by one of the Flemish stallions on the Edderly Estate where Donald’s uncle was head horseman. The colt would be sold to the Edderly for seven pounds, the balance of its worth being taken for the stallion’s services, an arrangement that had worked well for many years.
The mare was named Bracken, the colt Gallant. He pranced skittishly behind his dam, as if he sensed Gaddy’s apprehension at turning on to private land.
“Damn you to hell, woman,” Donald shouted. “Bring them on.”
Possessed by doubt, Gaddy continued to hold rein.
Once they trotted the garrons down the track and on to the hill pasture they would be foul of the law. From Perth, through Crieff and Stirling, public roads and attendant lands were considered to be the property of parishes and the lairds who owned the parishes. Fees were due, though to whom and in what score Gaddy had no notion. Donald had never paid for grazings and claimed he had no intention of starting now, law or no damned law.
“Gaddy, do you not hear me?”
The brooding hump of the moor was burled by whirling sleet which obliterated the village’s outlying cottages. Tenants and labourers would be snug indoors. At the big house of Ottershaw only the horsemen would be out, grooming their charges in the sheltered stable-yard. Gaddy felt perilously alone. Tonight she pined for a family of her own. Donald might share her bed but he was no husband to her. Still, she was used to desolate nights and to loneliness. Why should this one disturb her? Her mother, long since dead, had been blessed with second sight. Though Gaddy could not claim to spy visions in fire flame or hear voices in sea waves, a premonitory warning sang in her head like a note drawn from a taut fiddle string.
“Come on, damn you, woman,” Donald raged.
Still she could not bring herself to enter the enclosed track. Seated high on the mare’s back, blanket and canvas for saddle, she clung bare-legged to its wet flanks. Her shawl clouted about her ears and the threatening wind straggled her hair. She was a tall, strong-boned woman of thirty-eight, with large hands and a shape of face that the herders in Ardelve called “chuffit-cheeked”. She took the weather well, though in cold months she wrapped her legs in woollen strips to prevent chafing for she sat astride the mare as a man does, except in towns.
Donald lost patience.
“Bracken,” he bellowed. “Here t’me, Bracken lass.”
What was it? Had there been a witch coven on the nearby hill? Did the stink of the unholy revel linger five days after All Hallows? Was that the source of her fear? Daft, Gaddy, the woman told herself. Stir yourself or Donald will whack you blue and black with the switch. She touched her heels to the mare’s flanks and the animal dawdled forward.
The wind unleashed a fresh torrent of leaves and flung the oak boughs about Gaddy’s head as she stooped under them. Bracken broke into a loping trot, the colt legging behind. She nosed for the open gate and surged up the muddy ramp. Gallant caught up with her. Donald jumped and quickly closed and roped the gate. They were in now, on Bontine’s land, in Bontine’s enclosure. Nervously Gaddy peered around.
Ewes sheltered under the branches which caverned the hedge. They rose with the garrons’ arrival, blethered, and shifted away into the teeth of the wind. Bullocks were visible against the skyline before they kicked and thundered away over the fall of the hill.
The grazing was rough pasture, part of the shoulder of the hill of Drumglass. Its slope plunged steeply from a conical summit down across the track, down across the Glasgow turnpike and through the gates of the Ottershaw parks right up to Sir Gilbert Bontine’s front door.
Gaddy had laid eyes on Ottershaw House only once. Seven years ago Donald, the worse for drink, had tried to sell ponies there. He had been chased away by a couple of ploughmen. She knew of the Bontine family in the manner in which she knew of most landowners along the road, from tattle picked up around fairs and camp fires where drovers and packmen met. In the general opinion Bontine was no tyrant. He would not shoot you or toss you into a cellar for his smith to whip or even drag you up before the sheriff’s man, unless for stealing. But Donald McIver had the unhappy knack of rubbing lairds the wrong way since he would not doff his bonnet to any man, even for the show of it. If they were caught it would mean trouble and loss of the sale at the Thorn of Cadder.
In the field, tussocks of coarse grass and thistle stalks stood out blind-white with sleet. There was a burn ahead, where tiny streamlets gathered off the hillside, and a bowl-like pool where the ponies could be watered. But there was precious little in the pasture worth paying fee for and there would be no justice in a charge of grass-stealing or hardly of trespass, though trespass it undoubtedly was.
Bracken followed the garrons along the hedge then upward across the slope of the hill, away from the belt of forest which sheltered the pasture. Gaddy could make out the garrons well enough and Donald’s two dogs hugged low against the turf, silently snapping at the ponies’ hoofs to keep them together.
Three hundred yards above the track were the remains of a wall and a hut of sorts. It had once been the home of an auld wife who had earned pick by scaring hares from the grazings before guns came into fashion, but she was long dead and the hut had no purpose but to shelter ewes. Even so, Gaddy would be glad to tuck herself inside tonight out of the cruel wind and away from disturbing fancies. It would cheer her to hear Donald ranting against the lairds, after they were settled and she had kindled a fire and boiled the pots. She would do the housekeeping while Donald tended the garrons and fed the horses from the meal sack. She would use some of her precious supply of tea tonight. Tea was Gaddy’s only indulgence. She could not abide sma’ beer, ale or spirits, though the drinking of “the lady’s drink” was considered an affectation by the Ardelve crofters.
The garrons had found a chew of weeds along the exposed side of the wall and had strung out there, tails fluttering like pennants. Donald left them to it and went through the gap in the wall, preceded by the dogs. Gaddy let the mare follow, stepping daintily over half-buried stones. She reined the animal by the lee of the hut and Donald took the colt off the rope.
As he passed her, Donald muttered, “God, what ails you tonight, Gaddy Patterson?”
He did not expect a reply.
Gaddy slid to the ground. The wind plastered her skirts to her thighs and cloaked the shawl about her head. The pack-pony loitered close by, patient as a monument. Shivering and panting, the dogs waited too. Donald had not dismissed them. Dogs and horses were obedient to the highlander. He treated them well, better, oft-times, than he treated his woman. Gaddy approached the door of the hut enshrouded by a strange mingling of fear and excitement.
The hut had a rank sheep smell to it, dank as a sea-cave and pitch black within. But it wasn’t the stench that appalled her. Lug and Birkie, brave full-grown mongrels and wise as sin, had backed away from the place, showing white teeth above curled muzzles, ears flattened and ruffs bristling.
Gaddy signalled, saying, “G’in Luggie. G’in, Birkie. Ga’ awa’ in.” The dogs would not obey. Trembling, they remained pressed to the grass.
The mare snickered and stamped her hoof uncertainly. Big as he was the colt moved closer to his dam, rubbing his neck along her shoulder.
Gaddy said, “Donald?”
The man could not hear her. He had gone behind the wall to count the garrons while they cropped.
Gaddy took a deep breath and stepped forward.
Senses sharpened she detected a shape within the darkness of the hut, a pale, elongated shape which at first seemed to hang in the space above the dimpled black mud. It would be nothing terrible, of course; a flour sack, a scare-rag that a bairn had left. If she cried to Donald, he would stride past her and kick the thing and jeer at her imaginings.
Gaddy turned to the pack-pony and groped among the bundles wrapped to its back. She found the lantern in its oilcloth bag and the smaller bag that contained tinder and flint. Kneeling beside the wall, sheltering the box with her skirts, she struck a spark from the bluestone. She made flame in the teaze of wool and wood shavings in the tin. With a straw taper she transferred the flame to the tallow within the lantern, closed and latched it, and approached the doorway once more.
Cracked and slimy with moss, the lintel was hardly taller than her head. She stood beneath it and extended the lantern to arm’s length.
It was no scare-rag after all.
Gaddy uttered a cry of horror.
A woman was sprawled across the floor of the hut, skirts screwed around bare, stick-thin thighs. Gaddy could see how she had pitched across the threshold and crawled into the shelter on her stomach. Spittled with sleet and mud, her fair hair stuck out like moulting feathers. She looked, Gaddy thought, like a young heron with its neck thrawn.
“Donald?” Gaddy whispered.
Birkie had trailed Gaddy into the hut and sniffed curiously around the stoup. The highland woman kicked out at the dog lest it defile the corpse.
“Donald, come quick.”
Lug barked, relaying her command, but Donald cursed it and told it to hold its damned noise.
Gaddy inched forward, letting the puddle of light from the lantern settle on the dead woman.
She was hardly a woman at all when you looked close, hardly more than a girl, tall and angular with arms as thin as willow wands. Her right arm was crooked under her breast, a pillow for her cheek.
Perhaps it was Gaddy’s shout which induced response, a tiny plaintive mouse-squeak too faint and weak to be called a cry.
Gaddy fell to her knees, propped the lantern by the wall and drew back the girl’s shoulder. The neck was limber and the head flopped. Sightless eyes stared into Gaddy’s. She was fifteen or sixteen years old at most and, even with sunken cheeks and colour gone, pretty.
Gaddy swallowed the lump of pity in her throat. Gently she pushed the shoulder again. The body uncoiled and rolled on to its back.
There, pressed smothering tight against the girl’s breast, was a baby.
“Oh, God! Oh, God!” murmured Gaddy Patterson and reached to gather the infant into her arms.
The Reverend William Leggat first came to Balnesmoor in 1772. The Duke of Montrose issued the presentation in his favour and he was ordained on the 9th day of June. Fifth son of a tenant farmer in Franklin, near Dunblane, he had attended school in Stirling and later the University of Glasgow. For three years after his graduation he served as tutor to the family of Mr Arbuthnot of Croal, near Perth. There he fell head over buckles for the daughter of the house, a haughty bitch named Isobella who clearly had her sights set on marrying nobility but, out of malice, almost drove the young minister mad with her strutting and teasing. So relieved was Mr Leggat to be free of the witch that he knelt before the altar of Balnesmoor old kirk on the eve of his ordination and took a private vow that he would journey no further in search of advancement and would be content with his lot as it had fallen him. He also vowed that he would not marry. The quest for a suitable wife might unwittingly lead him within range of another crocodile like Miss Arbuthnot and he did not think he would be able to survive such a trial of the flesh a second time. Celibacy, however, was a condition more easily promised than endured. By inclination, Mr Leggat was a loving man, though not particularly carnal, and his natural vigour soon found other outlets. No zealot, he avoided involvement in the quarrels which split the presbyterian churches. He based his ministry on sound doctrine, the teaching of the Catechism and the singing of metrical psalms. He was not without fervour as a preacher but he personified the new tolerance that had crept into the Church. He was, in general, liked for his moderation. By the time he had reached his prime he was much respected in the parish, not least for the size and abundance of his vegetable crops.
Some mean-spirited people muttered as how the Reverend seemed to spend more time labouring in the manse garden than he did in the vineyards of the Lord. But even the least magnanimous villager was forced to admit that he had done wonders with the ill bit ground that sloped away behind the manse, a plot once so peeled of feal and divot that not even thistles would grow there. Such profusion of fruit, flower and vegetable raised by a minister, folk said, surely attested to the Glory of God, and the value of regular dressings of manure.
The manse lay four hundred yards from the church in a cul-de-sac known as the Bonnywell, though the well itself was dry now and water was obtained from the west pump close to the Ramshead Inn. The front of the manse was screened by shrubs and an ivy-covered wall. It was a two-storey sandstone building with a slated roof and an ornamental brick chimney. Though the Bonnywell was at the quiet end of the village it also contained two lime-washed cottages, Bontine feus, which were leased from the laird by Mr James Simpson Moodie, handloom weaver and parish clerk.
James Moodie had two spinster sisters and a widowed mother to support, though with three pairs of female hands to “do” for him many a lad in Balnesmoor might have settled for a life of ease. Not Jamie Moodie; he took his responsibilities seriously. The family lived in one cottage and worked in the other, spinning wool and weaving it into cloth. It was a tidy, well-packaged business which young James had inherited from his thrifty father. The loom was bolted to the floor close to the cottage’s front window, ostensibly situated to provide light but also to furnish an unimpeded view of the manse.
It was close to six of the clock that Tuesday evening when the clatter of hoofs brought Jamie leaping from the loom board to the window. He peered apprehensively through the pane, wiped it with his sleeve and peered again.
Mother and sisters had heard the noise too and came running to Jamie’s side.
“What is it? What’s happenin’?” the elder girl demanded.
“Wait, wait ‘til I see.”
A rough-looking scoundrel in tattered clothing swung from off a garron’s back. He flung open the manse gate and, hauling the pony behind him, stalked up the path between the trim little holly trees.
“Jamie, is it a robber, d’ye think?”
“The bearer o’ ill tidings,” said Mother Moodie profoundly. “I can tell.”
“Do not judge, lest ye be judged,” Jamie snapped.
Moments later came the faint echo of a fist pounding on the manse door.
“Watch. Watch close,” said James Moodie. “See if she lets him in.”
The housekeeper’s lamp glimmered like an elf-light for half a minute then went out as the door closed.
“She did. She let him right in.”
“Maybe he’s a messenger wi’ a letter,” said the younger sister.
“Or a seedsman callin’ for an order,” said the elder.
“No seedsman would ride at such indecent speed,” James Moodie said.
“Son, it bodes ill for somebody, I’m thinkin’.”
“You’re right, Mother,” growled the weaver.
“Aye, but for who?” Mother Moodie said.
Curiosity burned like dry straw, not only in the women but in the weaver too. He was taut with frustration and anxiety. He kneaded his fists together, glancing from the window to the loom, then at his mother.
“I’ll . . . I’ll away over,” said James Moodie. “I’ll need t’ see what’s occurred.”
“You canna go in your apron,” Mother Moodie said.
“Lizzie, fetch my Sabbath breeks, and be slippy about it.”
In fact the stranger had not been admitted to the manse by the elderly housekeeper, rather she had been brushed to one side by his haste. Now the old woman, gruff as a terrier, was threatening to send for aid if the stranger did not stand and explain himself. But the stranger had no intention of explaining himself to a servant. He had already stalked uninvited into the dining-room, drawn by the lamplight.
Mr Leggat had had a busy day. He had visited two aged worthies before dinner at midday and had spent the afternoon drilling bean rows in the dry ground by the north-west wall of the garden. Washed and groomed, the minister was seated at the supper table with a glass of loganberry wine, a copy of Young’s Farmers’ Kalendar open before him, when the drover burst in.
“Are you the minister?” the stranger demanded.
“Indeed. I am Mr Leggat.”
“There’s a woman dead.”
Leggat was thin and fit, with soft, reddish hair and brown eyes, his hands as calloused and sinewy as a thatcher’s.
Bristling with anger and injured pride, Mrs Sprott came into the dining-room. Mr Leggat held up a hand to her. “I will attend to it, Mrs Sprott, thank you.” He addressed the stranger. “Where?”
“Up by the burn, on the Drumglass grazings.”
“Who, may I enquire, are you?”
“McIver’s the name. Donald McIver.”
Mr Leggat had seen many of like type. He recognised the “regality of the road” in the grey wool bonnet, duffle coat, cord knee-breeks and thick rig-and-fur stockings ventilated by a number of holes.
“Are you, by chance, a cattle drover, Mr McIver?”
“That’s what I am, sir. But it’s garrons I have on this trip.”
“Are you heading for Cadder?”
“I was, until we found the dead woman.”
Mr Leggat’s gentle manners hid a high degree of acumen. “Drumglass is part of Sir Gilbert Bontine’s estate, McIver, as I’m sure you are aware. Why have you brought this sad information to me and not to the laird?”
“She . . . my . . . the woman told me t’ find the minister.”
“Would you have ridden on?”
The perspicacity of the question caught McIver by surprise. He gave a lopsided grin. “Aye, maybe I would. But there’s a bairn too, an’ the bairn’s still breathin’.”
Mr Leggat got to his feet. “Mrs Sprott, hasten across the road and fetch Mr Moodie. Tell him to come at once. Oh, and where are my riding boots?”
“In the cupboard by the stairs. Are you ga’n oot with this ruffian? It’ll all be a pack o’ lies.”
“It’s no lie, mistress. I wisht it was,” said McIver.
Before Mrs Sprott could move to do the minister’s bidding there was a rap upon the manse’s front door.
Mr Leggat grunted wryly. “Unless I am much mistaken, that will be Mr Moodie. Do let him in.”
Minister and drover followed the old woman into the hallway and watched as she unlatched the door once more. Leaves rustled on the stone step and wafted into the hall, less deferential than the elder who, with neck craned and eyes popping, awaited an invitation.
“In ye come,” said Mrs Sprott. “I was on my way for you. He’ll have need of your protection, I’m thinkin’.”
“Protection?” said Mr Moodie. “From what?”
In spite of his exalted position in kirk and community, James Simpson Moodie was short of thirty years old. He had whisked through boyhood and youth, however, and affected the air of a much older man. He dressed more like an Edinburgh lawyer than a country weaver and spoke in a “grand style” when he addressed the minister. He was shorter by a head than either the Reverend or the drover but thick-muscled and powerful.
“Excellently well-timed, Mr Moodie,” said Leggat. “We must brave the elements, you and I. Be kind enough to fetch the horses from the livery and bring them to the gate. Also, if you will, call in at Mr Rankellor’s house and see if he has returned from Stirling. If so, inform him that I would be obliged if he would rendezvous with me in the yard of the Ramshead as soon as possible.”
Mr Moodie glowered at the drover, his curiosity not appeased. “What are you needin’ the doctor for, Mr Leggat?”
“To attend a foundling.”
“Would Mrs Campbell not do as well as the doctor?” said Moodie. “I could ride to Harlwood for her.”
“A midwife would hardly serve our purpose or that of the poor infant – who is already born.”
“Mrs Campbell comes cheaper than Mr Rankellor, much cheaper.”
Mr Leggat sighed. “We’ll discuss the payment of the doctor’s bill later, Mr Moodie. As it happens I also wish Doctor Rankellor to be present in his capacity as sheriff-substitute. Now please do as I ask.”
“I will, Mr Leggat. I will.”
The elder turned and hurried out of the door and down the path.
The speed of his passage caused McIver’s garron, which was tied to a little hazel tree, to whicker and stamp its hoofs all over the flower beds. Mr Leggat sighed again, seated himself on the stairs and pulled on his riding boots, which Mrs Sprott had drawn from the cupboard. She had also brought out a heavy wool coat, a knitted scarf, mittens and his travelling hat, all necessary to protect the cleric from the foul November air.
“Him – Rankellor – is he the sheriff’s man?” asked Donald McIver.
“He is. By fortunate coincidence he resides in this parish.”
“What are we needin’ him for?”
“To settle the matter of responsibility,” said Mr Leggat.
“Responsibility? We only went up there for water, damn it.”
“Responsibility for the welfare of the infant.”
Donald was not appeased. He fidgeted nervously while the minister made himself ready. He wondered what calamities Gaddy had called down upon him, what with ministers and elders and sheriff’s men all dancing to her beck. Was it too late to cut and run from the ominous shadows of kirk justice and the law, to abandon his ponies, his horses and his mistress for the sake of freedom and a quiet life?
After all, Donald McIver reminded himself, he owed Gaddy Patterson nothing – and the poor pewling babe even less since it was like to die anyway, if not tonight, tomorrow.
“Come,” said Mr Leggat, rising.
As if guessing what might be hovering in the drover’s mind, he took a firm grip on the highlander’s arm and led McIver from the manse.
Gaddy heard them swing out of the trackway into the field. Lug and Birkie, settled in a corner of the hut close to the fire, pricked up their ears and grumbled in their throats at the approach of strange horses.
Gaddy said, “Wheesh, wheesh, the pair of you,” though the child in her arms seemed oblivious to the dogs or the looming presence of mare and colt by the door, where Gaddy had scattered oats to keep them quiet.
Where the garrons had strayed to Gaddy did not care. Her concern was for the morsel of existence which cuddled against her breast, too weak to grope in search of a teat and a taste of mother’s milk.
Gaddy knew little of babies, except that they often died. In Ardelve, for instance, four out of every six did not survive a year, but were carried back to their Maker by croup, convulsions, or the flux. But Gaddy had delivered and nursed many calves and foals and was not entirely lost when it came to nurturing a young thing, though she was afraid for it, heartbreakingly afraid.
When found, the infant had been barefoot and bareheaded, wrapped in filthy swaddles of cotton stuff and knitted wool which had absorbed the wetness of the sleet. Straight away Gaddy had stripped the child to the skin. Donald had obeyed her instruction to fill a pot from the burn and light the bunch of dry kindling they had brought with them.
“It’s a girl, Donald.”
“Aye, it would be,” Donald had retorted.
“Go now an’ fetch the minister.”
Donald McIver might be selfish but he was not altogether a brute. Besides, he had been quick to take Gaddy’s point about the bother they would be in if they stole the child and were caught. Justice was still rough in Stirlingshire but on occasions the authorities could be uncommon thorough. They did not know to whom the child belonged or from what family the girl might be descended. So Donald drew the cadaver against the wall and covered it with the saddle blanket then took the pack from the garron, mounted up and rode back into the village to find the cleric.
The dry kindling did not last long and did not warm the pot much. Soon after Donald’s departure, Gaddy was obliged to wrap the baby in a shawl and big blanket and lay it down while she went out and into the trees to rummage in the dark for dry sticks. Expert in foraging, she found them without straying far and was back in the hut within minutes. She broke and fed the sticks into the smoke then opened up the pack, found sugar and oatmeal and set them by, along with a wooden cog and a nice silver tea-spoon Donald had bought her from a pedlar once in a rare fit of generosity.
It was impossible to guess the baby’s age. She was shrivelled and puny like a skinned leveret, lacking in vital energy. Under a cap of fine fair hair, her scalp was crusted. Her eyes exuded a yellow pus. She had no fever, though the cold was slow to come out of her. Gaddy hugged and gently rubbed her while waiting for the pot to steam. Age was important. If the bairn was very young then her stomach would reject anything except milk and Gaddy had no milk to hand. The baby had to be fed, and fed right soon. Gaddy prayed that the mite had tasted weaning saps and that her swollen belly would be able to digest oat gruel.
The burn water gurgled in the pot. Gaddy laid the baby down again, measured oatmeal with the tea-spoon, pinched in sugar from the canister and stirred the mixture until it thickened. She unearthed a clean kerchief and laid it over the wooden cog and poured the gruel through it, bagging the cloth and crushing it so that a milky substance dripped through to give body to the liquid.
All the while the baby lay motionless without a whimper, and the wind bellowed and brayed about the broken thatch and sleet refined itself into snow. Bracken and Gallant had come close to the doorway, huge against the speckled snow-light. Lug was on his feet, sniffing and whimpering at the smell of the mash. To keep the dogs quiet Gaddy made a slosh of meal for them and tipped it, steaming warm, into their pan. Tails slapping, the dogs fell on it hungrily. Gaddy hoped that the baby would eat with as little coaxing. Cradling the infant against her shoulder, she took a dab of sweet gruel on the tip of her little finger and brushed it against the lips. There was no response. The bairn’s eyes remained shut, not in sleep but in swoon.
Gaddy tried again. With the ball of her thumb she lifted the upper lip and touched the substance to gums and tongue. For a long moment it seemed that the child’s natural instincts had ceased to function, then, to her enormous relief, Gaddy felt the little tongue stir and the gums close on her pinkie. The baby girned. It was the first sound she had uttered since the squeak an hour ago. When Gaddy removed her finger there was more girning, suitably petulant. Tiny fists closed on Gaddy’s hair until the finger, larded with gruel, was reinserted. It was sucked clean very swiftly. Aye, Gaddy thought, she’s thirsty as well as hungry. But she’ll feed now and if her belly will hold and digest, she’ll not starve, wha
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