Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.
Chapter Four here.
Chapter Five here.
Chapter Six here.
Gloria stared out of the window. Behind her, Philip bustled around the room. He put cushions straight and turned the fire over, putting a fresh log on.
'Gloria?' he said hesitantly.
She turned. Her previously vibrant and beautiful face was waxen and her blue eyes dead. She had been like this since her baby son disappeared two weeks before. Her long blonde hair was untidy, despite her mother and sisters' attempts to neaten it. Her clothes hung on a slim frame, due to not eating a square meal for a fortnight. Her breasts, so recently plump and full of milk, were starting to dry up and hung as lifelessly as her arms at her side.
'Come here, my dear' said Philip and took her hand gently. Her skin felt like gossamer. He thought that if he held it too tight it might rip under his fingers. The thin girl allowed him to guide her to the settle, where he delicately pressed her into the seat and encouraged her to lean into the soft cushions.
'How are you today?' he asked in a matter of fact way as he arranged her skirts and found her book, placing it in her lap. Gloria was silent. This was no surprise, she had not spoken since the scream she gave when she discovered the empty basket.
'I'm going to the market today,' Philip persisted. 'I will ask around again if anyone knows anything. Someone must have seen something out of the ordinary. Babies don't just - disappear.'
But the truth was Stephen had done just that. While his family was otherwise occupied and his exhausted mother slept, Stephen had been spirited away out of his bassinet and was not seen again. No one saw anyone unusual at the farm.
Of course, the first place Brian Dennis went on his quest to find his grandson was the hotel where Philip Mantell was staying - sure that the baby's father had snatched him. But Philip was there, writing his diary, and there was no sign of the baby. The room was spotless and Philip permitted Brian to search thoroughly without a word of complaint. No one at the hotel had seen Philip with a baby and there were no unexplained noises and Philip followed his normal daily routine. It was fairly obvious he didn't have Stephen.
Once Philip was discounted the search was widened. Every person in Smyth turned out to help look for the baby. Houses were searched through again and again. Neighbours watched each other at market and on the street, trying to see if one of their own was letting drop clues of misdeeds. As time went on, the Dennis family despaired of ever seeing the little boy again and Gloria remained in a deep unrelenting depression. But Brian still went out daily, scouring the town and the countryside for his grandson. He ate rarely and walked dozens of miles every day, coming home merely to sleep off his exhaustion and start again the next day. Beatrice, the girls and the labourers kept the farm ticking over and Philip was in charge of Gloria. The estranged young couple had mended quite a few fences in the weeks before Stephen's birth and during their weekly visits after he was born. Gloria felt that maybe she had misjudged her penitent husband - he was so caring and considerate. Perhaps it was the idea of marriage that had sent him into a self-destruct cycle taking her with him. He was so - different - since he had returned to Smyth. And there was no evidence of the alcohol-fuelled rages she had seen during their brief time as man and wife.
But still, she didn't speak. Her huge sad eyes followed everything that happened, lighting up only when her father returned each evening only to dim again when she saw his empty arms. She was helped to the table for each meal only to push her meagre serving around the plate before putting her cutlery down. The doctor had been over to see her daily in the first week, and had left a small prescription. Beatrice only used it sparingly, usually at night, as she felt that grieving was a process her beloved daughter had to go through naturally.
Night-time was a different matter. Gloria had started sleepwalking soon after Stephen had disappeared. The family discussed this new event and concluded Gloria was searching for her lost baby in her dreams. Her sleepwalking took her across the yard and into the fields, causing her family more heartbreak whenever they found her missing from her bed. She was usually found wandering the fields and lanes in her nightgown with bare feet and freezing cold. They gently steered her back to bed and helped her to snuggle down under warmed blankets, rubbing her frozen hands and feet in an effort to make her comfortable and ease deeper sleep. They tried locking the doors, but she always found a way out of the house. They had gone through a brief period of having someone at her bedside, but the night that Natalie fell asleep and Gloria was discovered on the outskirts of Smyth showed that the family was too exhausted. That was why Beatrice saved the medicine for the night hours, reasonably thinking that Gloria and the rest of the family needed sleep at this difficult time. The medicine calmed Gloria and helped her to sleep dreamless sleep which, in turn, cut down on the sleepwalking incidents. Although, even with the potions, the poor girl still wandered occasionally, her unbounded grief overpowering the tranquilliser.
Philip moved Gloria's cold hand so it rested on her book. The fire crackled in the grate, beating back the chilly spring day. The wind battered at the windows and a small frown played upon Gloria's brow, as if she was concerned about her child out there in the cold April day. The arrival of the early spring flowers had gone unnoticed this year. This was the first year that Gloria had not rushed out to run her fingers through the wild daffodils and crocuses that bravely pushed through the cold earth every spring. The first year that the kitchen was not decorated with a vase of handpicked colourful flowers to welcome spring and the coming warmer weather. The first year that Gloria didn't skip around the house singing to herself. The first year that the Dennis women didn't spring-clean the house at all. With searching, animal husbandry and Gloria, there was just no time for any serious housecleaning, other than the day to day housework. The rugs remained unbeaten and the windows unwashed this spring. The stove remained merely clean and the kitchen floor was tidy, if a little dirty. No one in the family noticed that the cleaning hadn't been done and if visitors thought the house a little unkempt then that was totally understandable under the circumstances. Not that there were a lot of visitors. Gloria, Brian and Philip had made it clear that visitors and well wishers were not welcome unless they came bearing news.
But no news came.