Once, his sister whispered to him privately, after a dinner they had refused to eat, "I liked it." But Tim glared at her and replied, "It was stuffed cabbage. You are not allowed to like stuffed cabbage."
"All right," Jane said with a sigh. She went to bed hungry and dreamed, as she often did, about becoming older and more self-assured so that someday she could play whatever game she liked or eat any food she chose.
Their lives proceeded in exactly the way lives proceeded in old-fashioned stories.
One day they even found a baby on their doorstep. This happens quite often in old-fashioned stories. The Bobbsey Twins, for example, found a baby on their doorstep once. But it had never happened to the Willoughbys before. The baby was in a wicker basket and wearing a pink sweater that had a note attached to it with a safety pin.
"I wonder why Father didn't notice it when he left for work," Barnaby A said, looking down at the basket, which was blocking the front steps to their house when the four children set out one morning to take a walk in the nearby park.
"Father is obliviousyou know that," Tim pointed out. "He steps over any obstructions. I expect he poked it aside." They all looked down at the basket and at the baby, which was sound asleep. They pictured their father taking a high step over it after moving it slightly out of his way with his furled black umbrella.
"We could set it out for the trash collector," Barnaby B suggested. "If you take one handle, A, and I take the other, I believe we could get it down the stairs without much trouble. Are babies heavy?"
"Please, could we read the note?" asked Jane, trying to use the self-assured voice that she practiced in secret.
The note was folded over so that the writing could not be seen.
"I don't think it's necessary," Tim replied. "I believe we should," Barnaby B said. "It could possibly say something important."
"Perhaps there is a reward for finding the baby," Barnaby A suggested. "Or it might be a ransom note."
"You dolt!" Tim said to him. "Ransom notes are sent by the ones who have the baby."
"Maybe we could send one, then," said Barnaby A.
"Perhaps it says the baby's name," said Jane. Jane was very interested in names because she had always felt she had an inadequate one, with too few syllables. "I would like to know its name."
The baby stirred and opened its eyes.
"I suppose the note might give instructions about babies," Tim said, peering down at it. "It might say where to put them if you find one."
The baby began to whimper and then very quickly the whimper changed to a yowl.
"Or," said Barnaby B, holding his ears, "how to keep them from screeching."
"If the note doesn't tell the name, may I name it?" Jane asked.
"What would you name it?" Barnaby A asked with interest.
Jane frowned. "Something with three syllables, I think," she said. "Babies deserve three syllables."
"Brittany?" Barnaby A asked.
"Possibly," Jane replied.
"Madonna?" Barnaby B suggested.
"No," Jane said. "Taffeta, I think."
By now the baby was waving its fists, kicking its chubby legs, and crying loudly. The Willoughbys' cat appeared at the front door, gazed briefly down at the basket, twitched its whiskers, and then dashed back inside as if it was made nervous by the sound. The baby did sound a bit like a yowling kitten; perhaps that was why.
Tim finally reached down past the flailing little fists and unpinned the note. He read it silently. "The usual," he said to the others. "Pathetic. Just what I expected."
He read it aloud to them. "'I chose this house because it looks as if a happy, loving family lives here, prosperous enough to feed another child. I am very poor, alas. I have fallen on hard times and cannot care for my dear baby. Please be good to her.'"
From The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. Copyright Lois Lowry 2008. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Walter Lorraine Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin.
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No Man's Land
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