"Take that handle, twins," Tim said to his brothers. He took hold of the opposite handle. "Jane, you carry the note. We'll take the whole disgusting thing inside." Jane took the folded note and followed behind her brothers, who picked up the basket, carried it into the front hall of the house, and set it there on an Oriental rug. The noise coming from the baby was not insignificant.
Their mother, frowning, opened the door at the end of the long hall. She emerged from the kitchen. "Whatever is that noise?" she asked. "I am trying to remember the ingredients for meat loaf and I cannot hear myself think."
"Oh, someone has left a beastly baby on our front steps," Tim told her.
"My goodness, we don't want a baby!" their mother said, coming forward to take a look. "I don't like the feel of this at all."
"I'd like to keep it," Jane said in a small voice. "I think it's cute."
"No, it's not cute," Barnaby A said, looking down at it.
"Not cute at all," Barnaby B agreed.
"It has curls," Jane pointed out.
Their mother peered at the baby and then reached toward the basket of beige knitting that she kept on a hall table. She removed a small pair of gold-plated scissors and snipped them open and closed several times, thoughtfully. Then she leaned over the basket and used the scissors.
"Now it doesn't have curls," she pointed out, and put the scissors away.
Jane stared at the baby. Suddenly it stopped crying and stared back at her with wide eyes. "Oh, dear. It isn't cute without curls," Jane said. "I guess I don't want it anymore."
"Take it someplace else, children," their mother said, turning back toward the kitchen." Dispose of it. I'm busy with a meat loaf."
The four children lugged the basket back outside. They thought. They discussed the problem. It was Barnaby A, actually, who came up with a plan, which he explained to Tim, since he made all the decisions for the group.
"Fetch the wagon," Tim commanded.
The twins got their wagon from where it was kept, along with bicycles, under the stoop of the house. The boys set the basket inside the wagon while their sister watched. Then, taking turns pulling the handle of the wagon, they transported the baby in its basket down the block, across the street (waiting carefully for the light), and for two more blocks and around the corner to the west, going some distance farther until, reaching their destination, they finally stopped in front of a very forbidding house that was known as the Melanoff mansion. The gentleman who lived there was a millionaire. Maybe even a billionaire. But he never came out. He stayed indoors, with the moldy curtains drawn, counting his money and feeling hostile. As with Scrooge from another old-fashioned story, tragic events in his past had caused him to lose interest in life.
The mansion was much larger than the other houses in the neighborhood, but it was unkempt. A wrought-iron fence around its yard was tilted and twisted in places, and the yard itself was cluttered with pieces of discarded furniture. Some of the windows were broken and boarded over, and a thin cat scratched itself and meowed on the porch.
"Wait, A," said Tim, when his brother began to push open the front gate." I need to add to the note." He held his hand out to Jane, who had placed the folded paper carefully in the pocket of her ruffled frock, and she gave it to him.
"Pencil," Tim demanded, and one of the twins for all the children were accustomed to carrying whatever Tim might need and demandhanded him a pencil.
Barnaby B turned so that Tim could use his back for a table.
"Could you tell what I wrote, B?" Tim asked his brother when he had finished.
"No. It felt like scribbles."
"You must train yourself better," Tim pointed out.
"If my back had been the table, I would be able to recite each word and also the punctuation. Practice when you have a chance." Barnaby B nodded.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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