BAIRD’S LEGACY - PART ONE
by Lee Murray
“You can’t be serious,” Eddie’s grandmother said. “Take the boy into France? The country is crawling with Germans. He’s barely six years old!”
They were talking about him. They had to be. There were no other children at Castle Baird. Eddie crushed his ear against the door and held his breath.
“It’s exactly why I need him,” Grandpa said. “He’ll make the perfect cover. Who’s going to suspect a bewhiskered old man travelling with his grandson? And the child speaks the language like a native, thanks to that French nounou of his. Besides, the sooner he learns his legacy isn’t just this crumbling castle, the better. There’s no real danger; the south is safe enough, and the war on the Western Front is winding up as we speak—”
“Don’t give me that nonsense, Graeme Baird. You know as well as I do that the papers have been singing that song for years.”
A chair scraped. Eddie imagined his grandfather striding across the ancient stone floors in a waft of soap and barley sugar to place his hand on her shoulder.
“I won’t let you do it.” Granny Rose spoke so softly Eddie had to strain to hear the words. “Martha and George sent him to us, so he’d be safe.”
Eddie rolled his eyes. Safe? Bored more like. His parents had explained to him about Kaiser Wilhelm and the war, how it was safer here in Scotland, and Eddie was sure it was safer, only there was nothing to do here. The estate was splendid, like Sherwood Forest: full of pine thickets and shady hidden lochs; but it wasn’t any fun being Robin Hood without any merry men. It wasn’t merry at all, really.
Behind the door, Grandpa’s voice rumbled, “I wouldn’t attempt it, if it wasn’t important, Rose.”
Granny Rose sighed. “I don’t suppose you could content yourself with a sizeable donation to the British Museum of Natural History?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after him. We’ll be there and back before you know it.”
There was a tap. Grandpa’s pipe on the desk? Then, a creak.
Footsteps! They’re coming to the door!
Digging in his pocket, Eddie darted across the hall to the staircase where he dangled his yoyo over the balustrade.
The door burst open. “There you are, Eddie,” Grandpa boomed.
Eddie wound up his yoyo before meeting his grandfather’s gaze. “Yes, sir?”
“How would you like to go on a little trip?”
Behind him, Granny Rose pursed her lips.
The train ride had been fun at first but, after days of travel, the smell of smoke and the constant clack of the rails made Eddie’s head hurt. Even worse, the rail car only served bread and smelly cheese. At least, it was all that Grandpa had bought for them. He wasn’t much fun either, spending most of the voyage staring glumly out the window. He refused to tell stories or play games, and there were no barley sugars tucked in his pocket. Eddie was beginning to wish they’d stayed at Castle Baird.
At every stop, guards wearing heavy black boots would barge into the compartment. Pointing their guns at Eddie and Grandpa, they would demand to see their identification papers. Grandpa would give them the ones with the pretend names on, where Grandpa was called Monsieur de Barry and Eddie’s name was Robin.
“What’s your business here?” the guards would ask gruffly.
“Taking the boy to Menton for the air,” Grandpa told them. “Tuberculosis.” The word tuberculosis was the signal for Eddie to give a little cough, which would make the guards step back hurriedly. After he coughed, the guards always left them alone.
When Grandpa and Eddie finally arrived in the Alpes Maritimes, it was late in the afternoon and they did not go to Menton. Instead, they sat in the back of a farmer’s cart travelling high into the mountains.
“We’ve told a lot of lies lately,” Eddie whispered as Grandpa lifted him out of the cart. “If Granny Rose finds out, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
Setting him on the ground, Grandpa ruffled Eddie’s hair. “There’s more than one truth, lad,” he said. “Now, where are we? This way, I think.” He pointed to a narrow lane between two ancient stone buildings.
“Where are we going, Pépé?” Eddie asked, accustomed now to using his French.
“To visit a friend of mine,” Grandpa said. “A museum curator.”
“A museum? Up here in the mountains?”
“Of a sort. But hush now, because the walls could have ears.”
Walls with ears?
Eddie grasped the hem of Grandpa’s coat while they navigated the maze of gloomy little lanes. His fingers were freezing by the time Grandpa stopped outside a house set back from the others. He knocked quietly and almost immediately the door opened in a flood of yellow light, as if the person on the other side had been waiting for them to arrive.
“Mon ami. Come in, come in quickly,” said the man who opened it. “The curfew starts soon.”
“Even way out here?” Grandpa took off his coat and hung it on a peg.
“Yes, I’m afraid, even here.”
“This is my grandson, Eddie. Eddie, say hello to my friend, Monsieur Potiron.”
Shaking the man’s hand, Eddie stifled a giggle at his name—Mr. Pumpkin. And it wasn’t a pretend name either!
“Welcome, young man,” Mr. Potiron said. “You must be tired after your long trip. Let’s get you some tartines, shall we? Perhaps a little cheese?”
Eddie wanted to groan. More cheese. But he was careful to smile nicely and mind his manners as Grandpa had told him to. He was on his second piece of toast when someone tapped on the door.
Grandpa jumped to his feet, but Mr. Potiron laid a hand on his arm.
“Let me deal with this.”
Grandpa sat down again, gripping his napkin in his fist.
At the door, Mr. Potiron’s voice was a little too loud. “Bertrand, bon soir. Please, come in.”
Bertrand stayed where he was. “I saw someone lurking in the street earlier and was concerned for your safety.”
“Lurking? I hardly think so! But you’re a good neighbour to worry about me. As you can see, there’s no cause for concern.” Mr. Potiron stepped back gesturing to Grandpa and Eddie. “It’s my late wife’s brother and his grandson arrived from Nantes.”
The man lingered in the shadows. Eddie caught a glimpse of his shoe where the stitching had come away and the sole flapped open.
“We’re supposed to report any newcomers.”
Mr. Potiron laughed. “But Bertrand, they’ve only just arrived! In any case, it’s hardly worth the bother: they’re leaving tomorrow, going to Menton for a cure.” Mr. Potiron lowered his voice and Eddie heard him say, “Tuberculosis,” so he gave a little cough.
From the darkness, Bertrand grunted. “Well, since you’re fine, Potiron, I’ll head on home.
“Of course. Bonne nuit, Bertrand.” Mr. Potiron closed the door.
“What do you think? Will he tell?” Grandpa asked.
“Bertrand?” Mr. Potiron shook his head. No, I don’t think so. He’s a busybody, but he doesn’t have the sangfroid to be an informer.”
“Even so, perhaps it would be safest if you take me to the cave tonight?”
Eddie looked up. A cave? At night? He could hardly contain his excitement. “I want to go to the cave, too!” he blurted.
Grandpa clapped a hand over Eddie’s mouth. “The Kaiser has spies everywhere, Eddie,” he whispered. “Best keep your voice down.”