Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Mercy Evans had three shoes

Mercy Evans had three shoes. Not three pairs of shoes, you understand, but three individual shoes. Her full name was God-Is-Merciful Evans, but as her Granpa said, if God was so darned merciful then he wouldn't have let her parents drown.

Unfortunately, Mercy didn't meet her Granpa until she was four years old, by which time she'd already been hastily baptised under the care of her Great Aunt Prudence. Great Aunt Prudence believed in God's Mercy, Obedience of Children, and Humble Gratefulness of Poor Orphans. Young Merciful was a great test of these beliefs, but Great Aunt Prudence knew that we were not put on this earth for pleasure and trusted that she would get her reward hereafter.

One day, when young Merciful was being particularly trying, Great Aunt Prudence took down a tiny shoe from a glass case on the mantlepiece. She placed it solemnly on the table by her chair. She informed young Merciful that her parents had been Wicked Sinners who perished in a shipwreck as part of the Awful Justice of God. A baby had been found at the bottom of the lifeboat, wearing a nightshirt made from a pillowcase, and one soft shoe. A handkerchief had been wrapped around her neck to keep out the cold sea air. This handkerchief was intricately embroidered with the letters A and E in navy blue. These details had been reported by the newspapers at the time of the shipwreck, in an attempt to find any relations of the poor nameless baby.

Prudence Evans (not yet called Great Aunt) recognised the description of the handkerchief as one of a set she had presented to her only nephew, Arthur. After a (brief and never to be spoken of) wrestling with her conscience, Prudence wrote to the harbour master claiming the handkerchief and, reluctantly, the child.

The harbour master's wife brought the baby in a fishing creel. She'd wrapped the little shoe in the handkerchief, and wrapped that in the pillowcase dress. Although it was spoiled by seawater stains, she'd laundered the dress along with the handkerchief, and clothed the baby in a napkin, binder and shirt belonging to her own child.

Great Aunt Prudence (as she now was) discarded the dress as fit only for rags. She unfolded the handkerchief and admired her embroidery. Glancing at the baby she gave a dissatisfied sniff. "I shall have to engage a Young Person. You'll need to stay until I do."

But the harbour master's wife was not impressed by Great Aunt Prudence. She had socks to darn, and bread to bake, and an unruly household to manage. Putting the creel on the hall table, she kissed the baby and marched to the door. "And you can send the clothes and the creel back with the carrier."