There was a stranger at the front door with a wicker chest under his arm.
"Tradespeople use the back," said the massive, bald-headed gentleman who answered.
Instead of turning away, the stranger handed him a card.
"This be you?" he asked.
The bald gentleman took the card. It read:
Eustace Carbuncle, Esq.
The Carbuncle Estate
The Hill Above Rigglemore
Mr. ;Carbuncle nodded curtly but did not ask the stranger in. The stranger's curly brown hair was full of dust, and his navy-blue clothes were scruffy. He also stammered in an undignified manner: the words jerked out of his mouth as if they would have preferred staying inside him.
"This here's . . . for you then. Used to belong to your wife's sister, but your wife's sister . . . she died. A weakly creature she was, and she's . . . gone away."
"Ah," Mr. Carbuncle said, removing his hands from the pockets of his smoking jacket to accept the wicker chest. "And she remembered us in her will? Something of value, perhaps?"
But without another word the stranger took himself off, hurrying through the gate in the picket fence and down the hill.
In Mr. Carbuncle's mouth was a thick black cigar, which rescued his large pink face from suggesting a certain harmlessness. The cigar twitched at the fellow's behavior. But in a moment he turned and took the wicker chest into the house. "Amelia, my dear," he called out. "Something from your sister."
Mrs. Carbuncle entered the hall with a weary sigh and a faint odor of disinfectant. She was a narrow, black-stockinged woman with her hair caught up in a black scarf; her narrowness and hardness of feature were in strong contrast to her husband. She leaned her broom against the banister and came over to the hall table, where he had deposited the chest.
"My sister?" she said. "But I haven't seen her these years. Why would she send us something now, out of the clear blue sky?"
"She died," Mr. Carbuncle replied. "You never know -- it might be something of value."
"Oh, well then," said Mrs. Carbuncle.
They opened the lid to the wicker chest. Inside were a tiny boy with golden curls, an equally tiny boy with hair all different shades of brown like a bowl of nuts, and a strange musical instrument. The boys were both sound asleep, and a note was wound in the instrument's silver strings. It said:
William has the brown hair and Jules the gold.
They are ten months old.
This dulcimer is all their father has to give them.
Mrs. Carbuncle crossly tore the note into little pieces. She was careful, however, to stuff the pieces into her apron pocket, letting none of them drop on the floor, for she had already done the hall that morning.
"Who even knew Molly was married?" she cried. "A wonderful wedding announcement!"
She then went to the hall closet and began to pull on a pair of galoshes. When Mr. Carbuncle asked her why, she explained, "You know how it is down there around the orphanage -- all that river muck."
Mr. Carbuncle looked from his wife to the strange merchandise in the wicker chest. Beside the chest stood a pewter bowl full of unpaid bills.
"Let's not be rash, Amelia, my dear," he said, puffing thoughtfully on his cigar.
"It occurs to me that we've been handed a golden opportunity."
Mrs. Carbuncle stared aghast at the gentleman of leisure she had married. "But, Mr. Carbuncle! You can't be thinking of taking them in! Think of the expense, sir! Think of the wear and tear on your furniture, your rugs. And we can't even afford to reshingle the roof!"
"Exactly," said Mr. Carbuncle, lifting his eyes in that direction. "Don't think the neighbors haven't noticed."
He could not see through to the roof that was in disrepair, but he could see the ceiling moldings, around which his cigar smoke was curling. They were very grand, but they were dingy in spite of all his wife's efforts. "Besides," he added, "these two won't eat much."
Mrs. Carbuncle's face grew very pinched, but she did not drop her tone of servility.
"I don't understand, Mr. Carbuncle," she said.
"Two objects of charity, Amelia. Don't you see? Two objects of charity under our roof. That's better than painting and shingling!"
All Mrs. Carbuncle could do was sigh.
"Oh, well then," she said.
Excerpted from THE DULCIMER BOY © Copyright 2002 by Tor Seidler. Reprinted with permission by Laura Geringer Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
The Dulcimer Boy
- hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0066236096
- ISBN-13: 9780066236094