Misplaced by Rowdy Tanner

Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but if I did own them I promise I would share.

Characters: Old West. Maude (Baby Ezra) OMC's

Contains: Childbirth. Why did Maude treat Ezra so badly as a child?

Susan L Fulton

The sign read 'Hotel' because no one in town could spell 'Hellhole'. It was less a hotel more a meeting place for vermin. He was used to better and far more commodious accommodations. Hell, truth be told, he was far more used to worse. Jail cells included. Still, a gentleman had standards to keep up. He could still shave, albeit a little shakily and comb his chestnut, slightly graying at the temples, hair. It took more than a few glasses of rotgut to steady his once dextrous hands these days and it was getting progressively worse. They'd almost tumbled to his method in that last little backwater town.
What name had he signed the register with this time?
Ah, yes. His own, E. Standish Esq.
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Red in the face, sweat-matted hair sticking to her forehead, she panted through the pain. The riverboat cabin was little more than a large cupboard and the Captain wasn't enough of a gentleman to relinquish his own more spacious cabin to a beautiful damsel in distress. At least not to one already bursting to the gunwales with some other man's child. Maude Standish was about to give birth, flat-broke and all alone on the Mississippi river.
She hoped and prayed that the child was a boy because women, even women with smarts like she herself were blessed with, were on a hiding to nothing before they had even drawn their first breath in this world of men. Already the child was twice abandoned, once by that lowdown parlor snake she had momentarily taken leave of her senses over and actually married, then a second time by the man who had put her aboard this floating pit of miscreants and ne'er-do-wells only to flee back down the gangplank faster than a plague rat leaving a sinking ship.
At least Earl Zachary Rupert Albert Standish had come up to scratch on the marriage front. Too late she'd discovered that 'Earl' was in fact a Christian name and not an aristocratic title and that the family 'plantation' was a squalid shack down by the river. Still, when she'd pawned the wedding band she's discovered that it was solid gold not brass and he was decidedly the most rakishly handsome devil she'd ever seen dancing the quadrille at a cotillion. She had to take some of the blame, after all a true gentleman wouldn't have winked at a mere lady's maid only there to fetch and carry. She had astonished herself by winking back.
"Damn you, Standish! Never again! Never!"
As if to taunt her the chimes of his gold pocket watch tinkled out the hour.
"I'm leaving this, my most precious possession, with you so that you will know for certain that I am coming back to you."
What a great big fat lie. She'd sat for weeks in that cheap boarding house waiting for him to come back. Believing that he would come back right up until the moment that she realized he had abandoned her. Deserted her in a miserable town so small that it wasn't even a flyspeck on any map. She had sobbed and sobbed for her lost love, the end of all her hopes and dreams, until every tear she could ever cry was gone, drained away for ever. Leaving her heart as dry as sun-bleached bone. Tired and weary of men and all their empty promises. The lies they told to get what they wanted and once they had it, they discarded it without a second thought. Heedless of the havoc they wreaked.
Well then, she would play them at their own game. Man was now the enemy. She declared her own war on mankind and she would fight it with every weapon at her disposal. Beauty, charm, lies and deceit, whatever it took. Her choices were limited. Returning to work as a lady's maid was impossible with a child on the way. The only other choice, to find work on her back in a bordello servicing unwashed cowboys until she couldn't work any longer wasn't an option she cared to try.
No, she'd find another way, any way rather than that. She would take money from men true enough but she'd leave them with nothing in exchange. So, she girded her loins as grimly determined as any man and finally crept out of a window at midnight to escape the landlady's less than fragrant son who was determined to get rent for the room one way or another.
She would always hate Earl Zachary Rupert Albert Standish with a vengeance simply because Earl Zachary Rupert Albert Standish was the only man Maude Standish would continue to be in love with until the day she breathed her last.
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Now she heaved herself off the narrow bunk and tried to walk a few steps before deciding to hell with that idea and maneuvering her whale like bulk back under the threadbare blanket with a loud unladylike groan of pain.
She ignored the scratch at the door. Strongly suspecting that it was one of the crew sent to throw her overboard, she stifled her moans with her fist and waited. The half louvered door opened and he steered his giant frame inside the small space.
"Jacques Boudreaux, at your service, ma'am."
He was tall, dark and once had been an unremarkable looking stranger. Tragically, someone had carved up the face of the man known throughout Louisiana as 'Cajun Jack' and almost as an afterthought had blinded him in the left eye.
"I can manage very well, thank you, sir," she said crisply.
He flipped up the eye-patch, closed his good eye and looked down at her with the sightless milky eye.
"I can see that, cher," he chuckled.
The smile fought its way onto her face in spite of her best efforts only for the pains to chase it away a second later. He removed his pea jacket, pulled off his red stocking cap and rolled up the sleeves of his thick wool checked shirt revealing muscular arms matted with thick black hair.
"You can't," she groaned, demurely pulling up the blanket up as far as her chin.
"Maman birthed fifteen of us in a cabin in the swamp. Never fear, I know what to do, cher."
There was another bout of agonizing pain and she no longer cared.
Several hours later he told her, "A boy."
"Dear Lord! What's wrong with its head?" she screamed hysterically. "It's hideous!"
"That is a caul1, cher, it's lucky and means your sweet baby boy will never drown," he patiently explained, understanding her shock as no mother was ever prepared for such a rare sight, before adding, "any sailor would pay you a very good price for it."
"Right at this moment they can have the whole repulsive creature free and gratis," she moaned, turning her face to the wall.
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"Jacques Boudreaux! Stop your fussing over me I can't abide it!"
"Baby Ezra needs to be fed," said Cajun Jack firmly, pushing the baby into her arms.
"You don't need me for that, he much prefers that newfangled bottle," she snapped, attempting to push the baby back.
"He never really got the chance to find out, cher. The least you can do is take him on your lap and give him his bottle."
"This is a new ensemble in the latest Parisian mode! He vomited on the one I wore yesterday!" complained Maude petulantly.
"Do you want me to let the dressmaker dun you for your bill? I had to settle with the man the milliners sent to the door yesterday. What on earth do you spend the more than generous allowance I give you on? How many beribboned bonnets does one young woman need?"
"You would deny your new wife a few pretty things, Jacques?" she asked in a wheedling tone.
"Why you would find new bonnet so entrancing when you have the prettiest baby boy in Louisiana is a mystery to me, cher."
She accepted the full bottle with ill-grace.
"Tilt the bottle, Maudie, the poor babe is sucking air," instructed Cajun Jack.
"See, you make a much better fist of it than I do. Take over."
"No! I already clean him up. This is the least you can do for the poor chile."
"Why can't you employ a nurse for him?"
"The cost of a nurse would mean no more new bonnets for you. My purse isn't bottomless, cher. The rent for these fine rooms and your allowance has me strapped as it is," he sighed, thinking of his sadly depleted savings.
"Sell the pocket watch," demanded Maude.
"No! It is the chile's inheritance. When I married you I agreed to stay out of your bed on condition that the gold watch stayed with the boy."
"Your selfish streak of sentimentality will be the death of me!"
Cajun Jack sighed resignedly and the hard look in his remaining black eye softened. Sometimes he forgot that, in spite of all her new-found airs, she was little more than a child herself.
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"I will be obliged if you would allow me to settle the rent for our room."
Earl Standish Esq. placed his tall hat and silver-topped malacca cane on the table and pulled off a glove to reach inside the pocket of his dark red silk vest once again regretfully noting the continued absence of his gold pocket watch.
"Earl Standish! I never expected to see you again. Maude, Lady Standish, left months ago. We...she slipped out of the window in the night without settling her, your, account. We never expected you to return for her."
"Never return? Of course I have returned! I'm her husband! You couldn't extend the lady wife of a noble gentlemen a little credit?"
"Gentleman," snorted the landlady's son.
"Shut up!" rebuked the landlady, any man willing to settle his debts was enough of a gentleman for her, noble or otherwise. "Sir, it has been months. She too had quite given up hope of seeing you again."
"She was with child and couldn't continue to travel with a man in my line of...well, she needed rest not endless traveling from city-to-city but she knew I was to return. Where did she depart to?"
"Regretfully, Lady Standish ain't confided her future plans to us," sneered the landlady.
He grabbed at the cane and hat, intending to leave.
"The bill, good sir?" smiled the landlady, showing three blackened teeth in an effort to be ingratiating.
He turned and the look of fury in his emerald green eyes made her close both her mouth and the account book with a resigned snap.
The stagecoach he had arrived on had not yet left town. As he entered the office to purchase a ticket he realized he had no real idea where to begin the search for his errant wife. She had distant relatives scattered far and wide but no close family to turn to. She had worked as a household servant ever since she was twelve years old. Graduating to the position of lady's maid, her only friends were servants in the same household and therefore unable to take her in.
He decided to journey back to where they had first met as she was likely to head for familiar ground. It would be difficult for a woman as captivating as Maude Standish to go unremarked on. Earl Standish was certain sure he would cross her trail soon. Flush as he was with cash money, from his very original twist on the cotton gin investment con, they would finally find a place to settle down and quickly add more children to their little family. She was the love of his life and he was going to find her and treat her like a queen.
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"I shall take a healthy perambulation along the riverfront before dinner," announced Maude.
"Remember to return before six o'clock. I have to open the bar," called Cajun Jack as she slammed the door behind her.
Cajun Jack paced the floor letting his anger reduce from a boiling rage to a slow simmer. Gently he drew circles on the tiny back of the baby, held against his powerful shoulder, until the child indicated that his wind was settled.
"Ezra, your Maman is a free spirit and a veritable pain in the ass."
The baby grabbed a fistful of black bushy beard and gurgled in full agreement. Before falling asleep in the giant's arms. The one and only place Ezra Peregrine Standish-Boudreaux would ever feel completely safe and loved.
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Six o'clock came and went. Cajun Jack wasn't concerned for Maude Standish-Boudreaux's safety, not only could Maudie talk herself out of almost any trouble that came along, no one that included continuing to keep breathing high on their list of things to do would dare to accost Cajun Jack's wife.
It wasn't just Cajun Jack's ugly face and Brobdingnagian build that scared other men, it was his murderous reputation. In almost every seaport across the globe a sailor's darkest nightmare began,
Once upon a time, Cajun Jack took his knife and...
Cajun Jack was furious that Maudie hadn't returned to take care of baby Ezra when she knew full well that he had a bar to run. The fact that it wasn't a fancy saloon on Royal Street but a gambling dive out past the swamp, so seedy that it gave seedy a bad name, didn't stop him raking in huge profits on the illicit white liquor and the services of working girls. Plus a percentage of every dollar gambled there. Most of his customers were Wanted men but who in hell wanted them when their own mothers crossed the street to avoid them, it was hard to know. The piratical cutthroats that patronized Cajun Jack's bar were so notoriously villainous that even the 'gators kept away. It was a rambling ramshackle arrangement of shacks. Accessed only by a rickety board walk over thick Mississippi mud that would suck you down and never let you go.
Inside the shack existed a bar consisting of a few planks of wood resting across three barrels. Behind the bar every night without fail was Cajun Jack's ugly phizog. The inside of the place rarely saw any trouble among the patrons of Cajun Jack's. Even the working girls felt safe from violence, unless the client was willing to pay extra. As for the miscreant that had tried to improve on Cajun Jack's face with his knife, rumor was that Cajun Jack had eaten him. However, that was a gross exaggeration. He'd only eaten his assailant's liver, with a hot chili sauce, throwing the rest to the gators.
By seven o'clock Jack realized that Maude was not coming back.
Furious he threw a few things he thought he might need into a gunnysack, scooped up baby Ezra from his crib and and hurriedly left for the bar.
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A few days later Cajun Jack happily discovered that employing a wet-nurse to come in and care for Ezra actually worked out a great deal less expensive than keeping Maude in fancy frocks and bonnets.
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In the hour before dawn Cajun Jack always cleaned up the bar, pausing in his work to see glittering emerald eyes gazing up at him. By now Ezra wouldn't sleep soundly anywhere other than the back room of the bar and some internal alarm clock awoke him at the same time every new day. Their joint routine was the same, Ezra would yell and scream to be brought out of the back room and placed on his blankie. From where he could see Cajun Jack at all times.
Ezra grabbed a fistful of sawdust from the floor and lifted it up to his mouth.
"No!" boomed the deep voice.
Ezra giggled and opened his mouth wide.
"Ezra!" warned the voice. "Do you want me to paddle your little derrière, cher?"
Cue more giggling from the infant. This was part of a ritual enacted every dawn and both combatants knew without doubt that no one was ever going to receive a paddled derrière. Cajun Jack lifted Ezra up with a noisy wet kiss and Ezra tugged gleefully at the bushy black beard as once again he was enfolded in big beefy arms.
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On his very first meeting with Maude Standish aboard the riverboat, her Acadian knight in shining armor had presumed Maude was unmarried and she had never seen fit to enlighten him. If Cajun Jack had an inkling that his marriage was bigamous he had never once broached the subject with Maude. She was grateful to him for his many kindnesses but that was all. There was no room in her heart for anyone other than Earl Standish. She had sincerely tried to feel otherwise but even her own child hadn't succeeded in earning himself a place in her heart. Perhaps one day he would and while she was certainly oblivious to his daily needs she had never ever wished him any harm. Hadn't she tried to put a roof over his head? to keep him fed and clothed? Even to the point of marrying a giant of a man she would never love and who wasn't one iota interested in being a proper husband to her? She was sure that for all his wild ways Cajun Jack was a better guardian than she would ever be. So she had paid for a seat inside the Concord coach with the money judiciously saved from her dress allowance and left baby Ezra behind without a single pang of guilt.
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Fate had arranged it so that Earl Standish had arrived mere hours after Maude had left town. He had a smart new buggy and two of the fleetest horses in these parts, therefore he decided to rest for the night and resume his pursuit of her the very next morning.
It was a mistake.
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Josiah Sanchez surreptitiously eyed the the slip of a girl in the opposite seat. Now, singers and opera-dancers he was quite happy to dally with from time-to-time but his years of strict religious dedication in the seminary had left him totally unprepared as how to engage in polite conversation with such a delectable Southern Belle.
He pondered as to why she dressed her sylph like figure in dark clothes more suited to a widow? The ensemble was probably copied from some fashion plate by a skilled but provincial dressmaker. He watched intrigued as she removed a glove, an action that immediately marked her out as being born to a lower station in life, to grip the hanging strap as the trail became increasingly rugged. A lighter ring of skin hinted that she had, until quite recently, worn a ring on her third finger left hand.
Maude Standish-Boudreaux was keenly aware that the firm jawed young priest was observing her with barely concealed admiration. She had grown accustomed to garnering that sort of attention from men. So far, although traveling alone and unprotected, she had encountered no problems.
As the coach rounded the bend in the road rocks washed onto the trail by the heavy storms caused the well seasoned white oak wheel to unexpectedly break. Although banded with iron and resting on three inch thick oxen-leather through-braces the stagecoach lurched violently to one side. It soon became clear that the passengers could not remain inside while the repair was effected. Josiah Sanchez helped Maude alight from the stagecoach. Unfortunately, Maude found herself ankle deep in thick mud and Josiah received a whack over the head from the angry female traveler's reticule.
"Look at me! Are you dumber than a shovel, sir?"
"Sorry. I apologize. Perhaps, if I were to carry you a little way down the trail, there might be firmer ground?" offered Josiah, sheepishly ducking his granite head.
She eyed him up and down. He certainly appeared strong enough to act as her beast of burden.
"My name is Josiah Sanchez, from the seminary."
"Maude Standish, gentlewoman. Very well," she rather begrudgingly agreed, "I shall of course require my valise. My portmanteau may remain with the conveyance."
After depositing Maude on a tussock of grass, Josiah staggered back down the trail to retrieve the lady's valise. When he returned Maude was gone.
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Sitting on the thankfully soft grass, Maude poured a little eau de cologne onto her handkerchief and dabbed it behind her ears. Opening her parasol, she surveyed her new surroundings disdainfully. Maude despised wide open spaces. What use was an uninhabited tract of land to her? Her varied talents had been honed in various towns and cities. Her ambitions stretched towards the idea of one day owning a large luxury hotel in a busy metropolis.
Muttering and grumbling under her breath about her misfortune she failed to see the horse and rider approaching.
"Bless my soul, a golden haired angel fallen from Heaven!"
Looking upwards, Maude shaded her eyes with her lavender gloved hand against the dazzling sunlight but could only make out the silhouette of a horse and rider.
The strong smell of a wedge of tobacco hitting the mud assured her that the rider was indeed most likely male. Maude immediately straightened her back and adopted a more ladylike pose. The horseman dismounted and removed his broad brimmed hat to effect a low sweeping bow.
"Hurled from a speeding Concord coach and cruelly abandoned to my suffering, sir," sniffed Maude, making the handkerchief her partner in crime as she employed one of the oldest tricks in the book.
The horseman caught the trifling scrap of linen and lace before it even hit the ground. A feat that Maude had to admit was impressive and he was also inordinately decisive as Maude discovered on finding herself swept off the ground and placed in the saddle.
"Then, dear lady, do permit me to offer you sanctuary in my humble home," he whispered in her ear.
Her current knight in shining armor was both tall and broad shouldered. Craggy faced and liberally crowned with a thick thatch of iron gray hair. His 'humble' home was an imposing enough edifice in the center of what was clearly a well-established and profitable ranch. Once again Maude had landed on her feet more fortuitously than any black cat.
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Maude brushed her hair with the heavy silver backed brush until it shone like sun ripened corn. Her flowered wrapper was newly arrived from New York, silk slippers encased her feet and the mirrored dressing table was strewn with crystal bottles of French perfume. Diamonds and pearls tumbled haphazardly from an imported hallmarked silver jewel box.
A sonorous snoring resonated from the double bed.
Drunk again. Not that she blamed him. Life out here was unbelievably tedious in its repetition. She often indulged in the demon drink in the late afternoon herself. Her gallant knight had turned into a portly, ruddy faced boor.
She had substituted thick cigars for the disgusting chewing tobacco. French wine for the tankards of beer and Scotch whisky for the shot glasses of rotgut whiskey. Fine dining had replaced his daily diet of steak and potatoes. Serviceable but altogether too rustic furnishings had been tossed on the bonfire to make way for better examples of the cabinetmaker's craft.
Too late, she had discovered that the only society hereabouts consisted of her new paramour's horde of overripe cowboys. Maude was long past bored and if she could only work up the enthusiasm she was heading towards apathy. Just as she had started to pine for Cajun Jack's lively company and had even begun to wonder how big Ezra might have grown, a distraction appeared on the horizon.
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Not wishing to be known as unduly negligent, the stagecoach company did not think it prudent to advertise the fact that they had carelessly misplaced a lady passenger. So they quietly disposed of Maude's luggage and held their breath. After making inquiries Earl Standish was informed by letter that Maude Standish had indeed purchased a ticket but had never taken up her seat on the Concord coach. The trail of Maude Standish was now stone cold.
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Baby Ezra took his first steps in the barroom of Cajun Jack's. Cajun Jack had watched as Ezra hauled himself to his feet with the aid of a beer barrel and beamed with joy as Ezra tottered forward a few steps and fell into his waiting arms.
"Well done, Ezra! Jack is so proud of you! See a new toy for Jack's clever boy!"
Ezra cuddled the fluffy stuffed skunk with the beady glass eyes, under his chubby chin and gave Cajun Jack a big sloppy kiss.
"Your new toy needs a name," advised Cajun Jack.
Cajun Jack beamed at what had been Ezra's first word. For some reason in spite of endless repetition the child refused to say 'Mama'. "A name of his own, dear one."
"Very well then 'Jack the Skunk' it is, Ezra."
Safely stitched inside the toy was the gold pocket watch.
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"Maude, this is my old friend, Chauncey Beauregard. Chauncey, this is Maude Standish-Boudreaux, a widow."
"Enchanted to make your acquaintance, my dear."
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Newly ensconced in the plantation house, Maude had good reason to congratulate herself. Poor Chauncey Beauregard's head was still spinning. All too desperate to escape her boring existence, Maude had seduced the naïve Chauncey with indecent haste. Pausing only to pack her jewels and steal the family silver before leaving in Chauncey Beauregard's elegant carriage, without sparing a second glance for the broken-hearted rancher she so callously left behind.
Her every whim catered for by the besotted Chauncey's numerous house slaves, Maude reclined on the chaise longue clad in her lace trimmed negligee. Only one shadow fell over Maude's Utopian Southern paradise and it was a formidable one. On the master bedroom's upper verandah dwelled a veritable leviathan.
Chauncey Beauregard's dearly beloved mama had despised the newlywed Maude on sight. The small watery eyes emerging from the huge rolls of fat had studied Maude with a hawkish intensity and found Chauncey's new wife wanting. Immediately summoning an entire regiment of lawyers, Mildred Beauregard had spent her her last weeks on Earth stringently altering her already ironclad, last will and testament.
Attending the reading of the said last will and testament, on his mama's oddly sudden demise, Chauncey Beauregard was apprised of the fact that he would not be master of all he surveyed. He would be allowed a barely adequate stipend and the continued use of the plantation house, however the vast wealth Mildred Beauregard had amassed and the bulk of the plantation's assets would remain in the hands of the lawyers until such time that Chauncey Beauregard's legal and faithful wife should prove herself physically capable of bearing a child.
Mildred Beauregard's assessment of her new daughter-in-law had led her to believe that Maude found the whole notion of childbirth painfully disagreeable. If Maude was greedy enough to try and become with child in order to inherit the plantation then Mildred Beauregard hoped Maude would drive herself insane on finding out that Chauncey Beauregard's doctors were in full agreement that a severe case of the mumps had left Chauncey incapable of providing Maude with a child.
Mildred Beauregard was still smiling smugly as she reposed in her lead-lined casket inside the Beauregard family crypt.
Maude long pondered the contents of the will. She consulted the lawyers, placing particular stress on the phrase, prove herself physically capable of bearing a child. With a tight little smile Maude quickly realized that Ezra, cast in a role that was to rapidly become the norm, was her ace in the hole.
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The Beauregard's plantation overseer, accompanied by his ugly henchmen, easily succeeded in intimidating Ezra's nursemaid into surrendering the child. On his return Cajun Jack could extract very little sense out of the terrified servant and in spite of the offered reward he found no trace of the kidnapped child.
Face-to-face with physical evidence of Maude's fecundity the Beauregard family lawyers were more than relieved to discharge their duties, hand over the plantation's goods and chattels and wash their hands of the tiresome fait accompli that had so far stymied their own attempts to milk the family assets dry.
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Too late Maude once again discovered that leaving your fate in the hands of the male of the species was a grave error. In her naïvety Maude had presumed her husband to be capable of the continued running the plantation in a fit and profitable manner. Too late she discovered that her charming bridegroom was the compleat idiot. Unable of making even the smallest business decision without first consulting the family lawyers.
Having exploited the situation entirely to their own advantage for quite some time the lawyers finally declared the plantation bankrupt. Maude Standish-Boudreaux-Beauregard found herself once more escaping the bailiffs with only the family jewels stashed in her capacious carpetbag as evidence of her labors.
One major difference being that she now had a beautiful russet haired child, stubbornly clutching a hideous stuffed skunk, toddling along in her wake...

Misplaced 2

Feedback to: rowdy.tanner@googlemail.com

1Caul = Part of the membrane occasionally found on a child's head at birth, thought by sailors to bring good luck and render them incapable of death by drowning, a midwife would often offer it for sale on the quayside.