This story is thanks to a couple of readers who made me think. It stands alone, I think, but if you haven't already read the earlier Dulcie, Jennie and Serendipity stories, the background gives the characters more depth.
"I love to watch you feed Peter," Doctor Richard Chesterman smiled at his wife.
"As much as you like to taste my milk yourself?" She grinned back at him.
He screwed his face up, considering. "I don't know. Probably not."
"It's just as well I like both. The way the two of you are going, I'll never stop producing." Dulcie glanced down at the almost one-year-old, suckling at her breast. "Christmas, and a birthday party together. Of course, he won't really understand this year." After a pause, "It's nice having Sasha and Malcolm take the Christingle service and give us some time together."
"Yes. I'm sorry I have the duty tonight. But you know how it is."
"I know. And at least we'll have you with us tomorrow afternoon."
He frowned. "God willing. As long as nothing goes wrong."
The child began to play with the nipple, rather than sucking. "Peter, stop that. If you're not going to eat any more, it's time for bed."
He wriggled in her arms. "No, Mummy." But he yawned.
"Come on, son. It's time for you to be in bed."
Despite his protests, the toddler was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. Dulcie looked at her watch. "Come on, Richard. We've time for you to empty this breast before you leave and I have to get ready for Midnight Mass." Of course, one thing led to another, and they both needed a quick shower before leaving the Rectory ... Outside, the first flakes of snow were falling. "Well, I wonder if we'll have a white Christmas this year."
"I doubt it," the doctor opined, "I can't remember the last time we had a significant fall of snow at any time of the winter. But I'll take the Defender, anyway." They'd not long since replaced his car with the four-wheel drive Land Rover. Dulcie's Zafira was fine for her needs, both as a mother and as a minister, but there was no doubt the Defender was a safer bet if he was called out in bad conditions. "Liina's staying with Peter?"
"Yes. Sweet girl. I don't like to deprive her of the main Christmas service, but she takes her role as big sister seriously."
His opinion was shown to be wrong, as there was a distinct layer of white on the pavement as Dulcie made her way to the church, and the flakes were much larger, and the fall much denser by the time she got there.
"Oh, Dulcie!" Andrew Cameron greeted her as she entered.
"Happy Christmas, Andrew! Everything under control?"
He laughed, "As much as they ever are. The building's warm, anyway. There's a light out, but I can't get to replace it this evening – it'll have to wait. I don't think anyone will notice anyway."
"Good. Who's doing the welcoming of late-comers?"
"Dennis and Emma, Carli and Jen. Arthur and I will hover anyway, in case of disruptive elements."
The service proceeded normally, with the customary late arrivals, once a year, usually inebriated, folk arriving around midnight from the local hostelries. They were happy drunks, though and were little problem apart from an occasional tendency to make loud comments during the service.
It was Carli Brooks who thought she heard something in the porch and went to investigate. She was careful opening the ancient, heavy oak door, as the old iron latch was capable of a loud 'clack' if lifted unwarily, so by the time she got to the porch she could see no-one. She noticed, and almost ignored, a bundle of what looked like old clothes, but just in time noticed a little whimper coming from it.
It was a bundle of old clothes, but they were wrapped around a baby that could only have been days, or perhaps hours, old. She picked it up and took it into the church, where she found a seat at the back and sat cuddling it. The human contact seemed to pacify it for the time being. She glanced round, seeing the curiosity in the faces of her friends.
At the appropriate time, she took her turn at the altar-rail, still holding the child. Dulcie's shock was clear, but she managed to continue with the administration of the bread, merely touching the babe's head for a brief blessing. Carli took it to one of the front pews, though, rather than returning to the back, and at the end of the service, Dulcie went straight to her instead of immediately taking her place at the back of the church to greet the congregation as they left.
"It was just left in the porch," Carli told her.
Dulcie shook her head. "The poor mite ... the poor mother! Why ... well, that's a silly question, I suppose. There's probably a dozen reasons why a woman might abandon a newborn, though she'd have to be absolutely desperate. Look, I need to go to the back. Ring the police to inform them. But say we'll look after it for the time being."
"But ... what about..."
"Feeding? I still have plenty. That's the least of our problems. I'm pretty sure there're neonate Pampers tucked away in the cupboard-under-the-stairs, 'just-in-case'. Anyway..." and Dulcie set off to greet – and satisfy the curiosity of – her congregation.
The police were very matter-of-fact. Without a description of the mother, all they could do was put out a general call – woman, possibly young, probably distressed, in need of medical attention ... The Social Worker on call was relieved that the baby would be in the care of someone previously approved for foster care, of known reliability and probity. Not to mention that she was able to breast-feed the infant. An on-call doctor would visit as soon as possible to ensure it was not in need of professional attention.
The snow was several inches deep, crunching underfoot as Dulcie carried the bundle back to the Rectory. She trod very carefully; it would not do to slip.
The doctor was brisk and efficient, despite the hour – three in the morning – and pronounced the child, a girl, healthy. "Hours old, only," he said. "The mother..."
"We don't know," Dulcie told him. "The babe was left in the church porch. Fortunately I'm still breast-feeding my own son."
The doctor nodded in approval. "You'd better get her to a clinic as soon as the holiday's over. Have you thought of a name?"
Dulcie frowned, then smiled. "Tikva," she said. "It means, 'Hope'."
He smiled too. "Appropriate," he agreed.
Tom Carmichael, unusually, woke when his wife Chrissie got up to feed their third child, Jennifer. Amy, 'almost six' and David John – 'DeeJay' – 'almost five' were asleep next door. He watched his wife lift the little one from the crib, open her nightie and lift Jennifer to her breast. The whimpers ceased, Chrissie cradled the child against her and walked over to the window and opened the curtains enough to look out, so she was silhouetted against the light, which was ... odd. Different.
He slipped out of bed and stood behind her. "You're beautiful, and I love you, Ashlin," he said in her ear. Then something caught his attention outside. "Snow!"
(Chrissie's middle name is 'Aisling', pronounced 'Ashlin', and means 'Dream'. Tom uses it as an endearment and pet-name.)
"Thank you. You know I love you, too. Isn't it beautiful?" They stood together, Chrissie leaning back against her husband who was only an inch or so taller than she, as Jennifer sucked, and was transferred to the other breast. She finished, and Tom took her to burp her and change her nappy, then put her, asleep again, back in the crib. "As you're awake, darling, you can empty this breast. Of course, if you're too tired..."
They were woken, far too early, by Amy, followed by DeeJay, charging into the room and jumping on the bed, holding small toys from the Christmas stockings, which had occupied them for far too short a time.
Amy's and DeeJay's main presents were a scooter and model yacht, respectively. Neither could easily be properly played with with the snow, but Amy also had the recorder she'd been pestering for – not that Chrissie, talented musician herself, had any objection – and DeeJay a train set, so problems were avoided. Breakfast was had and the children played. Jennifer woke, and was fed, and the small turkey put in the oven. The phone rang.
"Tom? I'm sorry to disturb you..."
"You haven't, Dulcie. We've been up some time. Happy Christmas!"
"Good. Happy Christmas to you, too. Look. Someone left a baby in the church porch last night..."
Tom gasped. "Is it..."
"She's fine. I've got her here. But the thing is, the mother's somewhere – we don't know. I just thought, well, it might be good to check the barges. See if maybe she hid in one of them out of the snow."
"I'll do that. It'll do the kids good to go outside, anyway – get some fresh air. Work up an appetite for lunch."
"What a good idea!" He could hear the smile in her voice. "Of course, you could always come to the service at eleven..." after a pause, "There's a couple of sledges in my garage if Amy and DeeJay would like to use them."
.... There is more of this story ...