The Christmas Mystery of Little Edward Lupin

He wouldn’t tell them his name, and he wouldn’t tell them his age. When asked where he resided, he reached over for another mince pie and petted the Tilneys’ black labrador, Treacle, ignoring the question completely. The small boy was further interrogated about his parents and where they had gone for Christmas, but this enquiry was once again greeted with a noncommittal shrug, half smile, and munching of warm pastry. The Tilneys soon realised that they were not going to receive any answers from the practically frost-bitten child, so left him on the sofa, wrapped in a number of home-made, woollen blankets before the fire, a plate of fresh mince pies balanced on his lap.

It was only then, sitting in the kitchen with a glass of sherry each, that the Tilneys exchanged genuine looks of worry for the child and Clara Tilney voiced her ever growing doubt about whether they had looked after the boy to the best of their abilities.

“Of course we have,” replied her husband, as he bent down to remove the burnt stuffing from the oven, forgotten in the excitement of the past hour. Clara glanced up from her glass as he tried to reassure her, but the little seed of doubt that had planted itself in the pit of her stomach seemed too comfortably nestled there to be disappearing any time soon.

The clock in the living room chimed eleven, and the Tilneys decided to find the small boy a room in the house and settle down for the night. The door was half open as they had left it, and Treacle lay fast asleep next to the boy, who absent-mindedly stroked her while gazing into the fire.

When the boy heard footsteps behind him, he snapped out of his trance-like state and twisted round, both waking the dog and knocking the empty plate off his lap. Miraculously it did not break. But the pale child turned with an expression of terror on his face, as if expecting the couple to bear down on him angrily. They just stood together, amused at his initially jumpy reaction, puzzled by the purely terrified one that followed.

The couple led him upstairs to a small bedroom to the left of the stairs, which held a single bed laden with warm, woollen blankets, a chest of drawers with a mirror draped in silver tinsel, a red armchair and a window that was partially covered in cream curtains with orderly red spots. They drew the curtains and left the boy to sleep, still fully clothed, as the Tilneys (with no children themselves) had nothing more suitable to offer.

Clara and Richard Tilney themselves did not get to bed until past midnight, sat in bed sipping lukewarm tea and puzzled over the mysterious child’s identity.

Richard, with the profound insight so often found in men who have too long been allowed by their wives to think they are intelligent, mused how strange it was that a child had been left alone, especially at Christmas; how he slightly looked like Alan Frasier’s son from the next village over, but that it was unlikely to be him because Alan Frasier was a social worker and so surely he of all people would probably know better than to let a young child wander around on his own in winter…

Clara made a grunting sound in reply, deep in thought. Richard Tilney seemed not to notice that he was talking to himself, so he rambled on, oblivious.

“Well, he can’t be local. Everyone knows everyone around here and I swear I’ve never seen the child before. Ever. I’d recognise him if I had. He’s got a very distinctive face… And his clothes! Even his clothes are weird … just… something odd about him.” He finished eloquently.

“Yes,” Clara looked up for the first time, vaguely startling her husband. “Yes” she repeated. “He isn’t from round here. We’d know him if he was. If he lives far away, he must be lost. The fact that he won’t tell us anything, well… We’ll try again tomorrow. And if he still won’t say anything, then we’ll have to go straight to the police.”

“Tomorrow?” Richard asked, crestfallen. “But tomorrow’s Christmas!”

Clara looked at Richard in a way seeming to warn that should he carry on like that, he’d be spending Christmas as lonely and as cold as the boy might otherwise have done had they not taken him in for the night.

“I don’t care! I don’t like this at all. He’s lost, and scared, and what he really needs is a hot bath, a cup of tea, and his mother and father,” replied Clara firmly, stating quite clearly that the conversation was finished.

The lamp was switched off, and for a moment there was rustling as they both lay down and tried to get comfortable, before it  died away and a restful quiet replaced it.

“He’s called Edward, just to let you know,” Richard Tilney said into the silence.

“What?” came Clara’s muffed reply.

“Edward Lupin. I saw it, on his boots. He left them by the kitchen door and ‘Edward Lupin’ was engraved on the sole,” he said, faintly smug, proud to know more than his wife for once. She sat up, switched a small light on by their bed and in complete disbelief asked: “Well why on earth did you not tell me before?”

“Well… Because… I… I daresay it slipped my mind,” Richard replied uncertainly, as Clara shook her head, clicked off the dim lamp beside their bed once more, and turned away before plumping her pillow and lying down. It would be hours before she eventually fell asleep, for something else was troubling her, and not something she cared to share with her husband; she knew that name, Edward Lupin. She’d heard it before, she just didn’t know where. It rang a bell somewhere deep inside of her, like knowing one line of a song and not being able to conjure up any of the other lyrics or remember the title. All she knew was that thinking about the small child, about little Edward Lupin, had a haunting feeling about it, as if something was wrong.

The next day Clara Tilney woke up at six o’clock to find the small boy sitting at the kitchen table before the stove, staring out of the window at the now snow-coated garden, while Treacle stood with her head in the boy’s lap and gazed longingly up at his expressionless face.

Clara gave a small cough. “Morning.” She ventured.

The boy twisted round and smiled, still without uttering a word.

Clara decided that now was as good a time as any to question the pale boy about what had kept her awake for most of the night. The more she’d thought about his name, the further she’d felt from discovering why it was so familiar. She had hardly been distracted by Richard’s snores, which normally prevented her from doing anything except silently seeth and will him to stop… breathing completely (she used to joke, with the sort of bitterness such that if she and Richard were the unfortunate protagonists of  a murder mystery novel and Richard its tragic victim, she would probably be arrested and trialled with not much more evidence than those comments alone). She had remained embroiled in her own thoughts, jumping from one to another, clawing her way up her increasingly ephemeral ladder of suspicions, looking for just one solid rung of clarity on which to stand and find her confusion explained. There seemed to be nothing of use in the library of her mind, until – as is so often the case with realisations – suddenly there was.

There had been an old family in the village called Lupin, sixty years ago, fifty maybe, long before she and Richard had lived there, or were even born. She knew this because she had seen the name written under photos of the cricket team at the village hall, for which their sons had played. The older ones at least. The youngest one had been too young, and ill too. She remembered being told that he’d always been in poor health, rarely seen out with his brothers. The parents were rumoured to be odd, as well. In any case, the family had moved away when the children were all still quite young. Clara thought about where they would be now. They’d all be older than she and Richard were. Perhaps they’d gone to another village nearby, or to the city. Except… hadn’t one of them stayed? Or come back at least? Yes… that was right… the firstborn, he’d come back as an adult, unmarried, secluded, quietly marked by the strange reputation his family had managed to maintain for themselves even after all these years. And yet, although he arrived as a single man, he did get married, to a local woman, in the village church in fact. Clara had assumed they’d moved away again, never having seen them, rarely having heard them talked about. But as she lay awake, breathing in time with Richard’s snores, she began to question herself.

For what Clara’s wander through the village history had most importantly helped her remember, was that not only had this Lupin man married, but he had also had a son. Talked of even less than his father and the rest of his family, nonetheless he existed, she was sure of it. She remembered the midwives arriving to help deliver him the day he was born. She worked out that he’d probably be the same age as the little boy currently sat in her kitchen. This must be him! She felt certain of his identity: who he was, where he had come from, although she was less sure as to why he had wandered up to their house and knocked on the door last night. The most sensible assumption was that he was lost, or perhaps his parents had left to go somewhere and not returned yet. She had resolved to talk to him and to take him home with Richard that morning.

She stepped forward and pulled out a chair opposite him, sitting down and taking a breath, before asking: “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” The boy looked at her darkly. The joy on his face that had been there when Clara had greeted him was short-lived, and his dislike for being questioned was obvious in his dark blue eyes.

Of course Clara saw this change of emotion, but pretended to ignore it and tried to block out the previous evening’s scene, when she and her husband had desperately tried to gather information from the cold, shivering child, with little result.

She was about to ask him his name, but then she stopped herself. Should she ask? Would that be insensitive? He obviously wasn’t eager to share any information that would be of any value to the Tilneys, which meant that a questioning about it could lead to unpleasant results, and the last thing she wanted was to upset Edward.

Clara decided that it would be better if she reassured the boy and comforted him before diving into any sort of interrogation. So she leant forward to take his pale hands in her own. She was shocked to find his hands were still icy cold. Although he’d obviously spent a lot of the previous evening out in the howling winds and freezing rain, surely by now after a night by the fire and under a pile of warm blankets, his body should have regained some of its warmth. The boy snatched his hands back and glared at her. This startled her. The child, and everything about him, was growing increasingly peculiar.

As Edward feverishly jerked his shivering hands away, the sleeve of his old, brown coat slipped up his skinny arms and Clara glimpsed a dark blue bruise settled below his elbow. Scratches ran up his forearm striking and clear, bright red on the virtually white skin. Lastly, on his wrist was a red mark that went deep into his skin and looked sore and angry and stung to touch. They were quite obviously the marks of ill-fitting handcuffs that had been bound to his delicate wrists.

Clara stared at the boy, who stared vigilantly back. The child, who had seemed so sweet and vulnerable, now sent her into a state of cold fear. It was only then it struck Clara how odd the boy really was: his hand-me-down clothes, frayed and dirty and out of place among the surrounding people. His cold hands, never changing in warmth, forever cold and frost-bitten. His bruised body, now obviously having suffered by a much harder and more merciless hand. And his sad face with chapped lips and empty, hollow eyes, underlined with shadowy lines of fatigue and fears that no one had ever taken it upon themselves to put to rest. Staring for longer at his twisted features, in a second Clara knew. Knew she had been wrong. Her theory was wrong, far from being right in fact, horribly, desperately far from being right. She realised that it was not just his name that she recognised, there was an eerie – and now relatable – familiarity about his face too.

Edward Lupin was the young child whose face had, for weeks, dominated various newspaper covers that now lay forgotten in the local library. Edward Lupin was the boy who had died exactly fifty years beforehand, starved, thirsty and cold, lying outside his snow-covered house, wearing only a hat and threadbare coat to keep him warm, his bony wrists handcuffed together and hanging limp above his head, attached to a metal hinge by a chain that was clung to by glistening frost under the shimmering moonlight. The boy had died on Christmas Eve, completely alone under the starry sky, three days after his parents had tied him up outside, and left for London the very same night, taking his two older brothers with him. Two brothers, of which one had returned many years later to have his own son… Edward’s body had been found by a priest returning from church on Christmas Day, who alerted the Constable and had him buried the next morning.

Everyone had heard his story, and it was often used to frighten the more fearful by the fire on Christmas Eve. Those who never went to the library and hadn’t seen the proof often doubted the story, and claimed it was a folk tale to scare the gullible. But it was true, and of course the rumours about his ghost wandering the village, looking for a loving family to take him in, were born at some point during the fifty years of botched storytelling. Although nowadays it wasn’t just the aloof people, those dismissive of the abnormal, that shrugged these fairy-tales off…

Clara sat back, breathing deeply, trying to calm the fear, confusion and horror spreading through her body from the pit of her stomach. The boy stood up, his sad eyes reading Clara Tilney and what she was thinking. He saw the tears streaming down her face, too young to understand that it wasn’t his fault, that she wasn’t upset with him. It was the tremendous pity in her heart that caused the sobs wracking her body, not poor Edward, who turned away slowly, and walked away from the Tilneys forever, silently taking his leave, as if it had all been planned just so, not even pausing to open the blue door.

Clara stayed where she was with the silent tears leaking out and dripping down onto the pine table that were usually laden with roast potatoes and sprouts, along with small sausages wrapped in bacon and a fat roast turkey, dripping with gravy, surrounded by stuffing and heaped with fresh sea salt. Crackers would be piled on a plate, bangs sounding throughout as people pulled opposite ends, wafting empty wine glasses waiting to be refilled.

Not this year, of course. This year felt different.

The Tilneys never spoke about Edward again, but always paused at his former house every year, on the same night, before trudging through the snow to the church, to hear the Christmas eve sermon.

About Maisie Molyneux

Maisie is a student studying French and Spanish in her final year at the University of Oxford. Her writing interests are vast, drawing on her degree specialisms to create short stories with an exciting, existentialist edge. She has published in her college magazine and intends to pursue an MA in Creative Writing.

Maisie is a student studying French and Spanish in her final year at the University of Oxford. Her writing interests are vast, drawing on her degree specialisms to create short stories with an exciting, existentialist edge. She has published in her college magazine and intends to pursue an MA in Creative Writing.

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