Helen Turrell, “thirty-five and independent,” takes charge of the rearing of the supposed child of her brother, George, who dies from a fall from a horse a few weeks before the boy’s birth. George, serving as a police officer in India, “had entangled himself” with the daughter of a noncommissioned officer. Helen, in the South of France because of lung trouble, has the infant brought to her and takes him home to Hampshire, England.
Helen explains all the details involving her nephew, Michael, to her friends in the village because “scandals are only increased by hushing them up.” As for Michael’s mother, she does not insist on her right to the child: “Luckily, it seemed that people of that class would do almost anything for money.” Because George has always sought his sister’s help when he got into “scrapes,” Helen feels justified in “cutting the whole non-commissioned officer connection” and rearing the boy by herself even though she is not, as “far as she knew herself,” a lover of children.
When Michael is six, Helen refuses to allow him to call her “Mummy” at any time but bedtime. When he discovers that she has told her friends of this practice, he feels betrayed and swears to hurt her for her disloyalty. He promises as well to die “quite soon” and to continue hurting her after his death.
When he goes away to school at ten, Michael endures taunts for being a bastard but learns to take...
(The entire section is 453 words.)