8.in which Haddock is silently scolded

On a whim, Haddock wandered over to the phone and dialed Tintin's number. He hadn't heard from the boy in days, and his action stemmed more from boredom than concern- the silence in his life had become a constant annoyance.

There was no answer, but he hadn't expected one. He shoved his hands in his pockets and returned to the dining room table, where he was currently taking a break from his correspondence. He had a study for such activities, but it just didn't suit him. Actually, Tintin used the study more than he did—maybe that's why it didn't quite feel like his space. Or maybe he was used to his old cabin on the Karaboujan, which was dining room, study, bedroom, and sitting room all in one. In many ways, he wasn't suited for a life on an expansive state. His life on the sea had groomed him into a private, warm, and simple man.

But he still dreamed. Just as he finished planning his triumphant return to the sea (he imagined a lavish captain's cabin. With a hot tub. And a refrigerator just for booze. And a private cinema.), the phone rang.

The Captain leapt to his feet, determined to reach the phone before Nestor. Inexplicably, he failed, even though he could have sworn He was closer to the phone than the butler.

"Marlinspike Hall," Nestor greeted in his usual polite and detached manner.

Haddock sighed, coming to a full stop behind him. "It's almost certainly for me, you idiot," he mumbled, knowing that Nestor would hear him.

Accordingly, Nestor handed him the phone. "It's Master Tintin for you, sir."

"I thought it might be," he answered dryly, then spoke into the phone. "It's about time, lad."

He felt the gentle rumble of laughter against his cheek. "I didn't get to the phone fast enough, sorry. But Captain," Tintin said excitedly, "you won't believe what I've discovered!"

Twenty minutes later, he slapped the phone back into its cradle with little more information than when the conversation began but a promise to go into Brussels the next day to see Tintin. He sighed and returned to his perch at the dining room table, where he noticed that Nestor had placed his incoming mail. After opening the first two letters, he noticed a small but telling detail, obviously not overlooked by—

"Nestor!" he shouted. "Nest—" he continued, just realizing that the butler was standing in front of him and that he had apparently been close by the first time he'd been called.

"Yes, sir?" Nestor answered stiffly and dutifully, and if he didn't know his butler's mannerisms by now, Haddock would presume his tone as bored.

The Captain stroked his beard in curiosity. "Did you alphabetize my mail by the last name of the sender?"

Nestor didn't even blink. "Yes, sir. Would you prefer me to alphabetize them by the sender's first name? Or by their title? Or location?"

"Blistering barnacles! You don't need to waste your energy on that, Nestor!" Haddock insisted, sitting up in his chair and placing his hands on the table with a satisfying show of force.

The butler finally twitched. "Is there somewhere else my energy could be applied, sir?"

The Captain put his head in his hands. "No, Nestor. Why," he asked, not bothering to lift his head, "do you think you need help?" He neglected to mention that if Nestor had time to alphabetize the mail, he probably didn't need the help.

"Actually, sir, some additional assistance might be beneficial," Nestor admitted, and his employer's head snapped up in surprise.

"Really?" Haddock sputtered, awestruck. "Well, what do you have in mind?"

Nestor, cool and calm as always, just shrugged as he made his request. "A maid might be serviceable. To help with the cooking and cleaning. I could look into it, sir. With your permission," he said with a polite and respectful bow of the head.

Maybe if Nestor had someone to boss around, he wouldn't fret so much over the little details about the house. It wasn't that Haddock didn't like having someone take care of him or the things he cared about, but having someone constantly scrutinize his environment set him on edge.

"Yes, by all means, Nestor, hire whoever you like. You can even put them up in the house, if you think it'll help. We have all these empty rooms—we might as well fill one," the Captain decided.

"Very well, sir."

She looked no older than fourteen, with ashy hair and ridiculously bright eyes so large that they seemed copied from a cartoon character. Her lips pouted in concentration as she chopped celery, and the spatter of tiny brown pinpoint freckles dusting her nose made her face seem even rounder.

Also, she was standing at his kitchen counter.

"Who are you?" the Captain demanded, hands on hips.

The girl smiled warmly. "Caroline Egan. The new maid."

Ah, that made sense. He'd decided to take a short nap after giving Nestor permission to hire someone, but he hadn't expected Nestor to choose someone before he'd even woken up. Or someone so young.

"American, are you?" Haddock deduced, analyzing her accent. He leaned on the counter, popping a piece of celery in his mouth.

"Sort of," she answered, sliding the celery into a pot and moving onto the carrots. "Born there, lived there 'til I was ten."

"And then what happened?" he asked, trying to care but failing.

"My folks died, but my mother was French, so I moved to Calais to live with her sister. You know, the port town? Nestor said you were a man of the sea, so I thought—" she stopped, realizing that he wasn't responding, whether from lack of caring or knowledge. "Well, never mind," she went on with a cheery grin. "Anyway, you can see the cliffs of Dover there, which is neat. We lived above my Auntie Bernadette's dress shop, selling clothing to all sorts of interesting people coming off the ferry. So, one day, I was eating my lunch on the front steps of the shop, and this sweet, funny-looking boy comes up to ask me directions to the cinema. Well, Jimmy—his name is Jimmy—we've been together ever since. He's studying in London to be a doctor. It suits him—he's a kind person, even if he is a bit funny looking. He's awfully self-conscious about it, but I think it makes him even cuter. Well, anyway, Auntie wasn't very happy about us. Me and Jimmy, I mean. So we left Calais. He has to finish school, though, but he's only got a few more months 'til he's done. Then he's gong to come here to Marlinspike, and when the old doc—he's a family friend of Jimmy's dad—when the old doc retires, Jimmy's going to take over the family practice in town. Isn't that neat? Captain Haddock? Sir?"

That was more than Haddock had bargained for when he'd walked into the kitchen after his nap to see if dinner was ready. Clearly, Nestor knew something he didn't.

The Captain frowned. "Where did Nestor find you?" he asked, rude tone perfectly intentional.

The girl didn't take the hint. "The market. I just arrived from London a few days ago, and I was staying in a hotel while I looked for work and a place to stay. Nestor found me asking Madame Barteau for work at the produce stand. When she told me no—she only hires within the family, how was I supposed to know? —Nestor said that you needed a maid and that you could give me a room, so here I am! I can clean pretty well, and cook okay—I'm making an easy soup right now, but I'm hoping that you won't mind too much if I experiment a bit in the kitchen—and I'm a wonderful seamstress. I can make clothes, actually, so if there's anything you need mended, just let me know. Like this worn spot in your jersey," she said, rounding the corner and touching his elbow, "I can easily mend—"

"Nestor!" the Captain bellowed upon sight of her very round belly. "Nestor! Nestor, come here!"

And again, Nestor arrived before his name had been called twice. "Yes, sir? I see you've met—"

"Yes, well, I've met her alright. I'd even say we're well acquainted. She's just given me her life story, unabridged," Haddock declared, crossing his arms.

The girl clamped a hand on her head. "I've done it again, haven't I? I tend to talk a lot more than I should. I'm so very sorry, I am!"

"Again?" Haddock snorted. "At least the girl's consistent, Nestor."

"Eloquence isn't a sin, sir," Nestor said with as much warning as the Captain had ever heard in his voice. He dared to believe that his dutiful butler was almost scolding him.

"A chatty kitchen wench isn't too hard to deal with," he conceded, "but what about that?" Haddock declared, motioning to her rather large and obviously pregnant stomach. "It seems that Miss Egan is in a rather delicate state."

She blushed. "Mrs. Egan," she corrected gently. "Jimmy and I have been married for nearly a year."

Haddock gaped. "Oh, that makes me feel better!" he roared, throwing his hands up. "Nestor, what possessed you to hire a pregnant maid?"

And pregnant she was—at least eight months along, if not more.

Mrs. Egan frowned. "I'm so sorry—I thought you knew, sir. I thought Nestor had already told you."

"Well, he did not," Haddock snapped, and the girl wilted like a dying flower.

Nestor leaned in close to his ear. "I was hoping to give the girl a place to stay, Master Haddock. She's been staying in a hotel. And if her husband is to be the new doctor in town, than I think we should cultivate this connection. Especially if Mister Tintin continues to get himself into trouble the way he does."

The Captain stepped back, considering this. It wasn't a permanent situation, after all. And the girl did need a place to stay. And a job. And there really was no reason he shouldn't or couldn't provide these things.

"I'll just be grabbing my things, then," Mrs. Egan said, interrupting his thoughts. She made no attempt to hide her disappointment. "I hadn't even unpacked yet, so it won't take me but a minute."

"Well, hold on, now," he stopped her, grabbing her by her elbow. "This all sounds reasonable. And what will you do when the baby is born?"

She turned to face him, hope radiating from each freckle. "It won't be long now. I'm a few weeks 'til full term. Jimmy's going to come here right before the baby's born, then I'll take care of the baby myself for a few weeks until he graduates. Then he'll join me here, and we'll get a place in town. I won't be a bother, I promise!"

Haddock sighed again, slapping a hand to his head. "So you'll cook with a baby?"

"Yes, sir!" she said eagerly.

"Whatever floats your boat, Nestor," the Captain conceded. "But as long as she's your charge, she can stay.

Mrs. Egan's face lit up, her large eyes shining, and he felt that Nestor's blink of a response was slightly more enthusiastic than he'd ever seen.

A/N: I know. It's been an eon and a half since my last update. My bad. My excuse is college. I am sincerely sorry. :-)