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Quicksilver: The Boy With No Skid to His Wheel, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  The doctor shook his head as he stood beside a plain bed in awhitewashed ward where the tramp lay muttering fiercely, and thebrisk-looking master of the workhouse and a couple of elderly womenstood in a group.

  "No, Hippetts," said the doctor; "the machinery is all to pieces andbeyond repair. No."

  Just then there was a loud cry, consequent upon one of the women takingthe child from where it had been seated upon the foot of the bed, andcarrying it toward the door.

  In a moment the sick man sprang up in bed, glaring wildly and stretchingout his hands.

  "Quick! take the boy away," said the master; but the doctor held up hisfinger, watching the sick man the while.

  Then he whispered a few words to the master, who seemed to give anunwilling consent, and the boy was placed within the tramp's reach.

  The man had been trying to say something, but the words would not come.As he touched the child's hand, though, he gave vent to a sigh ofsatisfaction, and sank back upon the coarse pillow, while the childnestled to his side, sobbing convulsively, but rapidly calming down.

  "Against all rule and precedent, doctor," said the master, in anill-used tone.

  "Yes, my dear Mr Hippetts," said the doctor, smiling; "but I order itas a sedative medicine. It will do more good than anything I can give.It will not be for long."

  The master nodded.

  "Mrs Curdley," continued the doctor, "you will sit up with him."

  "Yes, sir," said one of the old women with a curtsey.

  "Keep an eye to the child, in case he turns violent; but I don't thinkhe will--I don't think he will."

  "And send for you, sir, if he do!"


  The little party left the workhouse infirmary, all but Mrs Curdley, whosaw to lighting a fire for providing herself with a cup of tea, tocomfort her from time to time during her long night-watch, and then allwas very still in the whitewashed place.

  The child took the bread and butter the old woman gave him, and sat onthe bed smiling at her as he ate it hungrily, quite contented now; andthe only sounds that broke the silence after a time were the mutteringsof the sick man.

  But these did not disturb the child, who finished his bread and butter,and drank some sweet tea which the old woman gave him, after which hislittle head sank sidewise, his eyes closed, and he fell fast asleep onthe foot of the bed.

  The night was warm, and he needed no coverlet, while from time to timethe hard-faced old woman went to look at her patient, giving him acursory glance, and then stopping at the bedside to gently stroke thechild's round cheek with her rough finger, and as the little fellow oncebroke into a crowing laugh in his sleep, it had a strange effect uponthe old nurse, who slowly wiped the corners of her eyes with her apron,and bent down and kissed him.

  Hour after hour was chimed and struck by the great clock in the centreof the town; and as midnight passed, the watchful old nurse did herwatching in a pleasant dream, in which she thought that she was oncemore young, and that boy of hers who enlisted, went to India, and wasshot in an encounter with one of the hill tribes, was young again, andthat she was cutting bread and butter from a new loaf.

  It was a very pleasant dream, and lasted a long time, for the sixo'clock bell was ringing before she awoke with a start and exclaimed--

  "Bless me! must have just closed my eyes. Why, a pretty bairn!" shesaid softly, as her hard face grew soft. "Sleeping like a top, and--oh!"

  She caught the sleeping child from the bed, and hurried out of the placeto lay him upon her own bed, where about an hour after he awoke, andcried to go to the tramp.

  But there was no tramp there for him to join. The rough man had gone ona long journey, where he could not take the child, who cried bitterly,as if he had lost the only one to whom he could cling, till the oldwoman returned from a task she had had to fulfil, and with one of herpockets in rather a bulgy state.

  Her words and some bread and butter quieted the child, who seemed tolike her countenance, or read therein that something which attracts thevery young as beauty does those of older growth, and the addition of alittle brown sugar, into which he could dip a wet finger from time totime, made them such friends that he made no objection to being washed.

  "Yes, sir; went off quite quiet in his sleep," said the old nurse inanswer to the doctor's question.

  "And the child?"

  "Oh, I gave him a good wash, sir, which he needed badly," said the womanvolubly.

  "Poor little wretch!" muttered the doctor as he went away. "A tramp'schild--a waif cast up by the way. Ah, Hippetts, I was right, you see:it was not for long."