The next morning, in accordance with his children’s wishes, Mr Maurice accompanied Harry to the residence of the poor woman they had seen at Mr T.’s shop. It was a miserable hovel, but after all there was an air of cleanliness and comfort about it, that the most abject poverty can seldom of itself destroy. A white curtain, mended it is true, in very many places, yet looking quite respectable, still shaded the only window of the apartment. There were a few coals, on which was laid a single stick of wood, in the open fire-place, but it sent forth but a small quantity of heat, and the room felt damp and chilly. On a narrow bed drawn close to the fire lay the sick child, and beside it sat the mother plying her needle steadily, and every now and then casting an anxious eye upon her babe. She arose when Mr Maurice and Harry entered, and her reception of the boy was truly affecting. She told again and again of his following her the day before, and how kindly he had inquired if he could do anything for her, and then bursting into loud sobs, and leaning over the bed, she said nobody could do anything unless it was to cure her baby. Mr Maurice took the hand of the little sufferer, but it was burning hot, and the face, which was the day before pale, was now so flushed that Harry could scarcely recognise it.
‘He has a fever,’ said Mr Maurice.
‘A fever! oh don’t say so,’ shrieked the poor woman, ’it was of that his father died—it is a cold, nothing but a cold! Oh, how could I be so foolish as to take him out!’
What could Mr Maurice do, but soothe her, and promise to be the child’s physician? In a few moments she became calmer, and then she told him that her baby had been failing for a long time—day by day she could see that he grew poorer, but she could not tell why, till at last a cough had come, and concluding that it was occasioned by a cold, she had given the usual remedies, but without effect. The day before, having no one with whom to leave him, she had taken him out, and the fever that ensued was the result.
‘Do you think I have killed my baby, sir?’ she inquired mournfully; and she looked so long and earnestly into Mr Maurice’s face for an answer, that he was obliged to reply ‘No.’ It was easy for him to discern that the death-blow was before received.
‘Oh thank you,’ replied the poor mother, joyfully, ’I was sure he must get well.’ Mr Maurice was about to speak, but interrupted himself—should he undeceive her? Should he tear from her her last hope? perhaps it was weakness, but he could not do it. The blow was too sudden, too heavy, and it must be softened to her. She said nothing of poverty, but he knew by the rapidity with which she plied her needle in the intervals of conversation that she was toiling for her bread and fuel, and he secretly resolved to place her in a condition to devote herself entirely to the care of the child.
As Mr Maurice glanced around the room, noting each article it contained, and gaining from thence some item of knowledge concerning the character of its owner, his eye fell upon a shelf on which lay a few tracts, a Bible, and a hymn-book. ‘I see,’ said he, pointing to them, ’that whatever trial you may be called to pass through, you are provided with a better comforter than any earthly friend.’