What Child Is This?
#1
Autumn was dying. As Marinette walked the short stretch of country road that formed part of the route from her crude home to the village, a sharp wind cut across the stubbled field. She pulled her shawl tighter about her – two shawls actually, one used partially to cover her head. She thought again of her mother, and their need to make their little hovels and wagons more secure against the cruel, grasping hands of winter. It was worrying her to no end, and she said to Marina, her best friend and confidante, who walked beside her, ”I hope we are able to sell something today. We need money.” Ever blunt and to the point, that was the younger girl’s way. Her voice might have been flat, but inside she still felt her own variation of the emotions that more voluble and expressive people did.

A movement to her left caught her eye. Something shifted in the hedgerow that marked the border between the muddy road and pastureland beyond. A bird, perhaps, or a groundhog – maybe even a rabbit. Was there any chance it was something they could catch easily and use? Marinette was no heartless monster; but the need to survive outstripped sentiment when it came to such things. She turned her head and kept walking, though slowing her pace, wanting to see without startling the whatever it was. Catching a mere glimpse, of a naked foot and lower leg, as the child – for child it was – skittered off further into the hedge, she actually gasped. That was a rare instance indeed, for her to register her susprise in such an audible way.

She placed her hand on Marina’s arm. ”Stop, sister. Look.” She pointed.


[Image: 219ngox.jpg]
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#2
Marina did not want to think about their grave situation, but she knew it couldn't be ignored. Hearing her closest friend say it out loud only bothered her more. She stared ahead solemnly before patting her hand.

"Dinnae worry, ma dear. We'll get money t'day. Ah'll be makin' sure of it." Her mind was already racing to find ways that could get then some extra coin. Any ways that weren't illegal or too immoral anyway. Her mind was starting to settle on an idea when Marinette caught her attention again. Her focus shifted on the bushes as she made her way to the side of her friend. She hiked up her skirts to easily crouch down low and look under.

'What's this? Come on out, ya little scamp. Ye wanna freeze?" She gave her sister a nod, and moved quietly towards the other side of the brush. She'd either scare the child out towards the other woman, or grab it herself. "We cannae let ya just sit there in yer state."
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#3
Marinette watched in silence as her friend urged the child to reveal itself, and then snuck around stealthily to the far side of the bush. Whether the child was scared or simply moved to make contact with the two women, in the next instant it darted out, into the road, and then stopped in front of Marinette looking up at her with large, dark eyes. He – for it seemed to be a boy, or was at least dressed like one – was exceptionally bedraggled looking, wearing only a ragged shirt and ripped pants which stopped at the knobby knees. Below that was only bare skin. No shoes, no coat – it was hard to imagine being out in this weather as underdressed as this little ragamuffin was. Marinette, odd as ever, looked at the boy and asked matter of factly, ”Why do you not wear a coat?”

The child wrung his filthy hands together, twisting them in the front of his too large shirt, and briefly shook his head, before saying, in a questioning tone, something like, ”Cheebo?”*

*This child is the son of Italian immigrants – transient peddlers – and he is saying in his childish way “cibo” which is Italian for food. He’s asking if they have any food.
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#4
"Great. Seems we've got 'ere a child that cannae speak english. Or it's too simple. What should we do abou' this? We cannae feed anoth'r mouth."

Marina eyed the boy scrupulously and wasn't impressed. She folded her arms and stood beside Marinette. She crocked her head to the side, then suddenly her hand shot out and she grabbed the kid's arm to pull him with them.

"Don't go a' runnin' off. You hear me? I dun care if you can' understand."

Her head turned to the girl. "Perhaps your mother? You might 'ave an idea."
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#5
Marinette continued to stare at the boy, unmoving, silently regarding him. But her friend was quicker and made a grab for the pitiful thing. Then Marinette spoke. ”No. We can not feed another,” she said, in agreement with Marina’s observation. But then she shook her head, ever so slightly. ”No, Maman would try. She would say we should share, whatever we have, for that is her way.” She finally took her eyes of the boy and regarded her friend. ”Maybe he belongs to the town. We should take him there. He is none of our concern. Let them deal with him. He is not one of us.”
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#6
Marina eyed the child and rested a hand on her hip She sighed nodding in affirmative to her dearest friend They would help but he was indeed not their problem.

"Aye, we cannae do tha' so easily though. They migh' think we took him or somethin' ? How about we take him to tha' hospital place? We tell them we found this wee one wand'rin the road. Then it'll be their problem."
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#7
Again, Marinette considered Marina’s suggestion, and this time she agreed outright. ”Yes that is a good idea. We will take him there.” She had actually met the woman who ran the place, in fact if not on paper. But she didn’t mention that to Marina, not considering it important.

She began to walk, letting Marina wrangle the child. But the little boy had other ideas. He looked suddenly fearful, as they tried to lead him away, and he tried to wrest his shoulder from Marina’s grasp. ”No, no! Lasciami andare! Papa, papà!" he yelled, even going so far as to aim a kick at Marina’s shin.
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#8
"Ach! Dinnae dare! Yer papa can find ya at the hospital aft'r they feed ya and can warm ya. But dun kick me again or I will tie ya like I hunted ya!"

With a swift sweep, she swung her arm up, lifting the boy off both feet so his kick lost it's momentum before it could gain traction. She immediately placed him back down and her grip remained steadfast as she walked towards the hospital. She could tell he wasn't going to give in easily so Marina turned towards him again, her dark eyes as she was frustrated by the child.

"You want warmth, don't ya? And food?" Her free hand moved to her lips as she mimicked the action of eating. She didn't give him much time to settle before continuing on, tossing a look to Marinette pleading for sympathy as she didn't know much about how to care for kids.
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#9
The kick missed its mark, thanks to the woman’s quick evasive movement. But Marina let the child know in no uncertain terms that he was going to go with them, and behave! She began to quick march him towards the village, as he tried to pull away, struggling against her grip and babbling in the tongue which neither of them understood. When she stopped to try to demonstrate that where they were going he would be fed, that did cause him to cease his wriggling and noise for a few seconds at least, as he looked at her with hard, wary eyes, albeit eyes filled with tears.

Marinette had approached them close enough now to, somewhat sneakily, grab for the boy’s other hand and take it in hers firmly. His face quickly turned to hers, and she put up a single finger to her lips, signaling for quiet. He whimpered, but perhaps he felt that two against one was just too much for him to counter. His rigid muscles relaxed, and Marinette nodded, silently, and began to walk, casting a look at her sister that might have meant anything, but which was meant to signal that, once again, they should head on towards the village.

From that point on, the boy walked with them without protest, if not exactly willingly. It wasn’t a far distance. They had been close to the outskirts of the village when they encountered him – more evidence that he probably had some tie to the place, and that the village should take responsibility for him. Their steps led them to the new hospital, and there they paused, unsure what the protocol was. Did they knock and wait for someone to let them in? Or should they just go on in and find someone to take charge of the child? Of course, they’d received a few curious, and some hard, stares, from passing village folk. At least the boy was still quiet, and not making a racket. Otherwise, some might have thought they’d kidnapped him or were trying to take him against his will – which, they were in a way, but only for his own good, and only for a few minutes more, hopefully.
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#10
Marina gave her friend a somewhat deflated look. She did not have much experience around kids. She'd been one without siblings until she was sent into that house, and if there were kids there she did well to keep far away. Being a little harsh with the kid was the simplest way she could think of to get him to behave, and it did for the most part work. Having Marinette's more gentle hand on him did help a good deal.

Her eyes studied the child critically a moment and she quickly faced ahead once more. There would hopefully be someone to watch the lad, and keep him safe and fed. They were struggling for themselves, and even if they could possibly manage, she would not have volunteered for the task, even if the kid wasn't as ugly as most.

She paused alongside the two and stared as they made their way up to the hospital. A cold breeze tried to bite at their fingertips as she glanced around, ignoring the looks of others. She knew usually people just walked in but they would be stopped almost immediately by a nurse or orderly to find where they had to go. This wasn't a busy big city hospital though. She did not want to be mistaken for a trespasser, so her hand raised high and knocked with some fury against the door to make sure it rang loud and quick. If there was anyone within the building they'd know they were there.
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#11
It was one of the kitchen staff that alerted Catherine that there was someone to see her at the front door. Taking the time to scrub her hands first, Catherine pulled an extra shawl tightly over her uniform -- even with with fire lit it was still a good ten degrees cooler downstairs. and went to meet them, unsure of what to expect. She had been told it was two strange (according to the maid at least, not someone suited to the task of greeting patients, but alas they were still woefully short on staff) women with a young boy, and though Catherine had tried to imagine who that might be, she was still surprised at the sight of them at the door.

"Marinette!" Catherine all but exclaimed. She had been to see the young woman here and there when times got desperate, though she was never too adventurous, but Marinette had never seemed the sort who would pay a visit to the hospital in turn. Her world was entirely it's own, one that Catherine found quite challenging, but there was no denying there was something to it. For Marinette to visit her however...Catherine glanced down at the young land between her and the other woman. "Come in out of the cold," she ushered the small group, ready to close the door against the coming winter once they stepped inside. "What can I help you with?" There was more curiosity than anything else in her voice.
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#12
As expected, Marina did a stellar job of making their presence known, and Marinette stood by quietly, keeping a hold of the boy, waiting impassively for someone to respond to that furious knocking. The door was opened to them, and it was Marinette who spoke up, though in her usual monotone, asking if they might speak to Catherine Leclerq. As the dubious mad scurried away to inquire if that was possible, Marinette said simply to her friend, "I have met her in our shop,” in response to the questioning look Marina shot her over the boy’s head. That bald statement in itself opened up all sorts of intriguing speculations, for anyone who had a curious, or nosy, nature, such as, why would a nurse be slumming around in a shop run by kooks, quacks, frauds and prostitutes?

But Mrs. Leclerq herself was quickly on the scene, cutting off any such wondering with an exclamation of obvious, and unembarrassed, recognition of the young herbalist, and an invitation to come in out of the cold. The three stepped through the doorway, gratefully no doubt, and Marinette got right down to the business at hand – the one holding on to her hand and Marina’s still. ”We found this child, just now, on the road into the village,” she replied matter of factly, as Catherine closed the door. ”He was alone, and we have no means to care for him. So we have brought him to you, Catherine.”

From her manner, it seemed that Marinette was inclined to just pass the little boy’s hand right over into the nurse’s, and turn around and go, with no further explanation, questions, or concerns for what happened to him after that point.
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#13
Seeing the nurse immediately speak to Marinette with such familiarity made her glance at her best friend curiously. She did not know what she had been up to to become acquainted with the woman, but she would find out in her own way. If for no other reason outside of minor jealousy and curiosity. She opeend her mouth to speak , though it wasn't necessary, and immediately her faux accent came through. It marked the nurse as an outsider to her, one of the other villagers. She came to her for a favor, but she would not let them woman into her personal world.

"Ah, the boy, he dus nah seem ta speak english. Perhaps there 'ave been some travelers through? But we can' take care o' him ourselves, ya see. We ah figured tha' you would 'ave better chances. Or at least 'ave a place he can stay temp'rarly in the 'ospital. If ya dinnae mind?"

She hugged herself as she stood in the hospital and glanced around. It was far warmer than outside, but memories of a dark hospital, if it could be called that, came back to her. A place full of filth and blood and screams. Marina kept her eyes on the only exit she could see from where she stood, ready to leave at a moment's notice.
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