Title: Milk and Apples
Char: John Hornblower
Rating G (Some medical grue)
Word Count 570
The leg was very small. It lay on the
floorboards of the back room.
It was not bleeding, it only oozed
sluggishly and did not stain the floorboards. The Tucker's dining
table was another matter. It could be cleaned with vinegar and sand.
It could be set out to beach in the sun too, it being summer. That
would help a lot. John Hornblower reminded himself to tell them how.
Not today of course. Today they would not remember. Today the world
had to realign itself around a one legged 12 year old boy.
The stump of living flesh was as neat
as could be expected. It had been quick. Wickedly easy. The boy was
thin. They had waited and hoped that it need not be. They had waited,
and fever had eaten his weight. And he had not come to man's muscle
yet. They had put the ropes on, gently, kindly. But they not needed
them at all. Richard Tucker had swooned at the first stroke of the
knife. Better so. Better by far . His father had stood at his head,
leaned over him, face on face, to comfort, to pray, to block his
vision. Better by far for his father not to remember the screams.
The boys mother had heard the sound of
the saw stop. She came in with a cup of milk.
“I brought you this, Sir,” She
handed it to John Hornblower. “I thought you must be-- thirsty.”
Her chin crumpled. He could see where the tears had been.
“Resting now. Sleeping. Speak to him,
he may hear and remember.”
John Hornblower did not say: speak to
him, and if he dies at least you will have that for your own comfort.
He did not say anything more at all. He drank his milk He placed one
hand on Tucker's shoulder. Bowed briefly to his wife, and left. They
spared him barely a glance. That was well.
He walked home in the heavy dew of
morning, on his own two feet.
He let himself in the kitchen door. The
room was empty. Yellow sunlight crept up the wall. He was tired and
the sight of it made his eyes sting and blink.
His table was empty, but for a bowl
of crab-apples. The skins of them were speckled, yellow. They
were hard to get the teeth into, and they puckered the mouth with a
taste like clean. Mary had picked them for him, from the ground. She
had filled her apron pockets with them, for him, on a day when she
was surely busy with other things. For years that had been Horatio's
And here Horatio was in the main room
of his mind now. John put Horatio away firmly when he treated
children. He could not-- somehow could not bear-- it was wiser not to
think of his own son then. But in any case, the stacked years of love
and care were there. They informed his work, his fears. And if the
mind was a house, Horatio was never further than the doorstep.
He needed sleep. He had been at the
Tuckers most of the night. But not yet. He took two apples and put
them in his pocket. He would sit outside. He went to get his letter