The Quality of Mercy



Magellan's Wife



{ excerpt from work in progress }





As it turned out Arthur, to everyone’s great relief, had not in fact attempted to eat the baby rabbit with which he’d surprised Mouse just at bedtime late this evening; after examining it closely under the anxious scrutiny of those crowded into the surgery to lend moral support, Father had declared its wounds more likely to have been inflicted by birds, perhaps crows.


“That doesn’t sound right,” said William, eyeing the woebegone scrap trying to burrow its way up Father’s sleeve.


“Admittedly I am not a veterinarian,” said Father, retrieving the squirming baby and cupping a hand over it to deter further attempts. “I imagine you’d feel more comfortable, William, with a second opinion, though I’m not certain where you’d find a vet who’d make a house call, down here, and at this hour, and that being the case, perhaps if you’ve no great objections I shall simply clean—”


“I told you Arthur didn’t hurt him,” muttered Mouse to no one in particular. “He would never. He saved it. Brought it down here where it would be safe.”


“Safe?” roared William. “No rodent is safe in my kitchen. If I catch that fat bastard in my pantry again he’s going in the stew, I swear to God.” He caught himself. “Sorry, Father. I mean it though. They’re good eating, my grandpops used to—”


“OKAY, OKAY,” said Mouse. This was an old threat with no teeth in it, unlike Arthur.


After the soft laughter subsided there was moment of quiet before Mary spoke.


“You’ve certainly gone above and beyond this past two days, Father,” she said gently. “Some might even say heroic; but you’re exhausted. Can I help?”


“Thank you, Mary,” said Father. “There’s no one better for handling a newborn of any species, but I’d feel much better if you’d check on Vincent and, well, try to persuade him to at least….. stretch his legs. Tell him I will be there to check on our… guest, momentarily.”


“I will,” said Mary. “Both of you need a break, this can’t go on.”


“Nonsense,” said Father, opting to suppress the deep yawn that threatened to overcome him just then. “The night is young. I will suture the worst of these lacerations and…. field dress the rest, I suppose,” he trailed off, his mind already turning to the interesting problem of how to keep bandages in place on a creature so small and likely to be uncooperative. He’d have to cut down the gauze to size and it occurred to him that a small sock, sized for a human infant, with openings cut for the legs and head, might in fact be just the right size to serve as a sort of truss for his tiny patient, holding the bandages in place….


For the moment it was a pleasant diversion for which he was grateful, a brief respite from the far more disturbing question preying on him: what to do with the gravely injured young Topside woman now recovering in Vincent’s chamber.


Since the shock of her harrowing arrival late last night, limp, broken and bloody in the arms of a grim and ashen Vincent, no one in the Tunnels had known a peaceful moment, least of all Father. The sense of danger had brought a tense hush to the community and Father knew too well that every minute that passed in which he and Vincent did not appear to present a united front regarding Vincent’s decision to bring the stranger Below only increased the community’s fear and unease. Though he had grumbled when first presented with the injured baby rabbit, no one here now had missed the fact that Father had quickly given it his full attention.


Seeming to have forgotten everything else for the moment including the presence of his Tunnel family, Father lifted his palm just enough to stare thoughtfully at the baby rabbit, who appeared to have fallen asleep. You feel safe, thought Father. Good. Dreaming perhaps that you are back with your mother, safe and warm in your burrow. We all just want to be safe. What happened to you?


Father did not like to think of the probable fate of the mother rabbit; how reasonable was it to hope that her end had been quick? And how on earth had her baby survived? How very fortunate for you, little one, that Arthur is incorrigible, a veritable demon, a striped Houdini; if he had not once again eluded Mouse’s increasingly creative yet ultimately fruitless attempts to keep him corralled, he never would have got out to the park and found you.


And who would ever have guessed that Arthur possessed the paternal instinct? A crusty old bachelor set in his ways with a very dim view of any kind of change in his routine? taking on a baby, at this point in his career?


Really, what on earth had possessed him?


This thought struck a note with Father and he almost thought, for a moment, that Arthur reminded him of someone, but in his present degree of fatigue both mental and physical he couldn’t quite think of whom.


He was gently shaken out of his reverie by a polite cough from William and looked up to find himself alone with the cook.


“I’ll put on water for tea,” sighed William, heaving himself to his feet. “Better make it extra strong since it looks like you two and Mary’ll be up all night again. If that thieving rodent hasn’t laid waste to my entire larder I might even be able to rustle up something sweet for you. I’ll put aside extra for Vincent. Something tells me he’ll need it.”




~to be continued~







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