In the third episode of Reading Between The Lines, we read “The Healing Touch”, first published on January 13 1940. In a particularly riotous recording, the team disagree on whether it’s too sweet or not, dealing with tough topics in the “Friend” and how to make . . . toast water?! You can read along as you listen and let us know what you think.
Morning prayers were just over, but instead of dismissing the children assembled in the hall of the Sunnyfield Orphanage, Matron kept them a minute or two longer. Her eyes twinkled happily through her spectacles in a way that meant she had something nice to say.
“If you are very good, children,” she started, “you are going to have a treat next week. But before I tell you what it is I want to tell you a little story.”
Between forty and fifty pairs of eyes were fixed on her intently. Between forty and fifty children wished she would leave out the story and come to the part about the treat. Matron’s stories generally had a moral in them. They showed that naughty little girls and boys were never really happy, and that it was always best to be good. Quite true, perhaps, but not the kind of story they really enjoyed.
There was little restlessness while Matron told her story. If they fidgeted she might send them to the classrooms without saying a word about the “treat”.
“Several years ago,” she began, “there was a little boy here named Jimmy Kane. He had no parents and no relatives near enough to come and see him. Jimmy was a good boy—er”—a slight smile touched her lips for a second—“er—generally. He was always very interested in machinery so when he grew older he went to engineering classes and was later apprenticed to a large firm.
“Now, children, Jimmy Kane is quite grown up. He has worked so well that he is a very, very big business man. He is staying near here now for a holiday and came to see me the other day—”
Matron paused and beamed on them all. A feeling of greater interest ran through the children. They were coming to the “treat” now. They felt somehow it was associated with this Jimmy Kane.
They were quite right. Matron went on to explain that he wished all the children to be taken by motor coach to the seaside for a day. They were to have a picnic lunch on the sands, tea in a large hall there. There would be ices, buckets and spades provided for all. Mr Kane would pay all expenses.
Very early one day the following week little people who should have been asleep were awake. Was it going to be fine? Those who slept near the windows stood on their pillows and give minute-to-minute weather reports.
“There’s an awful big cloud coming up.”
“It’s moving away nice and quick, though.”
“It’s ever so misty.”
“Matron says that means hot weather.”
Only one little boy didn’t care what the weather was like. He was in a small room by himself, his head buried in his pillow. One little boy had developed a nasty cold and a temperature. One little boy couldn’t go.
Jim Kane leaned out of the window and looked up at a cloudless sky. “Like to go for a drive, darling?” he asked the girl curled up on the chair. “It seems a pity to waste the time indoors when our holiday is nearly over.”
Maureen Kane put down her book and came over to her husband’s side. There was a teasing smile in her eyes as she said: “You are longing to go to Seahaven to see the Orphanage children playing there, aren’t you?”
“I would like to peek at them,” he admitted. “I bet they are enjoying themselves. When I was a kid I used to wish desperately that some magician would whisk us all to the seaside for a whole day. That is why I asked Matron to allow me to give this little treat.”
Maureen kissed him lightly on the cheek. “You have some nice ideas, Jimmy. I’ll get my hat.”
She slipped out oof the room but not before Jim had seen that the smile had faded from her face, and her shoulders had drooped when she thought she was unobserved.
He sighed. “I ought not to have suggested it I suppose,” he thought. In his blundering, manlike way he had thought a trip like this might brighten her spirits. That seeing a crowd of children enjoying themselves might lighten the sadness in her eyes. A sadness caused through the death, a year ago, of their three year old son Derek. The knowledge that she would never bear another child made her grief so much greater.
Jim had tried to comfort her all these months. Had been as patient and loving as he could. Once he had suggested rather timidly that they should adopt a child, but she had only snapped out an angry “No!” Later she had said more quietly: “Never ask me to let another child toddle around our home, and use Derek’s wooden horse and toys. I couldn’t bear it, Jim.”
When they reached Seahaven and Matron told the children that this was none other than the Mr Kane who had made their outing possible, the car was surrounded by a merry crowd of youngsters. At the request of several boys Jim took of his shoes and socks and, rolling up his trousers, waded into the shallow pools with them looking for shrimps.
“For us to take home to Jerry who couldn’t come,” one boy explained.
Once or twice he glanced back at the beach. Maureen was sitting in a deck chair talking a little to Matron and her assistants, but he noticed that she kept her eyes averted from the busy band of castle-builders at their feet.
Surely all her passionate love for children had not died when Derek was taken from them? If so, the future did indeed look bleak. He had worked hard to reach his present position. They had money enough and to spare. He would have liked to take anyone of these sturdy, mischievous boys into his home and give him the boyhood he, himself, had missed. But Maureen must wish it, too. They must be together over a big undertaking like that.
A little later when they drove off he knew that apart from his very enjoyable hour with the children the trip had been a failure. Maureen had not warmed to one of the happy youngsters.
He went back by a different route and slowed down as they passed a large grey building.
“This is the Orphanage, Maureen. Matron told me I could look over it now if I wished. I hadn’t the time the other day when I called here. Like to come?”
She shook her head. “No, I’ll stay here. I’m rather tired.” Then seeing the look of disappointment in his eyes she added quickly: “No, I’ll come.”
A bright looking girl opened the door to them and when Jim explained their errand, led them into a cool-looking tiled hall.
“Don’t bother to come with us. We’ll just wander around. I know my way,” he smiled.
He was like a child again as holding his wife’s arm he piloted her through the dining and play rooms.
“That’s the corner where I had to stand when in disgrace. I remember once I took Matron’s clock to pieces,” he chuckled.
Upstairs he was able to show Maureen the very bed on which he had sept. He was delighted also to find in the adjoining bathroom that some amateur plastering he had done years ago still held.
As they were about to go downstairs again they met the maid carrying a tray.
“One of the children couldn’t go today as he had a cold. Poor little Jeremy Blake, he always seems to catch everything that’s going. Missed the Christmas party, too, last year.”
Jim opened the door for her and they caught sight of a small boy wrapped in blankets sitting in a chair by the window.
“Hullo, old chap!” Jim exclaimed strolling into the room. “Bad luck having to stay behind today.”
Maureen stood in the doorway. The child looked so forlorn, so thin and pale that part of her longed to follow Jim in and wipe the tear marks from the little face. To stroke that tousled mop of red-gold hair. Another part of her wanted to hurry away. To brush from her memory the picture of Jim bending over the child.
At the sight of the uninteresting thick bread and butter the maid was handing the child, Maureen went in and touched Jim’s arm saying impulsively: “Why not run to the shops and get something more appetising for the child?”
“You have some nice ideas,” he smiled, repeating the words she had used when speaking to him earlier in the day. Then turning to Jeremy he said: “Could we have tea with you? I’ll run along to the village to get some more food because we are terribly hungry people. Our appetites are enormous.”
The maid smilingly promised to make more tea and bring up extra cups. Jim returned laden with fruit and cream buns and the most tempting cakes he could purchase.
It was Maureen who tied a feeder around the child’s neck and wiped jammy fingers and face, when Jeremy declared that he couldn’t manage another chocolate biscuit.
“You’ll probably be sick tomorrow and Matron will be cross with me,” Jim told him. “But it was worth it, wasn’t it?”
Jeremy’s smile conveyed that it was worth it.
It was Maureen who seemed to remember most of the games that could be played with a little boy who wasn’t very well.
At six o’clock when the maid came to put Jeremy back to bed he said shyly: “Won’t you undress me, please. I like your hands. Sally’s are red and hard.”
The colour flew into Maureen’s cheeks. She evidently did not want to put him to bed. Probably the thought of taking a small boy in her arms again hurt too much. Jim saw her bite her lip. He was surprised when she said in a low voice to the maid: “All right. I’ll see him to bed.”
Jim sauntered into the corridor. Through the half open door he could see that her fingers trembled as she fumbled with tiny braces. They were blue ones, the same kind as Derek had worn.
Jim chuckled when he heard the child say gravely: “You did that much better than Sally does. I wish you’d come to live here.”
Maureen’s laugh came naturally. “But what would Mr Kane do? You know he wants a lot of looking after, too.”
A lot of whispering seemed to take place then and when Jim strolled back Maureen was tucking the blankets under the mattress.
“You won’t forget your promise?” Jeremy asked anxiously as they said goodnight to him.
“I won’t forget,” she promised.
Walking down the stairs Jim said: “Dear little chap, but one of the plainest kids I’ve seen. What were you promising him?”
“Only that I’d go in to see him again before we return home.” She hesitated a moment then said: “Jim, I—”
He pressed her arm encouragingly. “What is it, Maureen?”
“He looks so delicate,” she said dreamily, “as if he needed a lot of attention—a lot of loving. Do you think Matron would let him come to us for a holiday? The change of air might do him a world of good and—and there are toys enough to amuse him.”
Jim stopped abruptly. “I want you to be quite sure about this, Maureen. Could you bear to see another child at home?”
She nodded and when she turned he knew by the warm light in her eyes that recovery from the blow Fate had dealt them was beginning.
He had hoped that a crowd of romping, laughing children would break the coldness that had numbed her heart all these months. But it was a poor sick child who would help her back to happiness.
Jeremy’s holiday would stretch into months, years. This homely-looking child with his freckles and red hair possessed, for Maureen, the healing touch.
Jim was whistling a gay little tune as he helped his wife into the car. Her eyes were fixed on a window in the upper storey of the Orphanage, and a tender smile was playing around her mouth.
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