Boy In the Basket! A Tale of Redemption by Francesca Quarto

Published on by Francesca Quarto

"If yer gonna keep up that caterwallin', yer gonna bring the whole village down here, boy!"

The small child lay on his side, his legs drawn up tightly to his thin chest, while his arms protected his small head.  Without warning the man's foot swept out and kicked into his bony, rounded back.

"Now ye got sumptin' to screech over!"

The boy, Samuel was a foundling, placed with the Clappers by their Minister, Thomas Pratt. He saw them at church on major feast days, unaccompanied by any children, though they were both of child bearing age.

The foundling, he thought, might bring joy into what appeared to him and the other villagers, to be a bleak home indeed. 

The day he showed up with the wicker basket, left on a church pew, only the missus was about.

"Tis a fine babe ye bring us, Mr. Pratt, but I'll not be takin' it in if ye please."

"But Mistress Clapper, ye have none of yer own and this un is but a wee babe, nary a day old he is!"

"Aye and a sweeter babe I've never clapped eyes upon, but it's the Mister...he'd none of it fer sure."

The Minister waited until the husband showed, after his long day down in the dark, damp coal mine where he made a paltry living.  

His face was covered in black dust where it wasn't streaked in sweat runs on his forehead and cheeks.  Every footstep shook off more of the ubiquitous coal trace and left footprint across her newly swept boards.

"What's this then?"  he demanded as he entered the tiny cottage and saw his wife and the Minister sitting at the kitchen table; a large covered wicker basket between them.

Mr. Pratt knew Clapper's reputation as quick tempered and excessively jealous of any attention his plain wife, might garner from other men.

"I am here to bless this home with a precious gift, Clapper!" the Minister said with conviction.

"Aye?  And what be this fine gift?"

"Tis a beautiful boy child!" he said throwing back the frayed and dirty blanket.

"Jes like the Babe Jesus would ha' been upon his birthing day!"

Clapper approached the table, staring down into the depths of the crudely woven carrier.

"A boy ye say?"

The Minister and wife both took heart with a response that wasn't composed of heavy swearing and profanity.  Also, they noted how Clapper began to study the little chap, touching his finger and counting toes silently.

"I reckon 'el do.  Do ye leave some milk ta feed the ting then?"

Pratt said he'd arranged for one of the new mothers from the village to bring her own mother's milk daily.

"The Missus can feed the little one from the bottle she'll leave, just stopping it with a clean rag for him to suck at."

The boy, like most children, did bring joy, but only to his mother. Clapper made it clear over the ensuing years, that the boy was a lowly foundling, unwanted and unloved.  

He was  ten years and six months when his hard father told him at the supper table that the following morning he'd be accompanying him into the mines.

"Time ye got yer scrawny arse at sum kinda work, boy.  Tomorrow we leave at six. I recommend ye be up unless ye want an ear boxing!"

The miners were all dumbfounded when the small boy showed up.  He was wearing the only coat his mother could find for him from among her neighbors. It was two sizes too large and she'd rolled it several times around his thin arms.  A moth eaten scarf was fastened round his lost neck inside the coat making it hard for him to turn his head.

Going down in the rickety bucket with his father and a few others, Samuel discovered he was having another vision.  Something so remarkable that he stood transfixed when the basket bumped to a stop.

"Da" he whispered.  "I tink somethin' is gonna happen down here.  I seen it when we was cumin down."

Clapper gave his head a shake, looking at the other men and saying his boy was a strange one.  When the others filed into the deep hole they were working, he turned to the boy and gave him a rap on the ear with his hand.

"Don't be spoutin' yer lies down 'ere.  Mind me now!  Bad 'nuff ye speak of visions to yer maw!"

 They worked for five hours with only a short break, when Samuel stood stock still.

This time his vision was clearer and he saw the men scrambling for the lift basket and screaming.  All were there except his father. 

Samuel dropped his shovel among the lumps of dirt and coal, brushed his scarf over his wet face to clear his eyes and went up front to the foreman as soon as his father wasn't looking.

"I been a hearin' sum  loud creaks down in ta' hole, sir. I guessed best ta tell ye" he said in his young voice.

Just then, there was a shudder under their feet and a roll of alarm from the men who stood and waited.

A groan of wood under too much pressure and the sound of earth sifting through growing gaps in the tunnel ceiling, brought the miners running toward the basket; their only lifeline.  All but his father.

"Get ye aboard Sammy" screamed the foreman over the yells of the miners.  

"I need to find me da" he said firmly and ran back into the deeper parts of the tunnel.

Dirt was coming down in larger clumps now and the sound of cracking wooden support beams became like an underground symphony. 

His father was lying under one of the beams that must have given way early on.  His eyes were rolling around in his head and there was blood wetting his shirt where the heavy timber crushed him.

This too was part of the look into the future event. Samuel knew he was indeed strange.

Without speaking a word, the boy reached down and lifted the impossible weight of wood of Clapper and scooped his arm under him, lifting him to his feet. Clapper moaned with his eyes closed tightly against the gnawing pain of broken ribs and deep wounds.

The basket was gone when they got to the front and the tunnel was reclaiming itself just behind them.  Clapper gave a scream of pain and the boy held his hands over him.  Out of the darkness a piercing light sprang up around the fallen man and the young boy lifted them into the twilight of the day.  

None saw this miracle of magic, none would have believed it had they seen.  All were busy in groups of family and villagers, come to the rescue.

When Clapper opened his eyes several weeks later, it was as if he had reverted to infancy.

He began to mewl like a kitten and drool spattered his  mouth and chin.  His fear had turned him into a dumb-struck child.  His legs were badly injured and he could no longer walk.  His wife spoon fed him his meager meals, this being his only activity. Mostly, he stared off into space and occasionally a few babbled words erupted like anger from his mouth.

Because he had been responsible for saving all the miners from the mine cave-in, Samuel was rewarded a stipend from the village elders until he reached the age of eighteen, when he could then support his mother and his invalid father.

Samuel never spoke of his visions again to his mother and she assumed they were fancies of childhood.  But as he grew older, he would sit with the muttering crippled father and whisper visions of healing his broken body.

"All that is needed oh father, mine, is a single kind word from you.  But alas, tis not to be now is it?"

The silence was as crushing as the heavy timber.  Samuel never had to enter the mines again and grew in wealth and knowledge over a few short years.  

"It's like sum kinda' magic how that boy has made 'is way!  First foundling; now rich man."the old Minister Mr. Pratt was heard telling a few friends over a pint.  "Aye, and him just a cast off in a basket."

 

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