ICSE English — An Angel in Disguise by T. S. Arthur –Explanation
An Angel in Disguise by T. S. Arthur
It was a cursed family. The mother was an alcoholic, and there was no father as the bread-earner. Either he was dead or had fled the home. There were three children, John (12), Kate (10/11), and Maggie, the youngest girl. She had broken her spine after a fall from a window. The accident had rendered her immobile, possibly for life. She was confined to her bed all the while.
The mother carried the burden of the family on her shoulders. The addiction made her quite unpopular in the village. Most inmates of the village kept their distance from this pugnacious woman.
On a fateful day, the mother of three tripped at the entrance of the door. She was drunk then. Perhaps, due to this, the fall turned out to be fatal. She died leaving her three hapless children including the bed-ridden Maggie to fend for themselves. Calamity of the darkest proportion stared the three orphaned children in their innocent faces.
As is customary in communities, people from neighbouring houses came in to the aid of the three children in the ramshackle house. They pondered how the three children could be saved.
John was 12, and had muscles strong enough to do farm jobs. Jones, the farmer spoke briefly with his wife, and felt John could be a good farmhand. So, with little hesitation, he took John with him. John got his benefactor.
Mrs. Ellis sized up Kate quickly, and felt the young child was an adorable one. She felt Kate would be a nice fit for her family. She offered to take Kate under her care. It was a spontaneous reaction. There was all round sympathy for Kate. Some women gave off some old used clothes to her. For Kate, the used clothes brought elegance and grace. She was ready to move on.
Then came the hardest and the saddest part. What to do with the debilitated and incapacitated Maggie She was a burden, and good-for-nothing child. All sympathized with Maggie, but few were ready to take her. After all, she was a dead weight, who had to be cared for all her life, with nothing to get in return. She was a dead-wood, a source of un-ending sadness. No one wanted Maggie. They exchanged glances to see if anyone was coming forward, but none did. Maggie lay in her bed staring vacantly into a dark bottomless hole.
The wheelwright Thompson was in the horns of a dilemma. Although a man with a rough exterior, he had a soft spot in his heart. His conscience kept pricking him. But, he was a man of modest means, and he had an imperious wife. She would spew venom if she was to adopt Maggie. The burly Thompson dreaded his wife’s wrath. But, he could not be cruel to leave an immobile girl to die on her bed. He stayed for a while in the house pondering his next step.
In the meanwhile, Maggie had struggled hard to sit up on her bed. With tears rolling down her eyes, she beseeched Thompson not to abandon her fate. She knew she was doomed. For the gruff Thompson, Maggie’s soft powerless palms proved to be vice-like in grip. Thompson gave in. He decided to take Maggie home, braving his wife’s salvos.
Thompson wrapped Maggie in some clean clothes given by some neighbours, and lifted her very gently. Perched in Thompson’s arms, Maggie headed for his new shelter. Thompson’s mind had begun to be flooded with rising tide of sympathy for the enfeebled child. He opened his gate and entered the house. Mrs. Thompson sensed something unusual. She asked her husband tersely if he had brought in something. Thompson was nervous, but resolute. To avoid a sudden eruption of his wife’s fury, he begged her to be considerate as he proceeded to explain.
Mrs. Thompson demanded to know if he had brought home the sick Maggie. The next few moments were quite dramatic. Thompson generally weathers his wife’s fury with a stoic indifference, never trying to argue with her. On this occasion, he was firm and persuasive imploring his wife to see the value of kindness in life.
Her husband’s changed demeanour took her by surprise. She enquired about John and Kate and asked Thomson what made him bring the sick useless Maggie home, instead of sending her to the village poorhouse.
Thompson’s wit helped him to come up with a reply. He said, completing the mandatory paper work for entry to the poor house could take a day or so. Till that time, he would keep Maggie under his care. His wife wanted him to obtain the papers the same day, so that Maggie could go to her new address.
Thompson felt it was futile to buy time like this. He mustered all his strength to confront His wife’s crudity with his sense of compassion and decency. He drew on the Bible’s sermons to underline his argument that God does not take kindly to his disciples who were indifferent to children’s woes. God took the suffering children to his own arms to give them succor and solace. Thus, citing the Bible, Thompson obtained his wife’s approval to keep the child in the house for a day more.
Thompson avoided his wife’s eyes as his own welled up with surging emotion. His wife, too, appeared to be affected by the evolving situation and her husband’s show of compassion.
She went to Maggie’s bedside, apparently to see her with tender eyes. Thompson, standing at a distance, knew his wife’s stone heart had begun to soften.
Supper was ready. Thompson washed his face and hands and wanted to eat. He could sense that his wife was unusually quiet. Thompson went to see Maggie. A torrent of kind feelings swept his mind as he looked into the eyes of the sick, wretched Maggie.
Thomson sat at her bedside and began to speak softly to her about her injury, her fears, and her feelings. It was a dialogue marked by intense emotions. The duo established a rapport quite quickly.
Supper was served. Thompson and his wife went to the dining table. She had told him that after they finished, she would get her something to eat. Thompson keenly watched his wife’s response and body language. He could read that she was knowingly showing some aloofness, but, deep inside her a change in attitude towards Maggie had set in.
After a few moments of quietness, she blurted out, “What are you going to do about the child?”
Thompson replied rather nonchalantly that she would be shifted to the village poorhouse. It was an answer that was very cleverly disguised.
The supper was over. Mrs. Thompson made ready some toast, milk and tea for Maggie. She quietly carried the food tray to Maggie’s bedside, and held it in her hand as the child ate the food with relish. Her words were suffused with a deep sense of gratitude and happiness.
Now, Mrs. Thompson could no longer hold back the affection and compassion that had overwhelmed her. It was a mixture of pity, kindness, sympathy, and humanism.
She suggested to her husband that Maggie could stay for a day or two more to let her regain some strength. She gave this advice to her husband the next morning when he was getting ready to see the keepers of the poorhouse.
Soon, it emerged that Mrs. Thompson had already abandoned the idea of sending Maggie to the poorhouse. Neither her husband go there, nor did she ask him to go. Maggie stayed behind in the care of the Thompsons.
The turn of events was remarkable. Maggie had rekindled the dormant humane side of the irascible Mrs. Thompson. She was a transformed lady now – mild, benign, altruistic, and genteel. Thompson’s initial show of sympathy for a destitute girl had unleashed a wave of goodness that swept the bad side of Mrs. Thompson aside. The change was momentous, and it underscored the power of a small spark of kindness in starting a big bright lamp of compassion and fellow-feeling.
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