Well, fretting about it now wouldn’t make him warmer, or get him to shelter any sooner. And the only shelter around was the big house he’d come here to case, only to find that the owner and all his far flung family were to arrive this evening. And it seemed, right now, to be impossibly far away.
Still mumbling to himself about Noiseless, he struggled on, forcing himself to take each step. He knew if he stopped, he would soon be lying on the snow, unable to get up, and would freeze to death. He didn’t want to die, he wanted to get home to his wife and little girl. The only reason he had agreed to do this was the money he would be paid. Little Bonny desperately needed an operation, and they couldn’t afford it. What he would have earned from this caper would have paid it all, with some left over. So, even though he would probably be caught, he was determined to get to the house, where he knew he could get warm and dry. How he was to get the money for the operation he didn’t know, but maybe if he was in jail, some charitable organisation would look after it. He struggled on.
After what seemed like hours, he looked up and saw that he had at last reached the building. Now, to find the way he had entered before, around to the side, a window that hadn’t been locked. Half an hour later he was inside, shivering again as the warmth started to penetrate. He moved dazedly, stripping off his wet stuff, laying it near a fire, then found two big wool blankets and wrapped up in both. He settled down behind a love seat in the sitting room, near the banked fire in the fireplace where he was hidden. Slowly he warmed, the shivering stopped, and he relaxed. He didn’t intend to, but before he realised it was happening, he was asleep.
Some unknowable time later, something cold and wet poking at his face woke him. A dog was prodding himself with its nose, grinning and wagging its whole hind end in pride and ecstasy at his wonderful find. Then a voice called “Here Rascal, where are you?” accompanied by running footsteps. Then a face was peering down at him.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” the teenager’s voice broke, and he flushed.
Whisper looked at the kid, then sat up. After rubbing his face he pulled himself to his feet, then grabbed one of the blankets and wrapped it around his shoulders, holding it closed with both hands. He was caught, and all he could do was tell the truth.
“I’m Whisper Wallace,” he said. “I was sent to check the place, so we’d know where everything is. He wanted to rob it, and promised to pay me ten thousand dollars. Noiseless was supposed to come with me, but he got drunk and broke his leg. Then, after I got here and found out that you were all coming in tonight, I went to find the boat I was told about, so I could get back to the mainland. But when I found it, it was sunk, and had a big hole in it. I slipped on the icy rocks and got soaked. All I could think of was to get back here where it’s warm.” he sighed, and pulled the blanket closer.
“Whose clothes are these?” a female voice called. “Would the caretaker leave his stuff here? Looks like they were set out to dry - the coat and shoes are still damp.” The voice came closer, and a woman walked into the room, followed by two younger children, all carrying Whisper’s clothing. She stopped in shock, staring at the stranger wrapped in a blanket and standing behind the love seat. “Paddy, who’s that?” she asked.
Paddy explained, repeating what Whisper had told him. She continued to stare for a moment, then handed the pants, shirt and socks to the boy. “Here,” she said, “let him put these on. Then he can sit down and explain why he would agree to help someone rob our home.”
The clothes were handed over, and Whisper quickly pulled on the pants, then the shirt and socks. He moved carefully around the love seat, and sat down. “Thanks, ma’am, I appreciate your kindness.” For a moment, he sat with his eyes closed, trying to stop the shaking in his body. He looked up when he heard the firm steps of a man coming in.
“Ok, what’s going on here?” the man, a tall, broad shouldered red head, asked. “And who is this? What’s he doing in our house? I’m going to call the guards!”
Ok, this must be the man of the house, Whisper thought. Might as well get it over with. “My name is Whisper Wallace - well, actually it’s Winston, but everyone calls me Whisper.” he said. “That’s because I can’t speak very loudly, sue to an injury when I was a child. Anyway, I came to case the house for some friends, who planned to come in day after tomorrow to rob it. I agreed because I am in desperate need of money. My little girl Bonnie is very ill, and needs an operation.”
“Bonnie Wallace?” the woman asked. “Daughter of Fiona Wallace? Goes to Pleasant Valley grade school?”
“Yes,” Whisper answered.
“Oh!” the woman exclaimed. “My little Lissy is in the same class. Fiona and I are friends, we’re on the same committees. She said Bonnie was ill. She’s been so worried.” she turned to her husband. “Oh, Ruaidri, we have to help them. Don’t call the guards, please! Wouldn’t you do anything, whatever it took, to get help for one of our children? From what Fiona said, Winston has been trying, working as much as he can. He had a good job, and was injured. Now he has to work at any low paying job he can find. We have so much, Ruaidri, and it’s Christmas. Can’t we share our blessings, at this special time of year?”
Ruaidri looked at Fiona, then looked around at the family, from old Aunt Milly down to little Josy. They were all looking at him, and he could read it in the faces. They all wanted to help the Wallaces.
“Please, Daddy,” Lissy said. “Bonnie is my very best friend, and I miss her so much. I want her to get well so she can come back to school. Please, Daddy?” Her big blue eyes glistened with tears as she gazed up at him.
Shaking his head, he sighed and gave in. “All right, all right. Ok, Wallace, how much do you need to cover the operation and aftercare, treatments and so on?”
Whisper stared at them, unable to take it in. He looked from face to face, and they were all smiling, nodding. Paddy said “tell us, Mr. Wallace. It will make Christmas even better for us, knowing little Bonnie can have a chance. I know her, she’s a nice little kid.”
Whisper gazed at Paddy for a moment, gulped, nodded, and said “About fifteen thousand. The operation is ten thousand, and they said it would be anywhere from five to ten more after that, for special equipment and stuff. I’ve managed to save five thousand, by scrimping on everything we could. Do you really mean it? You will help us?”
Ruaidri stepped forward, hand out. “We mean it. I’ll call the bank now, and make the arrangements. Then we can have dinner, and I’ll fly you back to the mainland. Can you get back from the airfield ok?”
“Yes, I can. I can’t believe what wonderful people you are. I expected to spend the next year or so in jail. I was just hoping a charitable organisation would look after Bonny and Fiona. It was the only hope I could see.”
It was well into February before the Bigheart family heard anything more about Whisper and Bonnie. Then one day Lissy came running in from school, full of joyful news. “Bonnie had her operation, and they say she will be all ok again!” she shouted. “Mrs. Prentice said she is responding well to her therapy. Oh, I am so glad we helped them. Hooray! My friend will be back!” She spun around, arms outflung, and collapsed, laughing, on the couch. The others all laughed and joined in the celebration. It was the best Christmas any of them could remember, and the good news made even the February blahs disappear.