The Kindness of their Hearts

Judge’s Comments – WINNER

I very much liked that this presented a more positive take on the workhouse, and that the story had a strong arc that began in despair, but ended with a glimmer of hope. The main character, Elsie, had a very clear voice, which was great, and the relationship between her and her little brother Ed was lovely to read and very nicely depicted.

The Kindness of their Hearts

by Olivia Wyatt

“Through the kindness of yer hearts, let yer help us…”

The door slammed shut in my face. My tears of sadness and fear fell from my pleading eyes. I walked away to join my younger brother at the road. Horses rumbled past, perilously close to crushing us, as we walked along, hand in dirty hand in the gutter.

There was none to help.

Ma was dead, she had had tuberculosis and we didn’t know Da. He’d left after Ed was born.

“Does this mean we ‘ave to go to the work’ouse?” asked Ed, trembling. He was thin and his eyes were like big round orbs in his grimy face.

Picking him up, I took a weary step forward. His frail body chilled mine. Cold we were. I knew we couldn’t last another night out here. “We ain’t never gonna go to the work’ouse.” I whispered.

“Is it bad place?” Ed questioned. I kissed his soft curls.

“It is very bad place.” I told him, walking across the stony cobbles.

“I miss Ma, Elsie.” Ed sobbed.

“So do I.” Ma never deserved to die, she didn’t. I gulped. “Remember, Ma’s with the angels now.”

My tired legs suddenly gave out. I fell into the road, dropping Ed. I let out a yelp. My ankle was throbbing in pain. My home-search was failed. But I swore to Ed before we began that there was no way, ever, that we would end up in a workhouse.

Gently, Ed touched my ankle, making me wince. He withdrew his hand and looked concerned.

“Does it ‘urt? Are ye gonna die like Ma?”

“No.” I reached out to hug him. “I ain’t gonna die, but it does ‘urt.”

The click-clack of hooves made me look up. A horse was heading for us! With a cry, I rolled to the side, dragging Ed with me.

Looking up, I saw the rider was a policeman. I tried to run away, Ma had always warned me of policemen, but I wasn’t going anywhere.

He was looking down at us. He had kind black eyes.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked.

“Ma’s dead.” I said. “And we ain’t got no place to go.”

“’Course you have somewhere to go.”

“If yer mean the work’ouse, we ain’t gonna go there. Ma said that was bad place.”

“Nonsense.” He laughed. “My wife came from there, sweet they treated her.”

I looked up at him.

“Look, if you like I’ll give you a lift. You won’t make it far on that ankle.”

“Fine.” I said, after a second.

And the kindness of their hearts at the workhouse, was enough for us.

Return to Workhouse Voices Creative Writing