Joshua felt the air get sucked out of him. He asked, “Who is coming?”
Sophie answered, “Children. A whole army of them. At least a hundred.”
Lucinda demanded, “Well, who started these tales?”
She glared first at Sophie then at Heathcliff.
“Something may have slipped,” Heathcliff admitted.
“Don’t feel too bad. Word was bound to spread,” said Mrs. Mudd.
“But what will we do?” Joshua asked.
He tried to think of a plan.
“Sophie, do they know where we are?”
“No, but it won’t take them long to find out.”
Joshua paced. Looming disaster was all he could see. A large crowd would trample the vegetable garden. They would certainly crush all the dandelions under foot. They could smash the grill and the shelf the twins worked so hard on.
Then Dina spoke up, “You won’t turn them away, will you?”
Joshua was about to ask her what she was talking about. But one look in her eyes and he knew. He saw this crowd of children as a stampede that would crush everything underfoot. Dina only saw children like them, hungry and desperate for any kind of help.
“Dina, I can’t feed that many people.”
“But they’re hungry,” she said.
“The attendants will throw you out of the Charity Kitchen for anything,” added Ollie.
“Even for slurping too loudly,” added Rollie.
“And then there’s Ben Bastion and his gang,” said Heathcliff.
Mr. Mudd spoke up, “Now listen, you all have enough problems of your own. You can’t take on anymore. I know it’s a hard decision, but it’s what you have to do.”
Joshua felt the sting of the old wrong.
He asked Mr. Mudd, “The way you did?”
The man bowed his head.
Joshua wrestled within himself. He had sworn he’d never turn his back on someone in need like Mr. Mudd had done to him. But that was before. Now he was faced with the reality of a hundred children flocking to his meager kitchen.
He blurted out, “Why is it my problem? Why doesn’t somebody else help? Nobody was there to help us when we needed it! Now it’s up to me to feed everyone? Why don’t the princes and the rich men and all those great folk up there come down and fix all of this, if they’re so great! Why do they leave it to me?”
He glanced down at his hands and at the platters of food he’d prepared and he knew why.
Because I can.
In those hands now was the skill to feed everyone. He knew it. He could do it. Because of that it was now his responsibility as much as it was the princes and the rich men. He had as much power in his own way as they did. He could do it, if only he had the means.
“Where will I get enough food? And if we got it, what would we cook it in?”
He picked up the salvaged pots and pans from their place on the shelf.
“If I used every last one of them, I might be able to feed maybe a hundred. That’s if I worked myself to death. I’d need a large kettle. No two of them.”
“What else would you need?” asked Sophie.
What a question! Might as well answer it. It can do no harm.
Joshua said, “Food. To feed a hundred I’d need two sacks of flour, two sacks of lentils, and four bushels of leafy greens.”
Joshua planned his new kitchen in his head. He didn’t know what good it would do. It seemed impossible that he would get he needed, but he planned anyway. If he could get his kettles and if he could get the flour, lentils, and greens what then would be his next step?
“The alley isn’t big enough for that many,” Lucinda said.
They walked out of the alley and looked at the fallen buildings on either side. They were nothing but brick shells full of fallen timbers.
“Not possible,” said Mr. Mudd.
“A deathtrap,” said Lucinda.
“It’s perfect,” exclaimed Ollie and Rollie.
“I think they’re right. These would do nicely,” Joshua said. “We can move out the boards and debris. There are enough of us now. The walls are still standing. There’s no roof, but that’s not a problem yet. All we’d need are benches and tables to seat everyone.”
“We can build those,” Ollie said.
“There’s plenty of stuff to use,” Rollie continued.
Lucinda said, “Settle down you two, we can think about it after we find two enormous kettles “
“And a ton of supplies,” finished Heathcliff.
They talked some more. In the end they agreed to talk about it the next morning. Everyone was sleepy and they retired to their beds.
Hodmedod watched them from his perch high up on the wall. He decided to help this boy along. He didn’t care about the hungry, they could all starve. But the boy was getting ambitious. That was good. The more ambitious he got the greater tasks he would attempt. When he was at his zenith, that’s when Hodmedod would swoop in and learn all his secrets.
He stood up and leapt silently and effortlessly to the next decaying wall and then to the next. Hodmedod knew exactly where a pair of kettles might be found. Traveling along the tops of the broken buildings, he could peer inside and see their contents. He’d seen the items in question inside an old workshop just a few blocks from the alley.
Hodmedod found the shop and climbed down over the broken beams as easy and as quiet as if they were a carpeted staircase. It had once been the shop of a man who cast and fashioned metal. There amid the debris he found two great semi circles of beaten iron. These would be the kettles. Hodmedod would leave the foodstuffs to the boy and his friends; they seemed more than capable of finding those.