SHE WAS GOOD FOR NOTHING 489
But no, you really look seriously ill: The best thing will be for me to lead you home.' -h
' But my linen yonder------'
' I will see to that. Come, give me your arm. The boy can stay here and take care of it, and I'll come back and finish the washing ; it 's only a trifle.'
The laundress's limbs shook under her. ' I have stood too long in the cold water,' she said faintly, ' and I have eaten and drunk nothing since this morning. The fever is in my bones. O kind Heaven, help me to get home ! My poor child ! ' And she burst into tears.
The boy wept too, and soon he was sitting alone by the river, beside the damp linen. The two women could make only slow progress. The laundress dragged her weary limbs along, and tottered through the lane and round the corner into the street where stood the house of the mayor ; and just in front of his mansion she sank down on the pave= ment. Many people assembled round her, and lame Martha ran into the house to get help. The mayor and his guests came to the window.
■ That 's the washerwoman ! ' he said. ' She has taken a glass too much. She is good for nothing. It 's a pity for the pretty son she has. I really like the child very well; but the mother is good for nothing.'
Presently the laundress came to herself, and they led her into her poor dwelling, and put her to bed. Kind Martha heated a mug of beer for her, with butter and sugar, which she considered the best medicine ; and then she hastened to the river, and rinsed the linen—badly enough, though her will was good. Strictly speaking, she drew it ashore, wet as it was, and laid it in a basket.
Towards evening she was sitting in the poor little room with the laundress. The mayor's cook had given her some roasted potatoes and a fine fat piece of ham for the sick woman, and Martha and the boy discussed these viands while the patient enjoyed the smell, which she pronounced very nourishing.
And presently the boy was put to bed, the same bed in which his mother lay; but he slept at her feet, covered with an old quilt made up of blue and white patches.
Soon the patient felt a little better. The warm beer had