This scene was a part of Fever Crumb but it was never published with the book. I moved it from the main wiki to a blog post for convenience sake.


There had been some consternation inside the vast metal head when Dr Crumb first brought Fever home in her basket. The Order had only been living there for a few weeks when it happened; most of the rooms were still only separated by canvas partitions, and the sound of the child’s crying could be heard in all of them. One by one the members of the Order had looked up from their work, and frowned, and listened, and then gone stumping up the ladders and the rickety wooden stairways, homing in on the source of the noise. Soon there was quite a crowd of them gathered in Dr Crumb’s work-space, jostling for a view of the tiny stranger who lay kicking and squealing in an open drawer of his plan-chest.

At last even Dr Stayling, the Chief Engineer, left his big office behind Godshawk’s right eye and came to investigate. The Order shuffled aside to let him into Crumb’s quarters and give him a clear view of the newcomer. Their heads turned slowly from Fever’s face to his as they waited to see how he would react to the little intruder. Some of them – the ones who had been at the old Engineerium on the night when the Explosive Research Laboratory finally lived up to its name – had seen Dr Stayling look shocked before, but for most it was a new and fascinating sight. His wiry eyebrows rose, his mouth opened and shut, his face turned pale and the smooth dome of his shaven head blushed pink. He raised a hand to point to the open drawer.

“Dr Crumb,” he said weakly, “what is that?”

“It is a baby, Chief Engineer.”

“I can see that Dr Crumb. I can see that all too clearly.”

Dr Crumb shuffled awkwardly. He felt most uncomfortable with all those inquisitive eyes turned upon him. He said, “I found her abandoned in the Brick Marsh, Chief Engineer. It seemed irrational to just leave her there to perish.”

“But why bring it here?”

“I did not know where else to take her,” said Dr Crumb.

Dr Stayling came across the silent room and peered thoughtfully into the baby’s face. It was a great many years since he had looked at a baby. He had forgotten how verysmall they were. Behind him, some of his bolder Engineers clustered closer, peeking over his shoulders to get a look at the little refugee.

“Her name is Fever,” ventured Dr Crumb. “It was written on a label.”

“What ridiculous name!” cried Dr Rinsey Tootle.

“Oh, London women often name their children after whatever ailments afflict them during pregnancy,” said Dr Stayling loftily. “I have known of people named ‘Bellyache’, ‘Nausea’, even ‘Incontinence’.”

“I can vouch for that,” agreed Dr Craving-For-Pickled-Onions McNee, rather ruefully.

Weargh!” complained Fever loudly, as if the debate bored her.

“How old do you think it is?” asked Dr Griffin Whyre.

“I imagine it is new-born,” said Dr Isbister. “I expect some unreasonable woman abandoned it.”

“Oh, she is not new-born,” blurted an elderly engineer named Crispin Collihole. He reddened slightly as the rest all turned to stare at him, but went on, “She is far too big, and the eyes of new-born babies are always a cloudy shade of blue. They do not turn colour until the infant is a few weeks old. I should think that this baby is at least three months old. I remember when my younger brothers and sisters were born, you see,” he added hastily, in case his fellow Engineers wondered where his arcane knowledge sprang from.

“Perhaps she is hungry,” he suggested. “You notice the fretful way that she keeps grizzling? I think she is telling us that she is hungry.”

The Engineers’ attention focused on the child again, considering this new hypothesis.

“We should give it some food,” suggested Dr Isbister.

“But what do babies eat?” asked Dr Whyre.

“Milk,” said Dr Stayling. “At least, I gather… Their mothers produce milk for them.”

The Engineers blanched, and looked worriedly at one another in the half-light. How on earth were they to come by human milk? (Women were not permitted in the Head, since they were distracting, and incapable of scientific thought.)

“That settles it then,” said Dr Whyre, sounding deeply relieved. “The child must be taken away. Into the city somewhere. The New Council must have procedures for such things. I’m sure a woman can be found who will, ah, cope with it.”

“If you please, sir,” said Dr Crumb, “the child would be in danger in the city. The commons are superstitious, irrational and violent people. It is only a short time since the riots. Bagman Creech and his Skinners’ Guilds are still on the prowl. A child like this one, with her unusual eyes, might be thought to be a mutation. She has already been injured; look…” And he lifted the baby’s head to show them a recent scar, healed, but still red and angry-looking, at the base of her skull.

“Well, it is not our fault that the commons are brutish and murderous,” said Dr Whyre.

“And it is not as though there are too few babies in London,” agreed Dr Stayling. “Whether this one lives or dies is a matter of no importance.”

But none of the men in the hall made any attempt to take the child away from Dr Crumb, or to carry her out into the streets. They all remembered too well the horrible things they had seen during the riots. So they stood and watched Fever, wincing slightly as her cries grew louder and harsher.

“Sir?” said Dr Crumb, after a while, glancing hopefully at the Chief Engineer. “I think that with a child of this age, a little cow’s milk might not go amiss. And perhaps some mashed vegetables.”

The others looked at Dr Stayling. He nodded slowly. “Very well, Crumb. You may attempt to feed the child. It can remain here until the present unrest is settled. But please stop it making that noise.”

* * *

Dr Crumb fed the baby watered down milk with a laboratory pipette, and she grew quiet at once. The other Engineers nodded approvingly, and began to drift away, back to their own quarters and their own experiments. Dr Collihole stayed behind, showing Dr Crumb how to hold Fever on his shoulder and pat her back until a startlingly loud belch erupted from her, along with a gloop of half-digested milk, which made a long, yellowish stain down the back of his coat. Then Dr Crumb fashioned a clean nappy out of some blotting paper and two bulldog clips, and laid her back in her drawer, with a clean blanket over her.

He stood and watched her, exhausted. At least she had stopped crying. She gurgled, and kicked her blanket off.

“Why does she not go to sleep?” asked Dr Crumb. “You told me they go to sleep once they’ve been fed.”

“Perhaps you should sing to her,” suggested Collihole.

Sing?” cried Dr Crumb. “I do not know any songs. Can’t you sing to her?”

“She’s your baby.”

“She is not my baby!” said Dr Crumb sharply. He was remembering how his own mother used to sing to him, when he was just a little boy, lying in his cot in the damp old bedroom of the farm at Slugg’s Pottage. It had had a calming, reassuring effect, as he recalled. Perhaps it would be the thing to lull a child to sleep. But he was certainly not going to start singing! What would the others think of him?

He pulled up a chair and sat leaning forward so that his face was directly above the face of the baby in the drawer. She laughed and gazed up at him, as if he were the moon. In the softest voice he could manage he began to recite the periodic table of chemical elements. “Hydrogen, Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium…”

By the time he reached Zirconium the baby’s strange eyes were half closed. A few more elements and she was asleep. Dr Collihole tiptoed out, smiling to himself as he returned to his own laboratory at the top of the Head. But Dr Crumb kept up his recitation, taking pleasure both in the calm certainty of the names and the child’s soft breathing.

* * *

In the following weeks, every Engineer in Godshawk’s Head found an excuse to invade Dr Crumb’s privacy, poking their heads round his door to ask how he was doing, or whether there was anything they might help with, when really all they wanted was another look at the baby asleep in his bottom drawer. No one would ever admit it, but they had all been shaken and upset at being driven out of the old Engineerium and forced to take up residence in this draughty Head. Baby Fever was helping to unite them, and making them begin to feel at home.

Dr Jones arrived with a tub of talcum powder, ‘to sprinkle on the infant’s bum, Crumb, when you change her whatchamacallits’. Dr Isbister, the Order’s librarian, googled through all his medical books for hints on childcare. Even peppery old Griffin Whyre turned up one morning bearing a mobile he had made by stringing together a lot of cardboard cut-out shapes. Squares, triangles, hexagons. “If you insist on keeping her here,” he grumbled, “you might as well give her some grounding in the basic principles of geometry.” He hung the thing up over the open drawer. “There. She’ll see it when she wakes.”.

Dr Crumb was afraid she would wake at any moment, for Whyre made no attempt to whisper, but Fever slept calmly through it, and did not even stir when he slammed the door firmly behind him on the way out. Dr Crumb sat and watched the mobile spin slowly in the glow from his dusty windows. Give her an insight into some basic principles, he thought. Well why not? Most of the Guild’s apprentices arrived at the age of fourteen, their heads stuffed with superstitious nonsense by their parents. It often took years to rid them of their attachment to their family and their belief in non-existent gods like Poskitt and Mama Cellulite and the Thin White Duke. Might it not be better for the Guild to take children in as infants, so that they could be taught from the very start that there were no gods, no ghosts, no need for emotions? Why, if this child was brought up by Engineers, what an Engineer she might she become!

As if she knew what he was planning for her, Fever woke and started crying with a series of coughing sounds like a small engine turning over on a frosty morning. Dr Crumb lifted her from her drawer and, after a moment of not knowing what to do, he cuddled her close and said, “There, there, small human being. All is well. All is well.”

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