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handed over. “When the boys throw down the batch they've got tickets for, there'll be another lot of tickets sent up, and not before; so it's no use making a bother about it.” “Then why don't you stir up the lazy varmint ?" Occasionally, one of the hard-worked youths, so disrespectfully stigmatised in the pursuit of his legitimate business, let himself down the spout instead of a bundle, and, even while no more than the calves of his legs and his slippers were yet visible, he was made the target for universal execration; and “Wake up, wooden head!” “Pull yourself together, lazybones!” “Keep your eyes open, spoony !” were among the mildest counsels gratuitously administered.
But the individual who came in for the greatest share of abuse was the youth I have already mentioned, whose dismal occupation it was to rescue ransomed goods from some place in the bowels of the earth, an entrance thereto being effected by means of a trap-door in the floor of the shop, which, as it was in the common path, was kept shut except when in actual use. He was a bulky and well fed looking boy of grimy aspect, wearing a black apron with a bib tied over his buttoned-up coat, and a close-fitting cap of the Glengarry sort. An affable boy enough, I dare say, when undisturbed by the worries of business, but sulkily—I am afraid malignantly-disposed towards his enemies when they exasperated him beyond endurance. Heavy goods seemed to be peculiar to his department; pots and kettles, fenders, fire-irons, cumbersome articles of crockery, &c., and such other kinds of pledges as would be none the worse for underground stowage. To be sure, the goods it was his business to discover and haul to the surface were heavy, and sometimes awkward to carry; and I cannot say what was the extent of the subterranean passages he had to
explore by the light of the lantern attached by a strap to his waist. But I am bound to confess that impatient customers might be excused if they thought that the lapse of time that occurred between each descent and reappearance was in the least degree unnecessary. Discovering that the method adopted by the shopmen to expedite this youth's movements when down below was to stamp on the floor with the heels of their boots, the crowd in the boxes occasionally did likewise. Then Beadle would make his appearance like an imp in a pantomime, scowling and glaring on his grinning persecutors, and looking as though nothing would afford him sweeter satisfaction than to have them one at a time at the foot of his cellar stairs, while he hurled down on them the pots and kettles, the pudding basons, plates, and baking dishes they had come to redeem, and were making such a fuss about.
It is only right, however, to mention that there were extenuating circumstances for his sourness of temper; not the most insignificant being, that the trap was always shut when he was coming out, and as he usually had both his arms full there was nothing left for him but to butt up the heavy wooden flap with the crown of his head. They laughed at him then. Beadle's time for laughing was when he had relieved himself of his load, and was entrusted with a fresh batch of tickets. It was not of the least use for Mr Balchin to call out, “ And be quick about it!” Had Beadle been descending to a dungeon for life, he could not have more lingeringly halted on each stair, meanwhile steadily eyeing his persecutors; when his nose was on a level with the flooring he paused anew, deliberately closed his eyes and nodded, then opened his eyes again, and maliciously winked, thereby meaning to convey that it was his intention to have a comfortable nap so soon as ever he reached his den, after which, if he found it convenient, he might search for their goods.
Nevertheless, the exchange of bundles for money went forward with amazing rapidity. Every ten minutes or so, either Charles or Joseph would call out “Now for tickets !” and, beginning at the last box, would gather with amazing dexterity, using both his hands, the plentiful crop of dirty little bits of pasteboard that were eagerly thrust forward by scores of dirtier hands. When he had thus operated on the six boxes, he took the double handful of tickets to the spout, thrust them into a bag hanging there, and tugged at a bell. Up flew the bag by the string, and in a minute or so the big and little bundles to which the tickets referred came tumbling down till the throat of the spout was fairly choked.
Then came the job of calling out the names on the bundles, the most formidable part of the business appearing to be the number of bundles that belonged to one person. It was no uncommon thing, when Charles called out, “Sweeny, how many ?” to hear the voice of Sweeny shrilly respond “Seven;" and that number of bundles had to be separately put aside before the Sweeny delivery could take place. They were not much to look at these bundles; but one might gain some idea of their value by a glance at the till, as big as a Christmas punchbowl, which before eleven o'clock was piled to brimming-over with silver money, and even then the value of the bundles was by no means exactly ascertained. No one could correctly estimate the real value of the mean-looking bundles but their owners, who knew what treasures their shabby envelopes covered—the Sunday-frocks of their children, their warm and comfortable underclothing; mother's best gowns, in which she takes pardonable pride ; father's hard-earned decent broadcloth suit-one and all“ put away” in a time of need, but on Christmas Eve joyfully redeemed. The wearing of those rescued treasures would certainly be not the least satisfactory feature of the morrow's enjoyment. If any of Mr Balchin's customers were disappointed, it was no fault of him or of his assistants. So manfully had they stuck to their task, that by eleven o'clock the last batch of tickets had been collected, the shower of bundles down the spout became a mere fitful pattering and then stopped entirely, and the vengeful Beadle, emerging sooty and savage from his cellar, received orders to put up the shutters.
THE ONION FAIR.
You may smell them long before you reach the Bull Ring, which is the place where the fair is held. They give a pungency to the air, and you can taste them on the lips, as salt of the sea may be tasted before the watery waste is yet in sight. But this mild foretaste by no means prepares you for the spectacle that greets the visual organs, when from the High Street you look down the hill at the foot of which is St Martin's Church. There is a square paved space, as large, say, as Clerkenwell Green, piled, heaped, stacked in blocks of onions, large as four-roomed houses. Onions in enormous crates, such as crokery arrives in from the Potteries, onions in hogsheads, onions in sacks, in bags like hop-pockets, in ropes or “reeves,” loose in waggons that three horses draw; onions of all sizes and all qualities—“brown shells," "crimsons," " whites," “big 'uns,” and “picklers.” Onions block the roadway and brim over on the pavement, and hang in bulky festoons about the railings that surround the statue of Lord Nelson, who is so exposed to the mounds and shoals that one might almost imagine the sourness of his iron visage was due to his dislike for the odour of the chief ingredient of goose-stuffing, and that he would be thankful could he but raise a handkerchief to his heroic nose and shut out the fragrance.
Not so with Birmingham's teeming population. The term “Onion Fair" is no empty name to them. From