« НазадПродовжити »
"A baker's barrer,” poor little Taggs hastened to explain—"one of them with a lid. The baker lets me sleep there, and I watches out for the cats.”
“For the cats ?”
“It's down a yard with gates to it where the barrer is, and the baker he keeps breeding ducks and pigeons there, and the cats come and nail 'em o' nights, and when I hears 'em I gives the lid of the barrer a histe, and down it comes with a whack, and they are off like a shot.”
"Are your parents alive?” I asked him.
"I ain't got no mother, I've got a father; I sees him sometimes. He don't live up my way, he goes to fairs and that. I ain't got no brothers. I've got a sister, she's in the hospital. She used to work up Mile End way, at the lucifer factory, till she got the canker making of 'em. She's been in the hospital this ever so long. That's why I don't sell 'lights. I can't bear the sight of 'em. I'm on my own hands. I earns all I gets. I've been adoin' it ever since she was took to the hospital.”
"Are you ever ill ?”
“I haint been ill a long time, not since the middle o' summer, when I had the measles. No, I didn't sleep in the baker's barrer then. I didn't know him. I knowed a pipemaker, and he let me lay in his shed, and his missus was werry kind to me. I do werry well. I hardly ever goes without grub. I don't know what you mean by 'regler' grub. I most times saves three-half-pence for my breakfast, and this cold weather I gets a ha’porth of bread and a penn'orth of pea soup; there's lots of shops what sells penn'orths of soup in Whitecross Street, ha’porths too. I sell out somehow every night. I gets a dozen cakes of blacking for tuppence-ha'penny, and I in general clears about
nce a Poled him. start. 1
fivepence. Dinner time I get's a baked tater, or sometimes a ha'porth of fried fish. All I got left, 'cept threehalf-pence for breakfast and stock-money, we spends at supper-time.”
“We goes together, four or five of us, sometimes to the soup shop, sometimes to the baked tater and fish shop. It's all right mostly; course there is hard times. Once a p’liceman took away my box, blacking and all, cos I cheeked him. It was more'n a week before I could make another start. I washes myself sometimes, not often; I ain't got no towel and soap. I don't recollect when the last time was. It was afore the frost, though, cos I know it was a wrench at the pump I had. Yes, sometimes I wears boots. I ain't had none since the last boat-race day, Cambridge and Oxford, and I lost one on 'em turning cat’n wheels behind a carriage.”
"Were you ever in trouble?”
"I never was locked up; cert'ny not. Don't I think I should be better off in the workus ? No, I don't want to be shut up anywheres. I am all right. I don't want nobody to be a-looking arter me like that, thanky all the same, mister.”
"Can you read?”
"No, I can't read, nor write neither; I never was in a school. Never was in a church. I don't like to be shut up anywhere. I'd a jolly sight rather go on as I'm a goin.'”
And so he retires to collect his blacking out of the fender with a dismal foreboding, as I can see that he may, after all, in consequence of his sturdy determination to embark in no business that may involve his "being shut up," though for never so short a period, miss my "job" and the promised shilling after all.
The fusee-boy comes next; but his experiences are tame and commonplace compared with those of the blacking-boy. He is a meek and spare-looking little chap, woefully ill-clad and dirty, and his age, as he informs me, is “summat about eight or ten.” He refers to Ginger, who is a personal friend, for definite information on the matter.
Ginger opines that, as “nigh as a toucher, he was eight last birthday.” The fusee-boy was better off than Billy Taggs, inasmuch as he had a mother and “regler lodgings;” but the advantage was not unalloyed, for the fusee-boy's mother was what Master Ginger described as a “lushing, fightin' sort of woman, who was wuss than a scalded cat to them about her when the drink was in her.”
“I'd rather be without a mother than have a oner like her,” said the red-haired boy; there's him and his two young brothers and his sister wot sells buttonolers (flower-sprigs for the button-hole), and she grabs all they earn, and get's drunk with the money, and punches them about orful cos they don't bring her more. Their only good time is when she is in quod. She is there now for twenty-one days, for 'saultin' a policeman on Christmas Eve. Good job if she was dead. Yah! yer young fool!” continued the ferocious Ginger, as the small pale boy raised to his dirty eyes his dirtier cuff; "he always snivels when you tell him that."
Were his brothers older than himself? I asked.
"One was older," the fusee-boy replied, “and one was two years younger, and they were all out selling lights. The sister was the eldest of all. Thirteen she was, but she wasn't very big because of her humpty back.” She can't get no flowers now it's frosty, so she gets paper bags to make, and stops at home to look arter the wittles and that, agin we comes home at night.”
“ Are you out all day long, then ?” "All day long, up to about nine.”
“But you go home to your meals ?”
“There ain't no meals, 'cept the coffee in the morning, and what we gets when we go home at night.”
“And what do you then get ?”
“Oh, all manners ; stews sometimes,” and his dirty little white face lit up at the glorious recollection.
"Jolly fine stews they are," put in the irrepressible Ginger ; “I've paid my whack towards 'em, and joined in. We should ha' had one to-night, only his sister Becky hain't good on her pins when it's slippery, and it's a long way over to Bermondsey.”
"Why to Bermondsey ?”.
“ 'Cos you can't buy bits and ears 'cept in the skin market.”
"Bits of what and ears ?”
“ Bits of meat what they scrapes off the insides of the skins and the ears of the bullocks; stunnin' stew it makes with an ingun and a few taters.”
"And how much a pound do you pay for the—the ears and bits ?"
“Nothing a pound; you buys it in lots. Them wots got the priwilege cuts 'em off, and makes 'eaps of 'em on the pavement, about a couple of pound for twopence. That's how his sister Beck looks arter 'em when she's left to herself, yet he ses he shouldn't be glad if his old woman was dead !” And the red-haired boy disgustfully snorted his scorn for self-damaging weakness in general.
To the cigar-light boy I put the same questions as to the blacking-boy.
“Did he ever go to church?”
“Could he read or write at all ?”
“No; he knew nothing about them things,” the fuseeboy answered listlessly.
“Ah, but he can do something wots a lot better !” exclaimed Ginger, with an admiring glance at his young friend; “he's a fizzer on the whistle.”
“On the whistle ?”
“The tin-whistle—don't yer know?” and taking up a long piece of bread-crust from the table he made on it the motions of a flute-player; after which he put it in his pocket.
“He ain't got the cheek to go into public-houses and that, or else he might make a reg'lar good living of it.”
There must have been something more than empty flattery in Master Ginger's eulogium of his friend's whistling powers, for the little pale boy brightened up wonderfully.
“Mister,” said he to me, with much more animation than he had yet displayed, “ did you ever hear that boy what plays in a coffee-pot ?".
I was fain to confess that I was ignorant of the existence of the phenomenon in question.
“He don't mean in it, guv'ner; he means down the spout of it,” explained the ready Ginger; "the chap he means goes about playing down the spout of a coffee-pot, just like as though it was a whistle. He very often makes a pitch in them streets that leads out of the Strand.”
“And would you like to go about playing tunes on a coffee-pot ?" I asked the little cigar-light boy.
“ Better'n everything," returned the modest small musician; and, then, finding that I had nothing more to say to him, he joined the blacking-boy, who had by this time repacked his dry goods, and was now dozing by the fire.