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Chapter 8

THE BOY WITH TWO MOTHERS


"I love my dear father and my dear mother and all the dear little kids
at 'ome. You are a kind laidy or gentleman. I love yer. I will never do
it again, so help me bob. Amen."

This was what Shovel muttered to himself again and again as the two boys
made their way across the lamp-lit Hungerford Bridge, and Tommy asked
him what it meant.

"My old gal learned me that; she's deep," Shovel said, wiping the words
off his mouth with his sleeve.

"But you got no kids at 'ome!" remonstrated Tommy. (Ameliar was now in
service.)

Shovel turned on him with the fury of a mother protecting her young.
"Don't you try for to knock none on it out," he cried, and again fell
a-mumbling.

Said Tommy, scornfully: "If you says it all out at one bang you'll be
done at the start."

Shovel sighed.

"And you should blubber when yer says it," added Tommy, who could laugh
or cry merely because other people were laughing or crying, or even with
less reason, and so naturally that he found it more difficult to stop
than to begin. Shovel was the taller by half a head, and irresistible
with his fists, but to-night Tommy was master.

"You jest stick to me, Shovel," he said airily. "Keep a grip on my hand,
same as if yer was Elspeth."

"But what was we copped for, Tommy?" entreated humble Shovel.

Tommy asked him if he knew what a butler was, and Shovel remembered,
confusedly, that there had been a portrait of a butler in his father's
news-sheet.

"Well, then," said Tommy, inspired by this same source, "there's a room
a butler has, and it is a pantry, so you and me we crawled through the
winder and we opened the door to the gang. You and me was copped. They
catched you below the table and me stabbing the butler."

"It was me what stabbed the butler," Shovel interposed, jealously.

"How could you do it, Shovel?"

"With a knife, I tell yer!"

"Why, you didn't have no knife," said Tommy, impatiently.

This crushed Shovel, but he growled sulkily:

"Well, I bit him in the leg."

"Not you," said selfish Tommy. "You forgets about repenting, and if I
let yer bite him, you would brag about it. It's safer without, Shovel."

Perhaps it was. "How long did I get in quod, then, Tommy?"

"Fourteen days."

"So did you?" Shovel said, with quick anxiety.

"I got a month," replied Tommy, firmly.

Shovel roared a word that would never have admitted him to the hall.
Then, "I'm as game as you, and gamer," he whined.

"But I'm better at repenting. I tell yer, I'll cry when I'm repenting."
Tommy's face lit up, and Shovel could not help saying, with a curious
look at it:

"You--you ain't like any other cove I knows," to which Tommy replied,
also in an awe-struck voice:

"I'm so queer, Shovel, that when I thinks 'bout myself I'm--I'm
sometimes near feared."

"What makes your face for to shine like that? Is it thinking about the
blow-out?"

No, it was hardly that, but Tommy could not tell what it was. He and the
saying about art for art's sake were in the streets that night, looking
for each other.

The splendor of the brightly lighted hall, which was situated in one of
the meanest streets of perhaps the most densely populated quarter in
London, broke upon the two boys suddenly and hit each in his vital part,
tapping an invitation on Tommy's brain-pan and taking Shovel
coquettishly in the stomach. Now was the moment when Shovel meant to
strip Tommy of the ticket, but the spectacle in front dazed him, and he
stopped to tell a vegetable barrow how he loved his dear father and his
dear mother, and all the dear kids at home. Then Tommy darted forward
and was immediately lost in the crowd surging round the steps of the
hall.

Several gentlemen in evening dress stood framed in the lighted doorway,
shouting: "Have your tickets in your hands and give them up as you pass
in." They were fine fellows, helping in a splendid work, and their
society did much good, though it was not so well organized as others
that have followed in its steps; but Shovel, you may believe, was in no
mood to attend to them. He had but one thought: that the traitor Tommy
was doubtless at that moment boring his way toward them, underground,
as it were, and "holding his ticket in his hand." Shovel dived into the
rabble and was flung back upside down. Falling with his arms round a
full-grown man, he immediately ran up him as if he had been a lamp-post,
and was aloft just sufficiently long to see Tommy give up the ticket and
saunter into the hall.

The crowd tried at intervals to rush the door. It was mainly composed of
ragged boys, but here and there were men, women, and girls, who came
into view for a moment under the lights as the mob heaved and went round
and round like a boiling potful. Two policemen joined the
ticket-collectors, and though it was a good-humored gathering, the air
was thick with such cries as these:

"I lorst my ticket, ain't I telling yer? Gar on, guv'nor, lemme in!"

"Oh, crumpets, look at Jimmy! Jimmy never done nothink, your honor;
he's a himposter"'

"I'm the boy what kicked the peeler. Hie, you toff with the choker,
ain't I to step up?"

"Tell yer, I'm a genooine criminal, I am. If yer don't lemme in I'll
have the lawr on you."

"Let a poor cove in as his father drownded hisself for his country."

"What air yer torking about? Warn't I in larst year, and the cuss as
runs the show, he says to me, 'Allers welcome,' he says. None on your
sarse, Bobby. I demands to see the cuss what runs--"

"Jest keeping on me out 'cos I ain't done nothin'. Ho, this is a
encouragement to honesty, I don't think."

Mighty in tongue and knee and elbow was an unknown knight, ever
conspicuous; it might be but by a leg waving for one brief moment in the
air. He did not want to go in, would not go in though they went on their
blooming knees to him; he was after a viper of the name of Tommy. Half
an hour had not tired him, and he was leading another assault, when a
magnificent lady, such as you see in wax-works, appeared in the
vestibule and made some remark to a policeman, who then shouted:

"If so there be hany lad here called Shovel, he can step forrard."

A dozen lads stepped forward at once, but a flail drove them right and
left, and the unknown knight had mounted the parapet amid a shower of
execrations. "If you are the real Shovel," the lady said to him, "you
can tell me how this proceeds, 'I love my dear father and my dear
mother--' Go on."

Shovel obeyed, tremblingly. "And all the dear little kids at 'ome. You
are a kind laidy or gentleman. I love yer. I will never do it again, so
help me bob. Amen."

"Charming!" chirped the lady, and down pleasant-smelling aisles she led
him, pausing to drop an observation about Tommy to a clergyman: "So glad
I came; I have discovered the most delightful little monster called
Tommy." The clergyman looked after her half in sadness, half
sarcastically; he was thinking that he had discovered a monster also.

At present the body of the hall was empty, but its sides were lively
with gorging boys, among whom ladies moved, carrying platefuls of good
things. Most of them were sweet women, fighting bravely for these boys,
and not at all like Shovel's patroness, who had come for a sensation.
Tommy falling into her hands, she got it.

Tommy, who had a corner to himself, was lolling in it like a little
king, and he not only ordered roast-beef for the awe-struck Shovel, but
sent the lady back for salt. Then he whispered, exultantly: "Quick,
Shovel, feel my pocket" (it bulged with two oranges), "now the inside
pocket" (plum-duff), "now my waistcoat pocket" (threepence); "look in my
mouth" (chocolates).

When Shovel found speech he began excitedly: "I love my dear father and
my dear--"

"Gach!" said Tommy, interrupting him contemptuously. "Repenting ain't no
go, Shovel. Look at them other coves; none of them has got no money, nor
full pockets, and I tell you, it's 'cos they has repented."

"Gar on!"

"It's true, I tells you. That lady as is my one, she's called her
ladyship, and she don't care a cuss for boys as has repented," which of
course was a libel, her ladyship being celebrated wherever paragraphs
penetrate for having knitted a pair of stockings for the deserving poor.

"When I saw that," Tommy continued, brazenly, "I bragged 'stead of
repenting, and the wuss I says I am, she jest says, 'You little
monster,' and gives me another orange."

"Then I'm done for," Shovel moaned, "for I rolled off that 'bout loving
my dear father and my dear mother, blast 'em, soon as I seen her."

He need not let that depress him. Tommy had told her he would say it,
but that it was all flam.

Shovel thought the ideal arrangement would be for him to eat and leave
the torking to Tommy. Tommy nodded. "I'm full, at any rate," he said,
struggling with his waistcoat. "Oh, Shovel, I _am_ full!"

Her ladyship returned, and the boys held by their contract, but of the
dark character Tommy seems to have been, let not these pages bear the

record. Do you wonder that her ladyship believed him? On this point we
must fight for our Tommy. You would have believed him. Even Shovel, who
knew, between the bites, that it was all whoppers, listened as to his
father reading aloud. This was because another boy present half believed
it for the moment also. When he described the eerie darkness of the
butler's pantry, he shivered involuntarily, and he shut his eyes
once--ugh!--that was because he saw the blood spouting out of the
butler. He was turning up his trousers to show the mark of the butler's
boot on his leg when the lady was called away, and then Shovel shook
him, saying: "Darn yer, doesn't yer know as it's all your eye?" which
brought Tommy to his senses with a jerk.

"Sure's death, Shovel," he whispered, in awe, "I was thinking I done it,
every bit!"

Had her ladyship come back she would have found him a different boy. He
remembered now that Elspeth, for whom he had filled his pockets, was
praying for him; he could see her on her knees, saying, "Oh, God, I'se
praying for Tommy," and remorse took hold of him and shook him on his
seat. He broke into one hysterical laugh and then immediately began to
sob. This was the moment when Shovel should have got him quietly out of
the hall.

Members of the society discussing him afterwards with bated breath said
that never till they died could they forget her ladyship's face while he
did it. "But did you notice the boy's own face? It was positively
angelic." "Angelic, indeed; the little horror was intoxicated." No,
there was a doctor present, and according to him it was the meal that
had gone to the boy's head; he looked half starved. As for the
clergyman, he only said: "We shall lose her subscription; I am glad of
it."

Yes, Tommy was intoxicated, but with a beverage not recognized by the
faculty. What happened was this: Supper being finished, the time had
come for what Shovel called the jawing, and the boys were now mustered
in the body of the hall. The limited audience had gone to the gallery,
and unluckily all eyes except Shovel's were turned to the platform.
Shovel was apprehensive about Tommy, who was not exactly sobbing now;
but strange, uncontrollable sounds not unlike the winding up of a clock
proceeded from his throat; his face had flushed; there was a purposeful
look in his usually unreadable eye; his fingers were fidgeting on the
board in front of him, and he seemed to keep his seat with difficulty.

The personage who was to address the boys sat on the platform with
clergymen, members of committee, and some ladies, one of them Tommy's
patroness. Her ladyship saw Tommy and smiled to him, but obtained no
response. She had taken a front seat, a choice that she must have
regretted presently.

The chairman rose and announced that the. Rev. Mr. ----would open the
proceedings with prayer. The Rev. Mr. ---- rose to pray in a loud voice
for the waifs in the body of the hall. At the same moment rose Tommy,
and began to pray in a squeaky voice for the people on the platform.

He had many Biblical phrases, mostly picked up in Thrums Street, and
what he said was distinctly heard in the stillness, the clergyman being
suddenly bereft of speech. "Oh," he cried, "look down on them ones
there, for, oh, they are unworthy of Thy mercy, and, oh, the worst
sinner is her ladyship, her sitting there so brazen in the black frock
with yellow stripes, and the worse I said I were the better pleased were
she. Oh, make her think shame for tempting of a poor boy, for getting
suffer little children, oh, why cumbereth she the ground, oh--"

He was in full swing before any one could act. Shovel having failed to
hold him in his seat, had done what was perhaps the next best thing, got
beneath it himself. The arm of the petrified clergyman was still
extended, as if blessing his brother's remarks; the chairman seemed to
be trying to fling his right hand at the culprit; but her ladyship,
after the first stab, never moved a muscle. Thus for nearly half a
minute, when the officials woke up, and squeezing past many knees,
seized Tommy by the neck and ran him out of the building. All down the
aisle he prayed hysterically, and for some time afterwards, to Shovel,
who had been cast forth along with him.

At an hour of that night when their mother was asleep, and it is to be
hoped they were the only two children awake in London, Tommy sat up
softly in the wardrobe to discover whether Elspeth was still praying for
him. He knew that she was on the floor in a night-gown some twelve sizes
too large for her, but the room was as silent and black as the world he
had just left by taking his fingers from his ears and the blankets off
his face.

"I see you," he said mendaciously, and in a guarded voice, so as not to
waken his mother, from whom he had kept his escapade. This had not the
desired effect of drawing a reply from Elspeth, and he tried bluster.

"You needna think as I'll repent, you brat, so there! What?

"I wish I hadna told you about it!" Indeed, he had endeavored not to do
so, but pride in his achievement had eventually conquered prudence.

"Reddy would have laughed, she would, and said as I was a wonder. Reddy
was the kind I like. What?

"You ate up the oranges quick, and the plum-duff too, so you should pray
for yoursel' as well as for me. It's easy to say as you didna know how I
got them till after you eated them, but you should have found out. What?

"Do you think it was for my own self as I done it? I jest done it to get
the oranges and plum-duff to you, I did, and the threepence too. Eh?
Speak, you little besom.

"I tell you as I did repent in the hall. I was greeting, and I never
knowed I put up that prayer till Shovel told me on it. We was sitting in
the street by that time."

This was true. On leaving the hall Tommy had soon dropped to the cold
ground and squatted there till he came to, when he remembered nothing of
what had led to his expulsion. Like a stream that has run into a pond
and only finds itself again when it gets out, he was but a continuation
of the boy who when last conscious of himself was in the corner crying
remorsefully over his misdeed; and in this humility he would have
returned to Elspeth had no one told him of his prayer. Shovel, however,
was at hand, not only to tell him all about it, but to applaud, and home
strutted Tommy chuckling.

"I am sleeping," he next said to Elspeth, "so you may as well come to
your bed."

He imitated the breathing of a sleeper, but it was the only sound to be
heard in London, and he desisted fearfully. "Come away, Elspeth," he
said, coaxingly, for he was very fond of her and could not sleep while
she was cold and miserable.

Still getting no response he pulled his body inch by inch out of the
bed-clothes, and holding his breath, found the floor with his feet
stealthily, as if to cheat the wardrobe into thinking that he was still
in it. But his reason was to discover whether Elspeth had fallen asleep
on her knees without her learning that he cared to know. Almost
noiselessly he worked himself along the floor, but when he stopped to
bring his face nearer hers, there was such a creaking of his joints that
if Elspeth did not hear it she--she must be dead! His knees played whack
on the floor.

Elspeth only gasped once, but he heard, and remained beside her for a
minute, so that she might hug him if such was her desire; and she put
out her hand in the darkness so that his should not have far to travel
alone if it chanced to be on the way to her. Thus they sat on their
knees, each aghast at the hard-heartedness of the other.

Tommy put the blankets over the kneeling figure, and presently announced
from the wardrobe that if he died of cold before repenting the blame of
keeping him out of heaven would be Elspeth's. But the last word was
muffled, for the blankets were tucked about him as he spoke, and two
motherly little arms gave him the embrace they wanted to withhold.
Foiled again, he kicked off the bed-clothes and said: "I tell yer I wants
to die!"

This terrified both of them, and he added, quickly:

"Oh, God, if I was sure I were to die to-night I would repent at once."
It is the commonest prayer in all languages, but down on her knees
slipped Elspeth again, and Tommy, who felt that it had done him good,
said indignantly: "Surely that is religion. What?"

He lay on his face until he was frightened by a noise louder than
thunder in the daytime--the scraping of his eyelashes on the pillow.
Then he sat up in the wardrobe and fired his three last shots.

"Elspeth Sandys, I'm done with yer forever, I am. I'll take care on yer,
but I'll never kiss yer no more.

"When yer boasts as I'm your brother I'll say you ain't. I'll tell my
mother about Reddy the morn, and syne she'll put you to the door smart.

"When you are a grown woman I'll buy a house to yer, but you'll have
jest to bide in it by your lonely self, and I'll come once a year to
speir how you are, but I won't come in, I won't--I'll jest cry up the
stair."

The effect of this was even greater than he had expected, for now two
were in tears instead of one, and Tommy's grief was the more
heartrending, he was so much better at everything than Elspeth. He
jumped out of the wardrobe and ran to her, calling her name, and he put
his arms round her cold body, and the dear mite, forgetting how cruelly
he had used her, cried, "Oh, tighter, Tommy, tighter; you didn't not
mean it, did yer? Oh, you is terrible fond on me, ain't yer? And you
won't not tell my mother 'bout Reddy, will yer, and you is no done wi'
me forever, is yer? and you won't not put me in a house by myself, will
yer? Oh, Tommy, is that the tightest you can do?"

And Tommy made it tighter, vowing, "I never meant it; I was a bad un to
say it. If Reddy were to come back wanting for to squeeze you out, I
would send her packing quick, I would. I tell yer what, I'll kiss you
with folk looking on, I will, and no be ashamed to do it, and if Shovel
is one of them what sees me, and he puts his finger to his nose, I'll
blood the mouth of him, I will, dagont!"

Then he prayed for forgiveness, and he could always pray more
beautifully than Elspeth. Even she was satisfied with the way he did it,
and so, alack, was he.

"But you forgot to tell," she said fondly, when once more they were in
the wardrobe together--"you forgot to tell as you filled your pockets
wif things to me."

"I didn't forget," Tommy replied modestly. "I missed it out, on purpose,
I did, 'cos I was sure God knows on it without my telling him, and I
thought he would be pleased if I didn't let on as I knowed it was good
of me."

"Oh, Tommy," cried Elspeth, worshipping him, "I couldn't have doned
that, I couldn't!" She was barely six, and easily taken in, but she
would save him from himself if she could.

James M. Barrie