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To London Town

To London Town
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Title: To London Town
Release Date: 2018-11-14
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Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, To London Town, by Arthur MorrisonThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org.  If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: To London TownAuthor: Arthur MorrisonRelease Date: November 14, 2018  [eBook #58282]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK TO LONDON TOWN***

Transcribed from the 1899 Bernhard Tauchnitz edition by LesBowler.

Book cover

TAUCHNITZ EDITION.

By the same Author,

TALES OF MEAN STREETS

1 vol.

A CHILD OF THE JAGO

1 vol.

 

TO LONDON TOWN

 

BY

ARTHUR MORRISON,
AUTHOR OF “A CHILD OF THEJAGO,” ETC. ETC.

 

COPYRIGHT EDITION.

 

LEIPZIG
BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ
1899.

 

p. 5TO
LADY DOROTHY NEVILL.

 

p.7NOTE.

I designed this story, and, indeed, began to write it, betweenthe publication of Tales of Mean Streets and that of AChild of the Jago, to be read together with those books: notthat I pretend to figure in all three—much less in any oneof them—a complete picture of life in the eastern parts ofLondon, but because they are complementary, each to the twoothers.

A. M.

p. 9TOLONDON TOWN.
I.

The afternoon had slumbered in thesun, but now the August air freshened with an awakening breath,and Epping Thicks stirred and whispered through a myriadleaves.  Far away beyond the heaving greenwoods distantclouds floated flat on the upper air, and a richer gold grew overthe hills as the day went westward.  This way and that,between and about trees and undergrowth, an indistinct path wentstraggling by easy grades to the lower ground by Wormleyton Pits;an errant path whose every bend gave choice of green passestoward banks of heather and bracken.  It was by this waythat an old man and a crippled child had reached the Pits. He was a small old man, white-haired, and a trifle bent; but hewent his way with a sturdy tread, satchel at side andbutterfly-net in hand.  As for the child, she too wentsturdily enough, but she hung from a crutch by the rightshoulder, and she moved with a p. 10jog and a swing.  The hand thatgripped the crutch gripped also a little bunch of meadowsweet,and the other clasped tight against her pinafore a tattered oldbook that would else have fallen to pieces.

Once on the heathery slade, the old man lifted the strap overhis head and put the satchel down by a tree clump at thewood’s edge.

“’Nother rest for you, Bess,” he said, as heknelt to open his bag.  “I’m goin’ overthe pits pretty close to-day.”  He packed his pocketswith pill-boxes, a poison bottle, and a battered, flat tin case;while the child, with a quick rejection of the crutch, sat andwatched.

The old man stood, slapped one pocket after another, and then,with a playful sweep of the net-gauze across the child’sface, tramped off among the heather.  “Good luck,gran’dad!” she cried after him, and settled on herelbow to read.

The book needed a careful separation, being open at back as atfront; likewise great heed lest the leaves fell into confusion:for, since they were worn into a shape more oval thanrectangular, the page numbers had gone, and in places corners oftext had gone too.  But the main body of the matter, thumbedand rubbed, stood good for many a score more readings; and thestory was The Sicilian Romance.

Round about the pits and across the farther ground p. 11of GenesisSlade the old man pushed his chase.  Now letting himselfcautiously down the side of a pit; now stealing softly amongbracken, with outstretched net; and again running his bestthrough the wiry heather.  Always working toward sun andwind, and often standing watchfully still, his eye alert for afluttering spot amid the flood of colour about him.

Meantime the little cripple conned again the familiar periodsof the old romance.  Few, indeed, of its ragged leaves butmight have been replaced, if lost, from pure memory; few, indeed,for that matter, of The Pilgrim’s Progress or ofSusan Hopley, or of The Scottish Chiefs: wornvolumes all, in her grandfather’s little shelf of a dozenor fifteen books.  So that now, because of old acquaintance,the tale was best enjoyed with many pauses; pauses filled withthe smell of the meadowsweet, and with the fantasy that abode inthe woods.  For the jangle of a herd-bell was the clank of aknight’s armour, the distant boom of a great gun at WalthamAbbey told of the downfall of enchanted castles, and in thesudden plaint of an errant cow she heard the growling of an ogrein the forest.

The western hillsides grew more glorious, and the sunlight,peeping under heavy boughs, flung along the sward, gilt thetree-boles whose shadows veined it, and lit nooks under busheswhere the wake-robin raised its scarlet mace of berries. The old man had dropped his p. 12net, and for awhile had beensearching the herbage.  It was late in the day forbutterflies, but fox-moth caterpillars were plenty among theheather; as well as others.  Thus Bessy read and dreamed,and her grandfather rummaged the bushes till the sunlight wasgathered up from the turf under the trees, and lifted from thetallest spire among the agrimony, as the sun went beyond thehill-tops.  Then at last the old man returned to hissatchel.

“The flies ain’t much,” he observed, asBessy looked up, “but for trade it’s best not to missanything: it’s always what you’re shortest of assells; and the blues was out late to-day.  But I’vegot luck with caterpillars.  If they go all right I ought tohave a box-full o’ Rosy Marbled out o’these!”

“Rosy Marbled!  It’s a late brood then. And so long since you had any!”

“Two year; and this is the only place for’em.”  The old man packed his bag and slung itacross his back.  “We’ll see about teanow,” he added, as the child rose on her crutch; “butwe’ll keep open eyes as we go.”

Over the slade they took their way, where the purple carpetwas patterned with round hollows, black with heather-ash andgreen with star-moss; by the edges of the old gravel-pits,overhung with bramble and bush; and so into more woods.

A jay flew up before them, scolding angrily.  Now p. 13and again agap among the trees let through red light from beyondWoodredon.  Again and again the old man checked his walk,sometimes but to drop once more into his even tramp, sometimes tostop, and sometimes to beat the undergrowth and to shakebranches.  To any who saw there was always a vaguelyfamiliar quality in old May’s walk; ever a patient plod,and, burdened or not, ever an odd suggestion of something carriedover shoulder; matters made plain when it was learned that theold man had been forty years a postman.

Presently as they walked they heard shrieks, guffaws, and adiscordant singing that half-smothered the whine of aconcertina.  The noise was the louder as they went, and whenthey came where the white of a dusty road backed the tree-stems,they heard it at its fullest.  Across the way was an inn,and by its side a space of open ground whereon some threescorebeanfeasters sported at large.  Many were busy atkiss-in-the-ring, some waved branches torn from trees, othersstood up empty bottles and flung more bottles at them; theystood, sat, ran, lay, and rolled, but each made noise of somesort, and most drank.  Plainly donkey-riding had palled, fora man and a boy had gathered their half-dozen donkeys together,and were driving them off.

The people were Londoners, as Bessy knew, for she had oftenseen others.  She had forgotten London herself—all ofit but a large drab room with a row of little p. 14beds like herown, each bed with a board on it, for toys; and this, too, shewould have forgotten (for she was very little indeed then) butthat a large and terrible gentleman had come every day and hurther bad leg.  It was the Shadwell Hospital.  But thesewere Londoners, and Bessy was a little afraid of them, andconceived London to be a very merry and noisy place, very badlybroken, everywhere, by reason of the Londoners.  Otherpeople, also, came in waggonettes, and were a little quieter, andless gloriously bedecked.  She had seen such a party earlierin the day.  Probably they were not real Londoners, but folkfrom parts adjoining.  But these—these were Londonersproper, wearing each other’s hats, with paper wreaths onthem.

“Wayo, old ’un!” bawled one, as the old man,net in hand, crossed toward the wood opposite; “binketchin’ tiddlers?”  And he turned to hiscompanions with a burst of laughter and a jerk of thethumb.  “D’year, Bill!  ’Ere’syer ole gran’father ketchin’ tiddlers!  Whydoncher keep ’im out o’ mischief?”  Andevery flushed face, doubly reddened by the setting sun, turnedand opened its mouth in a guffaw.  “You’ll copit for gittin’ yer trouseys wet!” screamed awoman.  And somebody flung a lump of crust.

Bessy jogged the faster into the wood, and in its shadow hergrandfather, smiling doubtfully, said, “They p. 15like theirjoke, some of ’em, don’t they?  But it’salways ’tiddlers’!”

It grew dusk under the trees, and the sky was paleabove.  They came to where the ground fell away in a glenthat was almost a trench, and a brook ran in the ultimatefurrow.  On the opposing hill a broad green ride stood likea wall before them, a deep moss of trees clinging at eachside.  Here they turned, and, where the glen widened, acottage was to be seen on sloping ground, with a narrow roadway alittle beyond it.  A whitewashed cottage, so small thatthere seemed scarce a score of tiles on its roof; one of the fewscattered habitations holding its place in the forest by right ofancient settlement.  A little tumult of garden tumbled aboutthe cottage—a jostle of cabbages, lavender, onions,wallflowers and hollyhock, confined, as with difficulty, by aprecarious fence, patched with wood in every form of manufactureand in every stage of decay.

“I expect mother and Johnny finished tea longago,” Bessy remarked, her eyes fixed on the cottage. “Why there’s a light!”

The path they went by grew barer of grass as it neared thecottage, and as they trod it, men’s voices could be heardfrom within, and a woman’s laughter.

“Sounds like visitors!” the old manexclaimed.  “That’s odd.  I wonder who . .. ”

“There you are then, father!” came a female voicep. 16from thedoor.  “Here’s Uncle Isaac an’ a gentlemancome to see us.”  It was Bessy’s mother whospoke—a pleasant, fresh, active woman in a print dress, whostood in the doorway as the old man set back the gate.

The door opened into the living-room, where sat two men, whilea boy of fourteen squeezed, abashed and a trifle sulky, in acorner.  There was a smell of bad cigar, which had almost,but not quite, banished the wonted smell of the room; a smell insome degree due to camphor, though, perhaps, more to caterpillar;for the walls were hidden behind boxes and drawers of diversshapes and sizes, and before the window and in unexpected placeson the floor stood other boxes, covered with muslin, nurseriesfor larvæ, pupæ, and doomed butterflies.  And somany were these things that the room, itself a mere box, gavescant space to the three people and the little round table thatwere in it; wherefore Bessy’s mother remained in thedoorway, and Uncle Isaac, when he rose, took a very tall hat fromthe floor and clapped it on his head for lack of other safeplace; for the little table sustained a load of cups andsaucers.  Uncle Isaac was a small man, though with a largeface; a face fringed about with grey wisps of whisker, andcharacterised by wide and glassy eyes and a great tract of shavenupper lip.

“Good evenin’, Mr. May, good evenin’!”said Uncle Isaac, shaking hands with the air of a man faithful toa p. 17friendin defiance of the world.  “This is my friend Mr.Butson.”

Mr. Butson was a tall, rather handsome man of forty orthereabout, with curly hair and whiskers, and he greeted the oldman with grum condescension.

“Mr. Butson,” Uncle Isaac continued,

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