|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Little Tommy's Christmas|
CHAPTER I. .
• Tommy was a little paper-boy — don't misunderstand, not a little boy made of paper, bnt a little boy who sold papers— evening papers, for instance—eight years of age, though looking much older, slim figure, pale face, big eyes, nimble feet, soft beseeching voice, and, in fact, Tommy—always Tommy, Tommy for everybody, everybody for Tommy—he was never called anything else. His customers never knew nor cared whether he possessed an additional name, bnt as the neighbours addressed his mother as "Mrs. Wellbonrn," the writer wonld argue that, fully stated, his name was Thomas Wellbonrn, which looks so ridiculous that, if you please, we will return to Tommy. Why did he sell papers? A natural question, which drags up easily enough a ready answer. He did not sell papers for amusement—very little of that came in' hi* itay—but to support his family. How Tommy came to support his family shall be explained. Two years before he got to the age mentioned his father, Robert Wellbonrn— hitherto an industrious mason—it is presumed studied Darwin with a bias towards discipleship, discovered his original ancestor had been a fish, and took to liquor as his natural element, floundering considerably therein. Is the philosopher's stone to be found at the bottom of a pint pot? One might almost think so when considering the unremitting searches of mankind in that direction. Bearing in mind, moreover, the pain and misery brought on whole families by insatiable searchers, the idea is not altogether unreasonable. Tommy's father, however, did not obtain the philosopher's stone, but awaked from his delirium of drinking to find his good name and credit gone, himself a beggar, his wife and child beggared with him, and his once well-furnished house stripped bare by bailiffs. Perhaps believing his uselessness so highly developed as to render any assistance to others impossible, he stole, away one night like a coward, leaving Tommy and Tommy's mother without
a soul in the world to give them a crust. Facts might warrant such a conclusion, but whether this could be deemed a sufficient excuse for his conduct it is not pretended to say; anyhow, he disappeared, being apparently anxious to unburthen himself from the difficulty of feeding his wife and child, surrendering to them the duty of paying heavy bills at the butcher's and baker's apparently by sleight of hand, in connection with eighteenpence, the unexpended cash balance remaining after him. A dreadful difficulty Mrs. Wellbourn found this same feeding business, when she had to face her poverty and get bread for herself and Tommy somehow. She wasn't a strong woman—Tommy inherited her big eyes and slim figure—but she was a brave woman, and now that the worst had come, did her very best, God help her. Drink had so terribly changed the man who once stood before the parson and made her his wife that his desertion after all was not so great a misfortune as at first it seemed. Besides -some scanty bedding, a deal table, and two boxes, the most valuable part, of her impawned possessions consisted of a washing-tub and a bar of soap. Her eyes lighted on these as she was sadly thinking how Tommy's little stomach was to be filled, and she said at once, " I'll take in washing." Without further ado Mrs. Wellbourn left Tommy to play with " Tinker," a little mongrel, the other 'partaker in their ills, and telling him to be a good boy for an hour, went round to some neighbours, told the long-expected sequel to her miserable story, and returned bearing an armful of dirty clothes. "Mother, what's them for?" asksToiiimy, as she put the bundle on one of the aforementioned boxes, looking up.from..a bone which had attracted the attention of "Tinker" and himself. "To get something better than bones for Tommy to eat," is the reply given quite cheerily, for starvation was kept away at any rate, and people must wear clean clothes. Tonftny has such faith in his mother's statement that he nods his head sagaciously, with the recklessness of youth leaves the bone to "Tinker," and says, "Then I'll have some if you please, mother." " Very well, Tommy shall." Circumstances being thus improved, she feels justified in spending sixpence on a loaf of bread and pound of chops, a sumptuous feast resulting. They have not fared so well for many a long day. Tommy is in ecstasies anent the meat, and "Tinker" to his astonishment gets another .bone, with—yes, actually—a piece of gristle thereon. Things did not worsen with Mrs. Wellbourn and Tommy. She'did enough washing .to pay rent, buy food and an occasional garment: but it was fearfully hard wort.' Morning, noon, and -night saw her bowed over that wash-tub, sometimes with raw palms and scalded hands. Do what she could her earnings were not much, for, as was said before, she lacked the strength which
a washerwoman should possess, and perhaps took longer time to make a shilling than many others. Tommy became invaluable. At first, it is true, he could only sit looking at her as she worked, asking strange old- - fashioned questions, about God and'the stars to her titter perplexity—a habit which never quite left him; but soon he used to steal out of hod early o' mornings, light the fire and boil the kettle, being very careful about wood, and putting such a wee spoonful of tea into the pot, and lastly fill it; then, if his mother had not waked, go to the bedroom door (there were two rooms), and call "Mother! breakfast's ready." "Law, Tommy 1" she would reply, " Law, Tommy! why didn't you wake me and I'd a-done it " You do enough, mother, and I'm getting a big boy now." "Old" boy thou shouldst have said, friend Tommy; for truly, whatever thy forethought and love might have been, thy iature was never but small! Afterwards, not satisfied with breakfast alone, he got all the meals ready; cast about how he might help his mother at every turn, and in time fetched the clothes in a wheelbarrow Mr. Spud6 at the store loaned him, and took them back again. Washing is, indeed, hard work. Tommy knew it, and did his best to make a toilsome duty pleasant as could be. If everybody followed Tommy's plan, what a happy world we should live in 3 Existence itself seemed to depend on Mrs. Wellbourn's exertions, and not content with washing all day long, often enough— too often—her weary labours encroached on the hours of night. Tommy reaped the benefit in the shape of a new pair of strong boots made expressly to order, and warranted to stand wear for twelve. months at least. It was a great investment, but the poor lad's feet were scarcely protected by the shreds -of leather which remained of former boots, and unfortunately beins; accustomed to boots he could not well go without them. Nearly a year went by—the bills were smaller, custom increasing; Tommy again used to regular and proper meals, when, as if some envious fate pursued them, Mrs. Wellbourn found herself one morning unable to do the day's work, and absolutely forced to have breakfast in bed. No son was ever more attentive to a sick mother than Tommy; but wofnl to relate, neither the next
morning nor the next brought any alteration, for the unusual strain had told upon her, and Nature, determined to'be respected, compelled a rest. *' Tommy, my dear child, I'm very, bad," she said faintly as he sat the third evening by her bedside, after having given her some tea. "Never mind, mother," returned Tommy, with a choke in his throat, " never mind ! you'll soon get better." The poor woman was thoroughly; everworked—"fagged out," as we say—and fit for nothingbut bed with proper nursing. " O ay! Tommy, I'll get better, 1 s'pose." "Yes, mother," following up a bright invention, "you look quite strong again." To which came no reply, because, much worse than she imagined, his mother had turned deathly pale and fainted. Once before, not long after his dead baby.-Bister was born, he saw his mother faint, and recollected how father sprinkled some water over her face. Quickly as might be he seized the pannlcan, and did the same. She revived and sobbed again. "O, Tommy dear, I'm very bad !" " Hadn't 1 better go for a doctor, mother?" '' Doctor, my dear ! who's to pay hiin ?" "There's Doctor Jessop down to'Kensington. Bob Williams said he came and saw him, and made him well for nothing— wouldn't he do it for you " Hardly likely, my dear; never mind, I'll get better." "I might try and see him, mother." "It's too wet for vou, Tommy, to go out." "But, mother, I'd better—'tisn't very far." "O, Tommy," the poor creature moaned, suddenly relapsing, "I'm afraid I'm going to die." "Mother die ! Mother shouldn't die if he could help it!" Tommy said to himself, and slipped on his boots and coat in wild haste, and came and kissed her and said gently— " I'm going for the doctor, mother; I'll lock the door after me, so you'll be quite safe till I come back."
He did not wait for anything she might say, nor venture to meet her gaze, afraid lest she should wish him to desist, and therefore missed the look of grateful love which came into her eyes as she saw him go out. It was a black, stormy night; the rain oured down in big drops, and the wind Eowled along—up the streets and round the corners in great glee, knocking down chimney-pots, tearing off roofs, and frightening timid people generally. Tommy could not distinguish objects at first, and put his new boots into a pool of water, splashing himself all over. His heart went throb, throb, against his puny ribs; his clothes were wet through in five minutes;' but one thing above alThad taken possession of him, and created such an agony within that the darkness and storm were almost unheeded. Mother going to die! going away! going to leave him! The rain might beat on his face—it was welcome —yes, welcome, because it washed his tears away; and the wind might howl as it l^ked, for when it Btopped, as it sometimes did, he could hear his own sobbing. He knew the way well, and went bravely on, determined to see the doctor and implore hiin to-come and make mother well again. "Hallo, Tommy!" a voice salutes him, as he runs under a verandah at Kensington, and is shooting out of the glare of the shopwindows into the darkness ahead, " Hallo, Tom! 4 Heavenin JirnelP ' Heavenbi Jirnel!' 1 Hexpress!'" bawls the voice whenever travellers splash up. Why, if it isn't Bob Williams himself! He'll know where the doctor lives, Tommy has concluded mentally. " ' Heavenin Jirnel!' ' Heavenin JirnelF again Bob Williams bawls, passengers having gone as if the wind and rain were likely to proveprofitablecustomers. "Hallo, Tommy! ' Heavenin JirnelP ' HexpreesT " "Bob," says Tommy, gravely eyeing the roll of papers under Bob's arm, "Bob! mother's took very bad—very bad, and I'm going for the doctor. Will you please tell me where he lives?" " All down the crooked lane." " Bight round the square," is the answer which rises to Bob's lips, but seeing the child's white, Woe-begone face, the rough, good-natured lad says kindly— " Sorry she's bad, Tommy! Go righton— it' B the big house with the cypress-trees planted along the palings, and green shutters over the windows." Tommy dashes off, Bob's shout sounding as he goes on when tiie capricious gustmess would allow, "Hfavenin Jirnel, Heavenin Jirnel," "//express,' 1 like the voice of an angel of hope. Brief as this interview had been, and though few the words* spoken, Tommy had gained an idea which made circumstances look better than perhaps they were ever likely to be. The big house and the cypresstrees soon loomed before him, he found the
gate, pushed it open, and made for the door. To ring the bell was no easy task for Tommy, as he was eo &hort. and the bell-handle comparatively so high. At last he managed to give a sharp pull, and then felt frightened to hear the loud ringing which ensued. Footsteps shuffled inside, the door was held open, and a maid-servant demanded what he wanted. "If you please, M'm, is Dr. Jessop in?" " Yes I but he can't be bothered." " Oh ! if you please, M'm, I should like to see him!" "Didn't 1 tell you he couldn't be bothered?" "Oh, M'm, my mother's dying I'm afraid !" What comes home to our hearts like the pleading cry of a child? The woman saw real distress brought him; there, and took compassion on our little friend. " Well! come in, scrape your boots clean. f I'll tell him." Tommy tried her patience severely by scraping his boots with such assiduity as gave an impression that scrapers were but occasional luxuries. He wiped them also most carefully on a shaggy mat, took off his wet cap, and followed his guide. ; She shuffled along the hall, and knocked at the Doctor's study-door. tMF^ "Hallo!" a gruff voice growled from within, "What's the matter?" " Little boy wants to see you, Sir." " Can't be bothered." " He says his mother's dying, Sir." "Oh, confound it," mumbles the Doctor resignedly, "everybody's mother seems to be dying just now; however can I keep 'em alive and read Huxley too ? Let him in." Tommy is shoved into the medical presence—hears the servant shuffle away—and not being old enough to know that roughworded men are not necessarily roughhearted, teels rather frightened. " Well, young man ?" asks Doctor Jessop, turning from his book to the small sad mortal, "Well, young man, what's the matter r" " M-m-other" Tommy sobs out, and can't get any further. "There, there ; sit down, my poor little fellow-, and tell me all about it," says the Doctor soothingly, pulling forward a chair as he spoke; "Sit down, and tell me all about it." Tommy is perhaps unprepared for kindness, and uses the rim of a chair for support while he trieB to swallow the tears, which
seem to make a lnmp in his throat, and will rush into his eyes just at the wrong moment. The Doctor waits patiently, pretending to search for something among tiie papers which crowd the table, and at last Tommy is able to say— "Mother's so bad, Sir." " What is your mother's name' "Mrs. Wellbourn, Sir." "Wellbourn—Wellbourn—Ha, h"m ! Let, me, see ! No. I don't remember the name." Tommy feels sorely disappointed, but resumes— " She's very bad, Sir. Oh, Sir, I'm afraid she's going to die." " iNot quite so bad as that I hope. What's the matter with her ? What makes her bad?" "I don't know, Sir. She's bad in bed, and can't do her washing. Will you come and make her well, Sir ?" "Really—Oh—Where do you live, my boy?" "Stepney, Sir." "What street?" Tommy didn't know. It was the street with the paddock at one end and Mr. Spud's store at v other. Doctor Jessop could not remember Mr. Spud's store, though a dozen paddocks in a dozen different streets presented themselves conveniently to his mind's eye for selection. " Look here, my boy," said he, " I'll come and see your mother, and do what I can for her. You can go with me and show me the place. Wait here till I come back." He goes out, leaving Tommy alone for five minutes, but again appears booted and coated in a very seasonable manner indeed. •' Come along, youngster, " he cries cheerily, "let's go ana see what we can do for mother. "Oh, thank you, Sir." Through the hall again—outside the door, where a light covered buggy is waiting, its lamps gleaming in the darkness, while the rain falls down with a steady hiss. Away they go through the wind, and onward— Tommy peering about lest they should pass the place. It does not take tiie high-stepping chesnut long to reach Mr. Spud's store, which Tommy points out. A few minutes
more, and the Doctor is standing by Mrs. Wellbourn's bedside. By the light of a solitaiy candle the poor woman looks ghastly—the bones of her face seeming to stand up above the worn flesh, and- her wasted hands appearing fit for a skeleton. "Doctor, we ve took a great liberty," she says feebly, " but Tommy, he would go." " Not at all my good woman, not at all! Tommy was quite right. Now let's see what's the matter. Here! Hold the light, Tommy. That's it. Ha! hum. I see. Why, you've worked yourself almost to death. What do you do for a living, poor creature?" The poor creature motions Tommy, too overcome to speak. Tommy replies gravely, " Mother does washing; Sir." The Doctor, seeing that Tommy is best able to give any information, enquires— " Haven't you a father. Tommy?" '' Father's goned away, -Sir." "Away?" " Yes, Sir; goned away and left mother and me, Sir," replies the child simply, but withal such a tender shame in the tone as makes Doctor Jessop wish he had never asked the question. Mother sobs at this, perhaps she feels it keenlier now than she did. When we are unwell recollected troubles press heavily upon us. " Why' damn my eyes !" he blurts out, quite forgetting propriety, and turning from her son to Mrs. Wellbourn — "Has your husband been such a brute as to desert you and little Tommy ?" Nobody can gainsay this, and nobody does, for the absent Wellbourn's best friend on earth is too sick for conversation, and waits passively to see what the Doctor will do; while Tommy goes to blow the fire and mop up his tears. Bless you, Tommy is not beaten by circumstances, never think it of the brave child. He only Weeps because mother has given way a little. Doctor Jessop did not waste time by asking any other questions. Being a practical man he took a careful survey of his patient, giving the result as follows:—" Well; you have weakened your constitution over that infernal washtub—quite worked yourself out, and nothing but rest and a generous diet can do you good. No particular disease, but trouble; I believe—that's general enough, unfortunately. But understand—Tommy! come here and listen—understand. Mother's not to wash till she gets strong again—do you hear, Tommy? Don't be frightened, mother's not going to die just yet." Tommy hears, and looks all gratefulness through those big eyes of his. "Now, look here, Sirs. Wellbourn, you needn't speak, better not, you're too weak. Let Tommy come to my place to-morrow morning at 10 o'clock and I'll have proper medicine ready for you, and something besides, that, perhaps you may really want more. There, remember what I've told you, Tommy; take care of mother, and don't forget to come for the medicine. Goodnight,
I can't stop any longer—there's somebody else's mother expecting me too; good night." The worthy physician opened the door, and directly afterwards they heard his buggy grinding through the mud and road metal homeward. Gloomy horrors are well enough in their place—say, for instance, in "The Bounding Beggar of the Bosphorus," or that other thrilling melodrama, " The Moaning Maniac of the Mountain," but there's nothing like good spirits and cheerful kindness for the sick. Mrs. Wellbourn declared the same night before closing her eyes that she felt much better just with seeing the Doctor and hearing him talk. Tommy rose betimes next morning, for he had a plan to carry out which necessitated his going to town. By 10 o'clock he was at Dr. Jessop's door, and received from his shuffling acquaintance of the previous evening a parcel addressed for Mrs. Wellbourn. Impatience to know what the parcel contained made the walk back seem long, but at last the contents were displayed on tiie bed before his mother. The treasure consisted of a big bottle of tonic medicine, two black bottles, and a one-pound Bank note. " God bless the Doctor," says mother. "God bless the Doctor," says Tommy. The medicine bottle was at once recogniized by its peculiar shape, but the black bottles puzzled them. " What's them, mother?" Mother shook her head, unable to tell. It may be here observed that Mrs. Wellbourn's caligraphic cunning was limited to making her "mark" when occasion demanded, reading being beyond her powers altogether. Tommy's education had been of such an intermittent and inferior character that the few letters not altogether forgotten were of no practical use. " Why there's writing on 'em, and on the medicine too. I tell yon what, mother,: I'll run over to Mr. Mclnnery and show the writing to him, and borrow'his corkscrew. No sooner said than done; Mr. Mclnnery being an Irish cobbler, lame, bent in the back, small in the wife, large in the family, and constructor of the boots previously mentioned. Mr. McTnneiy puts on his spectacles, and spells out the writing critically. "Faith! Tommy," he says, "the medicine is to be taken twish daily—a taygpoonful at a toime—and the others, sure I'd better open them for you, Tommy-the others, your
mother musht take a wineglassful whin requoired." Mr. Mclnnery" s nose pronounces him a judge of liquor; he applies the corkscrew to the medicine bottle and one of the black bottles immediately the corks are withdrawn. "That's midicine, and strong too—what's this? (sniffing) bedad, it's port woine; divil a less." 'Tis a sore temptation, but he hands it back to the boy untouched, remarking— "The docthor's a jool, Tommy. Wait and ye'll see. I'll give hinfthe attindance on my family. Port wine! begorra!" Judging from what we know of Mrs. Mclnneiy's regular habits, the Doctor would find himself pretty well occupied if so promoted, but this is a recondite subject for Tommy, who runs home again. " Mother, you're to take a teaspoonful of the medicine twice daily, and the other's port wine, Mr. Mclnneiy says—a wineglassful to be taken when required." " Port wine, Tommy ?" "Yes, mother; real port wine." Tommy poured some out, that the truth of Mr. Mclnnery's declaration might be tested, a cup being the nearest approach to a wineglass findable. He takes just a little sip before handing it to his mother. Oh my! It seems to burn a hole in his stomach. She says, on finishing tiie draught, "So it isl real port wine. I remember taking some once when yon were a baby." The bottles are placed carefully in the windowsill, and there they stand for long enough afterwards, only moved veiy carefullyby Tommy when he gives his mother her daily doses. "Mother," he says shortly. "Well, Tommy?" "Why shouldn't I sell papers, like Bob Williams?" " Why shouldn't you sell papers ? What an idea ! You're too smalL" " Many smaller boys than me sell papers —I don't see why I shouldn't." "O my dear, you couldn't. Please God I'll soon be well again. There's no need for you to be selling papers." " Mother, the Doctor said you wasn't to
work." " But I must; what's the use of the Doctor talking like that ?" "It won't do though, mother," and Tommy shakes his head sententionsly. " You won't mind me leaving you for an hour or so, will you ? Let me go and see if I can get any papers to sell." He is such an old-fashioned and has such old-fashioned ways, that his mother is hardly astonished at anything he says, but the idea of little Tommy working, and selling papers, and earning money, iB so exceedingly ridiculous that a smile struggles across ner features as she looks at his serious face. " You may go if you like, my dear; God bless you. Just lock the door after you, for I am such a poor weak thing now that if anybody was to come in I couldn't stir. But don't stay late, my dear." " Oh, no, never fear; I'll be back before long. Tinker 'II take care of you—good old dog." Tinker seemed quite satisfied to remain, behind, contentedly watching the door close behind Tommy, who trudged to town, after many enquiries managing to find the paper office. He pushed at the front doors, and not being able to decipher the admonitory legend pasted thereon, took some little time to discover that pulling was required and not pushing. He walked timidly to the counter and stated his business. A' civil young fellow stationed there told him to go round the corner outside and ask for Mr. Thomson. Tommy passed again through the doors, and doing as desired, found Mr. Thomson and confided to him his wishes as regarded the sale of papers. Mr. Thomson looked dubious at first, eyed Tommy all over, asked him about his parents, and finally, convinced by the boy's appearance and manner that he was honest, agreed to his retailing the Evening Journal on commission, said commission to oonsist of fonrpence for every dozen papers sold, returns' to be made weekly; when would he begin? Tommy wanted to begin at once; but then he thought he had better tell his mother of his success, and said he would begin to-morrow. " Very well; let him come about two o'clock, when he might get his papers." Thus the interview with Mr. Thomson ended, and Tommy was enrolled and took his place among the countless thousands who in this world of ours form parts of the great machine called Labour, and earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. Far too young, far too weak is many a one like Tommy; but what would you? The hungry fiend Need may be standing at the door, and, like an Egyptian taskmaster, plies his scoipionedlash till the work is done. (To be continued.)