Poor Jack

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I prefer a suit to old nanny, and procure a new suit of clothes—the advantage of being well dressed: you may walk out with the ladies

The reader must not give me too much credit when I tell him that, ever since I had been under the tuition of Peter Anderson, I had quite a craving to go to church. Although what I had gained from his precepts and explanations had increased my desire, still I must acknowledge that the strongest reason for my being so anxious was that my mother would not take me, and did take Virginia. Further, my curiosity was excited by my absolute ignorance of what the church service consisted; I had heard the bells toll, and, as I sauntered by, would stop and listen to the organ and the singing. I would sometimes wait, and see the people coming out; and then I could not help comparing my ragged dress with their clean and gay attire.

This wish continually worried me; but the more I reflected, the more impossible it appeared to be that I should be able to gratify it. How could I possibly go to church in my tattered and dirty clothes—and what chance had I of getting others? I certainly gained, at an average, eighteenpence per week, but I saved nothing. Would my mother give me clothes? No, that I was sure she would not, for she grudged me even the little victuals which I did apply for. I thought this matter over and over as I lay in bed. Ben had no money. Anderson I could not ask for it. I thought that I would apply to Dr. Tadpole, but I was afraid. At last it came into my head that I had better first ascertain how much money I should require before I took further measures. The next morning I went to a fitting-out shop, and asked the lad who attended how much money I should have to pay for a pair of blue trousers, waistcoat, and jacket. The lad told me that I might have a very nice suit for twenty-two shillings. Twenty-two shillings! What an enormous sum it appeared to me then; and then there was a straw hat to buy, and a pair of shoes and stockings. I inquired the price of these last articles, and found that my dross could not be made complete under thirty-three shillings. I was quite in despair, for the sum appeared to be a fortune. I sat down to calculate how long it would take me to save up so much money, at sixpence a week, which was all that I could afford; but, at that time, never having learned anything of figures, all I could make of it was that it was so long a time as to be beyond my calculation.

It was Saturday evening. I sat down on the steps of the landing-place, very melancholy, thinking that to-morrow was Sunday, and abandoning all hopes of ever going to church, when a Thames fisherman, of the name of Freeman, who lived at Greenwich, and with whom I was acquainted—for I used to assist him on the Saturday night to moor his coble off the landing-place, and hang up his nets to dry—called out to me to come and help him. I did so; we furled the sails, hauled on board his little boat for keeping the fish alive, hoisted the nets up to the mast, and made all secure; and I was thinking to myself that he would go to church to-morrow, and I could not, when he asked me why I was so sad. I told him.

"Why, Jack," said he, "I can't help you, for it is bad times with me just now; indeed, I could help you but little if times were ever so good—I've too many children of my own; but look ye, here's a good long piece of four-inch, which I picked up, and it's well worth a shilling. I'll give it you (for I do owe you something), and do you take it to old Nanny. She's a queer body; but suppose you try whether she'll let you have the money. She can if she chooses, and, as you have dealt with her so long, perhaps she will, if you promise to lay some by every week, and repay her."

This idea had never occurred to me, for I knew old Nanny was very close, and drove very hard bargains with me; however, I thanked Freeman for his piece of rope and piece of advice, and when we landed I determined, at all events, I would try.

I have before mentioned old Nanny, who kept a marine store, and to whom I used to sell whatever I picked up on the beach. She was a strange old woman, and appeared to know everything that was going on. How she gained her information I cannot tell. She was very miserly in general; but it was said she had done kind things in one or two instances. Nobody knew her history: all that anybody knew was that she was Old Nanny. She had no kith or kin that she ever mentioned; some people said she was rich, if the truth were known; but how are we to get at the truth in this world?

I was soon at old Nanny's store, with the piece of rope coiled over my arm.

"Well, Jack, what have you got here? a piece of good junk? no, it is not, for it is quite rotten. Why do you bring me such things? What can I do with them?"

"Why, mother," says I, "it's new rope; not been used hardly; it's the very best of junk."

"Boy, boy! do you pretend to teach me? Well, what do you want for it?"

"I want a shilling," replied I.

"A shilling!" cried she, "where am I to find a shilling? And if I could find one, why should I throw it away upon a thing not worth twopence, and which will only lumber my store till I die? The boy's demented!"

"Mother," says I, "it's worth a shilling, and you know it; so give it to me, or I go elsewhere."

"And where will you go to, good-for-nothing that you are? where will you go to?"

"Oh! the fishermen will give me more."

"The fishermen will give you a couple of stale flat-fish, to take home to your mother."

"Well, I'll try that," said I, going.

"Not so fast, Jack, not so fast; if I make a penny by you one day, I suppose, to keep your custom, I must lose something by you the next. Now, I'll give you sixpence; and how I'm to get my money back I don't know."

"No, Nanny," said I, "I must have a shilling."

"A shilling, you little cheat! I can't give it; but what do you want? don't you want a key to your chest, or something of that sort?"

"I've no chest, mother, and therefore don't want a key."

"But you want something out of all the pretty things in my shop; boys always fancy something."

I laughed at the idea of "pretty things" in her shop, for it contained nothing but old iron, empty bottles, dirty rags and phials; so I told her there was nothing that I wanted.

"Well," says she, "sit down a little, and look about you; there's no hurry. So Mrs. East has got another boy, worse luck for the parish, with six children already!—Look about you, and take your time.—Did you hear of Peter James giving his wife a black eye last night because she wanted to get him out of the alehouse?—I wonder who that letter was from that Susan Davis had from the post-office. I think I could guess; poor girl! she has looked rather peaking for some weeks.—Don't be in a hurry, Jack; look about; there's plenty of pretty things in my shop.—So Davis the butcher has been pulled up for bad meat; I thought it would come to that, and I'm glad of it.—There's a capital lock and key, Jack, to put to your chest, when you get one; suppose you take that.—What's the doctor about? They say he is always sitting with the widow.—Does your mother make plenty of money by clear-starching? I know your sister had a spotted muslin frock on last Sunday, and that must have cost something.—There's a spade, Jack; very useful to dig on the beach; you may find something—money, perhaps—who knows? Take the spade, Jack, and then you'll owe me sixpence.—So Bill Freeman pawned his wife's best gown last Saturday night. I thought it would be so. He may say it's because he's caught no fish this bad weather. But I know more than people think.—Here's a nice glass bottle, Jack, wouldn't you like to give it to your mother, to put pickles in? it's white glass, you see. Look about, Jack; there's plenty of pretty things, you see.—So the Governor's daughter's going to be married; at least I suppose so, for I met her riding with a young gentleman; and nowadays the quality always make love on horseback.—Well, Jack, have you found anything?"

"No, mother, I haven't; and I must have my shilling or go. Unless, indeed, you're inclined to help me to what I want, and then I'll give you the rope for nothing."

"Give me the rope for nothing!" replied old Nanny. "Sit down, Jack, and let me know what it is you want."

I thought it was of little use to make the application, but I determined to try; so I explained my wishes.

"Humph!" said she, after a minute's thought, "so you want thirty-three shillings to buy clothes—to go to church in. Your mother dresses your sister in spotted muslin and leaves you in rags; suppose you wait till your father comes home again?"

"That may not be for years."

"Why, Jack, I don't go to church—I am too old—too poor to dress myself to go to church, even if I could go so far—why should you go?"

"Well, mother," said I, rising up, "if you will not do it, I'm very sorry; I would have paid you honestly, and have given you good bargains, so good-by."

"Not so fast, Jack—sit down, sit down, boy—look about the shop and see if you can find something that will suit you." Here Nanny communed with herself aloud: "Thirty-three shillings! that's a great deal of money—pay me honestly—and good bargains! His mother called me an old cat the other day—I think they could be got cheaper, they always cheat boys—she'd be vexed to see him dressed clean at church—honest boy, I do believe—a boy that wants to go to church must be a good boy. Oh, dear me, it is so much money!"

"I'll work day and night to pay you, Nanny."

"And mind, Jack, I'm to have good bargains, and this piece of rope for nothing; something paid every week."

"If I can earn it, mother, as sure as I sit here."

"Well, the old cat will do more for you, Jack, than your mother would. You shall have the money; but, Jack, I must bargain for the things."

"Thank you, Nanny, thank you!" replied I, jumping off my seat with delight.

"Well, we can do nothing to-night, Jack. Come to me on Monday, and if I don't change my mind—"

"Change your mind!" said I, sorrowfully. "I thought you had promised!"

"Well, so I did—and—and I'll keep my promise, Jack. Come on Monday; and as you can't go to church to-morrow, see if you can't pick up a little money."

I did not neglect her injunctions, and was fortunate enough to be able to bring her sixpence on the Monday morning. Nanny went with me to the clothing-shop, haggled and fought until she reduced the articles to twenty-eight shillings, and then they were ordered to be made and sent to her house. I earned but little money that week, and more than once Nanny appeared to be very unhappy, and repent of her kind offices; but when Sunday came she was very cheerful; she washed me herself very carefully, and then put on my clothes. I cannot express the delight I felt at that moment; when Nanny said to me, as she placed the hat on my head:

"Well, Jack, I wouldn't have thought that you were such a handsome boy as you are. Why, you may walk with your sister Virginia, and she will have nothing to be ashamed of, pretty as she is. There, go and show yourself; and, Jack, don't forget your promise to pay me back soon and give me good bargains!"

I repeated my promise and hastened to the hospital to find Peter Anderson. He did not know me when I came up to him. I told him how and why I had got the clothes; he patted my head, said I was a good lad, and that he would take me to the chapel at the hospital, where I could sit with the school-children; he could manage that. Then I met Ben and others, and they were all so surprised. I went to the chapel, and although I could not hear well what was said, for I was a long way off from the parson, and the old pensioners coughed so much, I was very much pleased, although a little tired before it was over. When the service was finished, I was proceeding to my mother's, when I met her and little Virginia coming home from the town church.

"There's a nice little boy, Virginia," said my mother; "wouldn't you like to walk with him?"

My mother did not know me, but Virginia did immediately; she burst away from her mother and ran into my arms, laughing and crying as she clung to me, and then she cried out, "Mother, yes, mother, I will walk with him!" and she hastened me away with her, much to my mother's annoyance, who would have run after us to stop her, but she didn't think it genteel to go so fast; so Virginia and I went off together, leaving my mother very angry indeed. We walked along toward the hospital, Virginia crying out to every one she knew, her large hazel eyes beaming with delight, "Look, this is brother Jack!" and I went with her to Peter Anderson and old Ben. I was so proud to have my sister with me; and Peter Anderson said:

"This is as it should have been a long while ago." And then he continued, "Jack, you may happen not to earn any money in the week, and if so, come to me, for old Nanny must not be disappointed; but, recollect, you must pay for your own clothes out of your own earnings."

When it was dinner-time Virginia and I went home together. As we came to Fisher's Alley I said to her, "Mother will be angry with you."

"I can't help it, Jack," replied she; "you are my own brother, and we are not doing wrong."

When we went in my mother looked hard at me; but, to my surprise, said nothing. She was sulky, but whether it was with Virginia or with me, or with my new clothes, or whether her conscience smote her for her neglect of me, I do not know. She put the dinner on the table in silence, and after it was over she went upstairs. Virginia and I did not neglect this opportunity. She put on her bonnet, we slipped out, and walked about together till tea-time. When we came back my mother seized my sister by the arm and carried her up to bed. Little Virginia made no resistance, but turned her head and smiled at me as she was led away. I never felt so happy in my life as I did when I went to bed and thought over the events of the day.

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